Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tip O'Day #274 - Covers that Kill

Blog host Dixon Rice on effective e-book covers.

I’ve been editing comments for a blog post I'm planning next week about how readers decide to choose the e-books of unfamiliar authors. There seem to be five primary factors: cover design, the blurb, sample pages, reviews & ratings, and recommendations from friends. As authors, there’s little we can do about the last two, but I’ve got some thoughts on the others. Although I’m no graphic design pro, I’ll start with book covers.

In my humble opinion, it seems many self-published writers (and some designers) begin with a concept that works well at hard cover size, and then reduce it to thumbnail size for the e-book. This often results in a cover with jumbled images and teeny-tiny, illegible text.

Other problems with e-book covers may include: (1) Not reflecting the genre or subject matter; (2) Type that’s out of sync with the imagery or genre; (3) Typography that’s too complex, too busy, or lacks contrast with background; (4) Visual confusion from competing images and types; and (5) A lack of focus.

Let me share a bit of the journey with my thriller e-book, the first of a serial killer vs serial killer series set in the early 1970s. I worked with Suzanne Fyhrie Parrott - after discussing The Assassins Club with me, she emailed a series of rough concepts, shown here. I liked the feel of the body outline but thought it was too clichéd. The black/gray bearded character doesn’t appear in later books of this series, so that was out. I liked the scarlet winged logo a lot, and that ended up in second place. The beer stein pierced by a knife appeared dramatic, but I never warmed to that image - not sure why.

Since quite a few scenes take place in a rundown Montana roadhouse where the antihero bartends, the cocktail glass best reflected the story. But it didn’t yet “say” serial killer. And there were perspective issues – the top and base of the glass were equally in focus, as well as the cocktail napkin. Turning the glass to a sideways view solved the perspective problem. Suzanne and I brainstormed a few changes – the handle of a pistol in the corner, or a couple of bullets standing next to the cocktail glass. We wanted to better reflect the story, without making the cover too busy. Then I mentioned “bullet holes” and Suzanne sucked in her breath. The next day, she emailed me a design which became the final cover with very little refining.

Dixon blogs, well...right here at Wredheaded Writer. The Assassins Club is available on Kindle or Nook.


  1. Postage Stamp test is always a must -- especially these days :-) Enjoyed the post!

  2. I'm especially conscious of book covers now that I post so many excerpts from other authors, and it's amazing how many covers disappear as a thumbnail. They just look like blobs. Not yours, though. It really pops!

  3. If I were choosing as a reader, I would choose the first cover. I loved the first cover best, it grabbed my attention and then I wanted to know more.