Cover Art Matters

photo credit: Jody Art via photopin cc

First impressions are important. Really important.

This truth applies to interpersonal relationships. It also applies to anything from storefronts to websites. Whether we like it or not, the first few moments of interaction form a lasting impression.

Sadly, many authors and publishers overlook this simple concept when choosing cover art for new books. They may want the thesis of a book to captivate readers. They may craft an exceptionally clever title. But ultimately, none of this matters if the cover art stinks.

And all too often – it does.

As a radio producer, I receive dozens of review copies of books from publishers every week. As you can imagine, this only allows for a few fleeting moments to evaluate a book for an interview on our show. And in those first few seconds, the very first thing we see is cover art.

If it’s bad, we almost immediately reject the book. 
Why? From my experience, bad cover art almost always equals bad book. So if you’ve got a great book, why in the world would you settle for anything but excellence in cover design?
Clearly, “good” cover art is somewhat subjective. Personal taste varies, and therefore two people can completely disagree as to whether a particular cover is “good”. However, there are some basic do’s and don’ts that most normal people can agree on:
  • DO hire a professional graphic designer. Authors are skilled in the art of writing. Most aren’t also skilled in visual arts. Therefore, authors should do the writing, and let professional graphic designers take the lead on cover design. Of course, authors should pass along their ideas and preferences. But don’t micromanage. Artists do their best work when given the freedom to create.

  • DON’T put people on your book cover. Ever. Particularly if that person is you. Pictures of people are a universally bad idea on covers. They’re distracting, and almost always send a message that can limit your audience. Enough said.
  • DO use white space. There’s a lot of truth to the saying “less is more”. Book covers that are filled with graphics and colors can be distracting. They can also be difficult to process quickly. As a result, simple eye-catching graphics strategically placed without other visual noise can be powerful. And memorable. 
  • DON’T feature endorsements or forewords that aren’t extremely noteworthy. Some names can sell books by themselves. If those famous people decide to endorse your book, proudly feature their name on your cover. But it your endorsements or foreword aren’t from someone exceptionally noteworthy, don’t put them on your cover. You lose with your audience if someone they’ve never heard of “endorsed” your book. 
  • DO ensure that your thesis and cover art are cohesive. A quick glance at the cover should immediately connect the average reader to the core ideas of your book. Mixed messages can be confusing. And annoying. So, take time to make sure that the visual message on your cover clearly and accurately matches the central idea of your book.
  • DON’T make your cover design too abstract or weird. Artistic people love to find hidden meaning. They also enjoy deeper analysis of abstract ideas. Let’s reserve this type of higher-level art for museum walls and art history textbooks. Book covers should immediately make sense to the average person. And the average person isn’t an art snob. Simple concepts cleverly displayed for normal people to understand make for the most palatable covers. 

Following these simple principles for cover design might increase your chances of landing a radio interview on your book. Better yet – more people might actually read it.

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