Authors: Book Covers Are Vital to Your Book’s Success

If you read the comments after my post, “Writing a Book? Your Title Is Key,” you noticed that William Sheehan, one of my followers, asked me to address the topic of book covers. The Wall Street Journal once published, “You can’t tell—but you can sell–a book by its cover.”

I believe this is true from my experience of writing and publishing four titles. The cover of your book is a sales tool, just as much as its function is to protect the book. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average bookstore browser who picks up a book, spends eight seconds reading the front cover and 15 seconds reading the back cover. Of course, at first, the spine with the book’s title catches the browser’s eye, otherwise he wouldn’t have pulled the book off the shelf. The front cover with the title, perhaps a subtitle that further identifies the subject, and the author’s name, should have an illustration or photograph with appeal and impact.

It’s important for you as a writer to visit bookstores and look at the covers of similar books on the shelf. Your cover must intrigue in some way. The spine of the book has the title, author’s name, and can even have some symbol that relates to the subject matter of the book. If your book is about love, you could have a heart-shaped symbol on the spine. The spine is your first sales tool.

As for the back cover, it should not only contain information about what the book is about, but it should also have comments written by others about your book, such as pre-publication reviews of it, or testimonials from colleagues about your expertise. The back cover can include your photo, too. If you include a photo, it must, of course, be a good one. If you’ve written a book on a serious professional topic such as death and dying, chances are, a photo with a great big smile on your face may be inappropriate.

Study book covers–spine, front, and back– to get a feel for what they are all about, and how you can attract the browser’s attention. You don’t have much space on the back cover so make each word count.

As an example of how book covers are important, I’ll tell you about an experience I once had. I’ve never written a gothic novel, but I bought one for a friend who loved reading them. I remember buying one with a front cover that contained a woman fleeing from a strange- looking man. I don’t remember the title or author of the book, but I do remember the artwork on the cover. The cover attracts the reader. Its art must reflect the mood or tone of the book. As for color, to take an obvious example, you wouldn’t want to have a cheerful bright yellow cover, if you wrote a book on death and dying.

Below, I’ve reprinted my comment to William Sheehan about book covers, and I’ve also reprinted Merrill Gonzales’ comment on color. I interviewed Merrill for one of my previous posts, as she is a talented haiku poet and artist.

William, I only briefly referred to book covers in my blog. So, thanks for asking. As for the cover, bright colors stand out. Red is always a nice color for a book cover. It calls attention to the reader, particularly if it’s a non-fiction book that deals with an issue or problem. For example, my book “Everything You need to Know About Nursing Homes,” has a red cover because I want the subject matter to stand out and alert people to a problem. I also have a red book cover on my book “You Can Be A Columnist” because it can, in certain cases, also convey something upbeat. It just depends on the subject matter.

I tend to think white covers should only be used if you have a literary book like a poetry book. That would give it a nice clean look. A conservative, serious look.

Yellow, orange or purple covers would appeal to children.

You obviously understand the nature of your book and the ideas you want to convey, so you can offer cover suggestions to the graphic artist. A good artist works with concepts to promote the subject matter of the book and design it accordingly. A graphic artist can consult with the author about color.

For example, my book “Your Original Personal Ad: The Complete Guide to Expressing Your Unique Sentiments to Find Your Dream Person” has a gold cover. This is very appropriate for the subject matter. It also gives it a gifty look so people would even feel comfortable giving it to a friend who is looking for a mate. The cover is stunning with designs of quirky people writing ads and also reading newspapers for ads.

My book, “Beginners’ Guide to Writing & Selling Quality Features” has a blue cover with red and white lettering. Blue with red and white lettering is very attractive. The design with “Article Accepted” obviously attracts readers.

My “You Can Be A Columnist” has a quirky design of an old-fashioned typewriter just like the famous columnists in past decades used.

If you had a sci-fi novel, I would think deep purple would attract readers.

Again, a good graphic artist should work with the author to come up with something appropriate, and it’s important to work with one specifically versed in book covers. Everyone is a specialist these days, after all.

Hope this helps, William, and thanks for reading my blog and commenting! Keep writing your poetry!

In summary, just be sure your book cover “sings” out to readers from the bookshelf.

Artist Merrill Gonzales says:

Color has a great literature of psychological influences on us… red tends to energize, pink tends to calm; blue and green tend to relax; orange is a color of gregariousness, yellow is often forward looking…. and so on. You learn that blue gives distance to a painting, whereas yellow brings it forward. It’s a very interesting science and one worth studying.

If you learned one thing from this post, it’s that once you’ve written a book, you, as the author, will need to be involved at least to some extent in the production of it. Always be helpful, and offer your publisher and the graphic artist suggestions on any concepts you may have in mind for cover art.

Copyright 2012 by Charlotte Digregorio.

About Charlotte Digregorio

I publish books. I have marketed and/or published 55 titles. These books are sold in 46 countries to bookstores, libraries, universities, professional organizations, government agencies, and book clubs. I recently received an Official Commendation from Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner for my thirty-eight years of accomplishments in the literary arts, and my work to promote and advance the field by educating adults and students alike. I am the author of five non-fiction books: Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All; Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Homes; You Can Be A Columnist; Beginners' Guide to Writing & Selling Quality Features; and Your Original Personal Ad. The first four books have been adopted as supplemental texts at universities throughout the U.S., Canada, India, Pakistan, and Catalonia. They are sold in 43 countries, and are displayed in major metropolitan cultural centers. These books have been reviewed, recommended, and praised by hundreds of critics, librarians, and professors worldwide. I am also the author of a poetry collection: "Shadows of Seasons: Selected Haiku and Senryu." Two of my books have been Featured Selections of Writer's Digest Book Club. I am regularly interviewed by major print, radio, and television organizations throughout the U.S. I regularly sign books at libraries, chain bookstores, and university bookstores, and do poetry readings at art centers, cafes, tea houses, and galleries. I was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. I have won forty-seven poetry awards, writing twelve poetic forms. My poetry has been translated into eight languages. I do illustrated solo poetry exhibits 365 days a year in libraries, galleries, corporate buildings, hospitals, convention centers, and other venues. My individual poems have been displayed at supermarkets, apparel and wine shops, banks, botanic gardens, restaurants, and on public transit. I have been nominated and listed in "The International Authors and Writers Who's Who" in Cambridge, England and in the "Who's Who In Writers, Editors & Poets U.S./Canada." I hosted my own radio program, "Poetry Beat," on public broadcasting. My poetry has been featured on several library web sites including those of Shreve Memorial Library in Louisiana and Cornell University's Mann Library. My background includes positions as a feature editor and columnist at daily newspapers and as a magazine editor. I have been a public relations director for a non-profit organization. I am self-employed as a public relations/marketing consultant, having served a total of 118 clients in 23 states for the past several decades . In other professional areas, I have been on university faculties, teaching French, Italian, and Writing. I regularly give lectures and workshops on publishing, journalism, publicity, poetry, and creativity to business and professional groups, and at writer's conferences, universities, literary festivals, non-profit organizations, and libraries. I have been a writer-in-residence at universities. There have been about 400 articles written about me in the media. I have served on the Boards of writers and publishers organizations. My positions have included Board Secretary of the Northwest Association of Book Publishers. I served for five years as Midwest Regional Coordinator of The Haiku Society of America, and for two years as its Second Vice President.
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6 Responses to Authors: Book Covers Are Vital to Your Book’s Success

  1. I agree with the concept of colour here. Another thing which, from a design point of view, annoys me is when a cover of a book has lettering which almost bleeds into the background and you have to angle the book to see what is written.
    I often see this on self-publishing sites.
    Another mistake is to have something resembling a rainbow on the cover of say a horror novel. If more attention was paid to the genre of the actual work inside then these things would not be an issue.

  2. Charlotte,

    Thank you for covering my question so throughly. As always I have come away with a new appreciation for books. We used to own a bookstore called “Tattered Tomes” and our house still has 10k+ in it. Tomorrow I will begin taking notice of the color scheme and other details and let you know what I find.

    Now, like the inquisitive person I am, I have a new question. What are your thoughts on fonts? Any preferences?



    • Gosh, William, I’ll have to think about that one. Off hand, one doesn’t want fonts that are too ornate. One wants fonts that are bold and easy to read from a distance, particularly if the book is displayed at a trade show. If the fonts are too fancy, they detract from the cover’s design and the actual title. You don’t want the reader focusing on the fonts, but rather the message–the title.

      William, you have a varied background. You’ve done so much. Lots of experiences to draw from when you write, I bet.

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