Book covers are make or break, now more than ever. If there is one industry that relies on looks outside of the cosmetics industry, it's the publishing industry. We judge a books by their covers every day. The fact that most books are bought online, compounded by our incredibly short attention spans means that our snap decisions are getting, well, even snappier. As we scan through charts on our smartphones or tablets, we are mentally discounting books as we scroll and swipe. It's so easy for your book to be overlooked, but you need to make sure that doesn't happen by having a really strong effective cover design.
This is particularly true for debut authors. Big name authors develop large followings of ready-and-waiting readers (who would probably happily pre-order the book without knowing what it looks like). For example, J.K. Rowling could probably put anything at all on the cover of her next book and still sell really well. And as for The Holy Bible, well three words imprinted across the top cover is all that's needed to sell millions of copies. For most books, however, design is just as important, if not more, than content. As an author, your first challenge is to get a potential reader to click the thumbnail of your book cover on a retailer website so that they go through to a page where they can read your blurb/product description. Note the order of these challenges.
So, is it any wonder that so many authors (whether self-published/traditionally published) panic and decide to copy what is already out there? Looking at other books in your genre for design ideas is one thing, copying it directly is another. Some authors, who either use templates, free tools or bad designers are unaware that their book covers are book-alikes until readers point it out on Goodreads (check out their Same Cover Different Book list here - there are loads of these lists) or other sites. It's really embarrassing for the author to find out this way, not least because it gives a careless impression to the reader. If you didn't even bother to make your work look professional, what can I expect from your writing?
A few comments from Goodreads members include:
"I am soooo disappointed! I just saw that "Devoured" by Emily Snow and "Tempt me" by Olivia Cunning have exactly same covers. That just sucks.... :("
"Wow. this is insane, after pouring hard work into writing a book, they just copy someone else's cover."
"Hah! Must have been cheaper for the authors to use already made covers. Cheapskates! :D"
Book-alikes cloud your brand identity and make it harder to readers to differentiate you from the competition. The examples in the graphics on this page are all genuine, and took very little time for us to find. You would be AMAZED!
5 Ways to Avoid Being A Book-Alike
1. Do Your Homework
Most principles that apply to writing a book also apply to designing one. The more you put into it, the more your readers will appreciate it. Researching book covers is the best starting point. It is important to be aware of the genre and community when you are drafting a book cover design. Spend some serious time on Amazon - it's probably the biggest and best free tool available to you. Explore the book covers of the leading authors in your genre. Then find the chart you want to feature in and look at the book covers of your competition. Now you need to start analysing them. Are there recurring themes present in the book covers? Are the fonts typically curly or are they block face? Is the main character/person featured on the book? Or is it the setting what dominates the cover?
After you have thoroughly explored the community and genre it is important to reflect on your own work. What messages are you trying to communicate to this reader? Does your message align with the genre? Have you got an idea for the style of cover design from looking at book covers on Amazon? Can you think of how that sort of style could be adapted to the main message of your book.
While it's important that your book cover design fits in within in your genre, you don't want to run the risk of being indistinguishable. Think about what sets you apart. Don't try and find the same stock image that has been used on a cover that you like. All the images below are manipulations of the same image of a man in a hat by a fence...
2. Avoid Book Cover Templates
If you want to look professional, these are an absolute "no-no". Multiple websites have free or cheap templates/tools where you can create eBook and book covers, but your book will be competing for chart position with authors who have invested in proper cover design (and set the benchmark high). You don't want to look weaker than the competition. Although templates can often be inexpensive and simple, you will not have an original or unique cover. Although some templates are better than others, the chances are that if you find a great design for a low price, you aren't the only one. Templates result in book-alikes and you may not own the copyright to your book cover.
3. Think of Your Brand Beyond the Book
Your book cover design will form the cornerstone of your author brand on- and offline. Anywhere your are presenting yourself, you need a consistent professional image: your website, social media, bookmarks, business cards, email newsletters, postcards and more. Your design concept has to be something that can be adapted and moulded for these different purposes e.g. it needs to be something that can be re-sized and reworked according to the specifications of the medium. You need to be thinking about your author brand holistically. Don't use a font that looks really good printed out on your cover but doesn't work at all on a website.
Find out more about how we go about designing author brands here. With Amazon being the number one seller of books, it's vital that book covers work even at thumbnails size. A design that isn't compatible with a multitude of platforms will be rendered useless. Readers want consistency; no matter the platform they should always be able to identify your brand.
4. Invest in Creative Professionals
Is a piece of automated software as good as an experienced, qualified professional? Is a graphic designer the same as a book cover designer? Is there a difference between a pretty image and an image that generates sales?
I hope you know the answers to the above questions. Having a beautiful photo or image as a starting point is one thing, but knowing how to work that into a commercial book cover that will position your book exactly where you want it, instill buyer confidence and generate sales is another. This is where you need to bring in the experts. Trade publishing houses spend a lot of time and money (and run a lot of focus groups) to perfect the cover that will sell the most books. The wrong cover can result in a serious loss of cash. You might even have noticed that sometimes they re-issue the book with a new cover, if the old one didn't give them the sales they expected. This is something you should think about if you already have a book out there that isn't selling well. If you are serious about your book, you need to be serious about how it is presented to the world.
Having taken the step to work with a professional designer, you need to make sure you brief them correctly. If you give bad instructions, you will probably get a bad result. This is why it's worth working with someone who has designed book covers in your genre before. They are best placed to tell you if they think your concept will work/need to be adapted etc. and can also show you previous book covers they have designed for similar authors. Their expert guidance is invaluable. Find out more about our book cover design process here.
5. Get Feedback and Take Your Time to Do it Right
Once you have a draft design (or several draft designs) that you feel represent the book, the genre, and the brand messages you are trying to convey, you need to start asking for feedback. Any author can tell you the longer you work with something, the more you get accustomed to it. Get a fresh pair of eyes (friends/family/colleagues) to look at the design and ask them for honest feedback.
Ask questions like:
- What do you think this book is about based on the cover?
- Can you see the artwork or does the text overpower it?
- Is all the text easy to read?
- Where in a bookstore do you think this book belongs? What draws you to that conclusion?
- Does this design remind you of any others books that you have read?
- How much would you be prepared to pay for a book that looked like this?
- Who do you think this book is trying to appeal to?
Feedback is great way to gauge the impact your design has. While it is not possible to please everyone, feedback can give great insight as to how your book cover is perceived. The more people you ask, the better.
It's vital to allow enough time for valuable feedback. Give others and yourself an opportunity to step away from the design and meditate on it. Don't rush people who have offered to do you a favour. Collect all the feedback together and write a list of proposed tweaks to discuss with your designer. Then give yourself a break from the design. Lock it in a draw for a week or so and come back to it afresh. Then look at your list of changes again - do they still hold up or have you changed your mind about any of them? Now contact your designer and ask him or her to mock up the revisions.
Book-alikes won't stand a chance against one-of-a-kind original book covers. Take the time to make sure that outside of your book/eBook is just as good as the inside. If you would like to have a chat with our experts at I_AM Self-Publishing about which design concepts would best suit your book and have a strong commercial appeal with your target readers, please book a consultation.