Cover Art ~ A Hint, A Bit of Teasing, But Never Too Much

The very first thing a potential buyer sees about your book is the cover. You have exactly three seconds to capture their attention, and to do that, you must have the best cover possible.

How do you accomplish this? Certainly you can’t be expected to create your own cover art. You’re an author, the person who put their blood, sweat, and tears into writing this fabulous book. Your publisher has a cover artist and that person is going to make a cover for your book, but first they must have your input.

Here’s the tricky part. Most publishers allow you some input into your cover art. You’ll receive a questionnaire that you must fill out. The questions seem simple enough. They want you to describe settings in the book, the characters, important scenes. With great gusto, you dive into writing ten, fifteen, or twenty pages of prose, going into great detail about all of these elements. Since this is the information about your cover, you also include copies of covers that are similar to your book, but of course you want a very different piece of art, a cover that stands out, so you critique those covers. You can’t have an ordinary model. Your main character is far different, so the hair has to be changed, the eyes are the wrong color, the model’s expression must reflect the tone of your book.

Several days later, you sit back and grin. You have everything you want the artist to know about your book in place. It doesn’t matter that the simple questionnaire is now the size of a novella. A cover artist can’t read your mind. They have to know everything. You must orchestrate every step. Then you lean forward to take the next step, editing your words. The editor in chief will probably glance at this. You have to let them know that you’re no slouch in working as hard as possible to direct the cover artist in making the best possible cover.

That’s when you notice the words in the parenthesis for the first time. Your eyebrows shoot up into your hairline. You have to cut your lovely, long treatise into something that is nothing more than two to three sentences long for each question. You can’t include samples and you aren’t allowed to include directions. Who do these people think they are? Have they ever made an award winning cover? Do they even know what they are doing?

You decide to ignore the directions. Those are for people who aren’t as gifted as you are in deciding on the best cover for YOUR book. YOUR book must have a cover to rival those on books by Steven King and J.K. Rowling. You save the form and then email it back.

A few hours later, you receive an email from your editor in chief. Your form is filled out improperly. Please follow the directions and return it, or they shall be forced to pass on the basic information on to the cover artist. The one or two people they have doing cover art simply don’t have the time to sit down and read a book about the cover art.

Well, you huff, this just won’t do at all. You’re furious, but there is a solution. You email the editor in chief back that you’ll just have your own cover art made, at your expense. The response to that infuriates you. You scream the question to your office walls, uncaring though they are.

“What do you mean that I can’t make my own cover art? It’s MY book. It’s MY choice. Who are these people anyway?”

These people are well versed in what does and doesn’t work for a book’s cover. These people know the rules about utilizing print on demand publishing. These people don’t have several days to discern exactly what you want for a cover from your novella length questionnaire. If you are very lucky, the editor in chief has given you a link to the website your publisher uses to select your own image for your cover art. Most of the time, the author doesn’t get much if any input into what kind of cover goes onto their book, unless they’re a multi-published best seller.

Here’s a piece of advice on the best cover art you can describe. Keep it simple. Find an element about your book that is important to the whole theme. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use people on the cover. Some of the best covers I’ve seen have been those that have a single object, a scene indicative of what lies behind the cover. Far too many covers lately have people on them, until it seems like they all look alike. Make your cover different but simple. Memorable enough that a person glancing at it will be compelled to look inside—which is the purpose of the cover.


G. B. Miller said…
Also keep in mind that should focus on a wrong element, you can get a cover that doesn't quite do the book justice.