Episode 32: Book Titles and Book Covers
In this episode, we talk about cover designs. We talk about things like how to make your book cover stand out and get noticed, how to get the book from the shelf into the shopping cart, and how the title plays a role. Everything you need to know about your book cover is discussed right here.
You can listen to the episode right here. The transcription is below the player. Feel free to add your comments using the comment section below.
Episode 32 Transcript
Note: Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and humans, as such, it may contain errors. Please, double-check the audio file before quoting anything from this page.
00:00 [JT Pledger] Welcome to the show, kids! This is episode 32 and this week I want to talk about the title and cover of your book. We will answer questions such as, “How important are they, really?” “How much time should you spend on them?” and “What makes a good title?” Stick around, and we will get to the bottom of it!
00:44 [JT] You will always hear things like “don’t judge a book by its cover,” or “it’s what’s inside that counts.” How does this translate to books and sales, though? The truth is, people do judge a book by its cover, and by the title. So, let’s take a closer look at these things to find out how you can get the best out of your cover design and title, all without spending more time than necessary to do so.
01:18 One thing I want to point out before we get too involved here, is that it really is what’s inside that matters. You can have the greatest title ever coined for a book and the best cover design ever seen. If your story is shit, though, it won’t matter.
A Look at Book Covers
01:38 Now, let’s examine covers first. A cover has a few distinct jobs and the first of which is to grab a reader’s attention. Picture, if you will, a random person walking through a book store. They have never heard of you as an author, and they know nothing of your book. Your cover should be designed in such a way that it makes them stop walking and take a second look.
02:13 The second job of your cover is to convey meaning. Not only should the book stop the reader in their tracks, it should make them want to pick it up off the shelf to learn more. Just by looking at the cover, they should be able to tell what genre the book is and what type of story they are holding.
02:39 Finally, the cover design should pique their interest and make them want to open the story to chapter one and start reading then and there. If your cover can do all three of these things, you will win over a lot of readers.
How to Make Book Covers Work For You
03:00 Okay, now that we know the job of the cover, how do we get the design to do its job? I’ll break it down point by point. First, we have to stop the reader in their tracks. How can we do this? The obvious point is to be eye-catching. Book covers aren’t animated, so they have to stick out somehow. I suggest colors and striking images.
03:32 Think about the other books in your genre. Take a trip to your local bookstore or browse your genre on Amazon. Look at the covers and notice what you see. For example, my primary genre is horror. Going to Barnes and Noble, I can head to the horror section and I see a lot of dark colors. Black covers, dark red covers, blue covers. They will also usually have white lettering for the titles and binding.
04:10 If you stand back and glance at the aisle, it is fairly dark. In this instance, it would be easy to stand out. A stark white cover, or a bright yellow, for instance, would appear like the North Star on a pitch-black night. Young Adult might be a bit more difficult. The aisle there looks like a glorious rainbow. So what now?
04:43 Well, in this instance, a black cover might suit you well. Human eyes are drawn to the dark by instinct. You can believe me, there are studies. If we see a black and white image, our eyes are first drawn to the darkest area before taking in the entire image. So imagine you turn the corner to the Young Adult section and everything is bright and cheery, except for your contrasted black cover. The eye is immediately drawn to your book.
Book Title and Cover Tips & Tricks
05:22 There are other small tricks with colors, too. Big shapes and sharp lines draw the eye. So a cover with a giant yellow splatter on a black background would grab some attention. Still, the best advice I can give you for stopping the reader in their tracks is to look at the covers of your genre and figure out what would make your book stand out instead of blending in.
05:56 Now that we have the reader stopped, we have to make them pick the book up. We do this by giving them enough information about the story inside the cover to make them want to know more.
06:11 The cover art should tell them what type of story it is and give a little insight into how the story will play out. Sticking with my horror genre as an example. The cover art might have an image of a man strapped to a chair with an axe embedded in his chest. In this case, we know right away that the story probably has some sort of abduction or hostage situation, and that it doesn’t look good for the hostage.
06:47 Depending on how shocking the image is, the reader will know to expect an explicit, bloody story, or one that might be okay for more sensitive readers. So if my book is more akin to a rated R movie, I might have a shit ton of blood pooled around the chair, or maybe a missing limb. Likewise, if the story is more PG-13 related, the image may cover the victims face with a towel, or not have any blood at all.
Little Details Sell Books
07:26 Pictorial evidence of little story insights might help your cause, too. So, using the example with the axed man in the chair, if he was taken hostage because he stole a watch, you might put the watch in his hand, or on the floor beside the chair. Or if it was a paid hit from his wife, you may make his wedding ring prominent and extra shiny.
07:58 Now the reader has stopped their strolling, they’ve noticed your book and examined the cover. Their interest is high and they pick up the book. Usually, they will flip it over to read the back cover blurb. I suggest you don’t neglect your design here. Not everything needs to be on the front cover.
08:24 Remember the wedding ring? We can make that the centerpiece of the back cover and mention the victim’s wife in the blurb. We could put the watch alongside the blurb with some blood dripping off of the wristband and in the blurb talk about a stolen watch.
08:44 All of these things together should make the reader open the book to chapter one for a closer look. And if your first five pages are written well enough, the book ends up in the shopping cart. Not too bad, eh?
What About Your Book Title?
09:01 Now I want to shift focus to the other cover feature; the title. The title is just as important (if not more so) than the cover design. There is a simple and elegant reason for this, you ready to know what that reason is? The reason is because when the books are put on the shelves in stores, rarely, if ever, are the books all facing outward. Instead, only the spine is showing.
09:38 Now, we have to do all of the things to the reader that the cover does (stop them, catch their eye, make them pick the book up, etc.) without many graphics and only colors and words. All while using a quarter of the space.
10:03 We know how the cover works to get the book from the shelf into the shopping cart, but what about the title? It has the same job. First, the title needs to be descriptive. You can accomplish a lot in just a few words if you sit down and try.
Don’t Waste Time
10:23 First, attempt to create a title that is easy to say, remember and spell. Word of mouth advertising is the best, but if the reader doesn’t know how to pronounce your title, or type it into an Amazon search box, you’re going to lose sales. Being cute with your title is fine, just don’t be obtuse about it.
10:48 The title needs to be memorable. More importantly, though, it needs to tell the prospective reader what your story is about. Just like the cover design, your title should tell the reader the genre of your story and give them a quick idea of what the story inside is all about.
Do and Do Not
11:10 If we assume you are writing a children’s book about a superhero dog, a title of “Puppy Power” might do the trick. You will want to avoid a title like “Dog Rescue: The Adventure of the Caped Poodle with Ultimate Super Powers.” It just doesn’t roll off the tongue. Besides that, it doesn’t fit well on the spine of the book, so your font will have to be tiny.
11:42 Marc Raabe (I hope I pronounced that right) has a book simply called “Cut.” The spine of the book is one of the best I have seen. It has his name sideways from the top of the spine down, using three dull colors, gray to red to black. In the middle is the title “Cut” large enough to read and across the spine instead of down it. The spine looks sliced with the tip of a knife poking out and a drip of blood.
12:22 Just from the spine we can tell the genre, what the story is about and what we are probably in store for when we start reading. The title is only three letters long. It just goes to show you that powerful messages can come from the smallest words and simplest images.
12:45 The general accepted title is between two and four words long. Some will be longer, and as noted with Cut, some will be shorter. You need to find the sweet spot for your story. Give enough meaning, information and intrigue with your words and let the design take care of the rest.
Devoted Time? No.
13:13 Now that we know what makes a good title and a good cover, how long should you spend on them? To be quite honest, not very long at all. I wouldn’t even worry about the cover design until that is all you have left to do to complete the book. The title is a different story.
13:36 On a personal note, my books just kind of title themselves as I go along. I will always come up with a generic title when I start. I don’t like putting “Untitled Project #47” on my paper (giggles). So I will give a tentative title so I have something to call it.
13:59 However, at some point during the first draft or two, the title will just come to me out of nowhere. Almost without fail, the title will change and after the book names itself, I am more than happy with it. My current work in progress did just that. When I started writing out the story I had called it “Taken Hostage” which is quite descriptive and fits all of our necessities of a title. After I wrote the first 20 chapters, though, the final title, “Tremble” came to me in a flash and that is where it will stay.
14:43 My point is, that you don’t need to spend your time worrying about your title or the cover design. More than likely the title will come to you as you go along. If it doesn’t, your beta readers and editors can help you find one that is fitting for the story.
15:05 If you traditionally publish, the publisher will send you cover designs to choose from, and you can ask for tweaks or submit your own ideas back until the final design is agreed upon.
That’s a Wrap For This Week
15:20 Yes, the title and cover are important. From a sales perspective, they are most crucial. I will warn you though, the more time you spend on them, the less time you will spend with your book. Write the story, the rest will fall into place as it is needed.
15:43 I will leave you to ponder how your title is holding up and to wonder if your cover design idea is able to get your book into a shopping cart. If it isn’t, put about an hour of work into it and be happy with your outcome. Then get back to writing. After all, that is the most important part.
16:07 Until next week, have fun; write words.