Thursday, November 18, 2010

What's in an eBook Cover?

The cover for THALO BLUE, Book One
of a novel trilogy - Coming Soon!

Despite there being a lot of text on this
cover, there are only three different fonts
on here. However, colour and treatment
vary, giving it all a lot of visual interest.
I'm a writer but I'm also a graphic designer. I've been doing professional graphic design for about twelve years and have worked on everything: magazine layouts, websites, package designs, jewelry, video and advertising.

Lately, I've been doing quite a few book covers.

Huh. Go figure.

I've gotten some compliments on the book covers I've made for my own novels and short stories and have been asked to provide advice to other authors and publishers. I'm not an expert in designing covers but I believe a good cover goes a long way to help improve an author's chances of being read. There are so many great books on the web sitting behind ugly covers and for me, that does the book a disservice.  In this age, you need to either work hard on your cover or hire it to someone who can make it an effective attention grabber. Like it or lump it, we're a visual species and we may click away if the cover isn't appealing or professional looking.

Sadly, I see a lot of covers that were designed by firms or individuals calling themselves 'pro' and they still aren't very good.  If you're paying 25 dollars for a cover design, you'll probably get 25 dollars worth of work, effort and expertise. I don't say this to step on anyone's toes or to reduce the project load for anyone designing book covers for a song. There are many, many designers out there that totally know what they're doing and could run rings around lil ol' me.

Nonetheless, I thought I might take a moment to share with you some of my ideas about what makes a powerful and memorable book cover.

A cover that my readers mention.

Uses one font but the colour and
spacing vary so there's some
visual appeal.
1. Clarity // In this age of ebooks, you want a cover with very stark clarity that will look equally good when it's a teeny-tiny square on some ebook store like Amazon, but also blown up to full colour like it may be seen on an Apple iPad.

2. Colour // Bright colours but not ones that clash (unless that's what you're going for). I also like to see only one or two colours used on the text. The last thing you want to do is distract someone who might click through to the story.

3. Contrast // Related to the two above and bridging into the next item, contrast basically means having a strong difference between the background and the text in the foreground. It's nice to have a cool picture or design, but not at the expensive of readability.

3. Clear text // I don't like script-y fonts unless they are unleashed with the precision of a very experienced designer. They tend to be a little harder to read. You sometimes have only a fraction of a second to catch a reader's attention so my advice is to make your text simple. As with colour, above, I don't recommend using too many fonts on your cover unless several of them are from the same family.  My cover for THALO BLUE uses several fonts but they don't fight with each other because they each have a different purpose.

4. Design and Layout // Graphical covers that show only text and artwork are all the rage right now. These can be a good showcase for symbolism taken right out of your story (i.e. The Hunger Games covers are a good one). This is kind of a broad topic but touches on a few things.

You want to have appropriate spacing between lines of text, the author's name and the book title, but you'd probably like it to be interesting to look at. Play with different justifications of the text. Right, left, center, something that mixes it up.

Careful where you run your text -- not too close to the edges because a lot of ebook stores are now placing artwork over the outside edges of the book covers. I see that B & N is adding there "Nook Book" moniker and Amazon adds their "Kindle" artwork to the bottoms of the book covers. You don't want those to cover your name or other important info.

An alternate cover for my novel
when it had just been released.

This one's still floating around out
there and I don't mind because I
really like it.
If you have text that runs across an image, make sure it is a suitable colour or has some separation (like a shadow) to bring it out in front of it's backer. Readability is your foremost concern.

Other considerations. Don't have distracting or unusual things on your cover like borders or big chunks of white space (i.e. the cover is smaller than the image.) Some books are showing an interesting 3-D treatment where you see the book cover as though it's a real book standing there with the spine and the pages. It's a neat look and useful for other collateral (like websites and such) but not very useful for either a printed book or when submitting to one of the stores.

Another idea. You probably have beta readers to read over and edit your manuscript, right? Why not share your cover and get feedback on it before calling it the "official" cover?

Lastly. Once you've created something you're happy with, I would recommend NOT compressing your cover image using Photoshop or other design software. The ebook websites will do that all on their own and two compressions on the same image will end up making it look pixelated and choppy. Most sites have a maximum file size they'll allow. Stay under that and you're good. No need to go way under.

Anybody have a design horror story? Or a design angel story? What do you like in a book cover?


  1. I love the Road Markers cover. They're all good, obviously...

  2. Thanks, Rima (Fiction Chick)!

    I get most of my compliments on that one. Something about the black and the blurring traffic lights, it seems to catch people's attention and say a little about the organized madness of the story within.

    I didn't want to make all my covers too, too dark with heavy blacks (so SHED and The Night Walk Men are brighter) but the dark ones sure get attention.

  3. Jason, I had no idea you were also a graphic designer. No wonder you have such brilliant book covers! If, by chance, you also do plumbing, my sink is leaking like crazy and my husband is still in Germany. I could use a little help here. :)

  4. Ha! Darcia, the ironic thing is that I too am struggling with a plumbing ordeal -- leaky shower. I think back on my grandparents' generation when absolutely everybody knew how to do everything: fix a car, build a cabin, sew a button, replace a faucet. Of course, they didn't write a lot of books or design many eBook covers!

  5. Hey, Jason, I didn't know you were a graphic designer, either! That means you can design the cover for Cutting the Fat! Looking forward to seeing it :)

  6. Hi Jason,

    you are so right! Book covers are (unfortunately) extremely important. I say "unfortunately" because I like to close my eyes sometimes and wish that we could all do a little less judging with out eyes and more with our minds. But the truth is, just as you said, that we are visual beings and the eye needs to be attracted before the mind can be.

    So yes, absolutely, covers matter ... and you did a great job with yours! :)

  7. Maria, so sorry! I thought I had offered to do the cover but maybe I had only said that in my mind. There are a lot of voices in there, sometimes they're not all heard or spoken aloud. ;-)

    Be happy to do it and we'll talk more...

    Carolina (writnblock). Yes, I feel a lot of the "collateral" as I call it can sometimes feel like it gets in the way: book covers, website designs, blogs, book trailers. It's important though, and we need to be aware of that.

    Thanks to you both for stopping by!

  8. I'm intrigued by the notion that you've designed jewelry. There are three very significant pieces in my YA Series "Mayne Attraction," (two rings and a locket)and I've left their descriptions fairly sketchy in book one because I was looking for advice on their designs...

    Your talents never cease to amaze!

  9. Ann, there are very few jobs I haven't tried. For example, I've never delivered the mail. Oh wait. Yes, I have. I haven't assisted the elderly at using the toilet. Yup, done that too.

    I haven't killed anybody for money. Oh! there's the telephone. Have to run, catch you later--

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  11. Impressive book cover. If you want to know about the Arab History then, you have to buy Books on Arab History which you will get at


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