More on the subject of book covers

Last week I threw out a question about creating book covers and admitted that, having designed only one, I don’t know much about the process. Today I’m welcoming Rachel Elizabeth Cole who knows a whole lot more! In fact, she’s made a business out of designing them. She says, “I’ve only worked with a few small publishers, but otherwise mostly self-publishers. So I can’t really tell you what goes on in, say, Random House’s art department.” But she was willing to answer questions, so here we go…


Rachel Cole

Rachel Cole

Hi, Rachel. Thanks for sharing with us today. How did you get into book cover design?

Quite by accident, really. I’d decided to self-publish a few of my previously-published short stories on Amazon and, having a background in art and design, I opted to design my own covers.

A few months after I published, a writer friend contacted me and asked if I’d design a cover for a short story he was planning to self-publish. I agreed and he loved the results. I’d received comments from other author friends suggesting I might make a business of book cover design. So I decided to give it a shot. The rest, as they say, is history.

What do you think makes a good book cover?

Ask one hundred book cover designers and you’ll likely get one hundred different answers. But there are several areas where many designers agree. First, a good book cover is eye-catching. There are literally thousands of books out there–in book stores, libraries, and online–vying for reader attention. A good design will stand out from the other book covers out there, causing readers stop browsing the shelves or scrolling down the screen.

Second, a good cover design conveys genre. Is your book literary? Then it should have a cover that reflects that. If it’s romance, then it should have a cover that looks like a romance cover. Readers may only give a book cover a few seconds’ glance before moving on to another. If your book’s cover does not represent the genre accurately–or worse, doesn’t represent any genre at all!–readers will keep on shopping till they find what they’re looking for.

And lastly, a good design creates interest. It raises questions in the reader’s mind so they just have to read the back cover or click through to the description to find out more. 

I hear some authors mention that they get to approve their covers before publication, but others don’t, or get very little opportunity for input. Why don’t publishers give authors more say in their cover design?

Authors often aren’t familiar with design concepts and what will both look good on a cover, and, more importantly, draw in readers. Also, authors can be far too close to their work to see it objectively.

Some authors have a very specific idea of how their characters look, or their setting, or a scene in the book and they want that recreated on the cover. But that’s not always the best choice for a book cover. With the exception of a few genres (SF/F, historical, and children’s fiction come to mind), most books don’t have scenes on the cover. They’re usually far too busy. Or require expensive custom artwork or photo-shoots that aren’t in the budget. And finding stock photos of a model who looks exactly like the MC (or MCs in the case of a romance) can be excruciatingly difficult. Ditto the setting. Plus, some buildings, locations, etc. have trademark issues connected with them that would require expensive licensing and legal work to be usable on a book cover.

This isn’t to say publishers won’t try to create a cover with a model who looks like the MC or put a scene from the book on the cover, but they realize that every reader will have a different perception of the characters, settings, scenes, etc. and so recreating these images exactly as the author sees them isn’t necessary to good design.

How have ebooks influenced cover design? 

Until the ebook revolution, book covers were designed to capture attention when viewed from about five feet away on a book shop or other retail store shelf. Today, however, more and more books are purchased online, where they are viewed as tiny 100 pixel (or so) high images. Design that would cause a reader to walk closer to view the details, in effect drawing them in, doesn’t always translate so well onto the screen. Readers often scroll right past covers with small text, low contrast, faded colours, overly dark, or intricately detailed images. Good ebook covers usually have clear, eye-catching images, high contrasts (either colours and bright/dark), and easily readable titles. Though there’s debate over whether a title needs to be readable at thumbnail size, there is definitely a shift from the way book covers were designed before ebooks to the way they’re being designed today.

What are your favourite genres to design for?

Literary fiction, women’s fiction, children’s fiction, and historical fiction.



Thanks so much for giving us your take on this topic, Rachel. I browsed some of your available premade covers and discovered one you’ve identified as ‘The Beach House’ which I’ve fallen in love with. I think I’ll have to reserve it and then write a story to go with it! (If only it worked that way!) 😀

Rachel can be found on the web in various locations:

Now it’s your turn. Readers, what kind of covers appeal most to you? If you’re a writer, what do you envision for the cover of your next book?

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Judging books by their covers…

Do you judge books by their covers? We’re admonished not to, but I have to admit that’s the first thing that attracts my attention when I’m browsing for a new book to buy.

Certain covers instantly catch my attention in either a negative or positive way and I’ll either reach for it, or turn to something else. My hubby says this is true for him, too. Taste is dictated by personal ideals and I know what appeals to me doesn’t necessarily appeal to someone else, but I don’t really understand why. That’s probably the reason I could never make a career out of designing book covers.

Oh, but wait! I DID design one! Now if I could only figure out why I chose certain of its elements perhaps I might better understand why some covers appeal to me and others don’t.

Johnny_Front_CoverThe book, THE ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY AND MR. FREDERICK, was the dream of my aunt, Norma McGuire who had collected the fanciful stories told by her late husband to their three boys, and decided it would be nice to make them available for others to read. I assisted with the editing and a year-long process of querying various Canadian agents and publishers, but then decided the uncertainty of obtaining traditional publication wasn’t worth the indefinite wait. With a son-in-law in the printing business, there was another option — self-publishing.

In this case, it became not-self-self-publishing because it was done by the family as a surprise Christmas gift — and what a surprise it was! — so I couldn’t consult with Norma about any of the decisions she normally would have made herself.

Formatting the interior pages was a straightforward task, but the cover…? All the book’s illustrations were paintings or sketches done by my aunt and there were any number of the story’s whimsical characters who could have been featured… but which to choose?  Copies of the book wouldn’t be on real shelves in bookstores for children to select, but would be available for ordering online or directly from Norma, so it seemed wise to also make the cover appealing to the adults who would buy the book for their children and grandchildren.

Since the stories were about a young boy and an old fisherman and mostly took place on a fishing boat, the fishing theme was a good place to start… except Norma hadn’t created any fishing illustrations that would fit the vertical cover format. That’s when I asked for assistance from my daughter, photographer and fellow writer Shari Green, who lives in an oceanside town. With camera in hand she visited a local marina and shot several photos, one of which instantly caught my attention and became the chosen background.


Photography by Shari Green

There was an island in the background, and an island also plays a prominent part in the stories. There were colourful elements that could be repeated to make the text child-friendly. Voila! A cover was born. Do I know why it appealled? No, but I trusted my eye and instinct.

Another fellow writer and graphic artist makes a business out of creating covers. One of her e-book covers just won first place in a cover design contest. Maybe I should ask Rachel Elizabeth Cole of Littera Designs for her opinion on what makes a good one.  I think that may be a subject for another post. 🙂

What elements of a book’s cover appeal most to you?

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