In the rest of this post I’m going to explain my cover strategy and how I designed my covers for Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance and The Elemental Odyssey.
As a disclaimer, I’m providing this advice for non-famous authors. If you’re famous, your name should be the most prominent item on the cover. But, for those of us who are unknown, I think my strategy might work.
The biggest advice I have is about the actual artwork, so I’m going to save that for last. First, I’ll talk about the title and author text.
Actually choosing a title is beyond the scope of this post. Of course, you should pick something catchy and appropriate for the story, if possible.
For title layout, here’s what I attempt to accomplish:
1. Title is legible in thumbnail size.
2. Title color contrasts the artwork behind it.
3. Title is in a font appropriate for the story.
Here are some examples of good and bad use of titles. Click on the pic to see them in thumbnail size. Notice how the title is illegible in many of them. I’ll let you decide which are good and which are less so.
Be sure to experiment with a LOT of fonts. I have hundreds of fonts and I’m constantly collecting more. When I choose one for a book I usually mock up at least a dozen on the cover (from a candidate pool of dozens).
Sometimes a font won’t work in standard format, but it will in bold. Always check the bold version.
To make your book seem even more professional, use texture, shading, and other tricks on your title. I haven’t done this yet because I don’t know how. I’d like to improve The Elemental Odyssey title to be something more than just black text. Maybe someday.
Your author name does not need to be legible in thumbnail size. It would be nice if it was, but there is no way a customer is going to see the thumbnail size of your ebook cover without also seeing your name in text directly beneath it. So, unless you’re famous, keep your name small so people can see more of the cover art.
Most of the same rules apply to author name as applied to title:
1. Author name doesn’t need to be legible in thumbnail size. It can be, but not required.
2. Author name text color contrasts the artwork behind it.
3. Author name is in a font appropriate for the story.
The cover is a billboard for your story. You’re paying good money for an artist to do the cover. Be involved in the creation. You know the story better than anyone, you should decide the content of the cover art. The artist should follow your guidelines and be willing to iterate with you.
1. Find an artist that you love.
2. Don’t have a lot of empty space on the cover. The top of the book should have room for the title. Don’t put anything important up there. Ditto for a smaller space at the bottom for your name.
3. Don’t clutter the artwork.
4. Make the cover interesting. Make it something someone would want to look at for more than two seconds. This means detail. You don’t need a lot, but a bit is nice. Customers who pause to examine a cool cover will also check out the rest of the book page.
5. At least one object on the cover must be recognizable in thumbnail size.
6. Unless you have an awesome idea for a one-concept cover, make the cover a montage of 3-4 concepts.
7. Use the foreground, midground, and background to full effect.
8. The cover must be cool. If you look at your cover and don’t think “that’s cool” then don’t use that cover.
Those are the basic rules I use when designing my covers. Here is a more precise strategy for the actual art content and how I implemented them for my current novels:
1. Foreground depicts the protagonist or other important character. This foreground character is recognizable in thumbnail size and has evocative detail. This can be equipment, expression, body language, or more.
2. Midground depicts other character(s) with some action suggested. Not necessarily recognizable in thumbnail size.
3. Background depicts the setting. Not necessarily recognizable in thumbnail size.
Here’s how I came up with the design for my two novels with Igor Kieryluk, the artist:
Foreground: The main character, Noose, is large and in the foreground. Even in thumbnail size you can get a good idea of what he is and what he’s doing. He has some good detail, such as futuristic guns that suggest science fiction and attire that suggests a hard-boiled detective atmosphere.
Midground: The name of the dance club, Stiltzkins, in bright neon. which ties in nicely with the title. Three other characters from the book are in front of the club, shooting at Noose. This reinforces the action implied by Noose’s pistols.
Background: A flying police car, implying criminal activity. A skyscraper with dirigibles flying around it. Both of these imply a futuristic setting.
Title: Thick, gritty font easily legible in thumbnail.
Author name: Same but smaller font. Doesn’t block any important art.
Foreground: One of the primary aliens, a raccoon-man named Bozabrozy. Since the story is about a group of aliens coming to Earth, I decided to use one of them as the focal point instead of the protagonist children. He’s got some detail, such as his magical blue potion and pouches.
Midground: The four children in the story. American Kyle Morgan, German Jurgen Schmidt, Indian Veekhsa Das, and Native American Susie Five Eagles. The detail here is their attire, body language and expressions.
Background: Mt. Rushmore is the setting for the first several chapters of the book. The flying ship is also very important in the story, and its odd design (four sails) is something that I wanted to depict.
Title: The font is kind of fanciful and implies swashbuckling, of which there is plenty in the story. Igor also left me a bunch of open sky up there, enough to put the title and the series information.
Author name: Thanks to the fog and blowing leaves/twigs, Igor has given me more room to put my name.
So, as you can see, I put a lot of thought into the composition of the covers. I don’t see a bunch of other covers similar to mine. Maybe because my strategy isn’t good? I guess I’ll find that out.
What do you think of my covers?