How many times have you been shopping for a particular book and been inadvertently drawn off course by an eye-catching cover? Suddenly you’re mesmerized like someone zapped by a spell. You can’t pry your eyes away. You’re instantly engaged in reading the blurb and sampling pages. Before you know it, the book you intended to buy is forgotten in the excitement of discovering this new promise of adventure. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve been successfully enticed by a book package crafted to compel you to take those very actions.
Publishers have long known the power of a well-designed book cover to cut through the first major barrier to sales–get the reader to notice the book. They understand we’re predominantly visual beings and that the outer packaging influences how we react to what’s behind that alluring cover.
As the self-publishing market explodes, I’m seeing a lot more low quality book covers. This is unfortunate, because there’s some fantastic writing out there which could be showcased in a more advantageous light. I think this is because many of these authors are either designing their own covers or hiring the least expensive service they can find.
Having spent the entirety of my adult life as a graphic designer, I felt quite confident in my ability to craft the cover for my YA fantasy novel, Fate’s Fables. I came up with about six different designs before I settled on the one I thought was perfect for my book–a story about a girl named Fate who becomes trapped inside a book of eight dark fables she must turn into happily-ever-afters in order to escape. I thought I’d hit the mark with this design, which portrayed a huge open book with letters lifting off the pages and swirling around Fate’s face like a flurry of snowflakes against a black backdrop.
While this may sound intriguing, I soon discovered the design didn’t work in thumbnail. For those who don’t know what a thumbnail is, it’s the tiny book cover size you see when you’re searching online. With more and more online shopping, this is an important detail. Much to my great frustration, my design was unreadable at this size. So I went back to the drawing board, but I kept going around in circles trying to somehow make the same concept work for thumbnail.
I finally had to relinquish control and place my precious baby in the hands of a trusted designer with more expertise than I had in this arena. And boy, was I glad I did. I didn’t think it was possible to love this new cover more than the one I’d become so attached to. His design choices seemed obvious to me once I saw it, but being the author, I realized I’d been way too close to the story to design effectively. I’m happy to say there’s been positive praise for the cover. One reviewer commented, “The cover of this book (Fate’s Fables) is amazing. Look into her eyes. They’re captivating.”
This is not to say authors–whether they’re designers or not–can’t hit on a cover that works, but it’s generally not the rule for many reasons, some of which I’ve noted here. I encourage self-published authors to recognize the power of a book cover to either attract or repel readers. It’s been said a million times to never judge a book by its cover, but let’s be honest, everyone does. With that in mind, take extra care to ensure your book cover halts readers in their tracks and draws them into taking a closer look. Don’t rely on your opinion only. Get feedback from others and be open to it, just as you did with your editor and beta readers.
T. Rae Mitchell is an incurable fantasy junkie who spent much of her youth mesmerizing her younger sisters with stories sprung from her crazy imagination. Over the years, her craving for the rush of being transported to fantastical realms became more acute. So it was only a matter of time before her habit got the best of her. Grief stricken one day upon discovering that her supply had dried up (her favorite bookstore had closed), she decided she’d had enough. Abandoning her career as an award-winning graphic designer, she entered a fantasy world of her own making called Fate’s Fables. She lives in British Columbia with her husband and son who are helping her cope with her addiction. Fate’s Fables is her debut novel.