Guest post: Book covers by Vonnie Winslow Crist

I’m delighted to welcome back novelist, short story author, poet and illustrator Vonnie Winslow Crist for tonight’s guest blog post.

Book covers

We’ve been told by teachers, librarians, and our mums: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” That saying might be great life advice – but truth be told, most readers pick up a book because the cover has caught their eye. So what’s a writer to do?

If you’re lucky enough to be published by a major publisher, the art director and editor will ultimately choose your book’s cover. As the author, you’ll have little input. If instead, your book is published by a small, independent publisher or you self-publish – you’ll be involved in cover choices. So what do you need to think about?

1-You’ve only got one chance to make a first impression. You need to grab the eyes of the shopper (or library patron) and hold their attention long enough for them to read the title of your book. Store shelves are lined with books. Yours must stand out from the rest. But how? Answer: Color! There are certain color combinations that our eyes are naturally drawn to. Black lettering on bright yellow is one. Others? Look at traffic signs. Certain color combinations attract the eyes and can be clearly read at great distances. But how to find a color combination that works for you? Visit a library or bookstore. Don’t look at the covers; instead, study the book spines that line the shelves. You’ll naturally gravitate towards certain book spines. From studying those spines, you’ll discover which color combinations and lettering styles are the most legible.

2-The right title. Remember, the most eye catching color combination can’t correct a poorly chosen title. Titles should be content appropriate, as brief as possible, and catchy! A title that makes a reader curious enough to open the book is what every writer is looking for.

3-Cover style. While at your local bookstore or library, look at the covers of books. Make a list that clearly states which covers appeal to you and why. Then, make a list of which covers ”turn you off” and why. And forget about the covers which aren’t strong enough to cause a reaction at all—if they’re as bland as elevator music, you’re not the only one who barely notices them. By looking for common threads in the best covers, you’ll be able to list what attributes your cover needs. Maybe simple, uncluttered cover images are your cup of tea. Maybe a fabulous photograph surrounded by a thick, solid-color border on which to place text works for you. Maybe a dark mysterious image with bright, bold letters is appealing. Once you have an idea which covers attract you, then you can begin the process of selecting the artwork or photography for your book. And if you’re not a photographer or artist yourself, there are places where you can buy images – just make certain to acquire the rights you need.

4-Communicate to a reader what’s between the covers. Your book’s cover needs to tell a potential reader what’s inside. First, the cover image must match the content. The bright colors and bold images of a children’s book wouldn’t be a good fit for most romance novels. Just as dark silhouettes and bloody knives wouldn’t be the correct image for most self-help books. Next, the title and author’s name must be readable – so make sure there’s a place to layout text. A beautiful photograph or piece of artwork doesn’t necessarily make a great book cover if the artist hasn’t left “open space” for placing the text. Most good cover art has an area that’s free of images or complicated patterns on which to position the title and author’s name.

5-Lettering counts. The color of the lettering is another consideration at this point. If the cover art background is sky blue, then it’s best to pick a color that contrasts with it. Orange lettering with a black shadow or outline would “pop”, whereas white or pale yellow lettering would blend in. Also, the font should be easily read. It’s a good idea to skip the fancy fonts when choosing a style for your letters. And remember to make the lettering large enough to be legible from an arm’s length away. Readability is important.

6-Get the opinions of others. Technical help is available from professionals, but every one of your friends and family members can tell you if an image interests them and what sort of book they think that image represents. The potential cover, including text, can be shown to friends. Be prepared for both positive and negative responses. If everyone you show the cover to has trouble reading the text or doesn’t get the message from the cover art that you’d hoped to convey—maybe it’s time to re-think your cover.

7-Think small, too. Paperbacks and hardback books are sold from electronic sites as well as traditional brick and mortar stores. If your book is an eBook, its cover may only appear online. Your cover should not only be attractive as a small image on readers’ computers, but customers need to be able to read the title. The boom in Amazon and other online stores has added another challenge to authors hoping to attract readers with their book covers.

In conclusion, congratulations on completing your book! The good news is – selecting a cover isn’t as difficult as writing hundreds of pages of text. Use these 7 tips to help you with your book’s cover. And remember after one book is published: keep writing and believe in yourself.

Thank you Vonnie, as a self-published writer who designs my own covers, I loved that! 🙂

Vonnie Winslow Crist, BS Art & Education, MS Professional Writing from Towson University, is a columnist for ‘Harford’s Heart Magazine’, an illustrator for ‘The Vegetarian Journal’, the editor of ‘The Gunpowder Review’, and a contributor to ‘Faerie Magazine’. A firm believer that the world around us is filled with miracles and magic, she has had a life-long interest in reading, writing, folklore, myths, legends, fairy tales, and art. She lives at the edge of a very green forest in a rural area of the USA, loves to hear owls hooting, feeds wild birds, adores toads, tends Faerie-friendly plants in her garden, and often has toadstool fairy rings sprout up beneath the trees in her yard. ‘The Greener Forest’ is her new book of fantasy stories:

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