The 50 Best Book Covers of 2021, as Chosen by Graphic Designers

From Book Riot:

AIGA (The American Institute of Graphic Arts) annually announces the 50 best book covers of the previous year, as chosen by a panel of judges. They “evaluate each work’s integrated design approach, including concept, innovation and visual elements such as typography, illustration, and/or information design.”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Here are a few that caught PG’s eye:

https://50books50covers.secure-platform.com/a/gallery/rounds/181/details/49449

There are videos at the link that show a lot of creativity going on inside the books as well.

You can see them all the AIGA Winners Page

The Battle of the Book Cover: British versus American Edition

From Electric Lit:

We know, we know: you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. And yet, for as widely as the adage as used, we are all—whether consciously or subconsciously—judging books by their covers every time we browse a bookstore, or quickly scroll through a most anticipated list, stopping at the ones that catch our eye. Publishers put an awful lot of stock into book covers as well, following certain hot trends (cough cough, the Blob, cough) and moving away from others (such as photorealism having taken a backseat the past few years).

Whether we book people like to admit it or not, the cover is a very important part of a book’s perception, and so we here at Electric Lit think it’s a worthwhile endeavor every now and again to take the pulse of the public and see what aesthetic choices are making a splash, and which aren’t faring so well. Is the Blob still in, with publishers or the public? Is realism making a comeback? To test the waters, we asked our Instagram followers to choose between the UK and US book cover editions, to see what the hottest book cover trends are this year, and which trends are soooOOoo 2021.

Careering by Daisy Buchanan

There’s something similar going on between the two covers here: the shade of green, even the pink—which is only a flash of lipstick and nail polish in the U.S. cover, rather than the primary element of the U.K. cover—and a clearly at-her-wits-end woman, which perfectly resonates with this book about a woman who finally lands her much-desired dream job writing for a magazine, only to find burnout waiting for her there. And in a very interesting twist for our first battle, realism is the clear favorite! If you’ve followed our book cover battles in the past, you may know that realism has historically been the loser, so this clear sweep is a surprising start. Is this the beginning of a turning tide?

 

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

These two covers take different approaches to portraying this book about a mysterious inheritance a mother leaves her children: the U.K. cover opting to depict the more literal part—a spoon representing the physical black cake—while the U.S. cover chooses to depict the woman hiding behind secrets that are slowly uncovered after her death. The colorful swirls of the American cover feel very familiar—it’s sort of like those magic images where everything is a blur at first, but if you focus your eyes and stare long enough, the image beneath begins to appear. Comparatively, the British cover takes a more simplistic approach. Our voters, it seems, prefer the task of sussing out the secret inside swirls of the US cover.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

5 Ways to Use Fiverr to Publish Your Book

From Self Publishing with Dale:

When I first decided that I wanted to write a novel I have to admit I was a bit naïve going into the process. I was fumbling my way through and asking questions to authors that I knew on a regular basis.

. . . .

As soon as I hit my word target I realized there was a lot more work to go just to get it to a point where I could consider publishing it. This is when I took to Fiverr and other freelance sites to find experts that can assist me with the post-writing work of creating a book.

The results were a mixed bag, but on the whole I highly recommend at a minimum getting ideas from sellers on Fiverr if you are writing a book.

. . . .

1. Finding an editor

I created a job on multiple sites (mainly focused though on Fiverr and Upwork) to try and find an editor that could take my rough draft and help me get it closer and closer to a finished product. I received a lot of responses from both sites and I quickly realized I needed to be asking more questions to help weed out all of the people responding to my gig.

I asked questions like: How many YA books have you edited? How many books have focused on fan fiction or Norse myths? I would recommend that you think about these things prior to listing your jobs so you can more efficiently get through what will be quite a large volume of people submitting bids or applying to your job.

I ended up paying $350 for the first round of edits on a 53,000-word novel (as an aside, the novel finished around 61,000 words). I got incredibly lucky or did a decent job of vetting the editors because the person I found was amazing, efficient, and literally made all the difference in the world to my book.

Most of the online services would have cost triple the amount of money and would not have turned the book around in three working days. This was an incredible value and I am extremely happy with the choice I made to list this job.

2. Creating a Book Cover

My next gig that I listed was to have a graphic designer help me create a proper book cover for my eBook. I decided to focus on just an eBook release so I only needed a front cover. The volume of responses that I got from this job was a bit overwhelming and there was a very wide range of prices.

I tried a couple of sellers for this and provided them with the information they requested to take a crack at the book cover. The results of this job varied wildly from really terrible designs to ones that were okay but unusable. I ended up creating my own book cover using Canva and some ideas that I picked up from the various Fiverr designs that came my way.

I ended up spending around $150 for these services in total and ultimately didn’t use the results other than to influence the final book cover design. In the grand scheme of things this is a small price to pay to get some creative ideas and I do think that you can get usable book covers this way although I think I would encourage paying on the higher end of the bids as this was definitely an area where I got what I paid for with each design.

3. Copy for my Amazon listing

As soon as I got through a few rounds of edits (each round cost me the same as I used the same seller). I was ready to publish my book. In order to do that you have to do things like prepare the copy for the Amazon listing which is almost an art in itself.

Ultimately, I ended up using the same seller that did the editing for my book to help write (really edit) the copy that would go up in all of the online bookstores (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc.).

This was a modest cost of $50 and it made a huge difference in what I released. They expertly guided me through how to entice people to read the book by making it less of a short summary and more of a comparison piece to other similar books and shows that the reader might also like. I would not have thought of doing that without their assistance, but it makes complete sense.

Link to the rest at Self Publishing with Dale

PG would be interested in any experiences visitors have had, good or not-so-good, hiring help with writing/publishing from Fiverr, Upwork or other similar online service marketplaces.

The Author’s Guide to Fiverr

From Indies Unlimited:

If you’re a self-published author, there are chances that someone has suggested you get a cover or some editing on Fiverr. Upon learning the site Fiverr got its name because you could pay people five bucks for an assignment, you quickly dismiss whoever gave you that advice. You’re certain you can’t get anything good for that price. Well, don’t dismiss Fiverr so quickly. Just like a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover, Fiverr is more nuanced than its name suggests.

What is Fiverr?

Fiverr is a marketplace where you can either buy or sell service. The name comes from the fact that services start at $5. Now, there may be some great services that you can get for $5, but I haven’t found many. The real benefit of Fiverr is as a marketplace. You can see people selling things you want–such as covers, artwork, and editing. When you log on to purchase an item, the product or service sold is called a gig.

What Do Authors Buy on Fiverr?

Authors can buy pretty much anything, even other authors to write their books (I’m not kidding, ghostwriting gigs are there). Generally, authors want to write their own books, so, on a practical level, authors tend to purchase editing, covers, artwork (for ads or extras), copy writing/blurb writing, and logos.

If It’s not $5, How Much Is It?

The prices vary, and a lot of the deals will look like they’re five dollars, but they’re not — in practical terms — that cheap. For example, the ghostwriting gig I linked to above is $5, and for that fee, the author will deliver up to 200 words. At that rate, a 60,000-word novel would run you $1,500. Editing is similar. A good editing gig may charge $5 to edit 500 words. For an 80,000-word book, that will come out to $800. However, the good thing about all gigs is there’s the option to ask for a custom quote. When you do that, you tell the person how long your book is, what the genre is, and ask them for a quote. They may tell you they’ll charge you $700 (a $100 discount on what you would pay if you tried to order 160 of the $5 gigs). Not all gigs start at $5. The better cover designers start their gigs at a minimum of $15, but usually run at least $35. You need to look at what you get with a gig. Most gigs come with three options: bare bones, middle ground, and the luxury package. For a cover, the barebones gigs tend to only allow you one cover image. It’s hard to get a good cover with a single image; usually it requires at least a background image and another one. Authors wanting a cover that follows traditional cover guidelines will want to pay more for a gig that allows at least a couple of images.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

Why Do Some Authors’ Books Get a Branded Look?

From Eye on Design:

When Charlotte Strick and Claire Williams Martinez of Strick&Williams were invited to design Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, Strick was already intimately familiar with the work. As the designer of The Paris Review, the magazine that serialized Cusk’s first book in the series, Strick had already acquainted herself with the roving narrative, which traces the journey of a woman enroute to Greece and the strangers she meets along the way. As three books, hatched one after the other like eggs, it only made sense to design Outline, Transit, and Kudos as a trio, with a “spare but evocative” vibe, as Strick put it, which bridges together each part of the whole.

While designing one cover or jacket requires the designer to conjure a single visual solution, crafting a cohesive look for such a project creates an added challenge. Each cover must encapsulate the story within while simultaneously maintaining some coherent iconography that can run through every title—not unlike a magazine design. And that design challenge and opportunity is magnified to the extreme when all of an author’s books take on a clearly defined aesthetic, which Cusk’s eventually did with work by Farrar, Straus & Giroux creative director and designer Rodrigo Corral.

Such comprehensive cover design initiatives tap into the same power as branded objects. It might seem dismal to compare an author to a brand. The writer—the literary purveyor, if you will—is indispensable, and each book they produce is a unique object. To group them together in a branded package like bottles on a drug store shelf can seem reductive, dystopian even, at its face. But this is essentially what publishers do when they commission several books by one author to be designed in a similar fashion. It’s a way for the publisher to associate a particular writer with a visual identity. And ultimately, despite any venal ambitions on behalf of publishers, the designs they require can be demanding and gratifying artistic projects for book designers.

Corral’s covers are the ones Cusk is perhaps now most well-known for. They’re white, modern—brutalist almost—with one slightly oversaturated, often metaphorical photo in the center of each. Amid the swirl of illustrated covers as of late, it seems unique to find photos on the covers of novels. While it sometimes risks narrative misinterpretation, as in Peter Hujar’s enigmatic photo on the cover of A Little Life, for Cusk’s books, it works, perhaps because her writing tends to take on broad philosophical questions. “So much of the [Outline trilogy] takes place in transit and on planes,” Corral explains. “The reading experience is quite similar to eavesdropping. You cannot stop listening or reading.” Fittingly, the image on the third installment of the Outline series is the contemplative view one experiences when peering out an airplane window.

Link to the rest at Eye on Design

How to Create a Book Cover on Kindle Direct Publishing

From Medium:

Below, I share how I created and formatted my book cover, with extra attention to detail on the nitty-gritty of formatting the book cover for a paperback versus an ebook.

1: Find an Artist

Why you should commission artwork for your book cover

Isn’t that expensive? Yes, it’s an investment: an investment to make sure your other investment — hours, months, and years spent brainstorming, researching, workshopping, editing, and writing your book — doesn’t go to waste.

One of the biggest drawbacks of traditional publishing is that you don’t have control over anything except what goes within the covers of the book (and sometimes barely that).

Naturally, then, one of the biggest advantages of self-publishing is complete control. Why not tailor a cover to your story?

Finding an artist

In my case, I scoured #PortfolioDay on Twitter, not just to scope out potential artists but, more importantly, to scope out different styles and get a sense of what I wanted. What would best convey the feel and theme of the book?

My story is a speculative Asian ghost story with culture and history at its core. I didn’t want straight-up anime but I knew I wanted an art style close to it. I saved images of wispy, hazy brushstrokes because I knew I wanted something ethereal to represent the magical elements of my story. I saved cartoon styles that were distinctly Korean — again, not quite anime, but close to it.

I then took screenshots of traditional Korean fan dance and drum dance, important elements of the story, to figure out how I wanted my main characters to be posing.

Towards the end of my research process, I cold-emailed two artists. One of them got back to me quicker.

Link to the rest at Medium

Hilariously Bad Book Covers: L. M. Montgomery Edition

From the Tea and Ink Society:

Apparently, there’s a plethora of people who try to cash in on the popularity of classic novels–and the fact that these classics are in the public domain–by slapping together their own edition with a cheesy cover.

As I sifted through my findings of awful book covers, I realised I have so many of Anne of Green Gables alone, that today’s post will be dedicated to cringe-worthy Anne of Green Gables book covers. I’ve included some other L. M. Montgomery book covers, too.

Rest assured, I love Montgomery’s novels, and thus these terrible covers are practically a crime. But they’re funny too because they are so far off the mark. See what I mean…

Link to the rest at Tea and Ink Society

Note the spelling of Anne’s name on the following cover.

How the romance genre found its happily ever after

From The Washington Post:

It started with a happily ever after.

In 1972, Avon Books published “The Flame and the Flower,” by Kathleen Woodiwiss — a hefty historical romance that traded chastity for steamy sex scenes. It arrived in the thick of the sexual revolution, and readers loved it: It was an instant bestseller that’s credited with birthing the modern romance genre.

There had been romances before, of course, mostly by British publisher Mills & Boon (which was later acquired by Harlequin). But Woodiwiss ushered in a new era, inspiring an American publishing boom that propelled the romance genre to smashing success.

. . . .

There was one constant in those early years: “Kathleen Woodiwiss wrapped everything up with a nice pink bow, and that’s something romance writers still talk about today,” says Carrie Feron, a longtime executive editor for Avon who edited Woodiwiss’s later books. “The HEA. A happily ever after. Because that was a promise romance books made to the reader.”

Here, a dozen people — authors, editors, agents, cover artists and one mononymous male model — recount how the modern romance industry came together and took off.

. . . .

Early romance novels were sold at grocery stores and drugstores — they were by women, for women and about women, available where women shopped. At first, they were mostly big historical romances, followed by slimmer romances, which were published sequentially.

Author Loretta Chase: I feel strongly that the women who were first writing, like Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers — it was a tremendous breakthrough, what they did. The explicit sexuality in the books allowed women to express their own sexuality. And a heroine could have sex and not die at the end of the story.

LaVyrle Spencer, whose first book was published in 1979: I bought “The Flame and the Flower” with $2 that my mother sent me in a birthday card. A paperback cost $1.99. When I started to write — with a ballpoint pen and spiral notebook — I always thought, I wonder if Kathleen Woodiwiss would read it. In 1978, she was autographing at a B. Dalton bookstore, and I was almost too chicken to go. She was my idol. I had this long letter about what she meant to me and how I had written a book, and when I stepped up to her, I burst into tears. I don’t remember exactly when she told me she would read my manuscript, but we arranged a meeting for her to get it at a restaurant in the Twin Cities. When I got there, I thanked her, thrust the manuscript toward her, turned around and ran. Two days later, she called and said — and I remember this quote precisely — “I read until my eyes were red, white and blue. And your manuscript is on the way to New York to my editor.”

Steven Axelrod, a New York-based literary agent: Harlequin was the absolute dominant romance publisher, and it was distributed in the U.S. by Simon & Schuster. In 1979, Harlequin decided to distribute without Simon & Schuster, whose response was to start Silhouette Books and provide some competition. It didn’t last more than two or three years, and then Silhouette was sold to Harlequin. But it created a lot of attention and improved conditions, including advances.

Chase: I wanted to write a novel, but my attempts at writing literature went nowhere. I realized I needed some kind of structure and that genre fiction would give me that structure. As soon as I recognized that, I knew it had to be a romance — and I did not have a high opinion of romance at that time. I was an English major, and those days if you told a faculty member there were actually going to be seminars on romance, they would have laughed themselves sick. But the thing I knew about romances was that you had a happy ending, and love conquered all. That connected for me — it had bothered me that the most interesting women in stories often came to a bad end.

Author Jayne Ann Krentz: In those days, because we got so little respect, there were no rules. We really flew under the radar. If you weren’t writing to a certain set of conventions in other genres, you didn’t get published. I’ve never felt confined by the genre because I’ve never run into anything I couldn’t do in the genre, and that has been true since the first of my career.

Editor, agent and mentor Vivian Stephens: I joined Dell in 1978 as an associate editor. Dell had done romances before, but they did maybe one or two every couple months. It was considered the bottom of the barrel. My budget for books was between $1,500 and $3,000, and I had to buy so many — so I had to find writers. One day, [my boss] came to me and said I had to go to the SouthWest Writers conference, where writers came from all over the country to meet publishers. I got there, and when it was my turn, I introduced myself and said what I did: that I bought romance novels. I told these women what the stories should be — that they were about 60,000 words and called category romances because they followed a pattern. It was like a recipe.

. . . .

Throughout the late ‘70s and ‘80s, most romance novel covers featured a clinch: a couple in a passionate embrace, often barely clothed.

Freelance cover artist John Ennis, who illustrated more than 1,000 covers: In the very beginning of my career, they would send me a manuscript, and then eventually just a synopsis of the book. There was a studio in New York City that specialized in shooting reference photography for book cover illustrators, and I would call this guy and say, “I need an hour on Tuesday, here are the two models I need.” And then I would call the costumer and have them send appropriate period costumes over. I’d take pictures and then go home and create a painting using that reference.

Feron: Many of the early covers were aimed at the male gaze, and a lot of the authors hated them. They understood the point of them, but that’s not how they saw their characters.

Ennis: I worked for all the paperback publishers in New York, doing two covers a month. In the early years, men were in charge. The focus was on getting a beautiful woman: busty, big lips, big eyes, flowing hair. And then the guy would just kind of be part of the cover. But over the course of the ‘80s, women started getting promoted to become art directors, and then Fabio appeared on the scene. From that moment on, muscular men became the main focus of the covers, and the heroine became the supporting element.

Romance cover model Fabio Lanzoni: Sometimes I would do 16 [cover shoots] in a day. I had no idea what they were doing with these pictures — I never saw the books around. A year later, I’m in Miami, going to a club with some friends. These girls see me and freak out: “Oh my god, you look like the guy in our books.” And I’m like, wow, that’s original. It’s a really good pick-up line! And one of the girls said, “Listen, I live very close to here.” She runs home, and half an hour later, she shows up with her books, and that was the first time — I was like, “Yeah, that’s me.” It was a lot of fun. It was an easy job. You worked with beautiful girls, and you got paid. And then the beautiful dream came to an end because all of a sudden, they discovered if they put me by myself on the cover of a book, it was selling 60 or 70 percent more. I’m showing up for a shoot, and I’m waiting for the pretty girl to come out, and it’s like, no pretty girl! And the reason was, the woman reading the book, she wanted to be the one. She didn’t want to see another pretty woman; she was imagining herself with the hero of the book.

Ennis: There was one time when the two models had actually been on a bad date. The woman was doing everything she could to make this guy know that she couldn’t stand him. I had to pull her aside, and I said, “Look, I don’t care what transpired between the two of you, but in this one hour, for the $150 or whatever it is I was paying, you have to perform, and you have to look like you’re in love.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Mindy for the tip.

A New Trend I’ve Observed in Covers

From Mad Genius Club:

I want to talk about a new trend I’ve observed in covers, and how it applies to much of the greater world out there. I.e. how the new trend in covers is just a new way that traditional publishing has come up with to screw itself and the entire field of writing over.

They will have these brilliant ideas, and indies need to be aware of them. More importantly, they need to be aware these things are going on in other fields too, and having much the same effect.

So–

If you have been alive a long time, or even if you “just” read books for a long time, you’re probably aware that there are trends in covers, as there are in everything else. In covers, though, particularly in the era of mega-chain bookstores, that “look” not only tended/tends to be more uniform, but it changes completely.

. . . .

In Portugal, for a while, the trend for mystery books was picture of random body part. No, not dismembered, just, you know, so blown up as to be meaningless. Like it might be a picture of some chick’s foot arch blown up till you looked at it wand went “Leg? finger?” against a bold color background and surrounded in a silver frame.

Ages have trends. I’ve disapproved without being particularly affected or interested when Baen decided to try out the new trend on some of their books, the trend at the time being something picked up from literary, which was “part of the image blown up to take up the whole cover of the book. Usually a portion or a woman’s face or eyes.” Tres …. literary and refined looking.

I actually liked the old style Baen book covers, some of which were magnificent (I rather like the original cover for DST) and some of which were appalling, but all of which harked back to the pulp years and carried an implication of “fun”.

. . . .

The newest trend is more …. interesting. I first noticed it with an indie writer, Henry Vogel. His covers look like aged paper covers, down to the creases. And the fact one of his series is called Sword and Planet Adventures, clearly evoking planet stories, it can’t be a coincidence. Note that it didn’t offend me, because I thought “Well, his books are pretty close to those covers in feel and style, so…”

I mean, I know when I went through cover-design-course I was told to make sure that my covers looked like they belong to now and not “they came from Guttenberg!” BUT for a certain type of book, perhaps marketing it as belonging to another era works best?

. . . .

I kept running into more of these covers from other houses. Covers that explicitly try to look like they’re at the latest in the 50s.

Look, as a marketing strategy it’s brilliant. And stupid as heck.

Why?

Well, because now people are getting used to looking at Amazon for books that they remember reading/used to read/etc. they will be drawn to covers that are what they remember when they fell in love with a genre.

The problem is this: for most of the mainstream publishing, the contents won’t match the cover.

And yes, I can see them totally preening and going “if we get the rubes to look at our much superior product, they’ll love it.”

Because, you know, in the industry, it’s never about publishing what people want to read. It’s about “educating” the public. Which has taken them from 100K plus printruns for midlist to 10k printruns for high list.

The problem is it’s not a business plan. It’s a virtue signaling plan. By people so provincial they all graduated from the same cluster of colleges and all live in the same cluster of cities. And don’t know anyone different, even though the majority of the public IS different.

It will pay off. Brilliantly. For a very brief time. People will buy the books thinking it’s just like the stuff they loved. And be revolted. And throw it against the wall.

Link to the rest at Mad Genius Club

Following are a few of the Henry Vogel covers mentioned in the OP:

Book Cover 101: Covering A Cross-Genre Novel

From Writers in the Storm:

Here on Writers In The Storm we’ve talked about putting the promise of your genre on the cover and how vital it is for selling your novel. As I’ve said before, a good cover is a contract with the reader that this story fits in the genre they’re looking for.

But what if you’ve written a cross-genre story? 

Here’s the short answer: it’s almost impossible to do both at once. You have to lean one way or another, or you’ll miss both sides.

Let’s say, for example, you’ve written a sci-fi/romance novel. Think carefully about the main story elements. Is the romance really front and center? Or is it more interstellar shenanigans with strong romantic elements?

My latest series, Raegan Reid, is a blend of urban fantasy and sci-fi. When I look at it objectively I see that it’s heavier on the urban fantasy elements. If I put a typical urban fantasy cover, a badass female protagonist standing in a sinister city landscape, and then tried to insert a futuristic element into the background, I would end up with a confused cover and no one would buy my book. It would leave both urban fantasy and science fiction readers scratching their heads, and their main thought would be: “I don’t know what that is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not for me.”

You do not want that reaction for your book.

Steps to a successful cross-genre cover.

1. Take a step back and analyze the major story elements in your novel.

  • What genre do they belong to?
  • Which reader is it going to appeal to more?

Typically, you’ll find you’ve got more elements of one genre than the other.  

For instance, I did not lean into the science elements hard enough in my story to market it to science fiction readers. If your cover incorrectly promises your genre, you’ll end up with angry readers, bad reviews, and a mental cross beside your name when it’s seen on future books.

As a side note, some genres are more accepting of experimentation, while other genres are more purist. If you’ve read within the genres you’re publishing in—as you should have—you’ll know which is which.

2. If your story is truly evenly balanced and you can tip either way, consider which genre has the biggest audience. You are seeking the largest pool of potential readers, because a bigger pool means more potential customers.

For instance, if your sci-romance is equal parts science fiction and romance, I’d lean romance. Biggest. Genre. Ever.

If you’re still not sure, take a look at the covers from your comp authors, and see which genre they’ve chosen to highlight. If they’ve been selling well…it’s a smart move to mimic their approach.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm