What persuades you to purchase a book, when browsing online or at your local bookstore?
Market research tells us that familiarity with the author is the single biggest factor in book sales. But let’s say you’re in the mood to experiment with a new author. I’m betting you look for an attractive cover, a catchy title, and a blurb on the back page that tweaks your interest.
Let’s also suppose you are an aspiring writer putting in long hours on that baby of yours, your manuscript. You’ve had a title for ages but have given it no thought recently. As for a cover design, it’s the furthest thing from your mind, absorbed as you are in editing, rewriting, and creating a killer ending.
Time to pay attention to these very important tasks. In this post, I’ll offer some tips and guidelines for creating a fabulous title and cover. Blurbs I will leave for a future post.
I went through five different titles before I settled on the one I used for my debut novel, Another Ocean to Cross.
At first, I winged it. Whatever came into my head. Not a bad way to start, but then I learned there are guidelines that offer a more systematic approach.
• Keep it short. Nix on the ten word titles. Best to keep it under five words and three is better, unless you are J.K. Rowling. On the other hand, one-word titles run the risk of being used in many other books, which could confuse readers.
• Keep it interesting. Don’t turn readers away because the title sounds like a 5th grade reader, or a college textbook. Make sure your title says something real about the book. For example, Living with ALS would grab the attention of anyone dealing with that disease, but Living with Sharon says nothing at all.
• Research your proposed title. One easy way is to do a search for it on Amazon or Goodreads, because if your title is already in use, or too similar to others, it is best to choose another.
• Make it relevant to your book, but with a hint of more to come. (Before We Were Yours, An American Marriage, A Hillbilly Elegy.)
• Make it unique. Best seller examples: Little Fires Everywhere, The Price of Time.
• Consider the perspective of your main character or antagonist, be they trailblazer, rebel, seductress, tycoon. Think of a two- or three-word phrase that determines how she or he thinks of him/herself. A great example that uses the antagonist’s perspective is The Lord of the Rings.
• Alliteration can work. Think Gone Girl, or Pride and Prejudice.
• Beware of trends. For several years now, books with “girl” in the title have been everywhere. Besides Gone Girl, we have seen The Girl on the Train, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and many more. A search on Amazon today yielded over 40,000 titles in adult fiction containing the word “girl,” published in the last ninety days alone! If a trend is still hot, you may be able to capitalize on it, but if not, avoid it.
• Juxtapose two opposites to create an intriguing title: All the Light We Cannot See, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.
• Add a what, a who, or a where to give your title some context: Where the Crawdads Sing, Under a Scarlet Sky, The Ragged Edge of Night.
• Simplicity Rules: What about punctuation marks in your title? URLs for your book’s website may not allow all punctuation marks or what they term “unusual characters.” Perhaps your book is set in a foreign land and you wish to use a word or phrase from that language in your title. A hint: if readers can’t pronounce it and don’t know what it means, they are unlikely to buy it.
• Think about your cover design with the title: You will likely plan the cover design after you have a title. Make sure they go together, and that one enhances the other. Both should set the tone for the book, whether funny, serious, scary, or romantic.
Give yourself permission to play with as many of these suggestions to come up with as long a list of possible titles as you can. Enlist the help of friends: fellow writers, beta readers, book club members. Use social media if you like. I test-ran some of my early titles on social media, asking people if the title would persuade them to pick up the book and look at it. That’s your goal, remember.
A Word about Subtitles
Not every book needs a subtitle, but if you feel you absolutely must say a bit more about your book than the main title, create a subtitle. Don’t add a subtitle simply because you want to have a long title and I told you not to. To add more context, a subtitle can be useful. For example, the title Philipovna written by a friend of mine, Valentina Gal, tells us that the book is about a woman probably from Ukraine or Russia, but nothing more. Her subtitle, Daughter of Sorrow, lets us know there is a sad story inside. Another useful subtitle example: The Fire Line by Fernanda Santos. Her subtitle tells us all: The Story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and One of the Deadliest Days in American Firefighting.
By the time you work through these suggestions, you should have a list of three or four potential titles. Time to pick the one you love best and won’t get tired of.
The subject of book covers is lengthy. This is not an exhaustive treatise, merely an introduction and some guidelines for writers new to publishing.
Modern covers, together with the title, have one goal: to persuade the reader to pick up the book and look inside. What the reader does next depends on the blurb on the back, and the contents of the book.
If you are an independently published author, you must handle this yourself. Notice, I did not say DO it all yourself. Unless you are a graphic artist, I strongly recommend that you hire a designer. Prices can range from less than a hundred dollars to thousands. You know your budget, so stick to it.
Before you hire a designer, you should have an idea of what you want. The cover should reflect the content of the book, or one vital detail in the book. It should be aesthetically pleasing, in attractive colors, and suitable to the subject.
Go to the nearest bookstore, or simply log onto Amazon and browse through the books in your genre. Each genre tends to have must-haves in their covers. Notice what covers you like, which you don’t like, and why. As you answer these questions for yourself, you will begin to build a mental image of the cover you want.
For my historical fiction novel, I wanted a twenty-something woman wearing 40s style clothing, prepared for travel. There are several wartime voyages in the book, so I also wanted a WWII warship in the background. I wanted my female character looking away from the ship, because she has made a difficult decision, and she is not sure it is the right one.
My designer was responsive to my needs, and we went through quite a few iterations before I was satisfied. She had the license for the graphics, which is another important consideration. Whatever you do, don’t copy a photo you find on the internet without permission. You could get into serious trouble.
There are many companies that design generic book covers. You plunk in your genre and hundreds of potential covers pop up. They’ll add your title and bingo! Your cover is ready. Some of them guarantee you will be the only user, others do not, so shop around if that is the route you decide to go. Here is one example: EbookOrPrint.
Sites such as Canva may convince you that you can design your own, with a little help.
There are also sites like Fiverr where multiple graphic designers from all over the world bid for your work. This is the site I used but there are many others. Ask your fellow writers for references and look for reviews of each site you consider.
You have your cover, and now it is time to consider font, size, and placement on the cover. Be sure it is easy to read. The font should match the book contents. For example, don’t use a techno font for a romance, and don’t use a beautiful script font for horror.
Your designer should have two or three options for you to choose from. Be polite but be honest. This is not a time to settle.
Sharing potential covers on social media and asking which your followers prefer is a great way to not only get feedback, but to build interest in your coming book.
If a few published authors you know are willing to look over your cover, you may gain some very useful observations. One viewer of my cover, unfortunately after I had published, noticed that the title could have been placed higher on the page, which would have made it more legible against the character’s similarly-colored clothing. Such a tiny detail, and people like my cover, but it could have been that little bit better.
The finish of your cover can be matte or glossy. If you’re willing to pay a more, you can add linen finishes, gold lettering, and other bells and whistles. It is a personal decision, but again, that trip to the bookstore to see what the trad published books look like can be instructive. Above all, you want your cover to look professional.
If you have won an award and are eligible to put a sticker on your book, adding it to the cover design assures you will never have to pay separately for stickers again. Multiple awards? Congratulations! But one sticker per book is all you need. Choose the most impressive award or the sticker you like best. Brag about the others on your website.
If you are publishing an e-book only, you simply need a front cover. The paperback requires design of the spine and the back cover.
The spine should have the title, your name, and the publisher imprint (logo), if any. The cover designer will do this for you.
There are plenty of companies who will help you to create a logo if you want one. Some are free. That sounds appealing, but it can be difficult to get what you really want. For a small fee, companies will offer their created logos that you adapt to your own business name. You may find exactly what you want from one of these companies. Obviously, the more help a company gives you, the more they will charge.
My business name is Georgic Publishing LLC and here is the logo I came up with.
The Georgic is a real ship mentioned in my book, so I chose a ship’s wheel for my logo, based on a brooch I own from the ship. Fancy? No, but it serves the purpose for me at this point in my journey.
You may choose to wrap the image of the front cover onto the spine, even straight across the back cover, but it is not necessary to do so. Depending on how busy your cover is, it may distract from the key information in your blurb.
The back cover is your advertising space. As promised, I’m not going to get into blurbs in this post, except to say that you must have one. The blurb should take up half to two thirds of your back cover. The rest should be your short author bio, and, if space permits, a headshot of you. I recommend working on your blurb and your bio while you’re editing your manuscript.
I hope my suggestions help you along the road to publication. Thank you for reading, and I welcome questions, comments, and feedback.
This blog post was first published on The Coffee Pot Book Club's writer blog. Thank you to Mary Anne Yarde for posting it on my behalf.