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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.

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