Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What Makes A Good Ebook Cover?

I've been trying to figure out what to say on this subject. I am about as far from an expert as you can get, but they are tremendously important. You have probably at most a few seconds to tempt someone on Amazon, Smashwords or B&N to take a closer look. All that will do this is your title and cover.

What makes a good ebook cover? I think first you have to realize, and this took a while for me, that an ebook cover needs very different elements than a DTB cover at least in large part because people mainly see it in thumbnail size. This means that small details and small or elaborate fonts get lost, often completely. I started out trying to judge my covers by successful DTB covers before I realized what a bad idea that is.

I recently saw someone complaining that no one knew that his mystery was a mystery. He was told that his cover didn't look like a mystery with it's semi-nude woman on the cover. His response was, but it says it is a mystery. The second problem (other than the semi-nude) was that you couldn't read the small font that said mystery.

Remember, in a book store someone may pick up a book and examine the cover not to mention that a mystery is in the mystery section. This doesn't happen that much online. The potential reader may magnify it, but that is highly unlikely if it doesn't catch their attention in the first place.

If you make your cover look like it is from a different genre, then why would someone looking for a mystery bother to look at it? They won't.

My dragon-looking creature on my Wings of Evil cover is a bit of a cliché for fantasy covers, but anyone who looks at it darn well knows it's a fantasy. I hope the interesting artwork (I hope it is) and the bright colors help get past the fact that dragons on covers have been done to the point of cliché-dom. People haven't gotten tired of handsome hunks and beautiful women on the covers of romances yet, so I think I may be right there.

Am I sure of it? To tell you the truth, no, but generally it has received a good reception and positive comments.

Fonts are another problem. You have to be able to read it in thumbnail which means it has to be large for both the title and the author name. Fancy fonts seem to lose most of their detail and even look a bit amateurish in thumbnail size. That doesn't mean you have to stick to TNR. What is too fancy and what is just a touch of flair is open to debate, but at least you need to be sure that it can be read easily when it's small.

That doesn't touch on good design elements. I'm not going to discuss that because it is just plain open to too much debate. What I consider good design and what someone else does may well differ wildly. But it needs in some way to be interesting. Now is that vague, or what?

Please comment. What do you think makes a good ebook cover?


Julie said...

Nice post. I agree with everything you said and personally feel that the most important aspect is conveying the genre in a thumbnail pic. The title should be legible at that size, too.

J. R. Tomlin said...

Thanks, Julie. I think this is a subject that could use more discussion. There is very little out there about HOW we make a good cover. I agree that it is essential to convey the genre.

steininger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
steininger said...

Best way to get a good cover: Get a good artist/designer to make you one. You know words. They know pictures. Simple as that.

J. R. Tomlin said...

Nope, you still have to be able to judge a cover and not just trust that an "artist/designer" will give you a good cover.

Some of the most god-awful covers (including two on my own novels from publishers) were done by supposedly good artist/designers.

J. R. Tomlin said...

To clarify, I'm not saying that it's not a big advantage to have a pro do it, although I've seen some good covers done by writers.

The designer who did the cover for Freedom's Sword for me did a fantastic job.

But either way, an author has to have at least some idea what to look for.

steininger said...

That's why you look at the artist's body of work and decide if you would like to work with them. There's a lot of rubbish artists out there, same with writers. But it doesn't matter what you or I think is "good". As a cover artist, my job is to better sell a product, and the customer is the real judge of that.

J. R. Tomlin said...

Well, this is one author you just convinced not to hire you.

Sorry, but if I'm paying you and it's going on my novel to be judged by MY readers--I am going to judge it.

steininger said...

?... like I said previously, "the customer is the real judge of that". The Reader IS the Customer. The artist should be ideally capturing the essence/spirit of the book and give it a tight visual hook that motivates the customer/reader to take action to purchase the product/book. Covers are powerful things, and a good one goes a long way, obviously. ( And it's ok, I have plenty of work, thanks - you can see my recent covers for a HarperCollins' YA release here at my site: http://www.partzero.com )

J. R. Tomlin said...

Well, amazing enough authors who PAY for a cover actually expect to get what they pay for, not have something shoved down their throat. I don't need some designer telling me to shut up because I'm too stupid to know whether something suits my novel or not.

That happened with publishers--ALL the time. I am certainly not paying a designer to do it.

It's nice you have plenty of work because the day a designer takes that attitude with me, he's fired.

J. R. Tomlin said...

There are, let me assure my readers, designers who are a joy to work with. If you can, hire one. But don't put up with *ahem* nonsense (to put it politely) from someone whose services you're paying for. A good designer will probably give you something you like, even love. But don't let someone palm something off on you that you hate, telling you that writers are too stupid to know a good cover.

steininger said...

For sure, it needs to be a collaboration. No one knows the material better than the author. (It can be tough when someone says "do whatever". Trust is nice, but, insight is better.) Sounds like you've had some unfortunate experiences. I've been lucky in the cover dept - possibly because I always work close with the writer. But, here's to the liberating beauty of holding your own reins in self-publishing, and why I'm such a convert - for exactly that reason.

So, back on track, what makes a good (eBook) cover? My 2 cents:
1) Sell it in a thumbnail. If it doesn't look interesting the size of a postage stamp, make it more direct compositionally. This means simple, simple, simple.
2)Clear legible fonts. The fonts should pop and hopefully you can read the text as a thumbnail.
3)Imply the genre and tone quickly, and use limited colour. Stay away from black and white (grey) images. They will get lost.
4)For the love of god, don't get fancy. This can backfire and go horribly wrong and you may find yourself stumbling into 'laughably bad' territory. Restraint!
5)If you can't do it well, find someone who can. They do sell more books.

J. R. Tomlin said...

Yes, I've had a few bad experiences.

However, I have also had a couple of good ones. A good designer who is a collaborator is wonderful to work with.

Those points you made are very well taken. Thank you. And I agree with your final point. If at all possible, with very few exceptions, have a professional to do the cover is by far the best choice.

Thanks for chiming in (even if we did argue).