Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Creating Covers that Sell Books

By Mary Allen

You can pour your heart into creating a story for months, even years. You send it through critique groups and when, at last, it is polished and ready to be launched into the world there is another hurdle to jump: creating a cover that sells.

If you are traditionally published, you may have little or no say in what the cover looks like because your publisher’s marketing and creative art staff handles this. However, if you are publishing as an independent author, creating the cover is your responsibility.

You can buy a ready-made cover that fits with your story line for about $30, but you may not be the only one to use that cover. For a greater outlay of cash, you can hire a cover artist to create an individualized book cover for you or using your basic ideas. This may seem a huge outlay, but it could save you time and money in the long run. Finally, you can create a cover of your own.

I created covers for my first three books of poetry, which I intended to sell locally, and was satisfied with the results. Now that I’m ready to launch my first fiction into the world, I have my sights set higher. Still, I had some definite ideas about the cover.

I hired Danielle, a virtual assistance, working as to help set my cover ideas up in Create Space. She did everything I asked very quickly. The results were pretty close to what I’d envisioned. 

This first is a close-up shot of the stairs I wanted to use.The stairs (of my protagonist’s apartment) is a symbol of her steep climb to health, independence, and reestablishing a relationship with God. The scripted title seemed to speak of the gentleness of God. Finally, I accepted the idea of the road on the back cover as another symbol of her journey. I still like this general idea of stairs the best, but I’m not selling to myself. I’m selling to a public with varied interests and experiences, who are influenced by trends in our society. What we have in common is an interest in Women's Fiction. I have to speak to them in picture, then in words.

I re-shot a different stairs to include the baby carrier for added interest even though motherhood is merely a complication of the woman’s grief journey. Also, I used it because my human subject didn’t work out as I’d hoped. I liked the red in the following cover.

When I ran both covers by a diverse group of indie authors and cover artists at C.I.A, the approval wasn’t great, but the advice was invaluable and worth sharing here. I feel blessed and excited to have their help because I want to do this well. I want a cover that sells. Flattery would not have helped and would in fact have harmed me. Here’s what they suggested.

  1. No blur -In the first it felt unfocused rather than creating the introspective mood I’d intended. In the second it made the baby carrier difficult to identify.
  2. A person, or part of a person would serve as an anchor.
  3. The sepia didn’t work for the time period of 1995. One person, from a missionary family felt the monochromatic look inferred missionary life was dull.
  4. The title script could be difficult to read when selling on-line. A bolder, un-fussy title font would be better.
  5. The title so far from the baby carrier made a single focal point difficult.
  6. “a novel” isn’t necessary, but if used it shouldn’t be near the author’s name and should be small.
  7. “by” in front of the author’s name is the mark of a newbie.
  8.  The author name should be bigger.
  9. The back cover background did not seem related to the stairs.
  10. The Bio needs more delineation, perhaps an author photograph.

These helpful suggestions didn’t mean I was back to the drawing board starting from scratch. Someone once said about writing, “Sometimes you have to murder your darlings.” It’s the same way with cover art. Sometimes you have to leap to a new idea, or one you had and discarded. That’s what I’m doing.

The cover at the top of this blog is an idea I liked but discarded because I was tied to the stairway idea. It's the rough draft, still needing tweaking. The reworked copy didn't come in time to be included here. 

Click on the photos to read the back cover copy. Study the front. Feel free to comment. I value your opinions, Hoosier Ink authors.


  1. Thank you for your suggestions, Mary. $30 seems like a good investment to have a quality first impression product. I can't tell you how many times I see a horrible cover for a book on Amazon, and it makes me not want to purchase the book. First impressions are important.

    1. Or more than $30. (I had to go back and verify what the actual number was)

  2. I really like your final cover, Mary! ❤️

    1. Thank you Dawn. I hope it doesn't look like a "love story", but a journey into God's love.

  3. I agree with whoever suggested taking out the "by" and "a novel," and I don't think I've ever seen a cover with just the back of a head. It might work if the main character was trying to hide her identity, but it just doesn't do anything for me here.

    The main problem with the blur in your stair examples is that they look like bad pictures rather than like something intentional. If you find something that has to do with your story, put it at or near the stairs (bottom, somewhere in the middle, or at the top), and use settings that put that item in focus but blur the stairs around it, that might work. You would have to experiment to get the right amount of blur so that the object is in focus and the stairs are still recognizable. But that's just a suggestion from a serious amateur photographer.

    Best wishes finding the right cover.

  4. Yes - that was the original concept, Kathryn. We played around with that and added a person, added a baby carrier - it just wasn't working no matter how I wanted it to. The head has had tremendous enthusiastic response. I guess "body parts" are "in" on covers these days, especially in WF. Thanks for your comments.