What are the most basic requirements for cover design?
The most important thing to remember is that your cover is a marketing tool to attract new readers. It will be the focus of any marketing you do, and it will need to work in banners, advertising, and maybe even posters. Established readers of your work will buy your books if you wrap it in a brown paper bag. The cover is a tool to increase that readership.
There seem to be two schools of thought on book covers. The first one I see espoused is to blend with your genre. Find the best-selling books in your genre and make sure your cover is easily associated with these. This helps for marketability and as a side effect gives the book an unconscious visual recommendation. A viewers mind remembers that they liked X, and this looks like X, therefore I will probably like it too. On the other hand, do you want to be one of the crowd? A good cover that stands out will attract the eye faster than a good cover that blends into all the others. Whichever philosophy you ascribe to your cover must…
Convey who the author is, and what the story is about.
- To achieve this, you need to have a readable font that is clearly visible against the background image;
- Fancy fonts are fine as long as they can still be read in thumbnail images;
- Your author name falls below the title unless you are so well known your name is enough to sell books;
- Your Title must be both predictive (hinting at the story) and evoke a positive emotional reaction in prospective readers.
Be eye-catching so it stands out on the shelf or webpage.
- Your cover has to be attractive. People do judge a book by its cover.
- Your cover has to look professional. If the cover isn’t professional, people will assume the writing isn’t either.
- If you make your own covers or pre-purchase them make sure you avoid overused stock photos. Check out the Gallery of Clones.
- A substantial part of the population has vision problems. Do yourself a favour and don’t discourage buyers with confusing imagery, blue/green colour grades, or small text.
Convey the feel (if not the content) of the story.
A picture paints a thousand words [circa 1% of your word count] so if a reader picks up your story based on the cover then finds it bears little resemblance to the story you will have an unhappy reader/reviewer. Some common examples to avoid are
- A romantic looking couple on the cover when there is no romance.
- Space battles in Sci-Fi books that don’t feature space battles.
- A figure on the cover who seems to be the protagonist who almost the opposite of how the character is described.
- Dark stories with neon-happy covers, such as stories focused on abuse and domestic violence with a ‘flowery romance’ cover.