Many authors, especially ones who go the self-publishing route, will one day need to come face-to-face with book cover design.
For many, it’s a daunting prospect. Sure, we know how to tell stories. But what do we know about cover art? Should we even try to attempt it ourselves?
Personally, I believe that, along with editing, book cover design should be left to a professional. After all, the cover will be the first thing a prospective reader will see. Shouldn’t it be the best it can be?
So, where do we start? To give us insight, I turned to book cover design artist Alexander von Ness, who agreed to answer some questions about this important part of your book’s overall development.
1) How many book covers have you designed? Do you primarily work for indie authors?
I’ve designed approximately 2,000 covers, which includes covers designed for indie authors, book coaches, medium-size publishing companies, and design contests.
I personally never make any differences between first time indie authors and authors who have already sold millions of books. Every new cover design is a new challenge where I try to create a little masterpiece every time.
Even though I do this for a living, and put food on the table by doing it, this is still a form of art – and art doesn’t include any boundaries in its nature.
2) When authors approach you to design their cover, what are some of their biggest concerns?
Mostly indie authors, who have never worked with me, are concerned that their message wouldn’t be recognized on the cover at first glance. But I reassure them that I make unlimited changes until the author is 100% satisfied.
Also, first time authors are very concerned that I won’t be able to present the main character (and secondary characters) in the way they are described in the book. This is by far the greatest mistake authors make when thinking about a cover! The main character should never be on the cover, unless it’s only in one segment, or as an undefined character whose appearance could still be imagined by the reader while reading the book.
If we have the main character “served” on the book cover, especially in fiction, a lot of readers will forever be deprived of imagining and daydreaming, and might possibly be disappointed by their actual appearance on the cover!
3) What are the most important elements to consider when designing a book cover?
Definitely typography: the font choice and its placement on the cover. Nothing can be compared to that. If your typography is lame, there is no point in having a great design with the best imagery.
I saw a lot of great designs that were literally ruined by bad typography. I would even dare to say that a good designer can be exclusively recognized by a good typography choice. For example, I sometimes send my clients the same design with different typography to prove to them how important this is in the overall design. The typography change was so powerful that the cover was sending a completely different message than it was supposed to.
One of the most important features today, compared to a couple of years back, is the visibility, readability and recognition in a thumbnail size. Today the majority of books are being sold online. So today you’ll see a lot designs with the title over the whole cover, which was unthinkable, even unacceptable a while ago.
Because of this, I’ve seen a new trend in redesigning existing covers. Many authors have done their cover very quickly, unprepared and unprofessional or with a very low budget, so some great, high quality books weren’t selling at all. In the end, they would realize that it is more profitable to make a cover redesign then to write a new book!
For example, at the beginning of this year, I redesigned one fiction novel. Before I made the redesign, the book was selling about seven copies per week. After my redesign, and some extra marketing efforts on the part of the author, the same book was selling almost 2,000 per month! A redesign of the book cover can be a great opportunity to revive sales. Trust me, the results can be surprising!
4) Is it necessary for you to read the book before designing the cover?
No. If that were necessary, I would only be able to create a few covers per year!
After an author contacts me, I send them a few questions to see what they really want, what they like and what they expect from their cover design. Of course, regardless of the different wishes I get from the authors, I design the book cover so it connects to the book and its content and with the message that the author wants to convey to his audience. My goal is, above all, to draw the reader in with the cover design and to give the book a professional appearance that will improve sales.
It’s also important to know the author’s target audience. After I have determined that, I start developing a design concept. Without a strictly defined target audience there is no point in doing a cover design. The majority of authors say that their target audience is males and females from 7 – 77! The author has to realize that his book wasn’t written for every person that enters the bookstore. Once this is determined, I can create an eye-catching book cover.
5) What about interior design? How important is that to the overall reading experience?
Every single part of the book is equally important for success. The interior layout should be readable for everyone. It may not be as important as the title, editing, proofreading, cover design and back copy, because a flawless interior layout design is useless when the book wasn’t edited properly and is filled with grammatical errors.
6) Do you have an opinion about online design tools that allow authors to create book covers on their own?
I think that this is very good and useful, but only to a point. As technology moves on, we have the opportunity to witness the appearance of new tools every day, which are helping us in our everyday work, so it’s no wonder that book cover design also got its turn.
Some book cover designers are frowning because they are afraid that it might take their job away. However, I don’t see any problem here. Just the opposite! I see that the book cover culture is developing in a positive direction and that the awareness of the importance of book cover design is larger every day. We as a community can only gain through that. The ones with a lower budget will be able to have their own book cover, which is something that makes me very happy.
One of the most useful and serious tools would be www.canva.com, which started very well and one that I hope will develop in a good direction. Every tool or application which helps the authors to create their book with less effort can only be beneficial for us who are engaged in the book business. Here I don’t only mean book cover design, but also editing, proofreading, etc. However, I would never recommend people to do these things on their own if they have serious intentions with their book.
Alexander von Ness is a book cover designer with almost 20 years of professional experience in graphic design, and over a decade as Art Director in a branding agency. In the past few years his main area of focus is book cover design. His website Nessgraphica is among the top trusted sites for book cover design services overall.
Questions? Send them to email@example.com.
Richard S. Todd is President at The Editor’s Desk, providing professional business copywriting services, as well as comprehensive manuscript editing and proofreading.