The Right Book Cover: Converting Browsers to Buyers

As the time arrives to cross the T’s and dot the I’s on your book manuscript, a flurry of tasks are likely to come your way. Final proofreading? Check. Book layout? Yes, if you’re self-publishing. Publicity? Absolutely. But don’t forget about cover design. It’s one of the most important aspects of your book if you want it to leave the bookstore shelves or get dropped into the Amazon shopping cart.

Think about it. Do you show up at a formal business meeting in a pair of raggedy jeans or at a client site wearing mis-matched colors and patterns? You know better. Outfit your book with equal professionalism and care, and it will create a powerful first impression for those who come across it, signaling whether your offering is compelling, contemporary, and high quality or something to simply be ignored.

Work With a Professional

The number one way to guarantee a good book cover is to work with a professional. (This may sound obvious but it has to be said!)  For self-publishing authors, this means seeking out someone who is not just a graphic designer, but someone who specializes in book design. And, if at all possible, avoid the temptation to purchase cover design as part of an online self-publishing package with a company that only lets you communicate via email. You want and need to be able to speak to your designer directly and to collaborate back and forth as necessary.

If you plan to work with a traditional publisher, check the website of your target publishers to review their past portfolio. Do their book covers look enticing and professional? Would you be proud to have your own book cover designed by the same team? If not, think twice about signing the publishing deal or gain assurances that you can bring in your own designer if needed.

Get Your Brainstorm On

It helps everyone involved when you are able to clearly communicate any ideas you have for the book cover before your designer generates comps for your review. A great way to spark your imagination is to do some brain mapping. Write down words that relate to your book’s key concept—say, resilient leadership or healthy eating—and then draw branches from there, with any and every word or idea that comes to mind (e.g., trampoline, horn-rimmed glasses, olive oil, green smoothie).

If you find yourself homing in on a certain image, play around on a Google-images search and see what comes up to further fuel your imagination. A walk through the bookstore can also help you key in on preferred color schemes and favored fonts.

Most importantly, be ready to explain to your designer what your book is about, who it’s for, the voice you use, and the attitude conveyed as these are the things that will dictate whether the cover is bold or subdued, humorous or sophisticated, intellectual or whimsical, and so forth.

Trust the Process

Once you’ve spent time reflecting on your vision for the book cover, share your ideas with your designer…and then dump them. He may run with something you’ve offered; or she may go in a completely different direction. You never know what ideas your own thinking may stimulate in the designer and how they will emerge once blended with the designer’s own creativity and publishing expertise.

Lastly, remember that the cover-design process may take some time. In any design package you purchase, make sure that multiple rounds of design are included to ensure a cover you like, and be patient as you and the designer go back and forth to get the final imagery right. The end result? A just-right, maybe even perfect, book cover: one that works in sync with your title and book concept to convert book browsers into book buyers. And what author doesn’t want that?

by Suzanne Murray, CEO, StyleMatters Content Services

Suzanne Murray and her team at StyleMatters ( have helped hundreds of authors bring their books into print, from creating book proposals to win the hand of publishers such as Penguin, Berrett-Koehler, and Sierra Club Books to writing, editing, laying out, and cover-designing top-notch self-published books.