When I first started making covers for my books, I took the concepts literally (Ha! Punny). With each one, I’ve learned. Every genre has its own style. Every reader has their own preference. Every author wants to brand their work. Trying to get all of that to happen every time? I’m convinced it’s a small miracle.
After being a published author for a whole year – and releasing 8 books – I’ve learned a few things.
First: Vague is best. Never, EVER, try to tell the entire story in a single image. They say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, my books run around 120K. That means I’d need 120 pictures to show the reader what it is I’m talking about. I get ONE. How about I choose something that catches the feel of the story, without catastrophically violating any of the details.
Second: Symbolic is best. The title of the book is usually symbolic, why shouldn’t the cover be the same? Does it need to be a literal planet, or does the silhouette of one work better? Does the landscape need to have exactly the right house, with the car parked on the exact side, a baby carriage by the front porch, empty, and every other detail from that one scene? NO!
See, the people who are going to pick up your book haven’t read it. They don’t know what those little details mean. We authors love to pat our own backs over the intellect we tossed into the story, but who cares? Most readers don’t. What they want to know is the genre, the tone, and the necessary information.
Trust me, how much the book costs matters more than how many leaves are on the tree!
And third: Characters matter more than scenes. A while back, there was a theme with paranormal fantasy where the main (female) character was always wearing skin tight pants and facing away from the “camera”. In part, this was to allow the reader to imagine her face. In reality, it had more to do with number four on my list… but it also is because we want to see the PERSON, without being spoiled on the person.
In romances, this tends to end up as the faceless beefcake. C’mon, you all know what I’m talking about. The guy with rock hard abs, his pants ready to fall off, but nothing shown above his mouth. The potential buyer can see his manscaping perfectly, but not the color of his eyes. We can decide for ourselves what that dark haired hottie looks like. We aren’t “forced” into placing the cover models face on every salacious scene in the book.
Which brings us to the fourth thing: Sex SELLS! We’re all guilty of it. In actuality, we’re programmed for it by our DNA. Beautiful women, athletic men, and sensual poses have a higher click rate than a flower laying on a table. That doesn’t mean every book is going to have a beautiful woman, athletic man, or even sex… but it still sells.
Want an example?
My book, When We Were Kings, has undergone a few changes while I learned what the readers want to see. On the left is the final cover. On the right is the next to last version of it. No, we won’t talk about how many times it changed before I learned this stuff. *ahem* But, as you can see, the left image draws you in a lot more than the one on the right.
Why? Because you can see Leyli. Her face makes you wonder what she’s thinking. The soft light of it sets the tone (wistful, hopeful, dreamy). The armor tells you it’s got some fighting in it, even though I lost the gladiatorial accents from the right image. Yeah, Tristan’s gone, but who cares? The book isn’t about Tristan. It’s about Leyli’s journey. It’s symbolic of the realizations she goes through over the course of the novel (hence the expression on her face).
But mostly, it just makes you feel like you want to know HER. You want to read her story. Granted, my cover artist did an amazing job making that picture. See, with fantasy, it’s hard to find a stock photo (free or paid) that has enough things right to work for the already written book. So often, it’s close – except that the main character is black, not a blonde caucasian, or such. Because of this, I found someone who can make me “fake” people who fit the traits I need. Like ears on Salryc Luxx.
And what brought this up?
Rise of the Iliri #4! Tonight, I got the first pieces of the cover art, and it’s so good. Everything, from the landscape to the characters headsets matters, but it doesn’t give away the good parts. Looking at it one way, you can think “hey, here’s what that cover means.” After you read the book, you know “Oh, that’s why the person is…” Oh, yeah. And it’s really pretty. From the vibrant colors and intense shading, to the picturesque scenery and amazing layering skills of the artist, the whole thing just has that “look at me” feeling often found in so many 3D renders like this
I’m not perfect with my cover designs. I’m pretty sure no one is. Even the big trade publishers miss the mark at times – and they have a whole lot invested in getting it right. For me? I just want to make sure my readers can pick up a book they know they’ll like, and find a story inside that meets their expectations.
And who knows what I’ll learn in another year. For now, I’m going to focus on getting the next book out, and keep hoping that my fans like what they see on the front.