Love Your Book? Choose A Great Cover

“Writing a novel… Now THAT’s hard,” my friend Phil said to me recently.

Phil is a neurologist. He’s brilliant enough to understand the inner-workings of the brain and that carving a creative path isn’t easy. To those of us who adore the process, however, it’s worth every brain cell and glucose molecule required.

Brains = Beauty

As many of you know, LOVE has been a theme in my life lately. Deciding to self-publish and related happenings have left me punch-drunk exhilarated. Thanks to Steena Holmes, indie author and graphic/book artist extraordinnaire, my latest heart swell derived from developing my cover—one of the most valuable ways we authors have of showing our work some love.

Having complete control over book covers is a huge benefit of self-publishing. It’s also one of the most important factors separating successful indie-authors and those whose books scarcely see the light of day.

The biggest giveaway that one is dealing with a self-published book is a poorly designed cover, says thriller author and executive editor of CNET David Carnoy, which is too often the case. Traditionally published books with ineffective covers also do poorly. Whether we like it or not, it’s human nature to judge books by their covers.

“Studies show that you have 12 seconds—in a bookstore—to turn a browser into a buyer… Covers are the way that we attract buyers.” — Midwest Book Review

Imagine how much more significant book covers are online, where we can view ten, twenty or more at once.

Choices, choices…

Stories we put our hearts, minds, souls and sweat into should appear as valuable as they are. Because my graphic “art” skills are limited to making 🙂 faces, coloring text and cropping photos, I knew that my cover decision would require serious research and expert insight. Here’s a handful of tips I learned in the process.

7 Tips for Choosing a Great Cover

1. Sit in your story. Close your eyes and think of your book without judgment. If you’re like me, an image (or images) and mood will surface. I carried this habit over from acting to writing, and most recently to choosing my cover.

2. Browse many covers. Go to Google images, Amazon or Barnes and Noble and peruse covers in your genre. Which ones stand out? Turn you off? Which would you buy? It can be tough to convey all we desire to a designer. Having an example can help us formulate our vision and relay it to others.

3. Hire someone awesome! If you’re artistically inclined, you may not want or need help. Otherwise, a fantastic, experienced designer can help ensure cover-creating success. If my book were a Christmas tree, Steena Holmes added lights and a star.

4. Make sure it looks fabulous small. With readers buying continually more books via iPads, smart phones and e-readers, it only makes sense that our covers look sharp as thumbnails.

5. Avoid clutter. Using one main image, not cluttering up the background and using readable, pleasing-to-the-eye font can help accomplish number four. And let’s face it. Clutter is generally unappealing. (Yeah, that funky bed I suggested Steena add? Not so much.)

6. Seek input from qualified others. I asked trusted friends and professionals who are familiar with my novel for their thoughts on my cover along the way. Sharing our covers with the masses too soon could confuse, frustrate or lead us astray. Agents, publishers, artists and experienced authors make valuable choices.

7. Go with your gut. While others’ opinions can help tremendously, choosing a cover that pleases others but doesn’t sit well with us isn’t wise. As with all aspects of writing, I believe that our instincts know best. Like deciding on Mr./Mrs. Right, you “just know.”

When I saw this rendition, the little voice at the back of my head yelped, YES! I’m delighted with it, and hope my readers will be too.

IN HER SHADOW will pre-release in December and officially release in January. I can’t WAIT to share the fun with you all. 🙂

Steena has a brand spankin’ new book, Dear Jack… A Finding Emma Novella, out TODAY! I’m eager to read the heart-wrenching, hope-filled story, told through love letters. I hope you’ll check it out, too.

What book covers resonate with you? Any design tips to add? Experiences to share? I love hearing from you. ♥

Leave a comment


  1. Readers do judge books by their covers…especially with ebooks when there is nothing tangible to deal with. As you said, it needs to look fantastic in miniature. So no matter what, the cleaner, the better.

  2. First of all, the cover looks great, August. I’m so excited for you!

    People judge books, magazine articles, even blog posts first by pictures. In our information saturated world, a picture is an easy way to assess the quality, mood and even subject matter of what we choose to read (or ignore). All that’s to say, I think this post is awesome. 🙂

  3. Running from Hell with El

     /  November 15, 2012

    As usual, this is incredibly topical and on-point. I’m trying to choose a cover designer and am approaching it in my usual disorganized way; thus, I really appreciate the orderly approach described above.

    Most important, your cover looks fantastic!

  4. Great post and awesome cover! congratulations and good luck! z

  5. As someone who worked as a graphic designer for many years, this is a topic I have strong opinions on! 😀 All good points you make. I’d also add ro points 4 & 5: choose colors that make your cover pop in a pool of many, and make sure there’s plenty of contrast between your design and typography so your title and name are readable at small sizes, if at all possible (tough to do with long names or titles). And if you have multiple books, give them enough consistency to present a unified “brand” of you, theauthor

  6. mgmillerbooks

     /  November 15, 2012

    Still so pleased you went Indie, and have retained control. I’m excited for you too. Great job with the cover. The dread it conveys is palpable.

    A former Disney artist did my cover, and while it’s cluttered, I wanted it to have a cloying effect–like the jungle, you might say. Mostly what I hope my thumbnail does is make people say WTF is that? LOL. By now, you have to know that I march to a very different drummer 🙂

    December’s almost here! Wishing you the very best.

    • LOL Your cover is perfect! That’s another important point to bring up. While there are guidelines, there are no stone-cold rules. As my agent told me, people love it when we break rules, if we do so well. Best wishes back at you. 🙂

  7. How awesome that you got to design your cover and it turned out so well! Good luck with the release, and I hope this cover catches everyone’s eye!

  8. Just don’t steal a cover from a famous artist, as one of my former publishers did! 🙂

    I have a super graphic artist, if anyone is interested. Check out her work on my website, (the last five covers, not the first two).

  9. prudencemacleod

     /  November 15, 2012

    The cover looks awesome August. I hope you sell millions.

  10. rock on, August. Looks great

  11. August you are just a tad bit awesome, you know that right? Your cover was so easy to make – the main image is fabulous and gave the right tone … everything else just flowed…well except for that bed (but sometimes you’ve got to see that…). All the best and I can’t wait to read it!!

  12. I can’t choose my own covers – well, I could offer up suggestions and ideas, but my publishers have the right to reject what I would send.

    My covers run the gamut of “I don’t really like this cover” to “I love this cover!”

    Love your cover, and congrats!

    • Thanks a bunch, Kat! Sounds like you have the benefits of not stressing over cover designing yourself, and the ability to holler, “Next!” Not too shabby at all. 😉

  13. EllieAnn

     /  November 15, 2012

    Congrats! The cover looks terrific. For some reason, I especially liked her bracelet. I think it’s a nice touch.
    For me, I’ve fallen in love with the cover art of Will Staehle. He’s amazing, and seems to do just right for the books he designs.

  14. Congratulations on getting the book ready for release and your cover! Steena is amazing. December can’t come soon enough.

  15. Really awesome cover, August! I have nothing but good things to say about my experience self-publishing and I know you will tackle whatever goals you set your mind to! Can’t wait to read it!

  16. A cover is the first thing that attracts me to a book… and you’ve done a fantastic job!! I can’t wait to read your book!! Congrats, August!!

  17. Fantastic cover! Congrats! : ) I think covers can make or break a book selling or not so it’s a huge deal. I know that if I see something with a cheap or unprofessional looking cover, I move on because I assume the person didn’t spend time finding a good editor either.

    I don’t get to decide much about my covers since I’m traditionally pubbed, so it can be stressful waiting to see what they come up with, lol. But I’ve loved mine so far. Now I’ve just been rebranded with total cover changes, so it’s going to be interesting to see how/if it affects the next release. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Roni. Means a lot coming from you!

      Covers really do show our professionalism, or lack thereof. Yours all rock! Good luck with the changes. Seems like you’re in wonderful hands, so I’m sure they’ll do you well. 🙂

  18. Fabulous job on the cover, ladies! We’re already lining up for the launch!

  19. That is a stunning cover. I’m always buying books because of their artwork.

  20. Congratulations on your new route to publishing and such an awesome book cover. Steena is so talented – in many ways! She has designed my website, btw (hehe, I’m so proud of it that website that I couldn’t resist a little plug here).

    I like the subtle clues of the story arc that your cover delivers – two characters facing each other in a nervous anticipation, the hidden (wicked-looking!) knife, her innocent, yet a bit vulnerable pose, his hesitation at the door, her little belt and a pretty bracelet, and the shadow – his! Not hers, despite the title. That really makes me want to find out more!

    I’m looking forward to reading In Her Shadow. So glad you will have it available soon 🙂 Let me know if I can help with anything. If you want to be a guest on my blog, email and we’ll make it happen! I’m here to help out.

  21. It’s daunting to think a cover can carry so much weight, but it does. I was really nervous to see what my publisher’s cover artist would come up with. Luckily, I loved it. We just took out one thing to make it less crowded, and he had me sold. Phew!

    Good luck with your process. Great post as always!

  22. Hi.

    Great cover :). I really like it, both as concept and as design.

    “Whether we like it or not, it’s human nature to judge books by their covers.” – Not only, it’s human nature to judge or like anything by appearances. That’s why we wrap presents in beautiful papers and packages, we dress smartly for an interview or a meeting, we have a code of dress in our working environments, etc.

    I agree with all your points.

    I have one more though, that the author’s name should be larger than the title. Larger fonts are first caught by the eye in an image and imprinted first in the memory, even in cases they won’t read the remaining fonts.

    Congratulations! 🙂

  23. Very cool cover! Your lady appears to have a nice touch of danger to her! Thanks for the pointers about covers…

  24. Yes, that cover gets even less time for a look-over by a potential reader than the first page! And I keep hearing that self-pubbed authors need to have a Big-6 cover and what’s great is they can with so many wonderful artists out there to choose from. Love your cover August as it raises so many questions and makes us wonder about the type of girl on the cover by her dress, jewelry and of course choice of knife to hide! (like we all keep one tucked down the back of our pants. LOL!)

  25. Hi August! I love your book cover. It makes us wonder about the character. I even love her sort of “tramp stamp” — intentionally placed, I’m sure.

    Lately, I’ve been reading more books online, so I can read at bedtime. The funny thing is with online books, covers hardly matter at all. You never see them. Your books open right up to the page you were last reading. And, I have to confess, many online books don’t have authors’ names on them, which is making it tough for me to remember whose stuff I’ve liked. If I love a book that I’ve read online, I will go and buy it in softcover. That said, I do think covers count more than ever in bookstores! Whatever will capture a readers’ attention. *SQUIRREL!!*

  26. I love your cover! Steena is talented, isn’t she? She’d done great covers for Elena, too.

    The most nerve-wracking part of being traditionally published is seeing what the cover will look like. I’m lucky. My editor asked me to send her 12 covers I liked the style of, and then she asked for my feedback when the designed had finished his draft of the cover.

    Still, tense!

  27. Raani York

     /  November 15, 2012

    OMG – I can’t wait to read that book!! And I just LOVE that cover!
    Ever since I seriously started the way I decided for to get my book published I was thinking about my cover, and I guess I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I want. I’m sure the artist will have to work hard – but I’m as well sure it will be worth it!!
    Your book will be fantastic!! And I’m going to review it all over the place!!

  28. That is a great cover, and you’re so right—we do make our initial judgements of a book on that basis. When I’m looking for e-books by new authors, I’m also closely reading the blurb which accompanies the cover. So that has got to be a great hook as well. Not an easy task, but so critical!

  29. Awesome Cover!!! So excited for your release date(s)/PARTY!!!!

  30. Congratulations August!!! I love the title and the cover looks fantastic! Soooo, is that you on the cover? Are you the author and the model?

  31. I love this cover! Intriguing, ominous, sexy. I also particularly like the bracelet. And as a thumbnail you can’t quite tell what she’s got tucked in her wasitband so you click on it to see if it really is a knife. Which means in an online bookstore the reader has just opened the blurb!

    Can’t wait for your release, August! This will be one of my ‘stock up my kindle for the holidays’ books, for sure.

  32. Reblogged this on shinekarobinson's Blog and commented:
    Hello Dear Readers,

    As an aspiring self publishing writer I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about the industry and the million and one things that go into creating one book.

    Lately I have been following the blog of August McLaughlin and found this blog on creating the perfect book cover.

    I thought it was great and I hope that the rest of you enjoy it as well and can take something away from it.



  33. Thanks August! As a new writer I need all the hints, tips, and tricks I can get.

    Have a great day.

  34. Congratulations! It’s a fabulous cover! 🙂

  35. Love the cover, August. Really draws me in. Now I can’t wait to read the book! So happy for you, my friend. Your thoroughness should be a lesson for all indie writers.

  36. I will say this without asking, as that doesn’t seem to go well anywhere, but something that people don’t tell ( I understand why) is: if you use Kindle and self-publish and your book is decent, what should you expect to make that first month, year? I know it is a wide range in publishing, but I would think that someone somewhere would say you know, on average, you could decently expect…not that I am asking…lol

  37. Covers are just vital, August, and yours is definitely eye catching. Congrats and can’t wait to read the book!

  38. Kourtney Heintz

     /  November 17, 2012

    Wonderful tips here August. A personal pet peeve of mine is books with photos of people on the cover. I really don’t like being told what the main character looks like. I love that you don’t show your protagonist’s face here. You let me imagine her in my head. Very cool. This is a very eye catching cover. 😉

  39. That is a cool cover. Very slick & professional, and seriously good.

    It’s always hard though! There’s always that niggling fear that maybe you haven’t quite second-guessed the readers’ mind. There are arguments that it’s worth even hiring a professional artist to come up with a cover, just to give it that edge – and hope that the sales justify the expense. But the angst is true even for the big houses. I’ve been kinda lucky with my last couple of titles, both released by Penguin – they hired a top-rate local designer who came up trumps with some really great designs. But it doesn’t always happen, and I’ve had a few doozies in the past with other publishers.

    Good luck with the book – very exciting!

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