great book covers

3 Book Cover Design Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)

Ann O'Brien

Ann O'Brien

August 8, 2022

Have you ever picked up a book to thumb through it and look over the cover to decide if it was going to be your next selection only to be surprised at what you discovered about the book? Sometimes dark, moody colors on a book cover turn out to be hiding a self-help book instead of a mystery or thriller.

These types of book covers mislead potential readers into thinking the book inside is another genre or the covers simply keep the reader from being curious about the compelling story hidden inside. In either case, the reader likely put the book (and possibly the author) back on the shelf in search of a different book.

So how can an author use a great book cover to attract readers instead? Let’s take a look at the most common reasons why your cover may not be catching the eye of potential readers as well as some concrete ways to attract readers with book cover art and design geared toward your intended audience.

The Cover Doesn’t Match the Reader’s Expectation

When the cover feels like it should be a different type of book than it really is, the cover doesn’t line up with genre or sub-genre norms. Probably the most common problem with book cover design, the mismatch between book content and its cover design, is not only disheartening for readers but a source of confusion for some authors.

Under the guise of understandably wanting their book’s cover design to be fresh, unique, and stand out from other books on the shelf, some authors stray too far from genre and sub-genre norms when they design the cover.

How to Fix Genre Mismatches

When the reader is expecting a completely different genre or subgenre of a book than the cover implies, the mismatch can turn off readers to the book, the author, or even other books the author has penned, regardless of whether or not the other books have a similarly mismatched cover. In order to attract readers with a book cover design that speaks to the type of book and writing style inside authors can do a few things to avoid this potentially sale-reducing error:

  • Check out the competition. While every writer would love to think that their book cover is unique and stands out from the others in their genre, the reality is that most genres have a look or feel that readers expect. This basic template is how readers know what to expect at a glance and writers can use this to their advantage by simply making sure their book cover doesn’t stray too far from the expected norms. Take a look at the most popular books in your genre or subgenre to get a feel for what readers are expecting and what they are reading right now. Use that as a springboard to begin developing your design choices.
  • Follow the trends. As some subgenres rise in popularity, the way the book covers shift changes as well. Take a look at books by consistently popular authors as well as ones that are on the best sellers lists to watch for subtle shifts in cover design expectations.

 The Cover’s Color Scheme is Problematic

While no specific colors are unilaterally connected to a particular genre or subgenre, colors used on the covers of books can suggest or directly indicate the mood, tone, or themes of the book’s contents. A general rule of thumb is that light-hearted, fun storylines with little to no scary plotlines will be indicated with covers that utilize white, light hues, and brighter color combinations.

The other end of the spectrum involves darker hues and saturated colors along with black that let the reader know that the book’s contents will be marked by fear, anxiety, unknowns, or murders. These darker, broodier hues and color combos might be found on the cover of horror, mystery, true crime, and science fiction books. Colors used on the words and fonts on the cover also impart tone to the reader, including the title and any subtitles, the author’s name, and any other text included on the book cover.

How to Fix Color Choices

One of the biggest mistakes for authors who self-publish their work is for the writer to simply stick to their own preferences when choosing colors to grace the covers of their books. Unfortunately, not everyone’s own taste is universally appealing and so book covers that simply reflect what the author likes or prefers may result in an uninviting color choice or tones that don’t reflect the mood that matches the book’s contents.

  • Use the theme of your book as inspiration. Think about the main theme or underlying themes of your book and choose colors that are closely associated with those words or ideas. With a little research on word and color associations, it is fairly straightforward to match up a concept with at least one color to begin your hue selection options for your book.
  • Look at similar books for color choice ideas. A quick book theme search online will return a volume of books to look at when thinking about how other authors convey the tone of their book through cover color selections.
  • Develop a color scheme. Choose a coordinating color scheme for your book once you have selected the primary color or hue to use. Think about how you want the reader to feel and what emotions the color combinations and contrasts will evoke. Stick to a small group of colors to focus on and think about how those can be replicated or tweaked a little bit for future books you may write.

The Cover Images Are Gratuitous

Booksellers may not be able to sell books with covers depicting certain scenes, graphic violence, or overtly sensual images. In addition, some readers may not want to pick up a book with cover images that are uncomfortable, embarrassing, or too scary. While a self-published author has the right and ability to put whatever they choose on the cover of their book, to attract readers with book cover art they must consider when an image will turn off readers or booksellers.

How to Fix Image Selections

Unlike movie trailers that show flashes of the scariest or goriest scenes to entice viewers to watch the movie, book covers don’t usually give away the compelling or thrilling part of a story. If your cover’s image is in question, you can ask a couple of questions to determine if it needs to be changed and how to find another image that will work for your book.

  • Is the image appropriate for all age groups? Booksellers will usually require cover images to be safe for viewing by all ages of readers or they may decline to display or sell the book.
  • Does the image show a violent or sensual act? These gory or personal images, while they may be part of the storyline, will keep many readers from picking up the book at all as well as keep booksellers from wanting to show the cover on their shelves in many cases.
  • Can the image’s content be suggested instead of shown? Book covers that hint at the horror story inside, for example, are more effective than cover art that shows a scary scene, because readers are intrigued and want to know how the story plays out.
  • Can a feeling be depicted by an image instead? Consider the dominant emotion connected to the theme and choose a visual that represents that feeling or a small detail from the book that hints at the theme.

Cover Design Help

One of the common misconceptions about authors who self-publish their own books is that detail work like designing their book’s cover has to be done by the author alone. Authors can work with a printing company that offers expert design assistance. Getting your book cover just right will attract more readers and lead to better book sales.

Publishing Your Book

Writing the story and organizing the book’s content is just one part of preparing your book for publication. And while most authors have a way with words, not every writer is a talented graphic designer or book publisher as well. Partnering with a proven printing company like Publishing Xpress will take some of the pressure off of authors in the process of transforming their writing into a published book.

As you choose the right binding for your project, work with a design professional to craft the best cover and place an order using the best materials for your finished book. Self-publishing with Publishing Xpress will ensure that your book will look great and attract the right reader from the front page to the final paragraph and everything in between.

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