"Don't judge a book by its cover."
Brilliant, isn't it? A wonderful, timeless lesson on the pitfalls of superficial judgment. And also...totally ignored by just about everyone. Humans are visual creatures, and we judge everything by its cover—books included. So, if you're an indie author, it’s time to embrace this reality and understand the multifaceted role that a book cover plays in your publishing journey.
In the Bestseller Life courses I go over the four biggest things a book cover does (I'll let you discover them on your own by watching the videos).
But they aren't all that a great book cover does.
Let's go over a few more things a great book cover should (and will) do for you:
You're more than just a writer; you're a brand. Your name, your voice, your story, your aesthetic—they all converge to form your brand identity. Believe me, I learned this the hard way. Don't make my mistakes. Brand your books.
Here are a few points to remember:
1. Consistency is Key: If you’ve authored multiple books, you’ll want the design elements to be consistent across the board. A reader should be able to identify your book from a lineup (or, you know, an overcrowded Amazon page) just by its cover.
That's part of why you'll see this on EVERY SINGLE book I self-publish:
It's not just me being snooty or proud: it shows, instantly and completely, that folks looking for an MbC story are in the right place.
2. Visual Identity: Your cover should reflect the genre, tone, and overall vibe of your book. A romantic comedy shouldn’t have a book cover that looks like it belongs to a horror novel, unless, of course, you’re pioneering a new genre: Romantic-Horror-Comedy? (Cue the awkward first date with a vampire.)
3. Personal Connection: Your cover should also evoke a personal touch, something uniquely you. I favor bold colors with high-contrast images that look like movie posters. It's a subtle thing, but it ties my books together in just one more way...
4. Logo and Typography: If you have a personal logo or a specific typography that you use for your name, make sure it’s visible. Your name, when consistently stylized, becomes a recognizable component of your brand. Remember that picture I put in the article a few lines back? Well...
Again, not trying to sound proud. But--well, actually, I am pretty darn proud of this!
I had to find something that would tie all my books together--which is pretty tough considering how different a romance cover is from one that graces a horror title, or how much the cover of a sci-fi differs from a non-fiction humor book. My answer: come up with a personal logo--my name--that had a particular typography that would work with literally ANYTHING.
It took a lot of effort. But I'm glad I did it. The logo and typography tie my books together in an interesting, instantly recognizable way.
All right, you’ve nailed the branding part. Your book cover looks so stunning, even Picasso would hang it in his living room. But a beautiful cover is not just eye candy; it's also an influencer in its own right. You want reviews and media attention? A compelling cover is like a VIP ticket to the big league. Here’s how:
1. First Impressions Matter: Journalists, bloggers, and reviewers are inundated with books to read and review. A captivating cover makes them more likely to pick yours from the heap. It’s not just shallow aesthetics; it’s psychological. An engaging cover suggests effort, professionalism, and quality.
2. Social Media Appeal: In the age of Instagram and Pinterest, a visually striking book cover is more shareable. It gains traction, gets likes, and before you know it, you’re the hot topic of the book community. Let’s not even get started on #Bookstagram (those folks take book cover aesthetics to a whole new level).
I have a friend who has a Pinterest board that gets over a million views a month. He's an artist, so when I reached out to him to ask if he'd make a section on cool covers (hoping he'd include a few of mine), he was excited to expand his reach. And yeah, some of my books made the cut...which gave them exposure a whole different section of the reading audience I never would have found if he'd looked at my covers and said, "Um, Michaelbrent...you know the goal is to attract people, right? Not have them run away screaming and clawing at their eyes?"
3. Buzz Creation: Media outlets love a good story. If your book cover has a unique design element, a backstory, or even a hidden Easter egg, it can become a talking point, a reason for them to feature your book all on its own
4. Review Platforms: Websites like Goodreads often have thumbnail galleries of upcoming releases. A stunning cover can make browsers stop and click, eventually leading to more reviews.
The Holy Grail of advertising.
While it’s one thing to pay for advertisement, it’s another level entirely to have people voluntarily rave about your book. Word-of-mouth is organic, it’s genuine, and it’s incredibly valuable. So how does a book cover play into this?
Well, let's think about just a few ways:
1. The “Hey, What’s That?” Factor: Picture this. Someone is reading your book on a subway (hopefully not the one in my book Darkbound--that's not somewhere you want to be), and the person sitting across from them is instantly captivated by the cover. They lean over and ask, “Hey, what’s that you’re reading?” Boom. Word-of-mouth in action. It doesn't get better than that.
Okay, it does. But that's pretty sweet.
2. Giftability: As much as we hate to admit it, a pretty book cover makes the book more “gift-worthy.” Whether it’s a birthday, a holiday, or just a random act of kindness, a book with an appealing cover is more likely to be gifted, spreading its reach further.
3. The Coffee Table Situation: Some book covers are so aesthetic that they earn the coveted spot on the coffee table. When guests come over and peruse through the titles, guess which book they’re most likely to pick up and inquire about? Yours, of course. You have just facilitated an organic marketing opportunity right in your living room. And if your readers are doing that in their own living rooms with their own friends? *chef's kiss*
4. Book Clubs and Social Circles: A stunning book cover is an excellent conversation starter. Whether it’s a formal book club discussion or a casual chat among friends, the topic of a book’s cover often comes up. It's the low-hanging fruit of book discussions. And the more it gets talked about, the more it’s likely to be read.
Now, do you see how your book cover, like me, is more than just a pretty face.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a well-designed book cover can be worth thousands of readers. So go ahead, make it count. Design a cover that not only resonates with your art but also works diligently to build your brand, attract reviews, and facilitate word-of-mouth. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
Oh, and one last thing. For those of you reading this and thinking, “I could never learn this stuff,” let me clarify: it's hard, but it IS doable. As a guy whose intrinsic artistic talent consists entirely of a willingness to insist that stick figures are the apex of my achievement, I can say that without hesitation.
But doable isn't the same as "it's a good idea for everyone." So leave it to the professionals--either by hiring one, or becoming one.
I'm Michaelbrent Collings, an international bestseller and produced screenwriter, as well as a multiple Bram Stoker Award and Dragon Award finalist, and maker of a fair-to-middling chocolate chip waffle.
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