Published Podcast Ep. 6 | Designing a Book Cover

In today's episode, we'll be talking all about book covers, from what makes them successful to the designer's process for arriving at a finished cover. Neil Gonzalez, the Art Director here at Greenleaf Book Group, will be joining us to share his insights.

0:43 Consumers spend about 8 seconds looking at a book cover before deciding to learn more about it. With as many books as are published today, it's more important than ever to have a quality book cover. 

4:20 What are the key pieces of information you need from an author to get started on a book cover design? 

  • The basic elements like the manuscript, title, sub-title, author name spelling, etc. 
  • It's especially important to familiarize yourself with the manuscript when it comes to novels. There may be symbolism or imagery in the book that could add to the cover. Likewise, you want to be careful to avoid putting any spoilers on the cover. 
  • If business books have any metaphors or imagery, those are usually the strongest elements to try to include on a cover. 
  • If the author has any ideas, it's nice to know up front what they like. 
  • With all of this information, designers can then start on image research, looking for a mixture of stock photography that can be altered into something new or taking new photography. 
  • We try to keep away from putting people on the cover because it can narrow the audience to a specific gender or ethnicity, instead of focusing on the actual target audience. 

9:10 You mentioned that you have a call with the author. If we try to help our authors prepare for that call, what should we tell them? What kinds of questions will you ask? 

  • I always ask if they have a specific idea in mind. We don't expect them to have any, but if they do have an idea that they really want to see, it's best to know that up front. 
  • I also ask for an idea of their tastes and other covers that they like. While their personal tastes and preferences are good to know, it may not be applicable to their audience. But it's helpful to know. Forcing personal preferences, like favorite colors, may hinder the book's performance in the marketplace if it doesn't fit the genre or audience. 

12:25 We spoke about branding in the previous episodes. Some of our authors have strict brand guidelines, so how do you explain how the book cover fits into the overall brand? 

  • We want the book to support their overall brand, but it doesn't need to match the brand exactly. 
  • If the goal for the book is solely to support the company, matching the branding more closely is more acceptable. But if the goal is intended for a larger audience, the book cover needs to be appropriate for the genre and able to compete in the marketplace. 
  • The brand and the book cover should never clash against each other. 

14:30 If you had to describe what makes one cover better than another, what are some of the elements that make a strong book cover? 

  • There's a fine line — you want the book to fit into the genre but also stand out. 
  • Business books tend to be clean and simple, allowing the reader to get to the point more quickly. Though there are always exceptions. 
  • A novel should have more intrigue. You don't want the reader to know the whole story through the cover, just enough to draw them in. 
  • Malcom Gladwell's The Tipping Point started a trend in book design of creating a very simplified type treatment with a small image. 
  • Fonts are often the biggest giveaway of a poorly designed cover. If you're using the fonts that come pre-set on your computer, it will look less professional. 
  • The hierarchy of the cover is also important. The title is usually the biggest element, though if an author's name carries a lot of weight, it may be more useful to make the author name most prominent. 
  • Book sales aren't always due to the cover design. Some bad cover designs sell well and some beautiful books don't sell. It's about the whole package, but we try to control what we're able, including a quality cover design. 

20:50 What are some other signs of a poorly designed book? 

  • I mentioned that we don't usually put people on the cover. The exception to that is cropping images of people so that their faces aren't readily available. 
  • If the hierarchy is off, people will be less able to read the cover quickly. They should likely go from the title to the sub-title to the author name, moving through/around an image. 
  • The biggest sign is just when a book isn't genre appropriate. For example, self-help books should not have dark imagery. They should be positive and uplifting. 
  • It takes a lot of training  and practice to become a skilled designer, despite the fact that the software is so readily available. Book designers are specialists in the art of creating a book cover, so asking a friend or a designer from work could undercut the success of the book because they aren't as knowledgeable about book design. 

24:50 We ask our distribution team to review the covers before sending them to authors to ensure they feel comfortable selling the book to retailers. What feedback are you looking for internally? 

  • They are looking at the covers with fresh eyes, whereas we've been staring at them for a few weeks, so sometimes it's helpful to have them make sure we didn't miss anything obvious. 
  • We also often know the retail buyers' preferences and opinions, which is a big help in making sure that we feel confident selling the book later on. 

28:10 When authors receive their covers, are there often revisions? 

  • We do make tweaks to the covers 9 times out of 10. 
  • What we don't want to happen is for the author to share the book cover with a lot of people, especially if they don't fall into the target audience, because their feedback often comes back with suggested changes. And making changes to please a large group of people often leads to playing it too safe.  
  • We definitely listen to the author's feedback and concerns but also try to educate them on why we made the design choices we did. It really is a collaborative process.

32:20 What kind of feedback from the author is helpful to get to the final cover design? 

  • It's most helpful if the author is able to separate their feedback from their personal preferences. They know their goals for the book best, and we want that to be the guide behind any revisions. 
  • Focusing on small details like fonts often isn't helpful because those small details are often what can push a cover into looking self-published. So it's important to trust your designer on elements like that and focus instead on the larger concepts. 
  • Ultimately, the book is a media product and our job is to create the best product possible. 

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