“Don’t judge a book by its cover”
We’ve all heard it before. I was a grade student when I first heard that statement in the background from my librarian while I was trying to balance my chair on two feet. Over time, I have learned more about the importance of that phrasing. Sometimes the most fascinating books have the worst covers. I mean, look at this:
It looks like a textbook! But guess what? It’s one of my favorite books. Fortunately, and wisely, there have been some redesigns of the cover. Take a look at all these other iterations – way more interesting!
Whether we quietly admit it to ourselves or are loud and proud – we all inherently judge a book by its cover. As the book industry continues to grow dramatically, we as readers are offered an endless number of choices. Even when segmented to preferred genres, there are seemingly infinite bookshelves of stories ready to be explored. So how do we decide? What makes us stop, reach out, and pick up a book to read the back? The cover. Heck, even the spine. It is the first impression of the book and must have the perfect mix of elements to spark intrigue while also remaining true to the story.
So how are covers designed for books?
While I can’t speak for other presses, I can share my experience with my own publisher.
The Wild Rose Press has a virtual rolodex of cover artists who have varying specialties. Some primarily create illustrated covers; others work with real photographs. Authors review the portfolios of the artists and select 2-3 designers that will best suit the author’s vision of the cover. Next, the author completes a form that is essentially describing the cover in as much detail as possible. Colors, fonts, specific elements to be included, and the overall aesthetic. Once the author has word smithed their cover vision, the form is submitted along with the names of the preferred artists to The Wild Rose Press.
It is then out of our hands! The artist who is available will take the form and create a cover that best fits the author’s vision while also fitting within the publisher’s best practices. Best practices meaning it is best to only have up to 3 main elements on the cover so as not to be overwhelming. The cover is drafted and sent to the author, who checks for any egregious errors (rare) and then the cover is finalized. The Wild Rose Press does, of course, listen to their authors and take feedback into account where necessary.
Looking at Against My Better Judgment, I was going for an illustrated look similar to the styles of Mindy Klasky’s Jane Madison series or even Jennifer Crusie. I wanted the cover to showcase both the fun voice and the unique Egyptian-related plot.
This is what I got! I loved the colors, the Eye of Horus, the Great Pyramids, and Mauzzy was sheer perfection. It was a fun cover and I felt like it ticked off all the boxes.
Pub day came and went. Reviews came in. The book received praise from readers of all kinds and won several awards. It was a real success. As I was already working on the second book in the series, I was reading the reviews and taking in the comments to give the readers what they want (for those of you put off by Zoe’s language, so was Sara’s mother. I think you’ll enjoy the change in Fire & Ice). What I did notice as a repeated comment was the cover. It was not as well received as I thought it was going to be, but then again, I’m a 60-year-old man with toddler grandkids – it is highly possible to have differing style preferences.
Flash forward almost 2 years and my team and I were working on the cover form again but this time for Fire & Ice. We again poured over the comments on Against My Better Judgment’s cover and looked at other current books the target demographic enjoys. And we noticed in today’s book environment, simplicity is preferred. Plain background, minimal cover elements, interesting spines. Taking feedback from the readers, and the data collected on what is “in vogue” now, we worked on designing a cover that would make you – the readers – happy. We focused on Mauzzy! After all, he was the element of AMBJ’s cover that was adored.
So we knew we wanted to go for a more simplistic cover, feature Mauzzy, and still stay true to the plot. This is where we looked at the cover elements to get the most out of each element. Without giving too much away of Fire & Ice, there is an important vault door, a rare gems exhibit, and Mauzzy’s interest related to the two items.
With one look at the above cover, we are hoping readers will, 1) clearly understand the plot involves a diamond, vault, and Mauzzy’s involvement; 2) feel the lighthearted cozy mystery vibe due to the illustrated nature; and 3) recognize this is part of a larger series.
Who knew that a minimalist cover could take more time to design than one with more elements! My team and I filled out the form with specific art direction and The Wild Rose Press delivered. I hope you all are as thrilled with the cover as I am (but if not, let me hear it so we can get better). I know Mauzzy is glad he finally gets to sit in his rightful place – in front, demanding attention.
So, there you have it, my experience with how a book cover comes to fruition.
**Want to pre-order? Check out this post that details out how to get your hands on a special pre-order goody bag.