Choosing a Book Cover by Lissa Bryan

They always say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but frankly, it’s what readers do, and the judgment is made in a split-second. Likely, their first encounter with your book will be to see its cover shrunk to a thumbnail size, on a page with dozens of others. Your cover has to catch the reader’s eye as they scroll by, making them curious enough to click on the link.

I’m fortunate enough to be with a publisher who values their authors’ input on cover design, so I’ve been involved in the process every step of the way, from picking the concept to approving font choices. It’s always an interesting challenge because there are so many aspects to consider.

Introduce Me to Your Book

Your cover should tell a reader something about your story. Genres tend to have certain styles of covers that tell the reader at a glance what type of story to expect. Look at covers in your genre, and then play around with the ideas a bit.

Simplicity is Best


Your reader is likely going to see your cover on their screen as an inch-tall rectangle. You want your central image to be clear, even when the image is tiny. One of the reasons why the covers for Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey have become iconic was their stark, uncluttered simplicity. They are instantly recognizable, even at a distance or as a tiny icon. Focus on one central theme or concept that speaks about your story.

My first cover was for a novel about a woman who moves to a haunted house on an isolated island. The beach plays a central role in the story. As soon as I saw the image of the girl standing at the edge of the waves, I knew it was perfect. It’s a bright, clear image that retains those attributes even when shrunk to a thumbnail size. As person scrolling by can make it out easily, but it’s only on closer examination that the ghostly reflection beside her is apparent. I’ve seen it in action when I was at the Texas Book Festival. People who saw the photo glanced at it and then gave it a second, closer look.

Original Image Taken By Amanda Spitz
Original Image Taken By Amanda Spitz

For my second novel, I chose a very stark, simple image. Since “post-apocalyptic romance” isn’t exactly a genre, I was sort of on my own with this one. I found the image when I was looking through a friend’s vacation photos, and it grabbed me instantly. “The light at the end of the tunnel” encapsulates the message of my book beautifully.

We created a mockup version so we could show the graphic artist what I had in mind. Adding in the figures holding hands introduces the romantic element. The graphic artist took it a step further, making the image gritty and Impressionistic because it’s not the typical romance novel.

The resultant cover, I think, distills the story down to one visual statement that is simple and uncluttered.


Invest in Putting Your Best Foot Forward

You will lose more money having a cheesy or poorly-executed cover than you will “save” by not investing in a good graphic artist. Like editing, this is not an area to try to cut corners. This is your first introduction to readers and you want to make sure it’s a good one.


Lissa BryanLissa Bryan is an astronaut, renowned Kabuki actress, Olympic pole vault gold medalist, Iron Chef champion, and scientist who recently discovered the cure for athlete’s foot … though only in her head. Real life isn’t so interesting, which is why she spends most of her time writing.

Her first novel, Ghostwriter, is available through The Writer’s Coffee Shop (which is the least expensive option), Amazon, iTunes, and Kobo. Her second novel, The End of All Things, is available through TWCS, Amazon, and iTunes. She also has a short story in the Romantic Interludes anthology, available from TWCS, Amazon and iTunes. Her third novel, Under These Restless Skies, is scheduled for release in spring of 2014.

This blog post is Copyright Lissa Bryan 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without the author’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-use if it is for a commercial venture.