What Does a Good Cover Do?

Chris McMullen

Some good advice from Chris, also see my article yesterday about book covers 🙂


What a good book cover should do depends on your primary objective. For example,

  • If your main goal is to interest relevant readers in your book, then the cover is effective if it attracts your target audience.
  • If your main goal is to create fashion for your book, then the cover is effective if readers appreciate its style.
  • If your main goal is to please your family, then your cover should be geared to them.

I will focus on cover design geared toward attracting the target audience. This is what most authors and publishers strive to achieve.

The Importance of Cover Design

100% of readers see your book’s cover before they open the book. Some won’t open the book unless it looks inviting.

There are several ways that an effective cover may help to inspire interest or deter sales:

  • Customers see thumbnails in search results. Most covers have just a…

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14 thoughts on “What Does a Good Cover Do?

  1. Ahh! MTM, now I understand! :>

    Re blurbs vs. info on the back: I had this debate with a good friend who has a professional editing background and has written/published a good number of books. She strongly maintained that blurbs from reviews etc are virtually MANDATORY on a back cover. I disagreed. Why? Because when I turn that book over, I *know* that if there are any blurbs, they’re ALL going to say the same thing: “Fascinating Book!” “Great Reading!” “A truly unique approach!” “The best thing since bacon-flavored ice-cream!” (Well, ok, maybe not the last one…)

    Unless a blurb is from a truly big name (either person or media-organ) I don’t see it being very useful: they’re always going to great praise or they wouldn’t be there. I don’t think I’ve *ever* been influenced to buy a book on the basis of the content of a blurb.

    – MJM


  2. To add the twopennnorth of MTM to MJM

    Yes, I agree. The market you’re aiming at is really important. So, for me, a cover has to do four things:

    1. Show readers what’s inside.

    2. Persuade them that it’s interesting and exciting.

    3. Stand out from all the other, similar books.

    4. Display all the shorthand indicators of its genre and type. The readiest example of this is the use of a male torso with abs you could break rocks on to signal a hot romance. The challenge, for hot romance cover designers; to flash the abs in a way that is not formulaic.

    As a reader, I find a lot of main stream book covers in my genre to be boring. I liked the Harry Potter books, but I’m not so keen on the monochrome stuff, all grey with a splash of olive green, burnt sienna, Moorish gold, or aquamarine. That’s why my books are a riot of primary coloured madness; c.f. my latest post (cover reveal)… um… if that’s allowed ;-).




        • MT, WONDERFUL front covers, but I’m wondering why the lack of text on the back cover. I will almost *always* turn a book over looking for information about what’s inside without having to open the book and look around for such. With both my books I followed a philosphy similar to yours for the front cover (bold, bright, different, curiosity-inducing) but then I paired that with a back cover that had text designed to make the reader think “Hmm, this guy looks like he has something interesting to say. I’ll share the link for my newer book here as an example: you’ll see the front cover is “all about the graphic” while the back cover, although using the graphic in an important way, is much more “all about the message.”

          See: http://TobakkoNacht.com

          and I think you’ll see what I mean.


          • ::sigh::

            I just realized my “message” on the back cover is almost UNREADABLE on that page. LOL! Sheeesh! So I guess this discussion has indeed proved helpful to me if I can fix it! At least it’s fine on the Azon page. Meanwhile, for here, the unreadable top part of the message says:

            “TobakkoNacht — The Antismoking Endgame // offers a wealth of facts and ideas to aid Free Choice advocates in their battle against today’s Prohibitionists and explains why there is so much fuss made about “just popping outside for a smoke.” // It shows how the Denormalization of smokers has warped science and ripped holes in our cultural fabric while transforming a worthy effort for public health into a destructive social force assaulting our lives, our families, and our communities. // And It Shows How To Fight Back!”

            Basically, anyone reading that will have a good solid sense of what they’re going to find inside and will either put the book down, or, hopefully, find the idea curious enough or inspiring enough to open it up to see if looks like it actually delivers on the promises it makes. Once they’ve opened it up I’ll have accomplished my goal — and I think that probably holds true for most of us in what we’re hoping to achieve with our covers.

            – MJM


          • Hi Michael,

            Thanks for the comment and the link. Please be assured there is stuff on the back; the blurb, review quotes (where applicable) and at the bottom, the isbn gubbins and some information about my mailing list.

            To be honest, it never occurred to me to put the version with the blurbs on up (doh). The books are both in editing still so I don’t know the spine size yet, the template the printer generates converts my isbns to barcode for me and so they have dummy isbns, which I just thought might cause a problem.

            Loved your cover, thought it was really good.




  3. I know how important a cover can be for a book; it needs to invite a potential reader to better look inside at it than merely the book’s title, which is important in getting that reader’s attention in the first place to take the book off the shelf it’s on. I had the cover for my first YA Paranormal/Time Travel/First Kiss romance novel entitled “I Kissed a Ghost.” designed by CreateSpace. To me the cover fits the storyline quite well of a young girl having to move because her father has gotten a promotion and finds she has a ghost, about her age, already living there.

    Here is the link for my book so you can see my book’s cover, and tell me whether it fits the bill for the purpose of a book’s cover. This is NOT a request for anyone to buy the book.



  4. I’d say the answer VERY much depends on the book, its genre, its purpose, and its hoped-for audience.

    When I published “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains” (and naively thought it would be on bookstore shelves and in libraries) I very much wanted a cover that would separate it from all the hundreds of other books on smoking and make the casual browser pause long enough to actually register the meaning of the title and realize that it was actually very DIFFERENT than all those hundreds of other books. I did that by having a bright glossy white cover with nothing but the title in big black print and my name in much smaller black print at the bottom.

    The cover was also meant to stand out in the dim light of bars under attack, and stand out in a way that casual customers ordering a drink would not only notice “Oh, there’s a book on the bar.” but would read and then think about the title.

    Unfortunately that cover was a total bust on Amazon because the white cover blended with the white background and it didn’t even look like a book. I eventually redesigned it to offer a clinical/scientific sort or image with a brain on a dissecting slab against a tiled background (courtesy of a wonderful illustrator named Sam Ryskind who came up with the idea and executed it perfectly!)

    When I published “TobakkoNacht — The Antismoking Endgame” I wanted a cover that would be LOUD and SHOCKING … and a blood red Statue of Liberty being stabbed in the back was perfect. Plus, the theme of the front cover worked perfectly for being carried over to the back, where the angle of the torch, falling on the front, is now being raised and the enlarged torch symbolizing the words on the back about fighting back.

    So I’d say the purpose of a book and the audience you want to reach is VERY important in directing its cover design.

    – MJM



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