The Buying Power of Cover Design

Industry professionals often compare a book’s cover to a billboard advertisement. Though neither are enough to make a sale on their own, they are excellent at catching the consumer’s attention and convincing them that the product is worth investigating further. By approaching cover design as a mechanism for advertising rather than a strict portrayal of the story, a clever writer-businessperson can co-opt many of the same rules that have helped marketing companies be successful.

Good advertisements are properly placed to reach the best audience possible. Note that this doesn’t necessarily equate to the widest audience. It is often better to focus one’s efforts and budgets on the demographics most likely to buy your books. As writers, we want to find places where our readers gather and reach out to them there. In the e-age, this often means being involved in social media, online forums, blogging, and otherwise being available to form a personal connection with readers.

Once you get your books in front of your audience, you need to ensure that they have been properly branded. Different genres tend to cluster around specific design elements and cover styles for a reason. In an ideal world, I should be able to pick up any book and instantly know what kind of story is told within. However, writers and publishers sometimes release covers that promise the wrong kind of story. In the best case, you run the risk of missing your audience. In the worst case, you attract the sort of reader who will hate your book and drag down your reviews. I once saw an Amazon review that read, “The book was good, I guess, but I really wanted a zombie book. One star.” Ouch.

Even though you want your cover to fit within genre, it is essential to ensure that it also stands out for the right reasons. A book’s cover is a promise of quality and therefore must look professional. Sloppy covers are an indication of sloppy prose. Unless you have a solid grasp of color theory and the elements of a successful design, I would strongly discourage you from attempting your own cover art and layout. It is often more profitable to pay well for professional help to make your book look its best.

Even though the book’s cover makes up a tiny percentage of the physical copy’s total volume, it is your first point of interaction with the reader. At this year’s Superstars Writing seminar, I volunteered to work the bookstore table at the back of the conference room. Through that experience, I found that a good cover catches your target audience’s attention and convinces them to pick up the book. Once the book is in their hand, they can read the back cover copy and a few pages of your prose to help them make their buying decision. However, without that initial good impression, they will never have a chance to buy your story.


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