Did you know there are rules to designing books covers? No? Neither did I until I went on a self-publishing course run by Harper Collins Authonomy. Turned out the course wasn't much good for info on eBook publishing specifically, but it was brilliant for things like cover design and cover copy and information like that.
I used to think that covers just had to look neat and eye catching and could be anything you want ... turns out I was wrong. There are fashions just like with everything else and you want to be à la mode.
I think the most useful piece of advice on the course about covers was this: if you are designing your own go and look at your genre first. There will be rules, and you want your cover to fit into them. Cover design, it seems, is not about fantastic originality, it's giving the customer what they are looking for, while at the same time catching their eye and making them want to pick up the book.
If your book is romance, but it does not look like a romance cover, you will confuse the viewer and they will be less likely to take the next step. It's the same with fantasy, crime, literary fiction and any other sub group you can think of. Covers are about catching attention, but not standing out as odd and different.
Also, one thing to think about with eBooks, it helps if your title and/or author can be read at large size and small size, because you're going to be advertising on websites which will change the size of your cover a lot.
I'll show you an example of what I mean by rules, this is one of the examples we were shown on the course.
At the moment fantasy books seem to have two very fashionable types. These differ but there are some commonalities:
- Font is most often serif
- Font is most often centred
- Font is usually all caps, sometimes small caps, sometimes not.
- Title and Author take up at least half the cover.
- Also, the positioning of the strap lines and cover copy are similar.
Where the types differ is in layout and image design.
This type of cover has large author name and title and an iconic image between them.
(and yes I did pinch the images of Amazon ;))
This type of cover has similar author name and title (but with more variation in placing) and a large, mostly realistic figure of some kind.
Two fashions, same genre, but when you look at either type you instinctively know what you're looking at. Of course fashions change, but we independents are not likely to be the ones doing it. A few years ago fantasy novels were often about the wrap around illustrated cover, but that seems to have gone out of style. It was the big publishing houses who decided this and with their marketing departments, most likely will be for the foreseeable future.
Moving on, I'm not suggesting I'm an astounding cover designer :), but I'll take you through my reasoning when I was developing the covers for my two novels.
When I was designing the cover for Cat's Call, I went with type one, because I thought it would be easier to reproduce.
Hence I have the large title and author name, what I hoped was an interesting background and then something I hoped was iconic and eye catching in the middle.
When I did the cover for Sacrifice of An Angel, I was looking for something a little different. Because the story is not straight up fantasy, but crime mixed with fantasy, I had a dilemma - which kind of cover to go with.
In the end what I went with was a crime novel style image (the mostly monochrome angel), added a little eye catching colour and then used fantasy style title and names because they stand out well when the cover is resized.
Of course not everyone is going to like your cover. The diversity, even with the rules for each genre shows that tastes vary enormously. All you can do is your best. I have seen people say you should always go to a professional for cover work, but I have also seen some stunningly bad professional covers, so who knows. If you have the money to hire someone good, go for it, nothing says 'buy me' like a fabulous cover, but if you don't have the money to do that, there are ways to do it yourself.
On Amazon's Kindle site there are some great covers and some really hideous ones. Some of the really hideous ones are even at the top of the list, so that shows you how content is the deciding factor. So, finally, covers are not the be all and end all of making your book sell, but they are one of the factors which are going to attract your audience. It's best not to alienate your readers before they even get going, so figure them out and then follow the rules.