Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Cover Story -- What Makes Book Covers Work?

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a book cover had better be worth about a hundred thousand. So, what makes a book cover effective? Let's find out from several key artists and publishers who work on them. 


It's been said a lot that faces sell a cover. In your experience, do faces tend to enable stronger sales, and does it matter how large the faces are on the cover?

Jeff Parker: I like design-y covers most of the time, conceptual stuff like Dave Johnson does. I think the way books are racked together in a big mass with other images, something a bit simpler and bold with images and color choices stands out better and has a chance to be seen.

Frank Fradella: Yes, faces sell a cover. Faces sell everything. I can take two slices of an orange and a whole banana and lay them on a table and what you'll see are two eyes and a mouth — a face. We see faces everywhere; we subconsciously LOOK for faces everywhere. The best cover won't just be a face, but you want that human connection.

Logan Masterson: There's a lot to consider here. Faces are great, especially for romance, paranormal, and character-themed properties, but they aren't the definitive answer. Neither is the inclusion of action definitive. To see what works, check out the original Wolverine limited series #1 cover: Face, beckoning "action," tremendously effective. But also, the Kitty Pryde/Wolverine Wanted cover, more action, more faces, but with less emphasis. The emphasis is on the framing. Personally, I think that illustrated covers trump photo covers every time. I tend to avoid fiction with photo covers.

Aaron Meade: I can only chime in on the action/adventure/superhero genre' from my point of view. That said... Faces are ok on covers depending on how they are used to portray what the story inside is about. It depends on the artists vision and storytelling abilities. I always LOVED the use of a ROLL CALL on superhero team books that bordered the cover itself. That said, you don't want to over use it or any technique.

Jenny Reed: The first rule of thumb is that the cover must be interesting to look at. People must see the cover and start imagining what's inside. While showing people isn't necessarily required (depending on the genre), any people who do show up must be doing something interesting. A face staring into space isn't particularly interesting - unless there's something really strange about the face.

What about action covers? Do they work well for contemporary fiction, or are they best used for adventure novels and comics?

Jenny Reed: Cover art trends change rapidly. What counts as a great cover today, is a lousy cover five years from now (and vice versa). It's hard to keep up. Also, cover art expectations vary widely from genre to genre. For example, romance covers generally want to see something implying romance - a couple kissing, a hot guy in a sexy pose, a girl in a prom dress, or something along those lines. However, a romance cover would not sell a science fiction book, or a sports book, or your typical action comic book.

Frank Fradella: The answer is between the pages. If there's a lot of action inside, then the cover should speak to the audience who likes that in a book.

Aaron Meade: I think the more action you can portray on any cover of any genre' will be better than dull no action covers.

Logan Masterson: As for the general keys, I think there are three.

  1. Tone. The cover's got to carry the tone of the book, whether that's bright and brilliant action or deep, dark mystery.
  2. Design. Attractive, appropriate fonts that contrast or accent the cover illustration, placed to accent the image and balance the overall effect.
  3. Professionalism. The cover needs to be pro. It shouldn't look like something desktop published in 1996. It shouldn't be jammed up with text, or too many logos, or any of that stuff. The elements should be integrated attractively, and the illo itself needs to be high-quality and appropriate. 

What are the most important things to keep in mind when designing a successful book cover or a successful comic book cover?

Ruth de Jauregui: Your type treatment. Scrawny little letters that fade into the cover image are just not as effective as something that the buyer can actually read. Also, look at the size of the cover on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or other website. Can the buyer see it? Can they read the type? Does the cover "read" as a romance, science fiction, fantasy, action story? Consider your audience too. A half naked woman on the front of a YA urban fantasy may look pretty, but it's not appropriate for the audience. Also, last but not least -- actually LOOK at the dang main character. If he/she is described as dark complected with natural hair, don't put a dang blonde on the cover. It's inaccurate and offensive and buyers like me notice these things. I might still buy the book, but I'll talk mess about that cover forever.

Logan Masterson: As a former website designer and illustrator, one picks up the little details that others miss. It's not some unquantifiable mystery -- it's the proper alignment of elements, colors, and content.

Aaron Meade: Most important in art a synopsis of what the reader is about to read. Show THE most exciting and enticing portion of the interior story. Galvanize the readers eyes so they will gravitate to your book over all the others.

Frank Fradella: Color, contrast, composition. Beautiful women never hurt. Go look at Frazetta and keep looking. It's all there.