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Book Covers That Work Well Online

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by Cathi Stevenson, Owner, Book Cover Express —

Photo of Cathi Stevenson

Cathi Stevenson

According to BookStats—the statistical survey published jointly by the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group—two noteworthy things happened within the book industry during 2011: e-books became the top-selling format for adult fiction, and revenue from online sales of both electronic and print books nearly doubled.

It’s probably not news to publishers that more people are buying books online. Add the fact that many people look for books and read reviews on the Internet before heading out to brick-and-mortar stores to make purchases, and it becomes obvious that a book’s online presence is very important.

Arguably, few groups are as dependent on Internet sales as smaller publishers and self-publishers. Printing books is expensive, and so are storing, shipping, and accepting returned books. It makes perfect sense for smaller businesses to make use of print-on-demand technology and sell their products in electronic formats.

Unfortunately, that interferes with the power of a cover to sell a book in the traditional way. Online, covers offer no chance for customers to handle and experience raised lettering, varnished images, and textured paper. And since some sites display covers as thumbnails that are 0.75 inches wide or even smaller, images and wording can be difficult to discern.

If your name is Stephen King, that might not mean much to your bottom line. Otherwise, you would be reckless to ignore the necessity for a cover that reproduces well enough at thumbnail size to have a positive impact on sales.

Design Do’s and Don’ts

Many things can be done to ensure that a thumbnail will work to promote a book. Clear text and strong use of color and contrast can help. So can avoiding covers with small graphic details that no one will be able to see online.

Covers that are mostly image should be considered cautiously or, for some genres, avoided altogether. For instance, a particular image may not tell prospective readers a significant amount about the content of a business book. And many self-help books work well with covers that use only text and color or text and a generic background image that doesn’t stand on its own but does enhance the text.

A big starry sky, with the title crammed up at the top and the author’s name crammed down at the bottom, isn’t likely to capture readers’ interest when it’s minimized. Neither is a cover cluttered with graphics that form no cohesive message.

When creating covers for books available online, it’s often a good idea to focus on the title and make that the dominant part of the cover design, particularly for nonfiction. This doesn’t mean the cover can’t still be fun and interesting; it just means you have to use the graphic elements wisely.

Simple things, like contrast, can be used to advantage, but keep the intended audience in mind. For example, if you’re hoping to engage baby-boomers, you need to remember that as people age, it gets more difficult for them to discern color. This is probably not a factor if you’re publishing books for a teenaged audience, but of course that audience has its own preferences.

Visual vibration is another design issue to be aware of; it’s the result of combining colors that make it difficult, if not impossible, for a reader to keep looking at an image. Many articles on the Internet explain this phenomenon and offer examples that will help you avoid it.

Font choice is an important consideration, too. The cleaner and crisper the font, the easier it will be to read. Avoid ornate script fonts, unless you’re using them for just one word or letter. A common amateur mistake is using script fonts in all uppercase. These are rarely readable.

Whatever cover design you’re considering, make sure you test it as a thumbnail before you commit to it.

Online shoppers don’t necessarily need to be able to read the subtitle and strapline (often just a line or two of text from the book, or a brief review) on a thumbnail, but something—the title, a single word, a color—should grab their attention so that they will click on the image and read more about the book.

Cathi Stevenson is a writer and book cover designer with more than three decades of experience. To learn more: bookcoverexpress.com and ebookcoverexpress.com.

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