I think most authors have a love—hate relationship with covers. We love it when we get a good one, but hate it when the cover goes wrong. Authors are hyperaware that bad cover can sink a book before it even gets opened and one word read. So, it's naturally a touchy subject for most of us.
Back in the day, authors got very little input into covers. We were truly at the mercy of our publishers. I’ve heard more horror stories than I could ever repeat in just this one column. There are many famous covers where there are issues with the hero having three arms, the costumes are completely wrong for the time period, or heroine has the wrong hair color or even the wrong ethnicity. Yikes! I have to admit, I was not that fond of my first covers (or titles, for that matter!).
I published my first book waaaaay back in 1993. It was a historical romance set in the Scottish Highlands titled FLEETING SPLENDOR. What about this cover says Scotland? Nothing. Ugh! Plus it was a clinch pose, which were the rage at the time, but wasn't my first choice. The image is a bit fuzzy because this is a photo not a digital file. Authors weren't given digital files of our covers back then.
Below is the cover for my second book, A TOUCH OF FIRE. It is probably the least favorite of all the covers I’ve ever had done. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the heroine (from the 1700’s) has buttons on her blouse and bright blue eye shadow. Plus it looks like she's wearing a wig. Ugh!
Luckily, things have changed. Given the advent of the digital age, publishers are more open to author input because it's a lot less costly to tweak and play with the design. Now as self-publishing has stormed the publishing landscape, authors have a LOT more input into their covers and can even design them down to the last pixel.
So, what’s important about a book cover? Many things. But before you start to design one, decide on what kind of message you want to send out about the book. What’s your target audience? What kind of readers do you want to reach?
Your cover needs to immediately establish the genre and the mood. So first, think color. Many genres, especially horror or dark romantic suspense set the tone by having covers with dark colors. So, if you can mix it up a bit and yet still maintain the mood—using a brighter or contrasting color can really cause your book to stand out and get noticed. But don’t go overboard. Lots of pink on a cover signals “women only.” That’s okay if your target audience is women-only, but if it’s not, you don’t want to narrow your audience like that. Pink also signals lighter and brighter. Is that the right tone for your book? Color is critical.
There are many other important factors to consider when creating a cover. Even if you are a debut author, people want to know who is the author. Where is your name placed on the cover? Is this is a book in a series? If so, is that information readily available on the cover? Have you branded your series by making all the books in the series similar enough to be easily recognizable as part of a series? Is there a tag line? For example, in my case, all my books say, “A Lexi Carmichael Mystery.”
Several months ago my publisher let me know they were going to re-design my entire Lexi Carmichael series with new covers. The intent is to make them more contemporary, hipper and edgier. The goal is to reach a wider, and perhaps, a bit more modern audience. It is all about marketing, baby. It’s important your covers are current, eye-catching and can instantly parlay the book’s genre and mood. A picture is worth a thousand words…so create a great cover to get the reader inside the book to read all of your wonderful words!
Here is the new cover for my latest Lexi Carmichael geeky mystery, NO TEST FOR THE WICKED, which is out December 1. So, what do you think?