Monday, August 18, 2014

Best Selling Book Covers and Why Covers Matter to the Indie Community

If you're an Indie author, you might not like what I have to say. But know this, in our society of shiny cellophane wrapped Pinterest-driven image obsession, people ARE going to judge your book by its cover, and they're going to judge harshly.

I've compiled the covers of some of the nation's best selling traditionally published books, and the covers of some Indie books to show what readers look for in a book cover. We have to keep in mind that Indie authors and their cover designers are competing against the nation's top publishing houses and their graphic design teams. But I've only chosen to show the great covers in both worlds. This post is meant to be uplifting and instructional. Also please note that I'm not discussing the contents of any of these books! This post is strictly about judging books by their covers! (Oh, I'm so shallow!)

I'm going to dissect what makes them great covers, and also teach you a little bit about what just looks good from a graphic design perspective. While I am an artist with an eye for detail, I'm a writer first. Any knowledge I might have about design will have been taught to me by my graphic designer sister, Becca Henrie at Navy House Designs!

Let's look at the above two first. Unbroken is an Amazon and NYT Best Seller. The color orange actually has psychological benefits related to energy and power. Whether the authors knew it or not, the backgrounds of their covers have a powerful punch because of the orange/yellow and black combination. Please note the MATCHING FONTS on Unbroken. The author's name, only slightly smaller than the title, is in the exact same font as the title. My graphic designing sister says that's one of the number one mistakes amateurs make when they're designing covers. You want consistent fonts. Even in the second example of the Indie book "Thriving in Turbulent Times", the subtitle font matches most of the main title. Thriving and the author's name are the same font, or very similar, so you get a bookend effect which is also visually pleasing. Let's look at some more.

The Goldfinch is another best selling title. Check out those matching fonts! Title and author...BOOM! There is also a graphic window letting you peek into the premise behind the story. I haven't read this book, but I'm betting there is something about the bird called goldfinch in there. Likewise in the Indie book "Edric The Hatchling Gryphon" you see the startling blue stone in contrast to the other white and gray stones. This visual punch hints at the story within. Also note: the subtitle and the author's name are in (drumroll please) MATCHING FONTS. (Are you starting to see a trend here? I hope so.) Let's do a couple more still.

Uh oh! The titles are in different fonts than the authors' names! What are we going to do? Don't panic. Two different fonts, as long as they aren't COMPETING with each other, is okay. Just be sure to choose two that look pleasing side by side. I'm not a font-identity expert, but there is a slight chance that in "The Husband's Secret", the author's name is the same font as the title, but in italics. If you want consistency (which trust me, you do) then that is always a good choice. In addition to the tastefully different but complimentary fonts, there is a satisfying stock photo in nice stark relief to the white background. Department store ads learned this concept a long time ago...people love to look at photos of stuff on white backgrounds. Also, the covers are well done in their simplicity. Sometimes authors get so excited about sharing their story with readers, that they try to include as many visual cues as possible on their covers. Sadly, the effect can actually diminish the potential reader's interest. Keep it Simple, Sweetheart! Two more examples to follow.

You're probably wondering if maybe I've flipped my lid. First a lecture on not adding too many details, and then "The Kitchen House" cover looks, well, kinda busy. Okay yes, there are a few things going on in that first cover. A girl's face, a house, a yard, and lots and lots of text. Let's dissect it though. All of the details are very neatly divided into sections. The title is a block font with no distracting curlicues. The muted blue tint on the girl's face just fades in the background so that the title stands out well. So while there are a lot of visual details, the eye glides easily along from title to house to girl's face and back to title. It really does work, and the best selling status appears to back this up. Next, Indie published "Completely Restored" is an excellent example of a polished cover. The soft slate background lets the title and graphic do all the work. I love the carefully chosen font, which has an old world typewriter feel to it, consistent with the older style home pictured on the front. The quote at the top is a nice touch, lending the impression of a well-reviewed and well-received book. The curlicues on this title are completely appropriate to the cover, adding an architectural detail to what could have been too boring of a cover.

Now that you have a couple more design tools in your kit, I strongly encourage you to stand back and look at your book cover(s) with an objective eye, and see if you can make any improvements.

Why does it matter what your book cover looks like? The content is what truly matters, right? You spent a ton of time on your baby! Couple reasons. First, you need your cover to reflect the quality of your work. I've read phenomenal books that had terrible covers. I couldn't help but wonder if they wouldn't get more sales if they could tweak their covers, even a little bit. Or in some cases, a complete overhaul might be necessary. Second reason it matters is because the Indie community is really hot right now. Publishing and book selling have become completely attainable to us. It's an exciting time! But self-publishers won't be taken seriously if they present work that is less than polished and professional. Starting at the cover, we need to present our books as if we mean business, because we do.

And lastly, you had to know this was coming right? Two more covers that pack a visual punch.

The design team for Twilight's cover made book cover history with its iconic photo on black background. I'd be lying if I said I didn't take some inspiration from that stunning visual effect when I hired my designer to create the cover for 97. I wanted the black to represent the danger in the story, and the pink swirls represent a plot element. The font is all the same, from letters to numbers.

Designing a great cover is half the battle. Once you have a great cover that entices readers, the rest is up to you to provide great content that keeps your readers coming back for more. Good luck.


  1. I learned so much from this one blog,Vicky! I'm going to keep my eyes open when we design covers! It does matter! Thank you for the investment of your time and visuals to show us what we need to make our covers tell their story!

  2. Thanks for the note, Pat! I should have featured some of your covers on here, lady. They're great!