We all know the old adage: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” However, as much as we’d like to believe that our novels, short story collections, and other writing would be judged by the content and the craft, so much depends on that first impression, on getting people to pick up your book in the first place. Even with the rise in e-books, covers matter.
So I thought I would do a review of some of my mock e-book covers to explore what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to cover design. For aspiring authors looking to self-publish, having the tools to create your own book cover can go a long way for marketing purposes. For aspiring authors looking to get traditionally published, I’m not sure exactly where cover design happens in the process, but it’s probably good to know some basic design principles, just in case.
I’ll be using the mock covers I created for last year’s NaNoWriMo project, all of which were created using Canva1. Canva is a web-based design tool with a lot of free or cheap templates and images to create compelling graphics, not just e-book covers, but blog graphics, infographics, social media graphics, and more. I’ve been using it for a few years and I highly recommend checking it out.
Without further ado, onto the review!
Mock Cover #1: “Moody’s mood for love”
This cover is a bit dark, a bit mysterious, and I think captured the tone of my NaNo project quite well. Because the story takes place in a forest, I used a photo I had taken a few years ago of the sun shining through some tree leaves, passed it through a few filters, and slapped it into Canva. The result, I think, is pretty haunting.
Why this works: The letters are bold, the background is compelling without being too distracting, and the title is more prominent than my name.
Why it doesn’t: The way the text is placed in the photo, the light makes the “Hide” difficult to read at a distance or in a small thumbnail. Also, there’s a weird mixing of fonts here, from all-caps to lower case to serif versus sans-serif. The font mixing isn’t a deal-breaker (many great designs can mix fonts to great effect), but it doesn’t quite work here.
Mock Cover #2: “Modern art”
Because there was a nice symmetry to my title (4 letters, 3 letters, 4 letters), I thought I would give this one a try. The effect, I think, was pretty interesting and I do like how unique it is as a cover, even though I would probably never use this one myself.
Why it works: It’s a pretty compelling design, from the mirrored image and text. Because this novel has a few parallel storylines, this cover captured that in a unique way. The main characters have a bit of a “falling through the looking glass” moment, and the mirrored text captures that as well.
Why it doesn’t: The text of the title is too thin and difficult to read. While the background photo might be interesting, it’s too chaotic and distracting in this iteration. And finally, there’s the font mixing again, and this time it’s not that great. The serif author name combined with the sans-serif and thin lines of the title make for a weird cover.
Mock Cover #3: “What was I thinking?”
For this one, I used a photo I took in Central Park of a pretty enchanted spot. I was searching for a layout that would work with the photo, and came across this one. The effect is…not my favorite. But! I was still experimenting with covers at this point.
Why it works: The yellow is pretty bold, and combined with the de-saturated background, the title stands out.
Why it doesn’t: To be frank, this cover is quite ugly. The colors are all wrong, the placement of the byline and title is wrong, and the photo isn’t displayed in all its glory. Of the covers I created, this one is my least favorite.
Mock Cover #4: “The runner-up”
I took the same photo from Mock Cover #1 and instead of passing it through a black-and-white filter, I boosted the color and darkened it to get that same kind of grunge look. The result, again, matches the feel of the work, how the characters find themselves in this different, but similar, world.
Why it works: The colors are great. The title is bold and readable. Though there’s font mixing, it works here, because the fonts are both so different and serving the purpose they’re meant to serve. (The title is meant to be big and eye-catching, and the author name is meant to be clear, but still understated.)
Why it doesn’t: No big red flags here, in my opinion. The title font might be a little more unique, but I think that it’s perfectly fine as it stands.
Mock Cover #5: “The final form”
This was what I eventually went with for my NaNoWriMo project. The photo is a free stock photo from Canva, and looking at this again it’s somewhat reminiscent of the covers for Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy2. Though I have some mixed feelings about that trilogy, the covers are pretty damn compelling.
Why it works: The font is clear and readable, and the image is eye-catching without being distracting. In many ways, the font and the photo work together, and neither element is really fighting for dominance. The image is also very dramatic and mysterious, a good choice for a fantasy novel.
Why it doesn’t: No red flags, in my opinion. I chose this as the cover, so it probably works, right?
Cover design is something that professional designers spend days and weeks getting just right, and so if you’re looking to create your book cover yourself, be sure to take your time and really consider what’s working and what’s not. The next time you’re out and about buying books, take a few moments to consider what works and what doesn’t. When you find yourself drawn to a book, aside from looking at the title and the author, examine the cover. What appeals to you? What made the cover eye-catching?
What are some of your favorite book covers? And what makes them work, in your opinion? Leave a comment below!
This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.
 Canva — web-based design tool, Canva.com
 The Magicians by Lev Grossman