Writing Tips: How to make book covers readers will hate (Now with extra hatred!)

Book Covers
                              catchy or catastrophic?

I originally posted this a while back because art is special to me and bad covers make me cry.  But I realized as I was doing my cover look-a-likes post....why didn't I use all my lovely procrastinating time and make pictures!?  So this week's throwback post is revamped with more pictures, more eyebleeding insanity, and more tips for cover domination.  

But let's be honest.  Some of these examples break more than one.  

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 do not involve ball gowns!  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.  This is covered well in my full book-a-likes post, but I give you a few examples below.  


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!  

Sin #8:  Thanks for playing. Try again.  
This is a miscellaneous sin.  It's the "what the heck happened here?" sin.  Maybe it's an awkward-looking image.  Maybe it's a horrifically cliched vampire mess.  Maybe it's a really bad sketch.  Whatever it is, kill it with fire!  

Links from Smart People

So, what are your cover loves and hates?  


  1. I like sin #3! I'm such a sucker for covers with pretty dresses even if the dress has nothing to do with the book. I don't do sin #4 though. Am I supposed to be interested because she looks sad? Maybe I'm supposed to like her makeup. I guess that is why I was never tempted to pick up Vampire Academy.

    1. Same here, with the Vampire Academy. It wasn't until later when I heard good things from friends that I started to be interested in it.