Book Cover Design: How to Make a Book Cover
Good Book Cover Design is Vital
The book cover design is one of the most critical factors in a book’s success.
There are only really three things that make people pick a book up:
- They recognise the author’s name and liked their earlier work.
- They had the book recommended to them.
- The cover grabs their attention.
The blurb and the first page might grab the reader and help sell your book, but only if the reader picks it up first.
Recognition and recommendation aren’t really under your control, so the only thing you can do that will help sell your book is make sure you have a book cover design that attracts attention.
The Book Cover Design Process
Whether you are being commercially published or self-published, and whether you are employing a designer or doing your own cover, the book cover design process has the same four steps:
- Drafts and Revisions
- Artwork and Titling
Stage One: Branding
First, you need to understand what you want your book cover to say.
- What genre is it?
- Who is your target audience?
- What is it about your book that will appeal to that audience?
- What is your high-concept?
The high concept of A Kill in the Morning is ‘James Bond versus the Nazis’ (or ‘ Fatherland meets Thunderball ‘) And my editor felt its new spin on classic spy style had a Tarantino flavour to it.
So the book cover design needed to say:
- Genre: Alternative History & Spy Thriller
- Target audience: Mass market commercial fiction, spy genre readers
- What’s the appeal: It’s a Tarantino-style remix of classic spy thrillers with a twist.
- High Concept: James Bond versus the Nazis
Stage Two: Concepts
Once you have the brand values worked out, you or your designer need to think about how to express them visually.
One way into that is to look at existing novels and movies that have similar brands and get inspiration from them. Two movie posters that we felt captured A Kill in the Morning’s brand values were From Russia With Love and Inglourious Basterds .
Working with a book cover designer
Designers are skilful professionals, but they don’t necessarily have a lot of time to work on your book cover design and probably don’t have time to read the novel. So they rely on you to give them the branding information that we discussed above.
Do I need to use a professional book cover designer?
- Do you have any ability as an artist yourself?
- Do you understand how to use fonts to create a particular effect?
- Can you identify what it is that makes one cover better than another?
- Do you have time to design your own cover?
If you answered “no” to those questions then you might be better employing a book cover designer. Remember the cover is critical to your book’s success.
In the case of A Kill in the Morning , these were the first concepts the book cover designer came up with.
Although my editor and I thought the right hand one was OK, and some of my friends liked the swooping eagle, these designs didn’t embody all the qualities of the A Kill in the Morning brand.
To help the designer, I got together a mood board for the novel to give a sense of the brand style we were looking for.
The process of producing a mood board takes time, but it’s enjoyable.
I found Fotor to be the best free software for producing the collage of images for the mood board. Fotor is available here.
Stage Three: Drafts and Revisions
With the mood board to refer to, the book cover designer sketched this design, which was much more the style we were looking for.
As a draft this was great and I could immediately see the potential. But there were some issues.
- It looked too much like a war thriller and not enough like a spy thriller.
- Lots of the elements weren’t actually in the book.
- It didn’t have any hint of the alternate history.
Based on that feedback the designer redrew the cover to include:
- A German jet bomber to imply alternate history.
- Heydrich, the antagonist of the novel, in the gun-sight instead of a generic Nazi.
- Molly Ravenhill , the heroine of the novel, in a less military pose.
Stage Four: Artwork and Titling
With a design sketched out and agreed, the drafting stage was over and the cover design went away to an artist to be painted.
At this point if you are doing the cover yourself you’ll need to redraw your sketches in an image editing program. The three free image editing programs I recommend and use myself are: iPiccy, Pixlr, and GIMP.
GIMP is a free alternative to Photoshop. GIMP is available here.
The subject of fonts is just too big to cover here, but one basic tip is not to use the fonts that come with your computer. You can find lots of different titling fonts (usually called fancy fonts) on the internet, free or paid. If the font is free, make sure the licence allows commercial use though, as some don’t.
For A Kill in the Morning , the book cover designer chose the Fette Egyptienne font. It’s a strong font with a retro flavour that suits the novel.
The Tagline for A Kill in the Morning is: “Never Let Evil Out of Your Sights”. In my case my editor came up with the tagline, but if you are doing your own cover, you’ll have to think of your own. Test half a dozen on your friends before settling on the one that works.
The painted elements came back from the artist and the designer tweaked them a bit and added the lettering and tagline to produce the finished cover.
We started with our brand inspirations: James Bond and Quentin Tarantino. Let’s revisit them and see how the A Kill in the Morning book cover design compares with them.
It looks pretty good to me.
Recently, I showed the book cover design to a friend of mine who hadn’t read A Kill in the Morning .
She kind of frowned and said, ‘But this looks like James Bond versus the Nazis in Space!’
I said, ‘Yes! Exactly!’
Want to Read A Kill in the Morning?
Read the opening of A Kill in the Morning for free by clicking here or on the cover:
If you’d like to discuss the ideas in the article, please email me. Otherwise, please feel free to share it using the buttons below.