When you look at a lot of indie eBook cover designs, what you find is a vast range of styles, and that’s natural since indie authors publish a wide variety of books.
But another variation you’ll find in these covers is also a vast range of effectiveness.
In other words, an eBook cover—no matter what the genre or category—has a job to do, and if your cover does that job it will help you sell books.
Before diving into the specific jobs book covers have, (and the myriad ways in which many indie author book covers fail, crippling their chances for success) we have to look at the bigger picture.
eBook Discoverability: Context is Everything
Although print books from major publishers dominate sales charts, indie authors have to keep in mind the big differences they face.
While publishers of front-line books can count on placing new titles in hundreds or thousands of bookstores, indie authors cannot.
Publishers can use custom finishes, die-cutting, embossing, special paper, and a raft of other effects to make their books more appealing in person.
Indie authors by and large don’t have access to these effects, can’t afford them, and wouldn’t know how to achieve them.
Besides, most of these effects don’t translate well to the online sales environment in which indie authors primarily sell their books.
And indie authors’ favorite format—the eBook—only exists to be discovered online.
The move to finding books online has brought with it a new challenge for those who do book cover design, both amateurs and professionals.
The first challenge, of course, if you’ve been designing book covers for any time, is to understand exactly what an online book cover really is. This is especially true for eBooks.
Unlike print books, which we can pick up and examine, eBooks don’t exist in any physical reality other than as a computer file. So how can they have a cover?
And since an eBook is simply a computer file with text that will reflow to the form and shape of the reader into which it is loaded, eBooks can’t even be said to have any particular shape.
So when it comes time to design a cover for your book—especially for the indie authors who typically publish in both formats simultaneously—it’s important to realize that the little rectangles we’re used to seeing that represent the cover of printed books are simply a convention.
There’s no particular reason an eBook cover needs to be a tall rectangle, other than to announce to the potential reader that it is, in fact, a “book” of some kind.
Some retailers have even tried to mandate that eBook covers conform to the tall rectangle, which is a bit silly considering that printed books come in many shapes and sizes.
But more than anything else, designers and do-it-yourself self-publishers have to address the challenges of this new way of discovering books in a way that helps their sales.
Here are 3 simple guidelines for designing books that will primarily be discovered online.
3 Secrets to Successful eBook Cover Design
#1 - Simple
This is the most important key of all. While a 6″x 9″printed book has 54 square inches of space to play with, an area large enough for a pretty decent painting or illustration, maybe 40 to 100 words of copy for nonfiction books, awards, blurbs, subtitles, taglines, series logos as well as the required title and author, books that are represented online do not.
The overriding fact to remember about book covers is the very small size they will be viewed in by people searching on the sites of e-retailers.
So simplicity becomes one of the chief virtues of successful eBook cover design for a book destined to primarily be found online.
For instance, it might be wise to take out any elements that won’t be legible or readable at this small size. I know it’s hard, but just toss them, you’ll be happier in the end.
Look at these two covers from a search results page:
While Quinn’s Undying Rose might be a great story, there are so many elements on the cover. In addition, they are treated with various graphic effects, making the whole effect confusing. Letter from a Rake, dealing with the same basic elements, stands out brilliantly for its simplicity without sacrificing historical references or beautiful textures.
Keep the elements on the cover to the title, author name and one graphic that instantly communicates something about the tone or genre of the book. Other elements that might work are a short blurb or a series identifier, when appropriate.
#2 - Small
This one is super important and makes sure that all the work you’ve put into your cover is going to pay off.
Your book will be shown in several ways on sites like Amazon, Kobo, and Apple Books.
People who already know about your book are going to head straight for it anyway, those aren’t the people we should be concerned about. It’s the others, people looking for something but not sure exactly what, who should be your primary focus.
And that’s where the search results page comes in. If you look at a page of search results on Amazon, for instance, you’ll be presented with a screenful of tiny images and links via the book titles. This quickly exposes the weaknesses in cover design that might not have been obvious from the paperback version, or from just looking at the larger images on the book’s sales page.
Highlander’s Fate is clear and visually emphatic, even at this small size. Melody’s Christmas, on the other hand, is literally disappearing.
If your eBook cover fades in this view, or it’s unreadable, or you can’t tell what the image on the cover is, it’s much more likely that browsers will skim right over it to the next, and your chance at making an impression is gone, literally in a second or two.
When you have a design you like, get one of those retailer search results pages up on your screen, reduce your cover to the same size, and see how it looks compared to other books in your category. There’s no better test than this to see if your concept is going to work.
#3 - Strategic
Even though your cover is going to be viewed in a small format, and even though I’ve just advised you to keep it simple, your book cover also has other important work to do in terms of branding and positioning.
This is just as true for novelists as it is for nonfiction writers. Many of the novelists who have had a lot of success are writing series, a great strategy to retain readers and build a fanbase for each release.
It’s important for your readers to be able to recognize the books in a series right away, that’s part of your series’ branding, and part of your author branding too.
In book design, we usually consider the combination of the graphic elements on a cover with the typography of the title as making up the basic “brand” of the book. This is true whether you're publishing print, eBooks or both.
Sometimes branding can be as simple as color-coordinated covers or design elements. At other times a simple logo can be used to brand books, or a distinctive stripe along the top or bottom of the cover can bring together different looks into a branded series.
In the example below, two thrillers from the same author share layouts, font selections, color palettes, and short, punchy titles, all of which help readers to immediately identify books in the series.
Positioning has a lot to do with how your book compares to other books in its niche or genre. The design of your eBook cover has to reflect differences between your book and related books to give potential buyers the information they need to make a purchase decision.
While a tiny cover image can’t do that all by itself, it is a big part of your positioning strategy overall and should coordinate with it.
A Resource for Your Own eBook Cover Design
So there you have it, three ways to make sure your eBook cover designs get off on the right foot, help you achieve your publishing goals, and are easy to discover in the online market.
You can see exactly what I’m talking about in our monthly competition for eBook cover designs. The posts from this competition comprise a class on what works when designing book covers for online display—and what doesn’t.
There are hundreds of eBook covers to check out, and each one credits the designer, which is handy if you're shopping for a cover designer. Here’s the link to the main page where you’ll find links to all the recent competitions: e-Book Cover Design Awards.
In the next article on this subject, we’ll look at the five jobs your book cover has to do. I'll show you some examples of designers who met the challenge—and some who failed. Watch for it.
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