It’s no secret that beautiful covers drive purchases. Book lovers love to browse. They impulse buy. An eye-catching cover followed by a compelling blurb makes the sale. Heck, I’ve bought second and third copies of classic literature I own because the covers were so “pretty” or unique. And I cannot walk through a bookstore without purchasing something that’s grabbed my attention.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about book covers. For me, good covers combine art and text into an overall concept that evokes an intellectual/emotional response. Together, the cover elements create a theme while the individual components hint at important details. A good cover draws the reader in with the promise of a certain type of story and entices him/her to read the descriptive blurb.
What makes a good cover good?
A good cover sets an expectation. It indicates to the reader what kind of story he/she will encounter: simple, complex, vibrant, romantic, secretive, paranormal, edgy, contemporary, historical, fantasy, etc. It conveys what settings and concepts will be encountered.
A good cover sets a mood. Is it dark? Light? Playful? Angsty? Sweet? Mysterious? Bereft? Stark? Powerful? Scary? Spiritual?
A good cover is a riddle. A good cover makes the reader ask himself/herself questions: Who are these people and why are they so happy? What’s the secret he’s keeping? Why is she so sad? What’s so important about the object on the cover? What does the symbolism stand for?
A good cover entices the reader to action: It makes them want more information about the story. They have questions that need to be answered and hopes that the story will deliver on its promise. They have to turn the book over and read what it’s about.
A good cover is the reader’s first opportunity to bond with your story. Author endorsements, bestselling claims, and stylistic designs are intended to appeal to a certain type of reader. These elements build trust with the reader before they’ve even opened the book.
Here are some of my favorite covers:
Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones: Who is this hot guy existing in Technicolor above the world we know? Oooh, Holly Black likes it—it must be good! Other thoughts: fantasy elements, complex world building, urban, gritty and beautiful.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: (we’ll skip the movie tie-in version and go to the original cover). Whimsical with an air of mystery. Vibrant. To me the boots covey power and an element of being untouchable but the story centers around someone watching from the outside. I’m intrigued. Love the curve of the word “ELEPHANTS.” It feels more majestic than the rest of the text, like a beast with a mind of its own. The NY Times bestseller claim reassures me the story will be worth reading.
Lisa McMann’s Wake: Dark. Cold. Distorted. Disturbed. Nightmares. Stark.The reflection of the text makes me think the bad dreams bleed over into waking. I want to know who’s having the nightmares and why.
Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely: the beauty of the flowers contrasted by the distorted beauty of the holder. Darkness lurks around the edges. The font is lovely (for me, this sets expectations for beautiful prose—and Melissa delivers).
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Militaristic. Austere. Symbols hint at sci-fi/futuristic. The bird is important—why? The unique block font makes me think rigid, asymmetric, unfamiliar—maybe dystopian.
Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles: Dark love story. Edgy. Definitely contemporary. Title font makes me think blurring social lines—shaking things up a bit.
Conclusion: If I am self-publishing, I need a top-notch cover design that conveys my book’s theme and makes promises my story will deliver.
Mood: Excited about tomorrow’s big cover reveal—and kind of sickish about it, too!
Your Turn: What are some of your favorite covers and why?