A suggestion on how to judge your book cover

I have a serious disadvantage as an author. Back in college, I was an art major and still do the occasional book design gig. Why is this a disadvantage? Because that part of my brain doesn’t get to play with the cover of my book but it thinks it knows what it is doing.

It’s wrong.

Look, every person who thinks they can design is going to have ideas of how to do something. The thing is, that though I’ve done book design, I’m too close to my novel to be able to do anything intelligent with it. When I needed a logo for my puppetry company, I hired someone else to design it for me.

The cover isn’t about how I see Shades of Milk and Honey, it’s about how we want other people to see it so that they’ll pick it up.

So, let me talk about the way I interact with a cover.  I have three possible brains that I can use here. The designer brain, the author brain, and the reader brain. Of those, the only one that’s appropriate for me to use when looking is the reader brain.

Why?  Because my designer brain is too darn close to the story to be able to back away and see the big picture and the market. I didn’t ever doodle any images or even try to imagine what the cover would look like so that my designer brain wouldn’t think it got a say. There are people who design books full time and are very good.

My author brain? That would have been caught up with trying to find people who looked like the main character, which doesn’t matter. The cover’s job is to get you to pick it up.  It also needs to give you a sense of what the story inside will be like so that you don’t feel lied to when you start reading, but first and foremost it needs to get you to pick the book up.

The only question I need to ask my reader brain is, “Would I pick this book up?”  The answer is, yes. Yes, I would.   It promises that if I buy it, I’ll be reading Jane Austen, with magic.

Now, if the answer had been “no, I wouldn’t pick this up” or “no, this feels like a completely different novel” then I could use the other two brains to phrase my communication with my editor but otherwise, they don’t really serve a useful function.

As it happens, both my designer brain and my author brain are also very happy with the cover. I think that Terry Rohrbach, the designer of the Shades of Milk and Honey cover, did a beautiful job here.

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2 Responses

  1. David

    Now “Shades of Milk and Honey” looks wonderful, and I almost skipped over “The Warded Man” because of its rather bland cover, but besides that I think the whole online discussion of covers is a debate for the genre lovers only, and may actually make us look kinda silly to an outside viewer. I love a good cover as much as the next guy but I’m also aware that they are tools and only a reader immersed in the genre can afford to care about hair color or a hooded man with swords.

  2. Jeff S.

    What I find interesting is your own self-appraisal that helps get parts
    of your brain out of the way of a good decision. Most people aren’t able
    to be that objective with their own creations. I’ve seen some pretty self-absorbed
    Power Point presentations, let me tell you…

    Oh, and I totally love the cover. It shows you where you’ll be traveling and the type
    of people you’ll meet. That’s the point really, isn’t it. I’ll be picking this book up
    as soon as I can.