In 2009, Zondervan hosted an open cover design contest for best-selling author Rick Warren's book, The Hope You Need. They received over 3,500 entries from across the globe. The winner, chosen by the publisher and Warren, was a design firm based in Italy.
Scrolling through pages of entries available, a huge range in skill and design quality is evident. It serves as a reminder that how a book is packaged is critical to the success of the book.
Here is my best advice on book covers to writers, especially those who are self-publishing:
- Put yourself in the mind and shoes of your reader.
As your reader stands in front of a bookshelf where a book like yours would be slotted, most likely displayed spine-out, what stands out? If they reach for your book, what sets it apart from every other historical romance on the shelf? Or every other memoir, devotional, parenting, or marriage book?
Your book has seconds to make an impression. What kind of impression will it make?
- Bookstore shelves are prime real estate.
With limited shelf space, booksellers can only carry so many titles, unlike Amazon.com. You could offer your book digital-only through Amazon.com where authors potentially catch the majority of the pie, but consider an interesting recent development.
This fall, Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore, Amazon Books, in Seattle. And get this: the books they carry are displayed face-out.
This tells me two things:
1) Amazon sees the potential brick-and-mortar stores still have.
2) They know the power of a book cover that nails it.
And even if you decide to only offer your book digitally, the cover still matters to the reader. The last thing you want them to think is: Oh, that looks like a self-published book.
Translation: That looks like a book that would have inferior content and is not worth my time or my money.
- Put your best work out there and then pay a designer to cover it with their best work.
You may have worked for years to write a book that meets a felt need in the market, but if the cover is not able to compete with the high quality designs traditional publishers create, it may never reach the hands of your reader.
You don't have to spend a ton of money on a cover. But if you're serious about publishing, and you want booksellers and readers to take you seriously, you must give them a cover that compares to what they see in the marketplace.
- Bookstores and authors are partners.
Together we get your best work to people who love to read and buy books.
Authors handicap booksellers when they put a mediocre cover on their book. Don't let a "good enough" or "just okay" book cover be a hindrance for your reader or bookstores. Give them every reason to open your book and discover what's inside.