Graphic Designer and UF Author, Cory Dale: 5 Tell-Tale Signs of an Amateur Book Cover

My next guest blogger is Cory Dale (Karen Duvall’s alter ego; Karen’s been a guest here before). Her December ’14 release, DEMON FARE, is an urban fantasy set in an alternate NYC featuring demon exorcist Wanda Snow. She’s here with a behind-the-scenes look at how book covers are made and a chance to win two print copies (US only) or 3 e-book copies of her latest release. Welcome Cory/Karen!

Demon Fare Cover

“What readers are looking for is an indication of what kind of book they’ll be getting”

Though I wish I could write books full time, alas, like most writers, I have another job as well. I’ve been a professional graphic designer for over thirty years and that’s what I do when I’m not writing. Part of my job is designing book covers for self-published authors.

People really do judge books by their covers. A huge part of the decision making process for buying a book is based on what the cover looks like. It expresses the genre, tone, atmosphere and whether or not the book is part of a series. To readers, the degree of professionalism on the outside is a direct reflection of what they’ll find on the inside.

Think of the book cover as the outside of a package. When you go to the store to buy a product, you’re looking at the packaging to help you decide which one to choose. The visual aspects of that package will invite you to pick it up off the shelf and take a closer look. When you have it your hands, you’ll read the information on the package to see if it’s what you want. A book is exactly the same. The product behind the cover is your story. The cover is a selling tool; it’s the face of a novel and a reader’s first impression of that book.

“The most emotional part of the publishing process is the book cover.” — Senior VP and Creative Director Marysarah Quinn of Crown Publishing

“Our job is to intrigue the consumer and set the tone, set the stage, create an atmosphere.” — Robin Schiff, Executive Art Director for Random Publishing Group

The creative people at Random House read the manuscripts before doing any conceptual work on the cover. The art directors believe this step is crucial to their jobs. All the cues for the cover are taken from the text. On a cover design, they don’t call out a story character in full and prefer to leave it up to the reader’s imagination. They feel it’s important that if you’re going to show a character, only use part of one. That’s why you see so many headless bodies and miscellaneous body parts on books, either that or they’re viewed from the back. Many freelance cover designers don’t go to the extent of reading an entire manuscript, but they will require at least a synopsis of the book to get a sense of the story.

Genre tropes immediately tell readers what kind of book they’re buying. The image and tone should tie in with the book. A hard boiled detective novel showing a bouquet of flowers would confuse potential readers, but it would make more sense if those flowers had blood on them, or a knife was used as a stem, or the muzzle of a gun became a vase. Romance novels are expected to show a couple on the cover unless it’s written by a brand-name romance author. In that case, readers already know what they’re getting, but debut authors may suffer if their genre isn’t easily recognizable.

Mystery, suspense, horror and thriller novels are expected to have dark and edgy covers, often with weapons, crime scenes, inanimate objects. A mainstream novel may appear soft, quiet, editorial or quirky. Science Fiction covers often portray high-tech images or spaceships, and fantasy story art will usually look surreal.

Simplicity works. A successful book cover uses the right image with the right photo enhancements, right color choices and effective typography to attract readers. What readers are looking for is an indication of what kind of book they’ll be getting, what genre it is, and expect a sense of the story’s tone. If the cover art is too literal and conveys too many story details, it will ultimately fail.

Simple, strong, and a high concept will yield an engaging design to attract readers. Drama and emotion are key to a dynamic cover design. Color is always an important consideration and the title and author name should pop from the background. Warm colors against cool colors, or cool against warm, are good contrasts to make type elements stand out.

A few tell-tale signs of amateur book covers include:

  • bad font choices
  • confused and cluttered graphics
  • colors that don’t work
  • meaningless or overused stock photography
  • too much copy

Thank you, Cory/Karen, for guest blogging today!

More About Demon Fare

In an alternate history New York City—one hundred and fifty years after an earthquake from hell nearly destroyed the planet—the twenty-first century clings to an industrial age. Steam engines rule, and demon-powered technology is the up and coming thing. Henry Paine, a half-demon taxi driver, is the go-to guy for just the right demon to possess your machine and automate any mechanical gizmo with or without an engine. The creatures are tame as pets. Or at least they have been… until now.

Wanda Snow is an exorcist who grudgingly admits to having a few drops of demon blood herself. She’s come to New York to rid the city of demonic vermin as well as any other demons that get in her way. Wanda and Henry are naturally at odds, but the two are forced to become partners in a mutual goal to round up the rogue demons biting the Big Apple and take down the sinister tyrant who started it all.

Available at Amazon

More About Cory

Karen Duvall, who wrote Demon Fare as Cory Dale, lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Karen is represented by Elizabeth Winick Rubenstein of the McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency. Her Knight’s Curse series was published by Harlequin Luna in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, appeared in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in 2013.

Karen is also a professional graphic designer who designs book covers and book interiors for self-published authors, and creates original 3D graphics for computer gaming. Demon Fare is the first book in her Spawnstertown Chronicles.

The Giveaway

Cory is giving away 2 print copies (US only) and 3 e-book copies of DEMON FARE. To enter to win, click here for the Rafflecopter form. For my official giveaway rules, click here.

Demon Fare Banner

Published by

Jill Archer

Jill Archer is the author of the Noon Onyx series, genre-bending fantasy novels including DARK LIGHT OF DAY, FIERY EDGE OF STEEL, WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE, and POCKET FULL OF TINDER.

18 thoughts on “Graphic Designer and UF Author, Cory Dale: 5 Tell-Tale Signs of an Amateur Book Cover

  1. I like the cover 🙂 Your story line is unique, and very intriguing. Hope I win. Thanks for the opportunity, and thank you Jill for bringing me all kinds of new authors!

    1. I think we all do. 🙂

      I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book solely based on the cover, but I have passed by (not even glancing at the blurb) of countless books with unappealing covers.

      Thanks for the comment, Mary!

    2. Covers evoke an emotional response from potential readers in a similar way to how a story does. Good covers make a connection between the reader and the story inside the book.

  2. Great advice! It’s good to know that simplicity works, as that’s been my strategy in crafting my e-book covers. I’m not a graphic designer, so keeping the design simple has been easier for me, rather than try to throw way too much stuff on the cover.

    1. Simplicity is a huge key and the most difficult to pull off and still have visual impact. One of the problems I encounter most often with my cover clients is authors who insist that I recreate a scene from their story. They see it so perfectly in their minds and think readers must see it, too, but nothing could be further from the truth. The scene is usually something only the author understands because they’re so close to their own story, but only confuses the reader. Less is more.

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