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Author Snapshot


First Impressions –
Designing the book cover


It's the first thing a potential reader sees – the book cover. And be it good, or bad, it tends to leave an impression on the reader, and can help turn them into a buyer—or not. This issue, I'm talking with two book cover designers about what makes a good book cover and how they help make books you'll want to read.

For designers Laura Shinn ( ) and Delilah K. Stephans ( ), the book cover is more than fancy wrapping; it's a beautiful invitation that the viewer should be excited to open.

"Covers aren't there to illustrate a scene or give a visual of the characters," says Stephans. "The cover is a marketing tool, it's the first impression of your book."

"For authors, a cover design is an extension of their blurb," says Shinn. "For a reader, it's the key to opening their imagination into that world."

A first impression of a book can be good, bad, or maybe even indifferent because of that cover. That's why designers say that a good cover has a certain "look" to draw the reader.

A good cover, says Shinn, "captures a reader's attention. This is the basic reason for an outstanding cover. If it draws the reader's attention to the blurb, then I've done my job."

"A good cover makes the buyer pause," adds Stephans. "A great cover makes them want to pick up the book."

The Artists

Both designers are self-taught, and got into creating cover design by doing book covers for themselves first.

Shinn was building her writing career when the need for a cover led her to design one for herself and another for a publisher as a favor. She found herself wanting to do more.

"I discovered I loved creating my own cover designs," she says. "I purchased several design software programs and began experimenting. Fortunately, my friend and CEO at Writer's Exchange E-Publishing requested I design a few covers. I agreed, and it's been a wonderful working relationship. I also design print covers for her authors by private arrangement."

She's since designed 85 covers for authors published by Writer's Exchange E-Publishing, for authors putting their work on Smashwords, and for her own work. She also was a top 10 winner in the Predators & Editors 2008 poll in artwork for her "Nightlife Anthology."

Stephans is now back in college, majoring in graphic design. She also started with her own cover for her book, "Sarah's Story" (Red Rose Publishing), after one artist didn't seem to get the image she had in mind, and another became ill. (See cover at .) She has since done 22 covers for Red Rose Publishing, eTreasures Publishing, Keith Publishing and for new publishing house, MuseitUp Publishing and MuseitHot Publishing.

Getting the Right "Look"

When they design a cover, both artists say they look for images that will convey a certain message.

The best part of designing, says Stephans, is "when all the elements come together to make a strong cover." The worst? "When an author refuses to trust me to create a cover that has impact."

Another consideration, she says, is that cover artists don't usually have access to models and professional photographers, so they must purchase royalty-free images and find the best image for the book's cover while keeping the bottom line in mind. "...We love what we do, but the cover artist must balance the desires of the author with the financial reality of making money...," she notes.

The genre of the book also plays a big role in the look of the final product, which can take a day or several days to create, depending on the complexity.

(Romantic Suspense, cover by Shinn, )

"For suspense/mystery, I look for something that follows the theme of the book," says Shinn. "If it's a paranormal thriller, I look for a picture with twists and turns in the pic, or something I can twist and turn for a paranormal look."

(Mystery, cover by Shinn, )

"If it's a mystery or a book with a murder, I look for something in shadows or dark colors," Shinn says. "It truly depends on each individual book as everyone is different. I like each book I do to be unique."

(Romantic Mystery, cover by Shinn, )

The best part, says Shinn, is "after you find the pic(s) you know are perfect for the book, and manipulating them to come up with something new and different. I like to think of each cover I do as a unique masterpiece. The worst part of designing is the occasional frustration when I can't find the picture I want to use. That's when it's necessary to become truly creative and 'build' a cover from pieces so they look unified on the final cover."

Giving viewers a message

(Mystery, cover by Stephans, )

For the cover of this mystery, Stephans didn't want to overpower the viewer. The skull in the steam "is a very subtle message to the reader that there's danger."

(Mystery, cover by Stephans, )

And in contrast, while this murder mystery also has danger, "the kitten staring at the gun definitely gives a lighter feel to the book," Stephans says. In "See No Evil," "the way the curve of the N goes over the female's throat gives an implied threat."

(Adult, cover by Stephans, )

The main thing, say the artists, is that while "designing a cover is a lot of fun, it's serious work, too," says Shinn.

Developing that cover is a balancing act between the designer, the author and the reader. They ask authors to trust them to produce a cover that is memorable—for the right reasons.

"It's in their (the designer's) best interest to create a cover that is going to have your book flying off the shelves," says Stephans. "But when a cover artist says they can't create your dream cover, there is usually a very good reason for it. (Often) what they'll come up with is something even better than you imagined."

One thing they suggest: ask readers to contact authors with suggestions or comments on their cover likes and dislikes. "This gives them a better idea of what you'd like to see on their next book," Shinn adds. "They are writing not only for themselves, but for you."

(NOTE: On the flip side, there are those covers that authors get a first glimpse of and go "What????" Have a book cover that's ugly, weird, or has nothing whatsoever to do with the inside? Contact the column author at to share some of your worst cover experiences for mysteries, romantic suspense, thrillers and crime novels.)