Let’s Talk Covers

Hey, SE Readers. Joan with you today. The topic of book covers has been covered before on Story Empire, but the market is ever-changing, so I thought it might be a good time to revisit it.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover.” We’ve all heard that and while it’s true, the first thing a reader will see is the cover. A poorly designed one can make or break a book.

Remember the days of brick-and-mortar bookstores? Unless a book was on display, the first thing a prospective reader would see was the spine. Nowadays, most of us do our shopping online. Nobody looks at the spine, they see the front of the book.

A well-designed cover should match the genre. A sci-fi novel shouldn’t look like a steamy romance book. A mystery or psychological thriller won’t have the same appearance as a fantasy novel. Even the choice of fonts is important. Let’s take a look at a few covers from some best-selling authors and books.

The following font and style have become popular with thrillers and psychological fiction. All three authors are well-known but do you see the similarities? Even the colors are similar. While these authors already have a large fan base, couldn’t the designers use more originality? A tip for lesser known and independent writers. Be original. You want your book to stand out and not blend in with the crowd.

Rebecca Zanetti is another popular author of suspense and psychological fiction. Here are covers from two of her series. Notice they are totally different (and should be). The Laurel Snow series is billed as psychological fiction while The Deep Ops Series is crime thrillers and military romance.

Cozy mysteries should have a different look than thrillers or murder mysteries. Let’s look at a couple of examples. Obviously, the cozy is on the left.

William Kent Krueger has written nineteen books in his Cork O’Connor series. The lead character is a former sheriff turned private investigator. There are elements of mystery and crime, but Kruegar’s books, mostly set in Minnesota, have vivid descriptions of the landscape and also include elements of Native American culture. His covers fit the content of the book. Fox Creek is his latest release.

Right away, you know this book will largely take place in the wilderness. It’s also what I’ve come to expect with this series.

I am not familiar with this author or the book, but it was one of the top-rated fantasy novels on Amazon. Notice the font, which is a common one used for this genre, and is very appropriate.

And lastly, I’ll leave you with an upcoming release from Stephen King. This cover speaks mystery to me, and I personally find it refreshing from some of the popular trends. Yes, we know what to expect from King, but if this wasn’t from a well-known author, a reader would have an idea about the story.

I didn’t cover every genre, but I hope I’ve given you some ideas. One more thing. Unless you’re a best-selling author like Krueger or King, make sure your book title is in a larger font than your name. I don’t recall where I read that tip, but it makes sense. People know what to expect from someone like them and they’ve “earned” the right for their name to stand out.

Bottom line. Make sure your cover fits the genre. Hiring a professional designer can be expensive, but if you want your work to stand out, it’s worth investing a few dollars.

108 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Covers

  1. Pingback: Let’s Talk Covers – menthor of mind

  2. That point about name being smaller than title unless you’re THAT famous applies to order, too. The Stephen Kings tend to have their names at the top of the cover, as the name is a bigger seller than an unfamiliar title. The rest of us tend to put title atop with name below. Thanks for a thoughtful piece, Joan!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Covers are indeed important. It so often sells the book. I like covers that don’t assault your eyes with over-busy images. Some covers are just too cluttered. But it really depends on the story and genre. I agree with you that the cover should relate to the genre. A well-planned cover will scream science fiction (or whatever genre). This is a fantastic post, Joan.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s interesting how trends come and go. Another trend I’ve seen lately that I don’t care for are the cartoonish-looking covers. You gave some great examples here. There is a lot of thought that needs to go into covers, including how they will look as a thumbnail. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sorry I’m late to the gathering! I know I’m in the minority but I like the first three covers you featured. That font and that style immediately tells me what I can expect when I crack the book open (BTW, I’ve read all three of those).

    I am constantly judging a book by it’s cover, and a bad cover will almost always get a pass over from me.

    Even big time publishers sometimes get it wrong. There’s a book getting a lot of buzz right now ( I can’t think of the title). It features a woman’s face with a bee or fly on her lips. That cover so repulses me, I never even looked at the blurb nor do I have any desire to. It’s just…freaky!

    Covers are the first impression the reading public has of our work, and I agree as authors, we should put a lot of thought into them!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Scots and a cheapskate, a lack penny and skinflint I tend to produce my own covers. I pay for editorial services as editing your own stuff does not really work. But covers. I enjoy doing them and it saves me money. I like to think that I do them well and know many professional cover designers; they produce little better than I. Tis’ for me a way of saving my pennies. Oh, and I have a lot of fun trying to get a cover right for the tale. Just my take om the subject.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Confession: I’ve done most of my own covers. Like you, to save money. I recently found a place that is inexpensive and decided to go with them. I enjoy designing covers but I don’t know all the ins and outs to make them “shine.” Given the choice between hiring a cover designer and an editor, I’d go for the editing any day.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sarah Hi, I rarely get them right the first time, but it is great fun playing around with covers until you get an approximation of what you want. I am not trying to suggest that a professional cover designer would not do better still, just that it is a fun task to produce your own cover. Lol and it saves money. Always good.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t like the new thriller “colors and fonts.” I read The Guest List because my daughter recommended it, or else I would have passed. Just because of the cover. Trends come and go, but it seems lately that if one thing works, then everyone does it. Sort of like the trend of titles: The Girl On the Train, The Girl… you know. But I do like it that most covers tell you what genre you’re buying. They give you a heads-up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with you totally about those “trendy” fonts and covers. I have The Guest List on my TBR only because I found it on sale and thought I’d give it a try. And you’re right, Judi, titles are often “trendy” as well.


    • Some do it to save money (I’ve done several of my own) but I don’t know all the ins and outs. I recently found a place that is relatively inexpensive and just had one of my covers redone. I haven’t changed it out yet, but its part of a series so I plan to let them do the other books. Thanks for stopping by, Maura Beth.


      • Joan, I should clarify that I was thinking of an author or two I knew who created rather “homemade” looking covers, but there are authors who are quite artistic and know what they want so they do it themselves. My hat is off to them, but my attempts were awful, so I left it to the professionals – except my daughter was an art and design major and created my very first cover. I loved it, but she won’t do it any more. She says it’s too stressful to “work” for me! (That can’t be true, can it?)


  8. Another very welcome post, Joan. I do struggle with covers. Your examples and advice are great – and I’ve picked-up some bookmarks from Liz and Grant as well. Many thanks! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I find the subject of book covers fascinating! As a reader, I’m drawn to a cover based on the feeling I get from it. Then I check the description to see if it matches that feel.

    In addition to intensely disliking the naked, freakishly muscled male torsos, I find covers that are so “arty” I can’t read the title or the author’s name intensely irritating. (I’m making a distinction between poorly designed covers with unintentionally illegible titles and illegible titles by design.) The latter says to me that a pretentious book lies within.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. An excellent post, Joan. I’m afraid that I do judge a book by its cover, at least to a certain degree. I love a beautiful fantasy cover and have bought books based on that alone. I’ve also passed over books because the cover is so “cut and paste.” These days there are very affordable, professionally made covers out there, and they’re worth the investment. Great examples too of how covers point to a genre.

    Liked by 3 people

      • Aww. Thanks, Trish. I’ve done some myself and some done professionally. I have about seven of them that I want to upgrade later this year. I think with AI, the options for less expensive but beautiful covers is going to explode. 😀

        Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve done the same, especially when requesting books in Net Galley. Unless I know of the author’s work, I won’t give a book with a poorly designed cover a second glance. And if I am familiar with the author, I still cringe. I love your book covers, Diana. So beautiful and perfect for your genre.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s how I approach books with unknown authors too, Joan. It’s not fair, but a poor-quality cover make me think that the writing has the same lack of care and conviction. Sigh. I get the cost concerns, but there are low cost covers now that aren’t bad at all.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Great information, Joan. Currently, my publisher designs my covers, but I’m bookmarking this for future endeavors. I’ll admit, as a reader who mostly reads on a Kindle, I don’t pay as much attention to covers, but I know they’re important when it comes to marketing. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Thank you for your tips and thoughts on this, Joan. I liked your examples, too, especially the first one which showed all three covers looking practically identical. (A shopper in a hurry could grab one and go without even realizing it wasn’t from the author she wanted.)

    You’ve given me a lot to think about. And btw, after reading your various comments and reviews of the William Kent Krueger series, I started Book 1 yesterday. I needed a break and something completely different, and it’s not like anything I’ve been reading in recent years. So far, I’m thoroughly enjoying it, and find Cork O’Connor a very appealing and believable main character. I’m paying attention to how Krueger has accomplished that. (No law says you can’t enjoy a book and learn from it at the same time, right?)

    Very interesting post, my friend. Enjoyed it! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • I hope you enjoy the series, Marcia. I first heard of it from Judi Lynn and after reading the first of the series, I was hooked. I agree, we can read and enjoy and learn at the same time.

      BTW, those three books that use the same font? I hate that look. I recently had a cover redesigned and I specifically told them under no circumstances did I want my book to look like that. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks, Joan. I have a feeling I’m going to get hooked on Cork O’Connor. And I agree 100% on those three covers. They just look messy to me. And while I wouldn’t ignore a book I really want to read because of a poor cover design, I certainly wouldn’t be attracted to it if I were randomly looking at books in a store.

        I have a particular cover design that I avoid at all costs, too, and it’s one that I see every single day. I understand it probably draws a certain audience like a magnet, or it wouldn’t be so popular, but I think if I see one more bare-chested male torso with a towel hanging low around the hips, I’ll … well, I don’t know what I’ll do, but what I won’t do is buy the book. Again, I don’t mean to insult anyone, but while I read a large variety of genres, the headless male torso in a towel thing just doesn’t work for me.

        Liked by 3 people

  13. I’m an outlier, for sure. I never look at a cover and say, “Oh, that looks good. I need to check it out.” I will, however, look at a cover, think it looks unprofessional, and decide NOT to read it without ever looking at the blurb or first page.

    I’m starting to get cover burnout. The commonalities within genres are making titles indistinguishable. A friend has two different series with covers that look almost identical. I often wonder if people don’t buy the second series thinking it’s the first, or if people buy sequels in the wrong series. I agree that you need to be true to your genre’s feel so people recognize your book for what it is, but you also need to stand out (in a good way) from the crowd if you hope to be noticed.

    Great post, Joan.

    Liked by 3 people

    • There are so many books and titles out there these days that it is hard to be original. I know the two books you’re speaking of and I agree that they are too similar. Unless a person paid close attention to the title, they probably would think it’s the same book.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Fantastic summary and examples, Joan. Useful advice for this ever-changing topic. Also, put the cover through the “postage stamp test” to make sure the text is still readable when reduced in size.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Pingback: Let’s Talk Covers | Legends of Windemere

    • One of my favorite books is “Where are The Children” by Mary Higgins-Clark. Written in the 1970s, the original cover showed a house, a swing, and a red mitten lying in the grass. The children were abducted while on a swing and one lost a mitten. The cover was totally appropriate. The cover was redesigned a few years ago to show children peering out a window. Didn’t match anything in the book and in my opinion it was ugly! What were they thinking?

      Liked by 3 people

  16. I’m working on my third Police Procedural, and a professional cover designer – a friend and in private – told me “different” was a mistake and that book two was “messy” because I’d tried to tell the story. Joan, I get the impression you think some well-known writers are lazy, or their publishers are; their book covers rely too much on their name. Obviously, I can’t do that. The title is large, and my name smaller, but beneath it I say “A DCI Croft Crime Thriller”. She was right about messy, but her suggestion screamed fantasy. I’ve redesigned it with a woman looking down at gemstones, which I think expresses the title, Deadly Envy, and the theme. If anyone would like to see it, click the link. getbook.at/DeadlyEnvy

    Liked by 4 people

    • No, I didn’t mean to leave that impression. Well-known authors, such as King most often have their names in a larger font. Fans of them know what to expect (for the most part) and they will buy the books regardless.

      I agree, a larger font for the title in most cases, and certainly with lesser-known and independent authors. Just looked at your cover. I like it and agree that it’s very genre-appropriate.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I’m noticing most cover images now, regardless of genre, make the title and/or author the main elements of the design. Quite a few just have blobs of colour as backgrounds to the title and author text, because that has to show up on tiny online images. Beautiful detailed art is often wasted, especially because Kindles don’t even display the cover unless you change the setting for that, and it’s in b&w anyway. If the cover has to sell the book it must do so in a small format.

    Liked by 6 people

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