Designing a Book Cover

December 22, 2011 / graphic design / 1 Comment /

A lot of pressure rides on a book cover. It has to interest you, it must speak to you, it must reflect its insides, all in the hopes of getting you to pick it up, or, if you’re an online book shopper, get you to click the “read more” button. There are millions of book covers out there, how is anyone supposed to make one cover stand out from the others? How does one convey the themes of the story through the front cover of a book?

If you’re self-publishing and don’t have a design background, it would be a great investment and headache-saver to hire a professional. If you are a designer, it’s probably best to have another designer take a whack at it if you can afford to hire one. But if you’re like me, you’ll take this cover thing very seriously (as you should) and you’ll try to overcome all obstacles and do it yourself. What makes this task especially difficult is you, the author and now designer, cannot possibly remove yourself from the project. You are emotionally invested in the work, and looking at a cover objectively for something you feel so deeply about is going to be a problem. I didn’t take the advice I just dispensed to you–I did it myself.

Here’s what I decided. Rather than focus on the entire story (the novel is over 179,000 words), I talked to my initial readers, those select few I trusted more than anyone, and asked for them to describe the novel in a few words. I knew that each person would come up with a different selection, but hoped that there would be some consistencies.

The results, as I expected, were somewhat varied, but there were trends. Here are some of the words my readers used to describe Jaden Baker: intense, suspenseful, fast-moving, clever, witty, dark, intriguing, different, hopeful, romantic. Some of those words are opposites of each other: dark and hopeful being an example. Lots of books out there are romantic, many are suspenseful. Few books are classified as “different” and even fewer as “intriguing.” But the word everyone used, and still do, is “intense.”

Different, intriguing, intense. Those were my words. Great, next step?

Who is the novel’s target audience? A book cover is like any other design project. A novel is a product and must appeal to a certain type of person. Now that I had the right words to describe the story, I could better narrow down who the story was for. The content of the novel is solidly in the PG-13 to R rated category for intense violence and foul language, ruling out younger audiences. Since the main character is male, and the story doesn’t involve romantic sexual situations, but instead focuses on the protagonist and antagonist duking it out with mental warfare, the readership can crossover into both genders. Categorized as intense and suspenseful, and part of the psychological thriller genre, readers of Jaden Baker would also be fans of Dean Koontz and Stephen King, and would likely enjoy other types of thrillers, legal, political, and action.

The next step was research. Covers try to appeal to their readership, and now that I knew who would read my book, I could look at the covers of books they’d already read. Books in the action and thriller genre had large, bold type work, and simple to minimalistic icons or graphics on the front. Political thrillers and military book covers were shiny, and often had raised, embossed, and sometimes more illustrative colors and graphics. Since my novel was neither political nor militaristic, I shunned those covers.

Through browsing online and milling about bookstores, I noticed something: the majority of book covers were splashed with color. Lots of color. Yellow, red, black, blue, green. Colors, colors everywhere, not a white book to be found. Hmmm…
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Conventional wisdom had dictated to book cover designers the need to use a lot of color. To be fair, since the advent of online book shopping, colored covers display much better than a white cover. But that didn’t matter to me. After seeing so much color everywhere, I decided to ditch it and go with black and white.

A black and white color scheme would also fit with the content of my book as well as the word choice my readers had picked out: different, intriguing, intense. Diagonal lines do a nice job of illustrating movement, action, and are often used by movie directors (like Alfred Hitchcock) to illicit suspense and nervousness in the audience. Below are some of the cover drafts I came up with.

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None tickled my fancy.

The Archcroft logo, cited in the novel and tattooed onto Jaden himself, had the diagonal lines and the black and white I wanted. But the logo alone meant nothing unless you’d read the book. So I killed that idea.

Since I wanted to use just black and white, I thought about the barcode, which is an identifying symbol, and identity is also a theme of the novel, specifically how to keep control of it. The barcode is also part of Jaden’s tattoo, but its vertical lines convey something else: prison and confinement. I was onto something now. After deciding to go with the barcode, I then played with its placement on the cover, and the title within it.
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I went with Orator STD for the font of “JADEN BAKER” and my name way below it. Orator STD isn’t an overly used font, unlike Trajan Pro or Helvetica, and it has a science fiction quality to it. The font isn’t boastful but understated, just different enough from every day fonts, as if its trying to go unnoticed and pass of as something else–like Jaden. The final cover design is below:

jaden baker cover design

Since the title of the book is the protagonist’s name, I didn’t want anyone to confuse it for mine. I placed “a novel” below the ER of the title for clarification. The type isn’t black but gray, with a slight tint of blue, alluding to the color of Jaden’s eyes.

Set in a stack, or pushed between a King or Koontz book (I never thought I’d like my name of Kirchoff until I realized what prime real estate that is!), Jaden Baker will stand out, not for its brighter color, but its lack thereof.

My final test for the cover was asking myself if it matched the words: different? Check. Intriguing? Check. Intense? Hmmm… I guess I’ll leave that up to you.

Jaden Baker (click to read the first four chapters) is available for purchase as a soft-backed book and an ebook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, select local bookstores, and many other online book retailers.


About the author

Courtney: Courtney Kirchoff is a published novelist and web designer. She lives and works in the greater Seattle area.


1 Comment

  1. Alex KimballNo Gravatar

    December 25, 2011
    / Reply

    Merry Christmas Courtney,
    Thank you for your sweet coments on the 3 Sheets Blog.
    It's nice to meet fellow Live Aboards and we realy have been enjoying 3 Sheets Blog. Now I started reading yours too. Your trip to Blake Island was great, your a fun and interesting writer... From there I began your intro to your new book, fun! I look forward to reading more.
    On wood stoves... On boats in the Northwest they dry and heat with wood always around, how ever I recomend not using wood with salt water soak but finding some wood worker and picking up their hard wood scraps. On one of my past boats "Twinkle" a 1946 Ben Seaborn wooden double ender I used a Dickerson wood stove? Stanless bit not as pretty as the red enamel.
    Enjoy and we look forward to seeing you out sailing. say hello or stop by.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2012!
    Alex and Christina Marie
    svgypsywindseattle@gmail.com


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