A Picture Tells a Story

I was having a discussion recently about the importance of a good cover for a book. With my background in sales, it was something that made sense to me. When first I started in pharmaceutical sales, the Marketing Department would have designed a multiple-page detail aid, a sales process we were to follow, page by page, with the customer. A mix of words and graphics to highlight the key points of our product. Of course, the reality was that a customer would have perhaps a minute and a half to spare me. The reality was that we would use the ‘leavepiece’ rather than the detail aid, a single A5 or gatefold piece of literature, with key product bullet points.

Covers are effectively the leavepiece rather than the detail aid that is the online book listing or the ‘Look Inside’ feature.

But … where do you draw the line between stereotype and communicating your ‘message’? My own genre is paranormal romance. It is a crowded marketplace, so how can I ensure that my ‘product’ has a ‘unique selling point’, that makes it stand out.

Fabulae-Ebook V1The thing that seems to characterise a paranormal romance cover, at least at the moment, is a naked male torso. No head, and maybe just a hint of low-slung jeans. Abdominals, definitely. Perhaps an image of the paranormal creature involved in the story.  A picture of the moon wouldn’t go amiss, considering paranormals were affected by the moon. The image to the right is an early book cover which I used as a promotional item. All the requirements for a paranormal romance seemed to be there. But there was a technical hitch. I tried to run a Facebook advertisement with it. The advert was rejected, on the grounds that the image promoted a ‘negative body image’. Apparently, the abdominals made my model look emaciated. Yes, emaciated. One of my readers commented that she wished her husband looked that emaciated.

Bound Ebook Front V1

When I launched my first book, I chose a pre-made cover from http://www.selfpubbookcovers.com, because they offered options which were not too expensive, and I could customise the book title and author name, using a fairly wide variety of fonts. Their licensing scheme also covered the use of the image for a reasonable number of copies, certainly more than I might hope to sell, so it worked for me.

But then, my friends and I realised that we were writing a series, and that required a different approach. That required a brand identity. In the same way that products in a supermarket have a livery, so to speak, a series of books need to have a ‘look’.

So, here we have “Exhibit Three”. This is a collage of covers from one of my favourite authors, Sherrilyn Kenyon. The top row was from an earlier stage in the author’s career. The second row is from a more recent series of the books. The bottom row is from the author’s series of YA books, hence them having a different look from the earlier books. The key point is that each set has a clear ‘look’ to them.


Yet, there are no naked abdominals. Are they not essential? The difference here is that arguably, by the time the second row of titles came out, Ms Kenyon was a well-established author. The main information that needed to be communicated to her ‘customers’ was her name and a clear visual so a reader might know it was a new book. The title of the book was almost immaterial.

So, ask yourself what are you trying to achieve with your cover? Do you want your name to be known? Do you want it clear under what genre the book falls?

There is another aspect to be considered. Example #4 is a different genre from my own:

18697968_10155389171472269_8377672874213698306_nThese books both come under the heading of military history, but they were bought from two very different sources. The book on the left was found in a bookstore in the Military History section. The book on the right was purchased from a supermarket in the Non-Fiction section.  Two very different marketplaces, so different rules apply. Arguably, the supermarket purchase needs to stand out, so you have a light-background and an easily identifiable image to match the title. The bookstore purchase doesn’t need to stand out, since a potential buyer knows what the subject matter will be as the book is in a specialist area. The ‘no nonsense’ look works, because it is a serious subject.

Another factor to take into account: Where will your book be sold?

A final note on covers, and for this I will use my own covers. I mentioned that my stories were clearly forming a series. As it happened, it was two series, so I needed clear identities to link them both together.


Row 1 is the original series. The images are tied together by the series title, the wolf image and the similarity of the couple in the heart shape. Row 2 is the follow-on series. It is linked to the original by the strapline at the top, but then it has its own identity. As a ‘shifter’ series, the image combines a picture of the lead male character, as a romance, and the animal into which he is able to shift. Although I have different co-authors, the use of the same style in the author name also serves to tie the books into a series.

I don’t sell my books through supermarkets or bookstores, but at the same time, I want a good quality image for a simple reason. As I said, my genre is very crowded. A reader is likely to search on a string of keywords, such as ‘shifter romance’. As you know, Amazon will bring up thumbnail images. A good quality cover image will stand out, and increase your chances of catching a new reader’s attention.

A final point is how much are you prepared to spend on the cover? I have paid between $69 and £200 for my covers. The higher end of the scale is because they were drawn for me. The lower end is for pre-made covers. The point is that a good quality cover can be purchased for a relatively low amount, but it is a worthwhile investment. It might delay launching your book if you have to think about finances, but it is worth it.

So, in summary, the four questions you need to consider:

  1. Is it important for your genre to be clear because it is part of your identity?
  2. It is more important for your name to stand out?
  3. Where will you be selling your book?
  4. Is the cover optimised for search engines?

And don’t forget, gut instinct. Does it feel right for your book? I learnt a lot as I searched for covers for my books. I know I made mistakes, but hopefully, others can learn from them.


“Bound”, Volume 1 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B016TQFBNY
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B016TQFBNY
Smashwords.com £0.00 (Free): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/589130

“Alpha”, Volume 2 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01ENZ972O
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01ENZ972O
Smashwords $0.99: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/631708

“Beta”, Volume 3 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.co.uk: £0.99 or free on KU https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01KB20OL6
Amazon.com: $0.99 or free on KU https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01KB20OL6#nav-subnav
Smashwords: $3.99 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/660156

“Merysekhmet”: A love story with bite
mazon.com: $2.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XJPK5S7
Amazon UK: £2.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XJPK5S7

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