Graphic artists charge a lot of unnecessary fees for self-publishing book covers as the main purpose of book covers is to indicate the genre of the story.
It is no accident when you look at a book, you can usually tell straight away what genre it is. That’s the first thing a potential reader wants to know when they look at a book. Let me give you an example:
You don’t need me to tell you the above book cover is for a western. It’s got no words on it and I have deliberately taken the colour out and made it black and white, but you can immediately tell what type of book it is. If you like westerns you may choose to pick it up, but if westerns are not your genre you can move on without wasting your time.
Here is another example.
If you like detective stories, and particularly old-fashioned detective stories, then you would probably pick this book up. If you don’t like detective stories, you can move on without wasting your time.
Here are four more. This time I’ve added the genres, but you shouldn’t need them.
The first thing a reader wants to know is the genre of the book in front of them, and that should be immediately obvious from the cover. The particular image hardly matters. What matters is genre identification.
I would advise any author wanting to create their own self-publishing book covers to visit their local bookseller and stand for a few minutes examining the covers on display. Yes, the covers are all different, but the covers are also generally similar to other books in the same genre. That’s deliberate. Publishers know what type of images sell books, and once a particular image becomes effective, all other publishers follow suit. You can have a nice, fancy, all singing, all dancing, one of a kind book cover, but potential readers will move on until they find a book with the type of cover they associate with the genre they like. There are thousands of books in a decent book store. Your book does not need to stand out as unique to all the others. It needs to be instantly recognisable as similar to all other books in the same genre.
Some of you reading this will disagree with the simplicity of the images above, so we would like to end this section of our page on self-publishing book covers with some recent examples.
All three of the above book images are really simple. Buried by Lynda La Plant isn’t even pretty. It simply shows the hinges of a floor trapdoor, but straight away I want to know who or what is ‘buried’ under the floorboards.
Still Life by Val McDermid simply shows a small boat beached after the tide has gone out, but immediately I want to know who was in the boat and whether they are still alive.
The Women Who Ran Away by Sheila O’Flanagan simply shows two empty deck-chairs on an otherwise empty beach, but I immediately want to know who once sat in those chairs, and where are they now?
None of these covers are outstanding works of art, and none of them are complicated or over elaborate, but each achieves its purpose extremely effectively. Each cover is designed to make you pick it up and read what is written on the back.
If the first thing a potential purchaser notices is the book cover image, the next two things they notice are the name of of the book and the name of the author. Check the above covers again. On all three books, one of the things (title or author) is in white, the other is in red or orange. The fonts are pretty plain too. Words are meant to be read. They don’t need to be fancy.
Potential readers recognise the genre from the cover, then they need to know if they’ve read it before, so they check the book name and author name.
As long as it is in a genre they usually read, and as long as they haven’t read the book before, they will then read the description of the book. By the time they read the description, the book has already attracted them. They know the novel is in their genre and they haven’t read it before. The cover has attracted them, not because of its great art, but because it gave them the information they needed. The description is the hook that finally catches the reader, but the genre specific cover is what first attracts them to the hook.