You’ve finally arrived. Your manuscript is complete, and whether you’re hiring a designer or reviewing cover concepts from a publisher, your book needs a cover. This can be daunting. No one knows your story the way you do—except maybe your editor—and now you’re having to hand it over to someone who’s going to create the physical incarnation of a piece you’ve spent years envisioning and crafting. Writing and graphic design are two different skill sets, and a lot can get lost in translation. Below are some ways for you, the author, to prepare for conversations with a designer and get the best cover for your book.
1. Know where your book belongs.
Great book-cover design strikes the balance between beautiful object and effective marketing tool. From textbooks to literary fiction, every category of books has visual traditions or trends that help readers, booksellers, and library cataloguers identify what type of book they’re looking at. Examples include half obscured female faces for YA literature, deckled edging (uneven cutting on the right-hand edge of the paper) on literary fiction, and illustrations on science fiction and fantasy covers. These visuals are by no means a requirement, but understanding what your readers are used to seeing when they’re browsing a genre helps you make better book cover decisions. While your book designer should certainly do their own research, it’s important for you as the author and/or self-publisher to know what books you’d like your book to visually sit comfortably beside.
Amazon.com is a great resource for figuring out where you’d like your book categorized. Do a search for comparable titles and authors within your book’s genre and see what categories are listed. For example, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande is listed under Medicine, Self Help, and Administration & Medical Economics. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman is listed under Coming of Age > Literary and Literature & Fiction > United States. Wild by Cheryl Strayed is listed under Travel > United States > West > Pacific, Sports & Outdoors> Hiking & Camping> Excursion Guides, and Sports & Outdoors > Nature Travel > Adventure.
2. Find two to three covers within your category that you like.
You want your book to stand out from comparable titles but still be easy to categorize. When you find a handful of covers you like, break down why you like them. What is similar about them? Is it the color palette? A particular style of image (illustration versus photograph versus typographic)? The typeface and font (serif versus sans serif, bold versus light)? Once you know why you like the cover, you’ll be able to give your book designer helpful art direction right out of the gate.
3. Be specific.
While an initial negative reaction to a round of cover concepts is a completely valid response, “I just don’t like it,” doesn’t get you any closer to the book cover you want. Similar to #2, look at the cover concepts your book designer has given you that don’t work for you and break down why you don’t like it. Is it the image? Is it the typeface? Is it the placement of the type over the image? The more specific you can be, the faster you’ll arrive at your destination: the right book cover for you.
Olivia Croom is a graphic designer living in New York City. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Olivia replied, "Bookmaker." That journey has taken her from her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Portland, Oregon, and now to New York City. Olivia has worked with a number of literary organizations to produce high-quality marketing materials and, of course, books. She holds a master's degree in writing and book publishing from Portland State University. You can find her on Twitter at @OliviaCroom and Instagram at @reddish.ampersand.