Friday, March 11, 2011

Don't sabotage your book from the start with an ugly cover.

by Aidana WillowRaven

This topic was inspired by an artist's recent submission. Because we are considered a small house, authors and artists alike tend to think we'll accept mediocre work. That, or they just have no sense of aesthetic or quality ... AT ALL.

I won't show you the horrible example that the artist attached to his submission, but I will duplicate some of the things he did horribly wrong, resulting in my immediate rejection (being the Art Director, he has to pass me to get in the gate). I didn't even visit his website to see anything else he may have had in his portfolio. If that was his best (which I can only assume any twit would submit their best work when wanting to get hired), then I didn't need to go any further.

Further more, what author or publisher would ever accept such an ugly cover for their book? I can't repeat this statistic enough: The cover is responsible for 70% of all book sales! The last thing you want is a horrid book cover. Let me show you what I mean ...

(I’m using 4RV Publishing’s recent release, Aldric & Anneliese, by Harry E. Gilleland, Jr, for the example).

I hope it's painfully obvious which cover is the real cover. Just in case you are one of those authors/artists that thinks 'bolder and brighter is always best', let me educate you. The cover on the left is one that is the real cover. The one on the right is the one that mimics many of the amateur errors made by untrained authors or novice wannabe designers.

First rule: Font. Always, always, always make sure the author's name is easy to read. A close second is the title. Font can be stylized to suit the feel and theme of the story, but it has to be easily readable. On the left, the title font fits the period of the story, somewhat calligraphic, like written with a quill pen in the middle ages. The one on the right does not match the story at all. It looks more like a western themed font. This title would imply a ranch setting, not a medieval one. Also, the font on the left is solid and easy to read, not clear and obscured by varying background colors, making it harder to read.

Second rule: Color. Yes, you want your book design to be noticeable. Yes, you want it to stand apart. But, ... let me try that again … BUT, don't hurt the eyes, people. If you mix jarring colors together to shame any tinker (by the way, I am Gypsy, I can say that), it's going to make your book look cheap and amateur. Besides, the background is part of the story, too, not just the title or main element, in this case, the coat of arms. One on the left, the background is designed to look like parchment. What does that red do to tell you about the story? The turquoise? Nothing.

Third rule: Everything. Yes, everything. Everything I do for a cover design means something. It says something about the story found within. In this case, the one on the left tells us the story takes place in a time that shields, swords, and parchment covered in calligraphy were the norm. I even made the shield look like a heart (hinting that it’s a love story, too). Every color, every letter, every element down to how many swords I included, have clues about the story. Even the double, yet crossing, rose vines. Everything must have a legitimate reason for being put there other that to attract attention. If you want your book cover to stand out, let it stand out because it's a great design. 

Don't sabotage your book from the start with an ugly cover.

Aidana WillowRaven
Art Director & VP of Operations
4RV Publishing


  1. Good advice for illustrators, but also for authors.


  2. I agree for both authors and illustrators this makes so much sense. I also always want to see the credits for the book cover designer and illustrator. So much of any book depends upon the talents of both the author and the illustrator, but the designer often goes unnoticed and they create their magic quietly, efficiently and proficiently. Looking at the books I have illustrated I am always grateful for the wise designers who make both the author and the illustrator look good.

  3. "Wow" has been a common remark by most people taking their first look at my book's cover, designed by Aidana. That simple 3-letter word is clear evidence of Aidana's points in the above article. Although I'm not particularly a fan of the British, their expression "spot on" is well-suited for Aidana's observations about the importance of a bookcover.


  4. Yes, yes, yes. The right cover makes the reader pick up the book. First step. Then she'll want to see what's inside. Second step. Without an appealing cover, she'll pass on by. I'm so glad you did my cover, Aidana.

  5. Great said. :-) Something similar to what I'm learning in classes I'll admit~ but takes practice to become good and an understanding of these things too.

  6. Thanks, everybody. I am glad you all see the importance of a good cover. And I have been honored to have work on many of ya'lls books (great stories create great covers ;P).

    And to Angelica ... so you're in school for design, fine art, or both? Either way, critiques are the best way to hone your skills. Get with a group or network of already working artists, and get regular feedback and tips. Also, get reader opinions and author feedback.

    I still do it, after 17+ years of practice. I post on Facebook and get reader/author/artist feedback all the time, and it almost always results in revisions, and better end results.

    Never stop learning more about your craft. Good luck.