Writing Tips: How to Make Book Covers that Readers Will Hate (and How to Avoid It)

Book Covers
                              catchy or catastrophic?

With all the choices of books out these days and all the time that I don't have, I've become a connoisseur of book covers.  Okay, well, I judge by them a lot, anyway.  (I also had an art teacher as a father, so the art OCD is strong with this one.)  It's not that I won't read a book with a cover I hate.  Getting me to give it the time a day is just a little harder.  Maybe someone recommended it to me, I know the author,  I liked the title, I saw a review...  But chances are, when I'm running across some blogger's list of new releases or the Goodreads genre pages, I wouldn't have picked it up.  Because to me, a professional-looking cover means an author serious about their work.  It means they probably also took the time to get an editor.  I hate to say it, because I love a lot of indies, but as a group they're the worst offenders for some of these cover sins.  But don't get me started on Big Six romance covers, either...  

Sin #1:  Fonts that make me want to cry 
I'm a fontophile, I'll admit it.  Back when I had more time and did digital art a lot, I used to collect fonts like crack.  Or stamps or something.  Then there were fonts like Papyrus and Chiller.  They captivated me as a 14-year-old, as they should.  Because I was 14.  But I realized as I matured that they're terrible for digital art.  They're too common, they're poorly designed, and they're way the heck too common.  Whole websites have been dedicated to finding examples of Papyrus, but you needn't go that far.  Walk out your door sometime.  It'll shock and horrify you.  So when I see these fonts on a book cover, I (a) groan and (b) assume that the book inside is probably just as slapdash.  Maybe it's not fair, but that's the rub.  

Sin #2:  Blurry, low-res, or otherwise terrible-looking pictures 
If the cover of a book looks like a phone picture, chances are I'm going to run the other way.  Again, this is just a sign of laziness / lack of commitment to me.  Maybe that's not fair, but that's what I see.  Low on cover cash?  I'd rather see a clean, type-only cover than one that makes me squint.  

Sin #3:  Girls in dresses looking all morose 
This is one that indies and the Big Six alike share.  In fact, I think indies are way less likely to commit this sin.  See a list from just 2012 and you'll see what I mean.  Wtf are all these girls doing in ball gowns!?  Half of them are contemporary books!  And unless I missed something, teenagers don't go dressed like Cinderella much.  Not all of these covers are bad.  In fact, some are quite pretty.  But they're still way too common and they don't have the same wow-factor that another cover would--so it's gonna take more to get a second look.  

Sin #4:  OMG close-up and look I'm all sad 
Similar to girl-in-dress, this is simply just girl, trimmed to mostly face, and usually not looking happy with the world.  Check out a list.  Some of these are better than others.  Incarnate and Daughter of Smoke and Bone?  Good.  They're faces, but they use the faces artistically to tell you something about the book.  Vampire Academy?  Okay, so there's a girl in it.  With brown hair.  

Sin #5:  I'm seeing double 
So you found a neat new stock photo that's OMG so gorgeous and you want to use it.  Well, keep in mind that someone probably already had that idea.  Again, major publishers are not immune to this.  Take a look at these shocking book-a-likes.  Some of them are stylized enough that they still look unique.  Some are practically indistinguishable.  The last thing you want in a crowded market is for readers to forget which book is yours.  

Sin #6:  I can haz Photoshop?  
We all thought we were Photoshop gods back in the day.  Some of us were.  I've seen some people on forums who truly make works of art.  Then, I've seen a lot of people who just slapped together a bunch of images, blurred the edges, and called it a day.  If you're not good with digital art, hire a cover artist.  It's worth it, because a cover that looks like a grade school collage is not going to help your sales.  

Sin #7:  Word Art is not your friend  
The people responsible for this are generally bake sales, small-town newsletters, and, you guessed it, book covers.  Snazzing up your title text is NOT always the best idea.  It just makes it look cheap and slapdash.  Drop shadow?  Think again.  It can be used well...by people who really know what they're doing.  Glow text?  Oh god, please no.  Rainbow gradients?  I will smite thee.  There's nothing wrong with simple, plain title text.  In fact, it looks a lot nicer!  

The Good, The Bad, The Horrifying

These caught me right away.  And would probably get a good, long look and maybe a buy.  Can you tell which are indie, you Big Six snob?  Probably not.  They're all pretty.  

These wouldn't hit Cover Love for me, but they're perfectly decent covers and I'd definitely stop to take another look if the subject matter interested me.  

These . . . not so much.  See the sins?  See the difference?  And again ... think you can spot the self-published covers?  Think again.  Money-crazy art departments are not immune.  (Note: I've bought one or two of the books you see below.  Often, the book inside is good.  But it takes more to get me there.)  


Links from Smart People

So, what are your cover loves and hates?  


  1. This is a very intresting article I read a similar one with ideas at http://www.teksyte.com/good-book-cover/

    1. Thanks for the link! I can't get enough of tips and how-tos. I think that article makes an important point in viewing your book cover as a billboard--in essence, a very important marketing tool. That extra cash going into the cover will hopefully pay off later in sales.

  2. I really hate the "girls in (prom) dresses" trend too!!
    Great post! :)

    1. Ha, prom dress is a good way to put it. They all look like Cinderella. And then never wear a single dress the whole book! Thank you. (: