What Makes a Good Cover?

Some people tell me my covers are great because they have nice art and plenty of eye candy. Other people tell me they're bad because they're too busy, look childish, or make them think they're going to read a comic book. What do you think makes a good cover? I notice that a lot of publishers have taken a "less is more" position on it, showing only the title and a single object on the cover, like a weapon or a symbol. Which do you use?

I like covers that give me an immediate vibe of the story's tone, whether that means 'busy' numbers of characters, a minimalist approach, or just a title and nice colour.

Other people will like other things. Your job is to cater to your target audience and them alone, because they're the ones actually invested in your work.

Really, your covers aren't bad. The number of active elements is reasonable, the art is quite decent (though better blending of foreground and background elements would be good), and the layouts are generally workable (Protector and Peacemaker is the best-framed despite a few more moving parts than necessary).

If you're worried about things like looking childish or comic-y, I'd say you only have two main problems, those being the manga-style eyes, and the lettering.

The eyes are an immediate call to a comic book art style and, regardless of what the reality might be, comics and animation still carry a stigma of childishness in the West. Perhaps especially Japanese ones. I recommend trying out more realistic eye styles if you're going to put recognisable characters on the front.

Lettering is one of the most important elements of a cover. You've chosen some weak fonts, that's one area that could be improved. Others are size/placement and colour/texture.

Size/Placement - You need to put your stamp on a cover. You have to look proud of it. Leaving your name in tiny letters conveys a lack of confidence, like you don't really want to take credit for it.

Really, the words are the most important element of a cover. You're not selling the cover; you're selling the inside of the book, its name, and your name. If you bend over backwards in an effort not to cover up any of the art, that communicates insecurity, too.

Colour/Texture - Plain white has its uses, but if you look at any book cover designed in the last 20 years, you'll note that they shy away from solid colours and empty letters. There's texture, rolled edges, all sorts, to make the text look cool and draw more attention to it at the same time. I highly recommend studying some image editing tutorials on how to make your text pop.

"Less is more" is an effective tactic because the less there is, the more difficult it is to screw any part of it up. I ended up doing my most recent cover myself, which was literally just lettering over a stock photo, and it worked out a lot better than I thought it would, so there's definitely something to be said for it. I'll probably end up doing the same again if I ever do another novel.

Hope that helps!

It depends on the genre. Each genre has certain 'standard elements' that signal the target audience the book is for them. For instance, paranormal romance often has guy abs and a wolf / bear on it. Romance has couples in a romantic pose, which is doubly important for LGTB. Urban Fantasy tends to show the main character with some kind of magical effect, such as glowing hands.

As for what a great cover is... I usually browse the first 20 covers on Amazon bestseller lists for an overview and some ideas. The question is whether you want to compete with those, or not.

Thanks for the advice, guys! Just fyi, I don't make my own covers. I commission an artist I know on Deviantart for them (with the exception of Juryokine, which was an artist I found on Fiverr). I have been thinking about trying out some new artists to see how they do, though.

I decided a while back that, once I can afford to commission one, I'm going to find an artist somewhere around the styles of Hirohiko Araki, Yoshitaka Amano, and Ayami Kojima and have them do character portraits for covers. Maybe mix in a little Brian Froud.

Honestly couldn't care less what other books/authors do/what's "marketable". It changes every six months, anyway.

I hang around with a lot of authors and one of the things they keep bringing up is that a book needs a good cover - it is one of the prime factors in deciding on whether to read the book or not. It doesn't matter how good the story is if people look at the cover and decide to pass on it because they don't like the look of the cover.

A mentioned, genres have their own styles on what makes a good cover. Fantasy, as an example, of late seems to be going through a stage where black covers with a single element of symbol seems in vogue.

For some reason, I'm really used to the abstract covers used in the novels I read. A simple design with the novel name and the author's name in big letters with a really confusing background image. The covers from canva.com turn out to be really good.

The better covers are some of my favorites. Quiet Riot's take on "Mama Weer All Crazee Now," Johnny Cash's "Hurt," Guns N Roses "Sympathy for the Devil," and William Shatner's "Common People" to name a few. It's kind of like matching up the right artist with the right song, because they can bring their own unique contribution to it that can really mesh better with a song's meaning.

It's much easier to say what makes a bad cover. For instance, I love the older Terry Pratchett covers - there was so much going on, every character represented, and there was usually even humour. I'd always spend a while after finishing the book to go over the cover and see if I could work out what everything related to.

Then again, I also loved the Twilight covers. So stark. So simple. Of course, now everyone is doing Twilight cover variations and none of them stand out anymore.

I hate gimmick covers. Holographs, etc.

I absolutely will not read a book that has a clearly digital image for a cover. They look crap, and if so little effort went into the cover, what's the book going to be like?

I do like to read paranormal romance. I hate the generic PR covers - all those damn abs.

But that's just my opinions.

I like your covers, @TheAdamBo! A cool piece of art that gives some idea of what the story will be about, that really is the best cover.

Unfortunately, I think this is one of those questions for which there is no "right" answer.

Those covers to me say, Young Adult Fantasy. So if that's what you're going for, spot on!

Covers are a fickle thing - I started out with an illustrated cover, but I didn't get much traction on it, so I slowly moved towards a more traditional (for my genre - urban fantasy) photomanip cover.

Here's my evolution: http://i3.photobucket.com/albums/y58/perfect_ruin/Covers_zpsa33cd772.png

No matter your cover, you'll have people who like it and don't like it - so you have to decide if it's how you're happy presenting your works to the world. :)

Great job on developing your covers, Stormy. The evolution is fascinating to see and they're getting stronger and stronger. I'd say the newest one is miles better than most indie titles, almost on par with current trad pub covers.

Oh, just remembered a general piece of advice for anyone thinking of printing their work: Go for matte covers, not glossy ones, even if it raises the price. You'll be glad you did.

Thanks for sharing, Stormy! Is it weird that I kinda like the third cover best?

Wow this is a big question for me as well. Due to the content we've leaned towards a more comic style of cover, but I wonder if that is alienating the general novel readers who typically seem to have images of symbolism and a minimalist approach. But then again, I've seen sci-fi novels with more literal covers.

Maybe you guys be the judge. Tell me what you think when you see these. Maybe you can offer some suggestions for vamping them up. http://teamcontract.deviantart.com/art/PREVIEW-ONCE-GIANTS-Vol-I-The-Size-Queen-613139429