Covering Your Trail

By Mandy Broughton

Cover art is a reader’s first experience with a book. Will it entice her to pick it up and give it a glance? Or will it cause her to chunk it across the room? [Full disclosure: I have ripped the cover off of two different books and shredded them because they were so bad. But the books were good.]

I love to design covers. Selecting art, placing and manipulating it, and finally the reveal. I love the satisfaction of a job well done. What could be better? [A bestseller? The love and envy of other writers? The adulation of adoring admirers? An excellent alliteration? But I digress—]

Writing is fun—ultimately a job—but still fun. But designing cover art—that’s where I get to let myself go wild. I can’t draw but I do think I have an eye for balance. And that discerning eye made me want to write a post on designing covers.

Here are a few ideas on what to look for in a cover. Tell me if you agree, disagree, or if I’ve left something out.

Organized vs Disorganized

Is the cover planned, organized chaos, or just Chaos with a capital C? A jumbled cover is fine—it can work—but there must be a method to the splattering we are looking at. Randomness is only our friend when selecting subjects for experiments, not in our covers. Think of a bomb: a placed charge can move rock so the road can be built. But throwing TNT willy-nilly on the hillside will rarely result in a benefit to the driving community.

Complexity vs Crowded

I like minimalist covers. That’s a personal preference. Simple lines, smoothness, those are soothing and invite me in. An overcrowded cover gives me a headache. It reminds me of my house and how I need to clean. I want to enjoy a book, not be reminded of housework.

Flow vs Splat

Where do my eyes want to go? To the authors name? The title? Am I looking at the woman swimming for her life and ultimately to the shark underneath her? The shark just wants a small snack before breakfast. He’s so misunderstood. [Jaws a great cover even forty years later.]

Symmetry vs Hot Mess

Balance. Even if it is a full and busy cover, there must be balance. Think of Star Wars: “In the time of greatest despair [often when I design], a child shall be born [hmm—a cover?] who will destroy the Sith [all bad covers] and bring balance to the Force [an excellent cover].

Appeal vs Avant-Garde

Avant-Garde is trendy. It can work on a cover but always remember the readers. When appealing to a large group, try to get what most people prefer. Think of ice cream flavors: more people like vanilla over Marbled Cream Cheese Brownie, Southern Peach Cobbler, or Birthday Cake. Vanilla ice cream may not be the first choice but, for many people, it is in the top three. There’s a reason the latter flavors are flavors of the month while vanilla is always available.

So tell me dear readers… what do you look for in a cover? What are some of your favorites?

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About mandybroughton

I write mysteries and sci-fi for kids and adults. Give me a character and I'll find the best way to put her in a mystery. Or kill her off. Depends on my mood.

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