Time after time, I see it in indie covers, and, time after time, I can’t talk my own clients out of their choices–they neglect to consider the actual purpose of their novel covers. Since the majority of self-publishing authors choose to either do the cover art themselves or get something done as cheaply as possible, let’s just talk about basics.

There is one reason for a book cover: to catch a potential reader’s attention. There are three important elements:

1) title (or, if you’re a famous author, byline);
2) color choices;
3) imagery.

Here are some examples of what I consider bad choices by some trad publishers:

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On the cover of Tales of the Peculiar by Ransom Riggs, the title gets completely lost in the illustration. On The Bronze Key, every bit of text on this cover fades into a nondescript vagueness.  The last one needs a complete overhaul. While the image choice is good and the placement of the byline and title works, the color of the byline, again, makes it blend into the background in the last third of the overlay, while the color choice and size of the title, Two by Two, does everything to dissuade interest. It’s too nondescript, looks weak, and undermines interest. Then, same book cover, the slag line circle just doesn’t work, at all, especially the color choices.

One of the most effectively selling covers I created for a trad publisher ignored the title and byline completely (but, then, I’m known to break the rules). I used imagery to provoke. And it worked. Then everybody copied it, and, while the fad lasted, that broke the effectiveness.  (And, no, unfortunately, I can’t show it to you [I’m still contractually prohibited.].)

For most covers, title handling–its placement and design–is critical. Next comes imagery. Choose wisely and don’t clutter. And, unless you want your book to blend into the genre noise of your competitors (and nobody wants that, right?), don’t just do the same old thing. Look at what’s selling best from relatively unknown authors, look at what’s common among the search results for your niche genre where the covers do tend to all seem to be clones of one another, then design to a classic look that is fresh, relatively unique and different, but still within the genre expectations.

Remember, you are trying to appeal, not to yourself, but to your potential buyers.