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Covers That Connect: Does Your Book Cover Connect With Your Audience?

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Jeniffer Thompson

Jeniffer Thompson

By Jeniffer Thompson —

Have you ever experienced that je ne sais quoi feeling that compels you to pick up a book, flip it over, and buy it? You know that feeling you get when you see a book from across the room and something draws you toward it? A feeling that makes you think: I want to know more. I’ve bought numerous books in this not-so-calculated way of shopping, and I love it. Maybe I’m alone, but I doubt it.

We do judge a book by its cover. We also judge people, cars, watches, and just about everything in a biased way that begins with an initial impression. So, how do we make that initial judgment? How is it that the same judgment is made by millions of strangers across the Nation whom are all drawn in by a popular fashion style, movie, automobile, and book?

When it comes to your book cover, how do you get it right?

Start by creating a feeling.

Feelings come from an initial bias or expectation that we as humans develop over time.  Expectations are based on cultural mores, popular styles, and personal experience. So how do we deliver on the expectations of our audience? First, we must know them and study them—and copy those before us. That’s right—do what works. “This has never been done before,” is a red flag for any marketer, because it tells us that people do not have an expectation for that product—and that’s a scary place to be when you’re trying to sell books.

Luckily for us book sellers, nothing is new—everything is a remix of something before it.

For an eye-opening look at how we remix popular themes, check out this video series by Kirby Ferguson, a New York-based filmmaker: everythingisaremix.info/watch-the-series

While you cannot control what’s popular in culture, you can control how you choose to capitalize on that pop culture. Professional execution that speaks directly to your target audience is the way to connect with your buyers.

The elements of cover design include color, image choice, perspective, title placement, and typeface.

The font you choose helps create a feeling for your audience that they may not even realize they are experiencing. Imagine a pair of comfy, lime-green garden sandals with a black pencil skirt—most would not venture to explain why, but they would agree that it’s ugly and you shouldn’t do it. So is true with fonts, the right font will set the stage for place and time. Fonts like Helvetica and Times New Roman are timeless while Comic Sans MS, perhaps considered playful, is overused and outdated.

Similarly, choosing just the right image for your cover is imperative, but the perspective of that image can change the feeling and draw people into the book.

Below are a few before and after examples:

I. Kurt Kamm, One Foot In The Black

Kurt Kamm knew that he just needed to tweak his existing design a little. The image was good, the title was good, but something was missing, so we set about making it better, and I think we succeeded. Here’s what we did:

  1. Cover Image: We chose a similar image, but with a slightly different perspective. In the new cover, the firefighter has more forward motion, which creates a feeling of action and intensity.
  2. Font choice: we chose an updated and bolder font that is easier to read.
  3. Sub-Title: We removed the sub-title all together, which made it feel more like a memoir than a fiction novel. Most novels do not have sub-titles.
  4. Author Name: The word “by” is not needed on the cover. Why else would Kurt’s name appear on the cover? Clearly he is the author.
  5. Endorsement: We added an endorsement not because we had to, but because it gives the reader a little bit more information about the book and it’s a nice quote.
  6. Colors: We intensified the flames and added brightness to the firefighter image. Notice how you can almost see the glow in the reflective strip across the back of his yellow jacket.

One Foot in the Black

II. Barbara McNally, Unbridled

Barbara McNally was just getting ready to release her first book, Unbridled Freedom, A Memoir of Liberation when she asked me to read her memoir: the story was great, the cover was wrong.

The main problem with the original cover was the expectation that it set. We decided to ask 30 unrelated women in the target audience if they would buy this book.  Every potential reader had the same answers:

  1. Is this book fiction or non-fiction? Fiction
  2. What is it about? A teen-romance novel.
  3. Would you buy this book? No


We knew we had to create a new feeling and set a different expectation for this book. First of all, it needed to feel like a memoir, instead of a romance novel. The author wanted the book to say “Ireland, freedom, horses, and sensuality.” We decided to go in a direction that was less obvious and more intriguing, so that people would be drawn to pick it up to learn more. After a title and cover design change, we went back to our reader sample, and every person was ready to buy the book.


An obvious, but often overlooked question people ask potential readers during the design process is “Would you buy this book?” Sure, we’ll ask if someone likes the design, or which design is better, but what we really need to be asking is “will you buy it?” The answer to this question could send your design into a whole new direction.

Small changes in color, font, and perspective can often set the tone and create the right feeling. Sometimes taking elements away and allowing for simplicity is the answer, while at other times we need to try a new approach. We have to be willing to step back from a cover and let it speak for itself, otherwise we could miss that je ne sais quoi feeling that compels someone to pick up a book, flip it over, and buy it.

About the Author
Jeniffer Thompson

Jeniffer Thompson

Internet Marketing specialist and web site strategist Jeniffer Thompson has more than 15 years experience in the publishing industry. She is the author of Web Site WOW: Turn Your Web Site Into Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool and the creator of the popular Web Site WOW seminar series. Jeniffer’s passion for Internet Marketing shines through in every class she teaches; authors walk away feeling empowered, inspired, and armed with knowledge. Jeniffer is the founder of Monkey C Media, a ten-year-company specializing in author websites and book cover design. She is an inspiring educator—her testimonials show how much her attendees appreciate her breadth of tangible knowledge. See www.monkeycmedia.com and www.JenifferThompson.com for more information.

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