You Need a Cover that Appeal To Your Readers, Not Just You

We don’t do any marketing posts (well, we don’t do a ton of blog posts, if you didn’t notice) as marketing is not within our area of expertise. However, we’ve run into a number of authors with wonderful stories who have the initial urge to market their book well, but they gear their blurbs or covers toward themselves rather than representing the actual story told within the book’s pages.

So, this post is a marketing-adjacent account of what we’ve seen, what we’ve experienced, and what we would like to see more of.

Let us take an example! You have a book about a sorcerer who takes a hero’s journey to salvage his or her own soul but instead ends up sacrificing their soul for the sake of humanity. Great! AWESOME! This could also be the chosen one/the prodigal son type of story. Now that we’ve established that, let’s say that to reach this goal, the sorcerer must obtain an object that does magic. And that object does magic GOOD. Okay? You with me still? So, let’s say this object is an orb. A colorful orb in which souls are trapped or released. That sounds cool, right? Yes. I bet it looks cool, too! But maybe it’s a bit busy because you have the simplicity of the orb versus the complexity of its function. Maybe you, as the author, love the idea of placing that orb, with all its colorfulness and all the souls floating from it, right on the cover of your book. Doesn’t sound bad, does it?

And it isn’t bad. Not inherently. But let’s take the story into consideration here; you have a main character with a name, with a background, a history, interactions with other characters, and events that move that main character toward that orb over the course of the story. The orb isn’t as important as what allows your protagonist to reach it. The journey is always more important than the end goal. Or as important, at the very least. The orb only appears in a single scene or two. If you place the orb on the cover of your book, you’re inviting your potential readers to believe it holds more importance than it does. Setting up expectations that will never be realized.

What then, should you do? Well, read your story from the point of view of an actual reader if that’s possible. Say you’ve sent it to your editor. Re-read that story once it comes back to you. It should be different enough that you’re able to view it through the eyes of a reader, so long as you’ve placed enough distance and time between yourself and that particular piece. What is your impression of the story? You’re likely going to feel more of a connection to the sorcerer than to the orb, right?

Well, damn. There goes that cover idea! What would the reader like to see on the cover? What would set up their expectations so that they aren’t misled or disappointed? We would likely suggest something that tethers the orb to the actual character. Let’s say the sorcerer has a wrist tattoo. Maybe it’s a sign or a symbol of their soul and that soul’s attachment to the body that holds it. This is an important character. He’s the main character, so let’s call him Sorcerer Steve. We would likely suggest something like this (we’re also not graphic designers, so bear with us here): the silhouette of a hooded man (Sorcerer Steve!) in the background with that tattooed wrist reaching forward, and the orb in his hand (the not-yet-activated orb for simplicity and so that the author still has that element; we’re not monsters, for god’s sake). Obscure the arm up to the point where the tattoo is clearest, focus on that, and boom! A cover that better reflects your story! Maybe. Again, we’re not graphic artists (find a good one).

In any case, make sure the cover has something to do with the story you’re telling as a whole. Of course, symbolism is almost always acceptable as well. Many authors use, for example, objects of things that are thematically relevant to their books as the focal point of the cover. Perhaps a symbolic line linking dust motes to humanity’s insignificance in the world pops up in a science fiction novel where that is an underlying theme. Try a black cover, a sliver of grey light, and glimmering dust motes. Or something simple like that. This brings me to my final point:

Simplicity is so important. Jamming your cover with too many elements (unless you’ve written an absurdist novel, perhaps, but even then, I would say just don’t do that) doesn’t get anyone’s attention. It’s busy and messy—easily glossed over.

For the love of God, don’t make your name bigger than the book’s title. That tells the reader far too much about an author’s ego, and if you’re a new author, you don’t want to appear hubristic to your base.

That’s the most basic advice I can give at the moment. I’m learning more about marketing, but I’m not quite at the stage where I am able to earnestly advise a person on it and would absolutely suggest hiring a professional marketer. Happy writing and make good choices. If you’re an independent author (especially a first-time one) these are super important considerations. Appeal to the type of person you want reading your book when making decisions that can affect how it’s marketed.

Published by holymell

I do word stuff!

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