#CoverDesign: 5 Expert Tips on Creating a Winning Book Cover

I’d like to introduce you to KJ Waters. She will be posting once a month on this blog for a while, and I know all of you will give her a warm welcome. She is the author of the upcoming novel Stealing Time and owner of Blondie’s Custom Book Covers. She is designing covers for my series of national park memoirs as well as future books, and I will be copy editing her novel before its release.

 

Picture of KJ Waters

 

5 Expert Tips on Creating a Winning Book Cover

 

Designing the cover is a crucially important step in the success of your book. After all the cover is the portal to your reader. It is your opportunity to capture their imagination, set the mood, and pull them in and get them to click that button to buy your book. Readers are assaulted with thousands of titles online and in book stores. If your book cover is boring, doesn’t convey your story, or is poorly done they will not stop on the image, much less spend money on your book. So how do you create a stunning cover that will grab your reader’s attention?

Five action items for creating a winning book cover:

 

1. Capture the Reader’s Attention

 

Let’s face it a lame picture or something that doesn’t look professionally done is going to immediately be forgotten. If a reader does bother to pick up your book with a subpar cover, do you want their first impression of schlocky work to be in their mind as they read the sample? It is not a good place to start.

What you want is an image that grabs you, pulls you in hard, and makes you want to take a second look. How do you decide on that image? Focus on your genre’s target market. What do they want to see? Look at top selling titles in your genre. Then find an image that would be appealing to those readers. For a romance novel you need to grab your female readers who want love, romance and a hunk. A horror reader needs a dark, sinister, threatening cover geared more towards males.

 

2. Evoke Emotions

 

A really good cover makes you feel something. The half-naked beefy man on the cover of the romance book gets your blood moving. The creepy clown with a bloody knife in his hand in a shadowy room gives you that tingling, disturbed feeling… maybe Jason is waiting for you in the dark corner of your living room. Get their emotions involved and the reader will stick around long enough to at least take another look.

Boil down the mood of your book into one or two words. Then look through stock photos or Amazon titles to find images that depict that mood. When I created the cover for my novel my mood words were tension and excitement. It’s called Stealing Time and is a fast paced time travel thriller set during Hurricane Charley. To convey the pace and tension I wanted to show movement in the image. I wanted the reader to feel the power of the storm with lightening striking and the palm tree flailing in the wind. I’ve indicated time travel with the clock face and the shadowy blues and greys adding to the tension. I chose a font that was strong and clear, modern, nothing flowery or delicate. This cover was designed in tandem with Jody Smyers, a professional photographer who photographed the lightning specifically for the cover, and turned out so well that it inspired our venture into the custom book covers arena.

 

Cover of Stealing Time by K.J. Waters

 

3. Hint at the Story without Being Cluttered

 

You will have about 3 seconds to grab your reader before they move along. No pressure right? In this quick glance you have to make it appealing, set the mood and give them a bit of the story. Sometimes the mood is enough. If you’ve shown a misty pier to create a mysterious quality and your book is suspense near a lake that is a great cover. But be sure it matches the story at in least some way. I’ve seen a few covers that look like “chick lit” but are actually horror. How do you think the reader is going to feel when they crack that book open?

Look at the cover below that we created for author Roger Grubbs. The expression on the faces of the characters show an intense moment. The shadows, detail and colors create tension and set the tone for the book. You don’t know the storyline but you do know you’re going to be pulled on an adventure that gets your heart racing. The long legs on the lady and the broad shoulders of the man capture both males and females eyes for the target market for this adventure series.

 

Cover of The Legend by Roger Grubbs

 

4. Be Visually Pleasing

 

I’ve seen a few covers that follow all the other advice listed here but the design elements or the image is unappealing. One sticks in my mind of a very beautiful woman in a bikini on a simple white background and an alien tentacle disappearing under her. The title was “There is a Tentacle in my Butt” Seriously, that made me want to lose my lunch. And who prey tell is that target audience? Oh never mind I know it is men, but WHY!! It still makes my skin crawl. Memorable, check. Disgusting and revolting, check. Does this make you want to buy the book?

There is a trend among some indie authors to create a great image and then put clashing text colors or neon bright with a muted background. I’m so distracted by the lettering I can’t even focus on the image, the mood or anything the cover is trying to say. I see tacky and loud, and I have no desire to pursue the storyline or anything else.

In addition to the basic theme of the image your design should be high quality and look professional. There is a rule in photography called the Rule of Thirds. You split the image into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and lay out your image subject on the intersecting lines. Too symmetrical is generally not as appealing to the eye as the thirds concept. The tentacle picture did a great job of this as the woman was on 2/3 of the cover leaving a white canvas on the right and side of the image. It was the horrid tentacle that came from the top third of that right side that did me in. Visually pleasing in terms of layout but the rest… well I’ve already touched on that.

 

5. Be Simple

 

K.I.S.S. Keep it Simple Stupid. Pick one scene from the book to convey, find an image that sets the mood, or show the beautiful woman in flowing skirts near a manor house. Don’t overdo props, or try to squish multiple images on your cover. If you can’t decide on one image do a blog post like Jeri did to have readers, authors, and others vote on their favorites. Sometimes the vibe you get from the cover isn’t necessarily what others will see – after all you already know the story, readers don’t.

Some of my competing cover businesses specialize in multiple images merged together in photo shop — like three scenes of lovers portrayed. More isn’t always better. One strong image is so much better than several confusing and cluttered ones. The best advice I received when developing my cover was to look at is a thumbnail. This is how you will sell your book on Amazon and other eBook formats. If your cover is busy and cluttered, the reader will see nothing in a thumbnail and move on. If you can’t read the title or see the author name in the thumbnail, then you’re doing it wrong.

 

I hope this has been helpful in your pursuit of a winning book cover. Feel free to contact me on any of my social media links. I’d be happy to share more on this topic or just say hello. A huge thank you to Jeri for allowing me to guest blog here. It has been a sincere pleasure.

 

What sorts of book covers appeal to you and why?

 

 

The cover images used in this post are for promotional use only and comply with fair use guidelines.

Author: KJ Waters

KJ Waters is the Amazon best-selling author of the short-story called Blow and time travel series Stealing Time. The second book in the series, Shattering Time, is in development and is slated to be released in the spring of 2017. In addition to her writing, she is the CEO of Blondie's Custom Book Covers and the co-host of the popular podcast Blondie and the Brit. She has a Master’s in Business and over 15 years of experience in the marketing field. Before quitting her job to raise a family and work on writing she was the Director of Marketing and communications for a national behavioral healthcare company.

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69 Comments

  1. Impressive addition to your blog Jeri! This was very informative…I am bookmarking it as my need for a cover will be coming up soon:) I’m so impressed with the examples! Thanks for the introduction

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  2. Great advice, I’ve actually purchased books from favourite authors and then covered the cover because it was so out of step with the story that it became an irritant. The only reason I bought was because I knew the author. I always wonder if book sales go down or up in those situations.

    Jeri did a great post a while back about the sexing up of classic books by placing misleading covers on them. I believe the example had a sexy Anne of Green Gables on the cover, captured perfectly the problem of misrepresenting a story. 🙂

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  3. Having spent a few years procuring covers for a major nonfiction publisher, I can tell you this is good advice. Authors often have excellent ideas, but then there seem to be as many who have really bad ones. It’s the old ‘bell curve’ of human diversity. I recommend, also, an excellent “TED” talk by designer Chip Kidd.

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    • Thanks for your input. I agree there is a huge variety out there. Some covers have blown me away, but there are more in the indie field that haven’t lived up to their potential. I really enjoyed the TED Chip Kidd video. Funny guy and very good advice.

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  4. I judge books by their covers. If they don’t have a seamless look about them and I can tell they are different elements pieced together, then my opinion about the book tends to plummet. Even if I haven’t read any of it yet. 🙂 I am of the opinion that if the author doesn’t care about the outside, what makes me think they cared enough about the inside to give me a good story? There are far too many books on my TBR pile for me to waste time with someone I don’t know, and who doesn’t apparently care. Of course, that really only applies to self-published, since traditionally published authors don’t have as much control.

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    • Very true! If I see a really bad cover I can’t help but think did his wife say “Yay, that’s fabulous!” If so he needs a new wife. Don’t they get any feedback before they publish? As to traditional publishing a bad cover would never fly if it was my book. No way, there has to be a better choice. If I’m ever lucky enough to have a legit publisher I will insist on a cover that is worthy of my story. In fact I’ll probably insist I do it myself.

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  5. I will also be needing a cover soon, so thank you for this.

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  6. Your book cover for Stealing Time is awesome. I would definitely want to know more about this book on the basis of the cover alone.
    Glad Jeri invited you to post here.

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  7. INTERESTING.
    Great tips.
    I agree. I will def pick up a book if I find the cover appealing!
    I am actually looking for somebody to do my book cover. What is the cost for something like this?
    My book is letters/essays to my sister after her murder. I want the cover about empowerment & rising up))
    thank you. What a great addition to your blog, Jeri. xx

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    • Great question. We have several options the cheapest is if you provide the picture, with proof of ownership, like Jeri did with her travel book collections. We make edits to the photo, then add your title and author name. This starts at $150 and goes up depending upon the number and kind of edits and if you have a back cover for a print book.

      The middle range would be a custom photo shoot like Roger did where he chose the models, wardrobe, location and we commissioned the photo shoot and then created the cover for him with photo shop edits to the pictures, models, etc.

      We also offer a huge selection of stock photos that we can pull from, for you to purchase for a cover. We’re in the process of getting those ready for our website but if there is something you’re looking for we can search and show you a few samples. The benefit of this is you will own the picture, as opposed to iStock where another author can use the same image for their cover or anyone can use the picture for their own purposes. Plus ours are from a professional photographer and are amazing.

      The most expensive is the illustrative covers, like you may find for science fiction fantasy, where an artist renders the cover. This can range for $800 to $3000 depending on the amount of hours the artist spends on the design.

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      • I forgot the pricing on the middle range. We start model shoots for $600 but can be reduced for a very simple shot, say for example an arm holding another arm. Higher for more complex shots like multiple models or difficult locations.

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    • I’m intrigued about your book and what an exciting cover to work on. See the comment above about pricing, or you can contact me on here at one of my social media links and we can talk more.

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  8. This post defies the cliche “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But that’s what I do — and probably most people do — all the time. The same for websites. If I visit a website or blog and it’s unattractive or so cluttered with ads I don’t stay. First impressions do count.

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  9. Thank you so much for letting me post on your blog Jeri. A thrill to be among your writerly friends. Great comments as well and I welcome you to connect with me on my social media sites. I would love to help promote your work and answer any book cover questions you may have.

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    • KJ, it’s great to have you here. I’m curious about the price for cover services as well. What have you found to be the norm when taking a wide selection of cover services into consideration? What is the low end vs. the high end? What can an author expect to get for $50, $100, $500 etc?

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  10. I enjoyed this very much. But what can you do when your publisher gives you an aweful book cover? I know many authors are in this situation as they do not have the option to approve their own covers.

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    • Thank you for your comments William. I’ve not been in this situation, but I’d never let my work be represented by a bad cover. You have some say in it. It’s your book, you can pull out of the deal if it is a bad cover. You can negotiate with them but bottom like you need to be happy with the cover. It is such an important part of your product.

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  11. I have never judged the book by its cover but it seems the modern covers are going to change this concept. The covers shown here speak eloquently! I like your cover KJ and would like to know more about the book. Thanks for the tips, I am bookmarking them too.
    Thanks Jeri for introducing us to such an expert!

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  12. This is excellent addition to your blog, Jeri – I loved KJ’s tips. Yet another post on your blog that i am bookmarking for future reference as i’d need a book cover soon.

    Someone before me in the comments asked this but i want to know, too – how much a book cover design cost? I know it’s relative and it totally depends on the project but i really have no idea – $5, $25, $50, $500? On average – how much? (provided some kind of a brief what i want to achieve with the cover, what’s the target audience, etc.)

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    • Diana, I’m struggling here with wanting to answer everyone’s comments and also not be a huge pest on this feed. So please forgive me if I don’t answer your comment directly.

      I hope my earlier explanation helped on pricing. We of course can negotiate off the price list for other options. Please contact me if you would like to talk more about your cover ideas.

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      • thanks, KJ – i saw your reply to that earlier comment, no worries. Thanks for the super detailed AND helpful follow up 😀

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  13. It does seem kind of silly, doesn’t it? We’ve always been told not to judge a book by it’s cover – but then that is exactly what we do. At least I do. I’m not sure what exactly it is that I look for in a cover, but if I’m looking through books at the bookstore I know automatically which ones I want to flip through and which ones not, simply based on the physical appearance of the outside. So it must be evoking some sort of emotion out of me. I’m probably missing out on a lot of good books with this elimination process though. 🙂

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  14. This may make me the odd one however, I don’t always judge the book by it’s cover. Maybe because for 2 years I was a book reviewer? I’m actually not sure when it changed for me. I will say though, while I’m often an indie publisher, my next book is with a publisher. Due any minute now! The thing is, they tell me what the cover will be. I have some say in it, but not overriding authority. So what’s a pubbie (my word) author supposed to do?

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    • You’re supposed to make sure your cover doesn’t suck so you can sell your book. Publishers know this too so if they’re smart they’ll listen to you and make the changes, some at least, that you want.

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  15. Very nice post about creating winning book cover. The tips can be used for things other than book covers too.

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  16. Well done on enlisting KJ as a regular blogger Jeri. Much kudos:-) Really good post with lots of great tips and ideas. There really only is that one chance at a first impression. Thank you.

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  17. The book cover for “Stealing Time” is so eloquent… Thanks for this feature Jeri… I enjoyed reading about KJ Waters’ writing process.

    By the way, this post reminded me of a great video on Ted Talks.

    “Chip Kidd: Designing books is no laughing matter. OK, it is”

    http://youtu.be/cC0KxNeLp1E

    Hope you can watch it… I am quite sure you’ll love it.

    Best wishes and happy week ahead to you,
    Aquileana 🙂

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    • Thanks so much for sharing this! I loved it and posted it on my twitter. Too funny and what cool oovers he has designed!

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  18. Welcome KJ and I’m thrilled as a frequent reader of Jeri’s blog that she will have you hear once a month! This was awesome and I will literally pass on, pick up, or BUY a book based on it’s cover assuming I have no prior knowledge of the content ahead of time. I too would like the know the cost of book cover design! Thank you! 🙂

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    • Thank you so much Mike! Appreciate the warm welcome! I hope you saw my response about the cover costs. If you want any more information just leave me a note any of my social media links or my website has a contact me section.

      I think a lot of authors get caught up in the writing of the story and are oblivious to the marketing element of their novel. A great book, with a bad cover and no marketing plan is nearly a waste of effort since no one will read it.

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  19. Great post. Indeed, the cover of a book can really elevate interest and anticipation. It”s funny how when I was publishing my book, I knew exactly how I wanted my book to look. Sometimes, the inspiration just comes to us.

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  20. Great tips! Also, KJ’s book has me intrigued, especially since I was actually around and in the right part of Florida to have a very clear understanding of the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Charley.

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  21. Great advice! I can’t say for sure what book covers appeal to me and why. I think I can answer for each package, including the title.

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  22. An interesting addition to your blog, Jeri. Well done! Love the covers noted here.

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  23. I never thought a lot about book covers until I wrote a couple of book reviews for a local literary reviewer. The guidelines I was given suggested saying something about the cover, something often overlooked in reviews. Although the cover may not be that relevant in my choice of reading when reaching for a favourite author, I realized the cover played an important role in whether I picked up a book I hadn’t heard about before. It should grab my attention, hint at the topic, and represent the genre.

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  24. Your work is very professional and therefore you have my enthusiastic endorsement. After designing four covers for me, of which all four were best sellers, you have proven the cover makes a big difference in getting readers to consider my books. The whole process was handled in a manner that actually made a tough job very enjoyable. Thank you KJ!

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    • Look everyone it is the fabulous Roger Grubbs! Thank you so much Roger for your amazing endorsement! We really had a great time working with you. Such an honor to be part of your collection of great books.

      I was very pleased to find out the books we did the covers for are best sellers! We really appreciate you sharing your experience with Blondie’s Custom Book Covers with the readers on this blog. Hope we can help you with more work in the future!

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  25. I really like this article. I recently published a book and sweated over the cover. I wish I’d had this advice then. I did get someone to help me.

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  26. I’m such a visual person, so I love a cover that does #3 well. I want to be able to look at it and have some idea of what it’s about, without having to read the excerpt on the back. I totally judge a book by its cover! 🙂

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  27. Great article. So true that book covers are super important. I often pick up a book solely because the cover was interesting or intriguing. Thanks for a good read!

    Michele

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  28. Oooh, I like your Stealing Time cover, KJ. The nice thing about the modern age of the Internet is it’s so easy to do book cover research, and check out what appeals to you and where you think you might want to go with your own cover.

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    • Thank you so much Laura!Yes, there are tons of places to spark ideas on your cover. I can’t help myself when I’m in a book store now to take pictures of the best sellers and other books. You should hear my kids. “Mom, come on you’re not even buying books your just taking pictures of them. It’s so embarrassing.” I just tell ’em to hush, mommy is doing research.

      Thanks for your comments.

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  29. Good tips and nice to see KJ here (welcome!). I like the idea you suggest of using one scene from the novel to feature on the book cover.

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  30. Absolutely. Have many times noticed a book by a new author because of its cover. And, most important, bought more books written by the same author. Have most likely missed great authors because of dull covers.

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  31. At this point I think most of the previous comments have expressed my feelings. I do like the cover of Stealing Time; simple, rich, and dark with an eerie or mysterious quality.

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    • Thank you Tim! I’m thrilled with all the positive responses to Stealing Time. Appreciate you taking the time to comment as well!

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  32. Book covers that I like: I like print better that cursive. I like the title to be larger than the name of the author. I prefer the title being at the top and the author’s name at the bottom although that isn’t as important to me at have the title larger. I’m not reading the book to find out about the author. I’m reading the book to find out about the story the author want to reveal.

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  33. I’m so glad you included fonts in your cover tips! The right one can really draw people in, reflect the tone of the book, and is likely just as important as the image and colours. It should also match the font inside, I think, or complement it somehow. YIkes! Don’t get me started. : ))

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  34. AFter reading this I realized that there just aren’t that many book covers I can think of that caught my attention and stayed with me. My preference is for simple covers. One that comes to mind is The Circle. The cover is just the fictitious logo of the tech company that the book is about. It’s a pretty simple logo, which is common for tech firms.

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  35. I have added a bit of information about you on my blog. I also added a link to this page and your Website. Great advice. I too would be curious about the price. I have been doing my own book covers, but it is a hard job. Thanks Cher’ley

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    • Cher’ley, thank you so much for adding me to your sites. I’m very grateful for the exposure. I hope the previous pricing comments were helpful.

      I’ll go check out your links!

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  36. The cover of a book has to grab me before I will even open the book to see what it is about. I think that is what the advantage of promoting a hard cover book, is the cover. How many times have you read a book, closed it and just looked at the cover to see how it really applied to the story. Very interesting post.

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  37. Really loved the “Stealing Time” cover. Honestly, it’s not just one thing that gets me hooked with a cover. The less cheesy, the better is number one for me. Some covers really go too far and try to do too much. The Hunger Games series really worked for me. It was simple, just as you say is the way to go. Covers should encapsulate the story while not giving away too much. I love subtle cues found within a cover. It’s always great to read a story and then go back and look at the cover afterwards to see what the author was revealing without me knowing.

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  38. Hi KJ,
    So nice to discover you through Jeri’s site. I love the photo you used for your book cover. I’ve often thought if we are killing time, are we damaging eternity. Now you’ve got me wondering, if we’re stealing time, where are we storing it? 😉

    I agree with you that creating one quality image, as opposed to several, is better focused.

    Kind Regards,
    Bill

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  39. Hi Jeri; thanks for sharing his post with us. I’m not currently working on a book but i have thought about it. I may someday turn my blog posts and social media shares into a book. If i do, then the suggestions here will serve me well in conversations with whoever is helping me. as a blind computer user creating graphics is very difficult as I have no way of evaluating their work first hand. I’ve been lucky with kelly corbin th lady who has made my site logos. your suggestion of a blog post to decide between multiple images was a fine idea. thanks to both of you for sharing, max

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  40. I like book covers that are simple, but they also have to capture my attention.

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  41. Hi KJ, and Jeri. Great idea for a guest series. That is hilarious about There’s a Tentacle in my Butt!! That’s not one you’d forget in a hurry! I had also wondered about how much say an author gets when it comes to their covers. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    • Ha, yes I thought it was funny too. Would love to know who that target market is, other than just men.

      To answer your question, indie authors have complete control of their covers. One’s with publishers I think it varies with the outfit, but since the book is your product you have some say in it, and the bigger the publisher the less say you’re going to have.

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  42. I’m always looking for advice on book covers because my second one bombed. Thanks so much! Next time, I’ll go with a professional designer like KJ. The vision of that person is necessary–I’m in too involved to be objective.

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  43. This is really interesting. I know I am such a sucker for book covers. I tell myself all the time to “not choose a book by its cover” but it is impossible. I’ve picked books with great covers that didn’t interest me and I’ve been recommended great books whose cover would never have appealed to me. It really shows the power of the book cover and why you have to get it right to have a success. Thanks for the tips.

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  44. If the book has a good title that will get me interested. Although I am probably in the minority i will pick up any book and read what’s its about in the inside jacket. If the first two paragraphs don’t pull me in then I put the book back on the shelf. I have heard certain colors put together will make a person gravitate towards a book cover then others. I love the cover of Stealing Time. Thanks for the great tips! 🙂

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  45. I am definitely drawn to a book by its cover and will be quick to judge or pass over something uninteresting. The cover for Stealing Time makes me want to read it. If I saw that in the bookstore, I’d pick it up to check it out for sure! From the KISS theory to less is more, I can see where choosing the cover for your book can be just as crucial as writing the story itself!

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    • Thanks so much Pamela and I’m glad the cover catches your eye. I totally agree that the cover is nearly as important as the book. You have to get the reader to buy the book to enjoy the writing. And oftentimes the cover out does the writing, but on some level that’s OK, it did its job by selling the book, right? May not lead to word of mouth endorsements or good reviews, but you still have the sale.

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  46. Thanks for a great post! I’m curious: do you feel that covers with characters sell better or worse than those with other images/illustrations? Or doesn’t it make a difference?

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    • Great question, Nicholas. I think it depends on the genre. If it’s romance you really need the visual of a hot body to capture the reader. Right now on the best selling list you have a lot of scenery photos that have been manipulated to set the mood. So there is definitely a huge market for those types of pictures.

      We will have a huge selection of stock photos of this type as well once we get geared up. For now we can access our huge database of photos at a client’s request. In fact, one of our sources was a photographer for Jacque Cousteau and we have access to all of his other work as well. He is a professor of photography at a university nearby. The bulk of our stock photos are from my professional photographer’s collection and we are continually taking more pictures to get a broad range of choices for our clients.

      Thanks for your question. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and participate in the discussion.

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