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Saturday, December 20, 2014

What's New in Cover Design

by Christy Carlyle

While the title of my post refers to what’s new, most of what’s important to know about cover design remains consistent. And that’s good news! It means you don’t need to scramble to keep up with constantly changing trends. Sure, there are fads and genre specific trends, and I’ll mention a couple of those, but in general the following fundamentals have remained true of book cover design since I began designing three years ago.

FUNDAMENTALS
Stay true to your genre and optimize its best aspects – Being unique sounds appealing, but creating a cover that strays too far from what paranormal romance, historical romance, or fans of any specific genre expect to find on a cover may mean that your book gets lost rather than standing out in the crowd.

Look at what’s hot in your genre by studying bestseller lists or browsing bookstore shelves. Sure, those books are ultimately selling because of excellent storytelling, but great cover design can also play a role. And it can’t hurt to emulate the folks who are selling heaps of books, right? Figure out your genre’s cover design expectations, and then work to create a cover that optimizes those aspects. In other words, figure out what works and do it well.


I write Victorian historical romance and there are basically two main cover design modes in my genre—couple in a clinch or lady in a pretty dress. There are other options, of course, but those two styles have remained consistently popular for years. When I designed the covers for my Whitechapel Wagers series, I tried to combine the appeal of both.  

Don’t skimp on quality – For an indie-published author, paying for book cover design may be one of your larger expenses, but it’s well worth it. Expect to pay between $100-200 (or more) for a professional cover designer to create your perfect cover. As a designer, I have been asked to redesign covers for several authors—to create a more consistent look, to improve on the quality of their previous covers, or to “try something different” to boost sales. 

I've learned that a good deal of the work in cover design takes place before images and typography are combined. Taking the time to envision consistency across a series and figure out your overall brand as an author will improve your covers the first time around. Who knows. It might save you the trouble of a redesign. Then again, one of the great freedoms of being an indie author is the ability to change your cover. It's an aspect of your business and marketing strategy that you control, tweaking a cover or trying different options to test their impact on sales. 

Cover designs for Christina Tetrault with a focus on consistency.
Design principles to keep in mind – Did you have to take an art history or art theory class in school or at university? If you did, they might have droned on about design principles like contrast, color harmony, clear, readable typography, the Z pattern, etc. Did you know you can use these concepts to improve your cover and that any good cover designer will be applying them to the mock-ups and final art you see?

Since many readers purchase ebooks based on small thumbnail images, it’s important to make sure your typography is large and readable in thumbnail dimensions. Also, the higher the contrast of dark and light colors/images on your cover, the more it will “pop.” Keeping color harmonies in mind is also useful. I often pull out an old school color wheel or browse a site like Adobe's Kuler, which features infinite color palettes, for design inspiration. The Z-pattern refers to the notion that our eyes tend to view images in a Z pattern, scanning from upper left to right, then down diagonally to lower left over to right. Since typography and key elements on book covers tend to be at the top, bottom, or in the center of the diagonal, most follow the Z-pattern.

TWO TRENDS I’VE NOTICED
I feel certain that as soon as I type these out, they’ll go out of style. Or perhaps they did go out of style when my finger slipped off the pulse of cover design. And of course these aren't hard and fast rules, just some trends I’ve noticed as I study covers.

Historical romance – I’ve noticed a trend toward monochromatic color schemes which use several aspects of a single hue on the cover. Memorable recent examples are Sarah MacLean’s Rule of Scoundrel covers, but I've seen the technique on many beautiful historical romance covers recently.


YA Paranormal romance – While dark background colors remain a visual cue for many paranormal covers, I’ve noticed YA, in particular, tends to be focused increasingly on single female figures on the cover rather than an object or couple, both of which seemed to be popular for a while. On a recent bookstore visit, these covers caught my eye and held me captive. Beyond the compelling central figures, note their use of contrast, simple design, and readable typography too.


What trends have you noticed in cover design? Feel free to post any questions you have about cover design and I'll do my best to answer. 

4 comments:

Sarah Raplee said...

So much more goes into cover design than we non-designers know! Thank you for educating us so that we can be smart jpartners without designers.

Your designs are consistently beuatiful, Christy!

Judith Ashley said...

Thanks, Christy! I've learned so much from you about cover design and one thing sticks out that you have not mentioned. If you don't really know about cover design, then trust the person you've hired to do their job. Not always an easy lesson but I'm very glad I trusted you. The covers for The Sacred Women's Circle are gorgeous and I get compliments all the time.

Christy Carlyle said...

Thanks, Sarah! :)

Maggie Lynch said...

Christy, you have been my favorite cover designer ever because you do keep up on trends, pay attention to author branding and series branding, are exceptionally talented, and your gentle guidance is always welcomed.