The Importance of Artwork when Marketing a Book

Written by Jonathan Green

Having helped over 5,000 people launch their first online business from a small tropical island in the South Pacific, Jonathan Green’s mission is to help the next generation of entrepreneurs to escape the 9-5 and Serve No Master.

Published September 2, 2022

The Importance of Artwork when Marketing a Book

The old saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover exists for a reason.  Everyone judges books by their covers. I’ve written over three hundred bestsellers and seen how important the book cover is when a customer is making the buying decision.

As an author, I know I should say that the words I spend weeks, months, or even years crafting are the most important part, but they aren’t.  Readers buy my books before they’ve read anything on the inside. They don’t find out if the book is any good until after they’ve read it.

Whether perusing a bookstore or shopping online, customers stop on book covers that match what they are looking for. Boring book covers…get ignored.

Know Your Genre

It doesn’t matter how amazing your book cover is, if the genre doesn’t match the design you will lose customers. If you put a horror cover on a romance novel, romance readers will walk right past your book.  Even worse, horror readers will pick up the book, realize it’s not what they were looking for, and put it back in the wrong spot on the shelves.

Your cover needs to match the expectations of your audience or they will assume it’s in the wrong place.  The original cover for Donnie Darko was really scary, so I always assumed that it was a horror movie.  For years, I walked right past a movie that I really enjoyed because the cover was the wrong genre.

One Word

Your cover image is where the magic happens.  Your image can only translate into a single, one-word concept.  Anything more complicated and potential readers will be confused.  Nothing kills sales worse than confusion and it is better to have a boring cover than a confusing one.

Complicated images become riddles that not every person can solve. Only if your genre has created expectations can you get away with a complicated cover.  If you see a cat, a witch’s hat, and a cake with a knife sticking out of it, you know it’s going to be a cozy murder mystery.  That’s the accepted language for that genre. If you see a muscle man, covered in tattoos with his face hidden, that book is going to be a steamy romance.

The biggest mistake new authors and cover designers make is trying to tell the entire story of the book on the cover.  That’s putting way too much on the cover’s shoulders.

The Purpose of the Cover

The cover only has one job, to get a potential reader to pick up the book.  The cover isn’t going to sell the book. That’s more than a cover can do.

So what kinds of covers get picked up?

Intrigue is the most powerful action trigger.  When someone looking at your book says to themselves, “well that looks interesting, I wonder what that book is about?” you have succeeded.  Less is more.  

Let the reader know it’s a political thriller by showing your main character running in front of a monument in DC, but build intrigue by turning the characters into silhouettes.  I can tell something exciting is happening, but I have to read the book to find out the details.

The second trick is to use bright colors that catch the eye.  There are certain colors that pop from the page and will catch the eye. There are shades of red and purple that are known to massively boost the success of Facebook ads.  Those are the kinds of colors you want to start from.

Choose one dominant color to separate your book cover from other books in the same genre.  The goal is to be similar enough that people know the genre, but different enough to stand out and get picked up.

High Quality Pictures

This is where a lot of authors drop the ball.  A low-quality photo can kill book sales before they even get started.  There are certain mistakes that immediately cause consumers to think the author is an amateur and that’s the worst thought they can have.

When a cover has multiple images, too many bright colors or parts of it are unreadable, you’re in trouble.

Physical copies of your book are going to be printed and that means they need to be high resolution.  There is nothing worse than a cover that looks great on the computer screen and looks terrible when it comes in the mail.  This can lead to returns and bad reviews.

Working with a great photographer can make your book stand out from the crowd and they can help to turn your vision into a reality.  When you tell your photographer that you want an image that represents love, satisfaction or freedom, they are going to use their skills to create the image you are looking for.  This is your chance to leverage their expertise to create something that flies off the shelves.

Test Your Cover

Most book covers are not seen in ideal conditions.  Readers are shopping on their kindles, so they see the cover small and in black and white.  They are shopping on their phones, so your beautiful cover is tiny.

I’ve had some magnificent covers that became muddled and confusing when I shrank them down, so I had to change everything.

Some colors really pop in color but disappear in monochrome. Most pastels become the same color and your title because invisible.  Let your photographer know that the cover will be seen in black and white by half your potential readers and they can factor that into the design.

The original image for the Serve No Master cover was in pastels.  Rather than give up on the image, I worked with a designer to convert the colors so they pop.  A little recoloring turned an unusable cover into a bestseller.

You want a wide range of lights and darks so that your cover can really pop. If the imagery is dark, then the text should be light so that it stands out.

Let the Market Decide

Sometimes your brilliant idea just doesn’t work.  I wrote a book about helping your baby sleep through the night under a pen name.  The book struggled to sell and I couldn’t figure out why.  Only after showing the listing to a few authors did I discover that people hated the cover image.

What I thought looked like an adorable baby taking a nap on a table, looked like a baby sleeping on a plate.  They thought the imagery was anything but cute!  Changing the cover to a new image of a baby in a bed turned sales around.

Don’t get emotionally attached to your cover. Never work with a friend or family member. I’ve read a few books that were masterpieces.  And nobody will ever know because they have terrible covers.  Whenever an author tells me the book cover was designed by someone they know personally, I know the book will die.  

They will never change the cover because they don’t want to hurt feelings.  And the book sales dry up.

Treat the cover as a tool to sell more copies of your book. Approach it from a marketing perspective.  Be willing to change ideas if the first one doesn’t work.  

Final Thoughts

Many authors treat the book cover as an afterthought.  It’s the opposite.  Start working on the title for your book and getting cover mockups while you’re writing the book.  The cover is a creative process and that means it can take time.

Rushing a cover only leads to frustration.  

Treat your cover like a piece of art and work with professionals to release something truly amazing.

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