How to create a winning book cover: Questions to ask yourself or your designer

This is a post by Novel Publicity PR Campaign Manager, Pavarti K Tyler

Welcome back to my series on designing your own book cover (you read part one, right?)! I'm Pav and I'll be your design tour guide for the day. I am not a graphic designer, I'm not a visual artist and I'm not a photoshop wiz. What I am is patient, cheap and willing to be wrong.

So you've written a book, or you're in the process of writing a book, and you want to see if you can design that cover by yourself. That's so great! Did you check out my list of tools you'll need to get this done? Well then, you're ready to rock and roll aren't you.

Well, No.

Now that you're confident you're going to do this yourself you have some research to do:

  1. Check out book covers on your shelves or go to the library. Hold them, read them, look at how they look on the shelf. Do certain colors make you want to pick something up? Do you like covers with a lot of text?
  2. Check out books in YOUR genre. Does every single book in the fantasy/otherworld realm have an image of an elf on it? If so you might want to consider getting an elf picture. You don't have to do what everyone else does, but a kind of art sets up the expectation of what kind of novel you're going to read.
  3. What is the message of your book? Does the image you're using convey the overall theme? Is it a dark image when you're writing chick lit? First impressions mean everything, so make sure when someone picks up your book it’s for the right reason.

To make my point I'm going to pick on my first draft of Two Moons of Sera:

It's not terrible. It's actually not unlike some of the ebooks I buy. But from a composition point of view it has some problems.

First of all, the style of the image is more inline with the art of romance or erotica ebooks. 2MOS is a fantasy novel which will have romance in it, but the story is more about the world and people in it than the carnal act. If someone picked up this book they wouldn't assume it happened in a world that literally has two moons or that there's something special about the lead character other than that a book was written about her. So this cover fails on two points: genre and message.

The next thing to consider when evaluating a cover is that joi de vive that separates an awesome cover from one that you let sit on the e-shelves and never buy. It seems ephemeral and impossible to categorize, but in reality, there are things that appeal to the eye and pull us in which you can make sure to capitalize on.

  1. Do you know who wrote the book? Seems ridiculous but there are so many ebooks out there without the author's name. It's amazing. Don't forget this. You wrote it, get your name out there!
  2. Can you read the title? Now, can you read the title when it's really small? How about when it's REALLY BIG? Remember, people look at these on their computers; you have to be prepared for the thumb-nailing effect.
  3. Can you tell what the story's about? (this ties back to the message point earlier). If your book is about a kid's dog, don't put a naked woman on the cover. Actually, don't put a naked woman on your cover no matter what you're writing. A surefire way to get you book pulled off a website is full nudity.
  4. Colors. Are they vivid? Engaging? Evocative? You can do this even with full grayscale if you utilize the shades of gray to their full effect. Don't be willing to stop at good. Make it epic.

After staring at the draft cover of 2MOS for 174 hours or so, I started to hate it. Really, really hate it. It didn't convey what I wanted it to. So I thought about my story. What is the thing I really want people to understand when they buy the book. I came up with two things:

  1. The story takes place in another world.
  2. The story is about Sera's journey from isolation to adulthood.

I trolled the stock image sites and I never found quite the right thing. I did like this one, but something about it wasn't quite right. Too romancey, and the model just didn't look like Sera to me. I needed something more innocent.

I kept writing while I mulled the cover and it wasn't until I decided to release Two Moons of Sera as a serial novel that I found the right words to express the tone and style I wanted: vintage. It conveyed the tone, the look, the innocence, and the femininity I wanted.

My next cover was slightly more successful:

With this one I was so close. On the plus side I was giving more of the tone of the piece and had a better understanding of who I was marketing to. But it just wasn't there. Why you ask? Let me tell you!

  1. Author name is hard to find
  2. Captures the setting but not the world of the story
  3. No action. There is nothing dynamic about this picture.
  4. Where's Sera?

In the end, this image became my back cover. Still beautiful but it works better as a back drop to text.


I had fine-tuned what I wanted. I knew the style, the tone, the important elements and the one thing that when missing annoyed me. Armed with this information I looked through stock photos. I combined and added effect. I selected a font that set off the same tone and style. Until finally I created this:

In this cover we have a certain sense of whimsy conveyed along with the clear message that this book is about that girl. Sera is underwater, which while you wouldn't know it until reading the back, is an important element in the book. She's comfortable there; neither drowning nor a mermaid, what is she? Is this just artistic license or is there something more? These are the questions I hope readers will ask, even subconsciously. In the cover you have a sense of the world, the main character, some of the conflict which makes the reader want to know more. The name of the book is clear as is who wrote it.

With a lot of work and following some of these suggestions you can create an eye-catching cover. I know you can. The question is, do you invest in it with your time and do it yourself or invest with your money and hire a pro. Whichever you choose, spend wisely and go for gold.


About this post’s author:

Pavarti K Tyler, Marketing Department DirectorPavarti K Tyler is an artist, wife, mother and number-cruncher and has been committed to causing trouble since her first moment on this Earth. Her eclectic career has flirted with Broadway, Teaching, Law Firms and the IRS. She is currently consulting with Novel Publicity while hard at work establishing her Indie Publishing Company Fighting Monkey Press. Pavarti's debut novel, Two Moons of Serais a Fantasy/Romance and will be released in serial format beginning November 2011. Her next novel, Shadow on the Wall, is a work of literary fiction and is scheduled for release in Early 2012. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter or her website.