Is your book cover trying to do too much?

 In book design tips

Clients usually start out describing all their characters, a pivotal scene, a hundred details, the expressions on everybody’s faces and the way their bodies are posed.

That won’t work.

All your cover needs to do is:

1) Appeal to your target audience

2) Indicate time period and setting.

That’s IT.

If you need to choose between adding more detail, more scene, more “stuff” and having a simple, powerful, emotional cover (emotion is done by colors and contrast, not so much character’s faces), you MUST always choose the powerful cover and sacrifice the details.

This is very difficult for authors to accept. They say things like “But I want my book to be different. I don’t want it to be just like other books in the genre. I want to explain/communicate to readers all the background and relationships and story.”

I repeat: that’s not what book covers are for.

Almost all successful book covers have one simple scene, often with one (or two characters – male and female if it’s a romance). The character is usually just standing there looking at the reader. The background sets the time and place. The text sets the genre.

Action scenes don’t work well, unless it’s something cliche like a man running with a gun. There are many reasons: first of all, you need to understand that as brilliant as we designers are, we can’t move stock photography around like a 3D model and make them do whatever we want. We can’t pose them. We can’t change their clothes easily. We can’t cut their head off and add somebody else’s (well… we can, but it usually looks a little unnatural).

The more we do to match your vision, the worse it’s going to look, and even if we make you happy and get everything right, it won’t be nearly as strong as something totally different, without all the detail, which is simple awesome, powerful, gripping and beautiful.

It’s much more important to have an amazing cover than it is to have a cover that explains your story.

Let me repeat that:

THE BOOK COVER SHOULD NOT TRY TO EXPLAIN OR REPRESENT YOUR STORY.

At best, the book cover appeals to the right readers.

Full stop.

If you’ve done that, then you can also indicate setting and genre.

If you’ve done that, you can add any other necessary information in a teaser, tagline or the book title. But not too much.

The cover only needs to get them to read the description.

If your cover tries to explain too much, adds too many details, displays a whole scene where people are doing things and interacting and role playing with positions and poses and gestures, there’s a very, very good chance you’ll lose that immediacy, that intrigue, fail to incite curiosity, and readers will glance at it and never read your description.

Which means they won’t buy the book. Which means all the time and money and energy you spent on your book cover was a total waste.

That’s why I start discussions with clients by telling them, “No, that won’t work.” If they want to do it anyway, I refund them – I have no interest in making book covers that will fail to sell books. That’s bad for business.

Authors who have read my articles, and my books on book cover design or watched my speeches or presentations on book cover design, already know that I make covers that sell books, and I’m pretty clear about that on my website.

If you think your opinions and suggestions about the book cover matter more than book sales – you’re wrong. All that matters is book sales. Otherwise, why write books at all? If you are publishing as an experiment in self-expression so you can carve off a chunk of your ego and cast it into corporeal form, that’s fine. But I don’t want to work with you.

I’m interested in working with authors who have stories that readers are going to enjoy, and I make sure those readers pick the book up and give it a chance, and that’s ALL THAT MATTERS.

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