We live in a world of near instant communication. Thanks to the mobile revolution, our attention spans are worse than goldfish—about 8 seconds. We make decisions about our level of interest in tv shows, movies, news, or new products or apps, in a heartbeat, thousands of times a day.
Book covers are no different. While books can be beautiful, artfully and meticulously designed and wonderfully illustrative, they are so much more than that—and have an important job besides being pretty: book covers sell your book. In fact, they’re a lot like movie posters. They are ads wrapped around stories. The cover needs to catch the attention of your readers amidst all the other noise and immediately communicate the genre or the subject. Is this something I want to read? Will I like it? Even when books are borrowed from the library, reading is an investment and readers want assurance they'll be rewarded. Whether it’s mystery, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, chick lit or general fiction, a winning cover communicates all that and more.
The title, sub-title, author’s name, teaser copy as well as endorsements or accolades need to appear on the cover and work together. The choice of typography is key, not only providing clues about the book’s subject matter, but the emotion and genre as well. Typefaces used on general fiction and chick lit are often very different from those used on action, thrillers or mysteries.
Image choices range from photography to illustration, from full bleed to collages, montages and cut-outs and communicate important clues like locale, time period and main characters, as well as genre. Visual art can also communicate the emotional tone of your book: is it sweet or scary? thought-provoking or escapist? The cover needs to communicate the lifeblood of the story without giving too much away.
All the elements of a book's design work together to connect your target audience to your work and set expectations. The right cover will do that in 3-8 seconds, resulting in a click on that 40 pixel thumbnail or a physical copy being picked up and flipped over. The design on the back also needs to do its part; after the cover and title, the back cover, especially the copy, is an extension of the ad for your book. And it gets as much as 15 seconds before the book is purchased, a sample is downloaded—or the book is left behind.
The price of professional design services, photography and stock images may seem daunting, but an alluring design can double or triple your sales. It’s an investment, not only in that book, but in your career as a writer. You spent months crafting your book and then months polishing the draft. Shouldn’t the marketing get the same amount of attention? Booksellers know that of all the different elements that go into a successful book, the design - the look and feel of a book - is one of the most important.