Secrets publishers use

31 October 2013

8 cover design secrets publishers use to manipulate readers into buying books

From Derek Murphy at Creative INDIE

Indie publishers are slowly coming to realize the importance of an amazing book cover. Since many self-publishing authors are starting out on a very small budget however, homemade, DIY book covers are still a popular choice.

But be forewarned: although book cover designs come in a wide variety, publishers consistently use reliable, time-tested techniques and guidelines to catch your attention and make the sale. You want your cover to be different and unique, but you also want to tick all the right boxes (because they work).

The worst thing an author can do is consider their cover design like a blank canvas and add whatever they want, wherever they want.

So here are the tricks you need to know.

Read the rest, which is quite informative, here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Covers, Creativity, Ebooks, Self-Publishing, Writing Tools

19 Comments to “Secrets publishers use”

  1. Some of this is great, but some is a bit less so, especially given that considerations for print differ greatly than considerations for digital. Honestly, I think several of those covers could be better if considered in a digital space. Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments covers, e.g., seem way too busy when you consider how a lot of readers are going to be browsing–by Amazon thumbnails.

    Reduction to thumbnail also tends to kill a tagline/slogan/quote. It’s just too small to read. Those go in the product description.

    It’s interesting how many of those covers use Trajan (I use Trajan on, I think, every Exciting Press cover. It’s a great font. It’s so good there are sites parodying how widely it’s used). I’d like to know what the common sans serif font is; it’s a little heavier than Helvetica.

    Anyway, I don’t think all these tricks are useful for digital covers. But always good to prompt discussion and thought about it.

    So far as I’ve seen, bold, simple images with clear text and large titles tend to work well and be effective for digital.

    • That was my first thought: most of those covers would look good on a print book, but probably wouldn’t at thumbnail size online. But still some useful info.

    • Thumbnail is totally overrated – designing for thumbnail and sacrificing the design of the full view cover is a mistake.

      Thumbnails need to make an immediate emotional connection, not inform readers of the title or author name (which is really irrelevant; it’s a secondary brain-function – after you’ve caught their interest with the art, they will seek information).

      But you’re right, most of the covers here are busy (which is a personal design style I know I tend towards)…

      on the other hand, I’m talking about record-breaking, internationally bestselling books that get made into movies. Most of which are YA, which need to appeal to teenagers, and color and busyness sells to that age group.

      While simple, mysterious, thriller type books can be kept simple (especially as most of them are appealing to older readers), those may sell well for their category, but not overall.

      Personal Note to Will: I notice your book, Prodigal Hour, is doing well on Amazon and has great reviews (congrats!); and also that, in keeping with your opinions, it’s clean and simple with large text.

      But I’ll bet I could do a free makeover and double your sales. (Keeping the same style, text, font and colors, just making it a little more eye-catching and adding a tagline or review.)

      It would be a fun public bet/experiment for us, to see how much cover design really matters, and we could both blog about the results. If you want to try it, send me an email (

  2. That article is a keeper. I do agree with Will, though, that taglines are almost impossible to do well for ebooks. I create my own covers, and am slowly learning what works and what doesn’t.

  3. He recommends consulting with Fivr? Aren’t they that review mill?

    • You can buy reviews on, but that’s not what I’m recommending. You can get a ton of simple cheap things done on Fiverr; such as light Photoshop work, and many providers are offering ebook covers. They may not be great, but for $5 you might as well take a shot, and they will probably better than what you can make yourself. Or of course, you can download my DIY book cover templates in MS Word.

      • Didn’t know they did other stuff, Derek. Just goes to show that you can always learn something new, if you’re not careful.
        Do their covers have a fivr credit on them? I think the name still caries a stigma.

  4. I’d add “be careful with symbols.” My cover designer and I had an idea that worked very well at full size, but that doesn’t sell the book (“Justice and Juniors”). I only realized why six months later – it is too close to an icon from the LotR movies, and sends a confusing message about the genre of the book when seen as a thumbnail. If/when the book ever goes into hard-copy, I’ll change it.

  5. Good article on graphic design – no secrets- just good design.

  6. I’ve saved this to my Diigo bookmarks. Confirmed some things I knew by instinct but didn’t understand “the why” of. I agree that many of those covers work best in print rather than ebook size, but the underlying principles for why they work are spot on.

  7. The tagline and author blurb don’t look like much from the thumbnail, true, but I was surprised at how many of our reviews quoted the blurb… so even as an ebook, people do notice it and read it!

    • On the sample, those covers aren’t thumbnails anymore and they get a second evaluation on the way in.

    • It doesn’t matter that the tagline can’t be read at thumbnail size. If the cover attracts someone enough to click in the first place, they’ll see the bigger version where the tagline is legible (or better be legible!).

      A great tagline can really hook your imagination. It’s a no cost selling device that can help set your book apart. When a potential reader already opted to look closer on your offering, why not supply more information that can make a sale via a tagline?

      The real skill is understanding what imagery is irresistible to readers who’ll enjoy the book’s story.

      Can someone set up a survey?

      • I agree Tina – at the bottom of my post is a link to another one, “5 common book cover design myths most indie authors believe.” It gets at the heart of many of the comments I’m seeing here about designing for a clear Thumbnail. I know my views don’t mesh with the indie publishing paradigm, but I’m talking about bestselling books, not successful indie published books (which may be using different design methods to try to snare new readers). Having some little tiny hard to read text just makes it look more like a traditionally published book, which mostly use a teaser, tagline, blurb and/or review.

  8. Someone needs to write a killer book on how to design book covers. A ‘how to’ for folks with no design background, nothing fancy just the basics. I’ve looked but can’t find. Just an idea, for someone who has the knowledge.

    • I wrote a blog post on basic concepts for cover design. If PG will forgive the link: Cover Design Primer

      Combining the basics with the more sophisticated concepts presented by Derek Murphy (excerpted by PG above) would get a newbie designer a long way.

      • Thanks so much for the link.

        I learned a lot from Derek’s post – even though I’ve been preparing for ‘the cover’ for two years.

        I’m devouring all your information.

        I love it that covers are no more set in stone than anything else if you self-publish: when you learn how to do something better – from cover to interior layout to grammar – if you want to take the time and make the effort, you can go in and FIX it. If not, you’ve learned something for the next time, and, since publishers won’t drop you for your less-successful previous efforts, you can go forth and do better.

        Your standards, time, money, and efforts decide. Not someone else’s.

        Knowledge is power, even a little bit of it. More knowledge=more power.

  9. Yeah I’ve had covers just like the ones shown in the article. The books didn’t sell (not enough to be worthy of mention).

    And I know they were good stories and well written because they received great reviews. And I know I do have well written, engaging stories because I have sold over 400 copies of a single ebook within 3 months. So…

    There simply isn’t a particular formula to use that is proven to help sell books. There just… isn’t.

    Sure, formulaic covers might work for some authors, but NOT for everyone.

  10. All in all, an awesome article…thank you, Randall!

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.