A number of people have asked me what my process was and how to go about it. I’ve attempted to stub together some thoughts and considerations. It’s by no means an exhaustive list of things to do or consider, but it gets the process going. At the very least it will help an aspiring author to think about their brand and have information to bring to the agent, publisher, or visual designer if going it alone. Good luck!
Before going into the cover process
– Clear understanding of your book and series themes
– Clear definition for what this book is about (not just the theme)
– A listing of key moments, locations, or characters
The cover process includes
– Colors / textures
– Content (titles/sub-titles, review quotes/awards/ratings info, author name, back cover text, UPC & EAN5 codes, illustrator name, site url)
– Series logo design
Explore your genre
– Create a list of all most famous book sold in the genre across the last 15 years
– Provide special attention to detail on the biggest hits in your genre in the last 3 years
– Examine the covers and look for patterns:
– Position and size of series name
– Position and size of book title
– Position and size of author
– What key visual elements are presented (what are the elements, visual style used in depiction, what is the size and position, common themes?)
– How is additional content presented and where (quotes, sales info, awards)
– Examine the spines – How much information is represented on the spine? – How is the book series and title represented – What type of visuals are used
– Examine the back covers – How much space is used for reviews – How much “back cover” text is there about the book’s story – How much space is the UPC/EAN5 taking up – How much visual design is really present for the back cover versus front
– How much cover space is dedicated, on average, to visuals versus text?
– How much is the author spot-lighted (if it’s a new author, if it’s an established author, etc.)
– How much series branding is present in the visual presentation (e.g. size of series logo, etc.)
– Colors used (backgrounds, copy, logos, etc.)
Creating your logo
– Remember, there are people that do this for a living (it’s not easy)
– You’re going to have to do a ton of them
– Review your series’ themes
– What do you want to embody when someone sees the series logo (intense, scary, happy, epic, etc.)
– Do you want something more iconic versus a wordmark? What images may conjure the essence of your theme?
– Based on your theme, genre trends, etc. what type of font would work best (sharp, flowing, scripty, block style, etc.)
– Remember this needs to be striking, memorable, and be able to both stand on its own, and be represented in sizes ranging from 60×60 pixels to billboard size
– The design must look good when in black-and-white (grayscale), and color
– The design must be able to be placed on my types of backgrounds and still be clear and visible (patterns, dark, light, etc.)
Creating your paperback cover
– Review your series theme
– Review what THIS book is about
– Review the listing of key moments, locations, or characters
– Assemble your content (series name, book title, quotes, author information, supporting copy, logo, no images yet)
– Review your research, especially covering the past few years. You want your cover to pattern after what’s contemporary because it’s what your readership expects (and is looking for)
– Make a listing of things that visually represent your theme (colors, images, textures)
– Determine what your most important information is for your cover (maybe author name, maybe series or logo, maybe key image)
– Remember you have seconds to engage the reader, and only seconds to present key content. If they’re interested, they’ll pick up the book and read more on the back cover. Don’t over-stuff your cover designs.
– Think of how a reader will look at your cover, what is the hierarchy of visual elements (What they see first, second, etc.), and how the eye will move across the cover. Top-down, left-to-right is the traditional western reading approach. Eyes will lock on images before words, especially faces (it’s how our brains are wired).
– Following your visual theme, create the primary visual element(s) (this in itself could be multiple rounds)
– Following patterns from your genre research, and leading with your identified most important information, begin laying out cover elements
– Adjust the element sizes to create the intended visual heirarchy
– Apply fonts that align with your theme, reflowing text as needed based on presentation differences with fonts
– Apply final colors to copy
– Additional enhancements with textures or visual treatments (like antiquing an image, etc.)
– Print the color cover, put it on the wall 10 feet from you. Does your most important information pop out at you? Is there an easy flow of visual elements and information? What do you notice first, second?
– Again, use your printed copy. Shake it up and down so it’s blurry. What do you “see” when you’re doing this? What information and elements are still visible? Is your most important information still showing? When there’s a lot of distractions, people will see basically what you see when shaking your printout. Keep that in mind.
Creating your spine
– Very little information goes on a spine
– Review the design you presented on the cover
– Following your genre research package your spine material
– Print it out, look at it as you’d see it on a bookshelf. Is it readable? Even at a passing glance?
Creating your back cover
– Recall the purpose of the cover is to provide more information about the story (no spoilers), and clout (recommendations, quotes, etc.)
– The majority of content will be the teaser for the core struggle presented in the book
– The second most important space is for quotes
– Back covers are traditionally very bland – the UPC takes up a huge amount of space on traditional paperback books
– Beyond your friends, post to your fans, get feedback from your printer company, post to your blog
– Compare your design to the books published this past month (on amazon or other key outlet)
– Take it to your local bookstore and ask the owner or clerks there (they see tons of books)
– Don’t be surprised if you make 3 or 4 rounds of changes
Notes: Don’t be afraid to make a few cover versions and test them against each other with with your community, book review team, etc.