Our thanks to book cover designer Carol Fiorillo for this guest contribution.

The old adage, “you can’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t apply in today’s visual and interactive age where readers are increasingly drawn to the first thing they notice about a book: its cover. Independent authors often don’t have the luxury of a creative services or a fully staffed production house typically included with a publisher. Instead, they must manage all aspects of their book production themselves, bringing in specialists along the way.

In over a decade collaborating with clients as a book cover artist and commercial graphic designer, I’ve come up with proven tips every fiction author should employ when navigating the book cover design process.

Ultimately, you want a cover that delivers on all cylinders – is visually engaging, reflects a key element of the story and draws the reader into your unique make-believe world. Here’s what I’ve learned from working with you, authors, on how to forge a winning partnership so critical to marrying the written word with a compelling cover visual.

Before the cover design process begins:

  • Do your homework on cover designers before selecting one. Word-of-mouth referrals are best. Take time to look at different cover artists. If you are a science fiction writer, you go to my website and say, “Geez, she doesn’t do science fiction.” You would need to go somewhere else. You have to take the time to research different providers and if you have friends who are writers say, “I liked your book. I liked your cover. Who did you use?”
  • Arm your designer with key details of your story. The more details the better. I send all my authors a cover artist input sheet that not only has you describe your characters, your plot and other elements, but also concludes with my asking, “Give me three visions of what you want your cover to look like.” I use that as my jumping-off point. I recall designing covers for a five-book series about knights. Without these details, I would have struggled to come up with authentic and realistic images of knights that fit each title.

As the cover design effort is in full swing:

  • Recognize that Covers are an image – they don’t show the whole story. It’s usually just a glimpse into one specific thing that is going to happen in the book. Sometimes authors describe what they want on their cover like a movie scene. Covers don’t tell a story like that – there is no movement in them. Trust that your cover artist will prod you in the right direction and lead you to a good visual. It’s a partnership.
  • Embrace simplicity. It’s about picking out images that are really going to work but not overdoing it. People are moving away from clutter. Look at Fifty Shades of Grey – the first book featured a grey tone tie. As long as the image is what is going on the book, simple is the great way to go. If there is too much on a cover it just becomes distracting.

One the very first book covers I worked on was a Christian novel called Carry her Cross. It was one of the simplest covers I did – I wanted a strong image. It was about traveling through the mountains and people finding their faith. The mountains were a strong image.

The main character’s cross was very focal to the story and I wanted that to be on the cover. I saw the picture of the hands handing the cross the other hand and it all clicked. It was a simple image – it was strong visually, and it conveyed the message to me of what was going on in the book.

  • Use fonts that stand out and reflect the time period of your book. If I am designing a Regency cover, I will begin with script-like fonts that reflect that time period. Type is a very difficult thing. Tones and shading sometimes will let the type pop or fit the cover better. I made the type of the book, Wild Obsessions, the thing I designed around. Wild was white in a very slanted typeface and Obsessions was a broken font and I made it blood red. The visuals fell into place – a swamp and a gun. But I built it around the typeface.
  • Weigh the advantages of using stock vs. custom photos. A cover artist can do a lot with stock images – but if you really want to do something specific or you are focused on a particularly period in history, you may need to consider investing in a custom cover. In many cases that’s the only way to go.
  • Limit the number of people you share your cover design with. Several authors I know who belong to committees and writing groups. They will take their cover and show it to 20 or 30 people and that can be a problem because you are getting 20 or 30 different opinions. Sometimes that doesn’t work. You have to have enough confidence in that partnership to let it go and say, “This is what I like. This is what the designer likes. This is what is working and trust yourself.”
  • Be willing to step back and be objective. Just as you must step back when editing your manuscript and think like an editor or your reader, you also need to do something similar with your cover design. Look at the cover like your reader would. Does it tell the right story? Is it compelling? Try to approach the cover with objectivity.
Editor’s Note: Want to experiment with your own reactions to covers? VISIT HERE to weigh in on some cool cover votes!

Carol Fiorillo is an award-winning cover designer with 20 years’ experience in the advertising field. She founded Carol’s Cover Designs to bring authors’ books to life. To date, she has created more than 210 covers and ads for authors. Known for her consultative and creative approach, Carol creates custom and pre-made ebook and banner designs for the publishing industry as well as indie authors. Her work has earned multiple Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition’s ARIANA Awards for cover design excellence. Visit her online at carolscoverdesigns.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CarolCoversDesigns.