Create a book cover that sells online

Today’s guest blogger is book and software publishing company owner Susan Daffron (aka The Book Consultant). Susan spends most of her time writing, laying out books in InDesign, or taking her dogs out for romps in the forest. She also teaches people how to write and publish profitable client-attracting books and puts on the annual Self-Publishers Online Conference . The fourth event is May 8-10, 2012. Get a 10% discount on the registration fee by using the code BookBuzz12.

Create a book cover that sells online

By Susan Daffron

When it comes to marketing your book, much has been written about the importance of book cover design. Great covers sell books. An ugly or unreadable book cover design is a huge hurdle that even a fantastic book often can’t overcome. (If no one is willing to pick up the book, they’ll never find out the goodness that might lurk within!)

Good book covers have three things in common. They:

  1. Capture attention.
  2. Use high quality images and thoughtful typography.
  3. Incorporate important design principles such as balance, readability, and judicious use of color.

Today, because so many books are sold online, this list isn’t enough anymore. You have to take other design considerations into account. Many book covers that would have performed well in a bookstore setting simply don’t work online.

These days, Amazon isn’t just the world’s biggest bookstore, it’s also quite possibly your biggest sales avenue. So you need to think about how your book cover will look on Amazon.com and other online sites

Today’s teeny tiny covers

You can see cover design issues in real time by doing a quick search on Amazon.com. For example, if you do a search for a classic book like Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, you see a lot of editions. When I did a search today, the first one on the list from SoHo Books has cover text that is almost unreadable. Conversely, the Signet Classic version has a simpler cover with higher contrast, so you can see the title.

Sure, students will search for Wuthering Heights because they have to read it in school. They may not even really look at the cover at all. Bronte has name recognition going for her. You probably don’t.

If you’re a nonfiction book author and someone does a search on the subject of your book, what do they see when your book comes up in the list of books on Amazon? Will someone pick your book out of the lineup? Unfortunately, countless beautifully designed covers simply don’t work at small sizes.

Covers today must have:

  • Large and extremely readable titles
  • Good contrast
  • Striking images

(Of course, don’t forget, they still have to look nice too!)

Does it pass the squint test?

Covers need to pass what I call the “squint test.” When you have a designer create your cover, reduce the image down to 100 pixels wide. If you can’t squint and see the title, the author, or have some idea what the imagery represents, tell your designer to try again.

If you publish an e-book version of your book, you also have to think about the black and white thumbnail that appears on Kindle. These things weren’t issues until fairly recently and a lot of designers still aren’t taking them into account. How does your cover look as a 72-dpi grayscale thumbnail that’s only 100 pixels wide?

Marketing books is a lot of work. Make sure your book cover is going to help and not hinder your online marketing efforts.

What has been your biggest challenge with your book cover? Did you have trouble finding a designer, or were you dissatisfied with the thumbnail version? Share your experiences here — Susan will pop back to comment!


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  1. The Idea of designing a cover specifically for the e-market is interesting, I would suppose that a cover could be designed for both book store and e-market’s.

    Thank you for the insight.

    1. I agree, Merlin. I would prefer 1 cover that serves both markets. I would think that 2 different covers could be confusing or counterproductive.

      1. I have heard of people doing two different covers, but it’s often only in situations where the aspect ratio is really different (e.g. the print book is square, whereas a Kindle is a rectangle).

        I think keeping the images and typography as similar as possible reinforces the branding of your book in the marketplace.

    2. Absolutely! The principles behind what makes a good ebook cover also work for a print cover. Book covers with the highest impact have always been the ones with striking imagery that captures your attention at a glance.

      I would argue that designing a cover to look good in black and white and at a small size makes for a better cover in general, regardless of how it is eventually presented to the reader. The TBW (Tiny Black and White) test alone can quickly point out potential contrast, balance, and readability problems.

      There’s nothing wrong with adding plenty of detail to the cover too, as long as the most important visual characteristics are not compromised.

  2. As a bookcoach for 25 years, I applaud your tips here Susan. Especially the clarity and readability of the the cover via digital delivery. Good info for designers too ie. 100 pixels and squint test.

    I can’t tell you how many books I have not bought on Amazon because I can’t read the too tiny title and bad design. .

    When coaching new clients, I urge them to consider the 9 Essential Hot Selling Points BEFORE they write the book. That includes their best audience, the top benefits that sell the book,and the cover and title!

    My blog for authors/businesses needs a guest post from you. Let me know if you are game. So far we have 200 posts.

      1. I agree with Sandy! A good book cover can make an enormous difference. Many people tend to skimp on book cover design, which is a mistake, if you ask me. There are countless stories of books that languished on shelves (virtual or physical) until the cover was redesigned.

  3. One thing I’m not hearing is that the cover is like an Ad, “what is it and why do I need it”? With thumbnail marketing a fancy cover is very important, but the title might not tell us what the book is about. So, I’m an advocate for a powerful sub-title!

    1. A great title can help sell a book too. With that said, I agree a good subtitle is important. Actually these days, subtitles work even harder because ideally, in addition to extolling the benefits of buying the book, they also should contain keywords so people can find the book.

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