This post will focus on the most ignored piece of advice in the history of the universe.
Never judge a book by its cover.
Because we make assumptions about pretty much everything on how they look – we just don’t like to admit it, that’s all. As a business book ghostwriter and book coach with a marketing background of my own, I’ve been involved in countless book cover decisions and know how important they are.
So what does this have to do with you as a prospective author? To find out, I suggest you pay a visit to your local bookstore. Hide yourself behind a shelf and look at how the customers choose which books to buy. To save you the trouble (and possibly being accused of strange behaviour) I’ll go through how it works.
First, they look at the book cover. If they’re still interested, they pick it up and turn it over to read the back cover ‘blurb’. If they’re still keen, they open it up and read a page or two. If the book passes that three-stage test, they head to the checkout.
Online it’s a bit different of course, but the basic process is the same.
This means the quality of your book cover is absolutely essential when it comes to selling copies of your business book, self-help guide, or memoir. So how do you make sure you have the cover that readers can’t resist?
If you’re self-publishing you may be tempted to design your cover yourself, but unless you’re a professional designer I’d strongly advise against that. I’m sure you’ve seen book covers that look amateur and confusing – that’s because they were cobbled together by authors who thought they knew what they were doing.
Instead, set aside the budget to hire a professional book cover designer; one who specialises in books and has the track record to prove it.
Next you need to brief them so they know what to create for you, and here’s where it can become tricky. What information should you give the designer? How much freedom should you allow them? And what’s the best way of judging whether they’ve come up with the goods? Here’s where my 20 years of marketing experience (prior to becoming a business book ghostwriter) comes in.
How to brief a book cover designer
Designers and superheroes have one thing in common: they both need tight briefs.
Your designer should have a briefing format for you to follow, as they’ll be used to winkling the information they need out of the authors they work with. But if they don’t, or if you’d just like an idea of what information to provide, here’s what they’ll need to know.
- Your target readership. You want your cover to appeal primarily to the people you’re hoping will read it. In fact, you actually want to put off the ‘wrong’ reader because they may be disappointed by your book if it’s not for them. No book should appeal to ‘everyone’ – that’s a sure way to have a bland and forgettable cover design.
- Your core content. What’s your book about? Sounds obvious, I know, but can you summarise it in a sentence or two? This is essential for the designer to create the most appropriate look and feel.
- Key facts. These include your title, sub title, your name, and anything specific which must be on the cover.
- Back cover copy. This is the ‘blurb’ that sells your book. Keep it punchy and concise – prospective buyers will only give it a few seconds and will pass if it’s too long.
- Comparable covers. These fall into two camps: your competitor books and other book covers you like along with the reasons why (these don’t have to be competitors – they just give your designer some clues as to the sort of style you’re after).
- Any specific requirements. Such as images, colours, or fonts that you definitely do or don’t want.
A key thing to bear in mind is that, from a visual perspective, your book needs to sit comfortably within its genre but a the same time stand out from it. This sounds like a contradiction in terms, but in reality it’s just a delicate balancing act. For example, if in your research you see that other book covers based on your topic use bold colours and heavy fonts, you won’t want yours to look lightweight. Equally, you’ll want to ensure that the colours and style you use make your book instantly recognisable as being ‘of you’.
How to evaluate the design
Most likely your designer will give you a number of options, so how do you decide? Design can be so subjective. To avoid relying too heavily on your opinion alone, go back to your brief. What did you say you wanted in the beginning, and which of these designs most closely delivers it?
You can also post your favourite options on social media or ask your network for feedback, but be careful with this. If they’re not in your target readership, and if they don’t understand what you want to achieve with your book, their advice might send you down the wrong track. It’s good to gain input, but it’s not a straightforward popularity contest.
And don’t ignore the power of the gut reaction. If you instantly love or hate one of the designs, that’s telling you something. You’ll be the one promoting the book, after all, so you have to feel proud of the cover.
Once you’ve narrowed down your selection, create a thumbnail version of the designs on a Word document or similar. Then display that document on your screen next to a list of search results for books in your niche on Amazon or another online store. This is the closest you’ll get to seeing how it looks in comparison with its competitors, and is a vital reality check. It’s a bit like what canny music producers used to do when everyone listened to songs on transistor radios; they made sure the hits sounded great on them as well as in high definition.
Then, provide feedback to your designer so they can refine your favourite route. They’ll need to know what you like and don’t like and just as importantly why. This means digging into your instinctive decision-making so they gain a genuine understanding of what you’re after – otherwise they’re operating on guesswork.
Keep going until you’re happy.
The key elements of a knockout cover design
The perfect book cover is, of course, an elusive creature and impossible to pin down. But there are some key elements that you can be looking out for in your business or self-help book.
- Simplicity. Your book title needs to stand out at a small size online; people should be able to read it easily with minimal distraction. This means avoiding fussy fonts and complicated backgrounds.
- Appropriateness. It should sit comfortably within its niche, but at the same time be individual and unique. Together with the title, it should also get across what your book’s about in a straightforward way.
- Tummytingledness. Okay that’s not a word, but hopefully you understand what I mean. You’ll know when you have the right cover, because it provokes a reaction in you that you can’t ignore. Suddenly nothing else will do – it has to be that.
Here are three cover designs that I think cover all off three bases brilliantly:
What next for your business book?
It’s an exciting moment when, after all the hard work that’s gone into writing your book, you’re finally able to put a cover to it. I experienced this myself when I worked with my publisher to create the design for Your Business Your Book – my guide to planning, writing, and promoting the book that puts you in the spotlight. There’s no substitute for the feeling when that box arrives and you get to look at the cover for real!
What do you think of my book cover design?
And here’s to yours – good luck!