What makes a book cover great?

What do you like in a book cover? Does it matter if you “like” a cover? Isn’t a cover just your book’s face on the world? Should it provide a feeling about the type of book? To that question at least, the answer is yes. Your cover should give a hint at the type of book this is, romance, mystery, dark thriller, horror. But beyond that, and the cliches in all these genres cover-wise are legion, what defines a great book cover?

This question comes up more frequently now that so many of us are designing our own book covers, for e-books or our independent originals. One of my books, One O’clock Jump, has now had five different covers. St. Martin’s Press originally did a cover that was rejected in favor of this one:

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The rejected first cover was this one (which became the cover for Sweet and Lowdown, thereby saving St. Martin’s some dough)

The trade paperback cover — and the first e-book cover — looked like this

And the two more e-book covers looked like this… and this.

So, who knows which one is best. It’s subjective. What grabs you may not grab the next person. I’m looking for some answers myself. It’s easy to change an e-book cover if it doesn’t work for you. But what makes a cover great? What makes a cover sell a book? Can you tell a book by its cover?

And don’t forget: One O’clock Jump is 99 cents! Kindle Nook  With the latest cover….

Here’s a discussion of book covers at Marketing tips for Authors.

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  • I’d like to hear more on the story behind five different covers for ONE O’CLOCK JUMP. I personally like the one with the smoky microphone, but I love big bands, nostalgia, and so on. Duncan Long, artist, did a great post this week on my blog about working with an artist to get a kick-butt book cover. http://www.karenselliott.wordpress.com.

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      Karen, I actually like the smoky microphone e-book cover the best myself. But when I’d had it up for a couple months and the book wasn’t selling very well, I experimented with the new covers. Actually after I was at Lucy Kevin’s chat about her Nookbook success (transcribed here on my blog). She thought it was her covers that really helped. Hers are simple and illustrated, nothing fancy. So I gave that a try. Covers for e-books are a different beast than for print. They have to very simple and convey a mood very quickly. I love big bands too — One O’clock Jump is set in Kansas City in 1939 and there is a ton of swing music in it, including Count Basie. But that’s not exactly what the book is about… Sigh. Covers!

  • I love a great cover; my new book has one! http://malledthebook.com/

    It’s a book about working retail in a suburban mall, and the woman on the cover (blond, middle-aged, exhausted) could well be me…but is a model. It was a thrill to meet the book’s designer at my book party, hear the backstory on his decisions, and thank him.

  • When we prepare a book cover, we usually do six candidate covers, narrow it down to three and then try to get a consensus from as many people as possible on what works (short of convening a focus group). We have changed covers when a book doesn’t meet sales expectations, but changing the cover has rarely boosted sales. It is really an art, not a science. For eBooks we try not to make the covers too busy and to try to convey the feel of the book and make sure the image and font do not mislead a prospective buyer.

    Twitter: @eHenHouse

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