Well, for one, with a paper book, they keep the first page from getting shredded.
Okay fine, covers are only good for one thing: selling your book.
That’s it. That’s what covers are for.
What covers aren’t for:
1- to be beautiful. I mean, the eye is attracted to beautiful things, so beauty helps, but is not needed.
2- to be an accurate representation of your book. Again, if your character is a slim redhead and the cover model is a zaftig brunette (who is also very pretty) no one cares. Before they read the book, the readers don’t know that. And after they read the book they might leave a review that says “I don’t know where the cover brunette came from” but that won’t stop them promoting you if they loved the book.
3- be exactly what you envisioned in your head while writing the book. Unless of course, you’re an amazing cover artist on the side, and know exactly what sells in your genre or subgenre the month your book comes out.
4- (Contra insty trolls) signaling to the world how smart and sophisticated you are. (Unless you’re selling litewawy and little because the illusion of smart and sophisticated is essential there.)
What covers are for, in order of importance:
1 Attracting the attention of the RIGHT READER FOR THE BOOK.
Okay, let me unpack this: this is mostly on fitting the cover to the book, which means taking in account:
a- Genre. If you have a beautiful cover with a spaceship, but your novel is Harry Potter, you’ve already failed. I mean, people who like spaceships might buy the book — I’m shocked at how many people don’t read the blurb — but they’ll be very upset it is about a boy wizard. And if you have a cover with frolicking fairies, and your story is horror, ditto. Or say you have a black and white picture of a castle — as one of my friends does — on your space opera cover: you can tell me till you’re blue in the face that your book doesn’t sell because you’re not very good. That’s not true. Your book isn’t even opened by most people who assume that Amazon vomited up the wrong book in its search for space opera. Or it’s an advertisement out of place, or something.
b- Subgenre: if you have a naked guy in the cover, against a background of stars, but your book is hard science fiction, you’re going to have a ton of upset readers. Because those looking for sf romance/spicy subgenre will not be at home to your beautiful equations. It’s the wrong kind of hard.
c – Mood and tone. While my first cover for Draw One In The Dark had a guy and dragons, so fantasy, and the main character is male (he even had a leather jacket.) The guy looked like a zombie, and the dragons were set against the background of a gothic castle (yes, there is a castle in the novel, it eventually becomes a b & b but it’s a little/play castle like rich gold strikers built. And the novel takes place in a diner.) Not only was the cover horrific and somehow conveying a feel of sexual perversion (don’t ask me. I mean the main romance, they don’t even kiss in that book) BUT if anyone was attracted to that cover they’d hate the book. Which was light and humorous.
2- Unpacking further: THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOUR COVER CAN DO IS SIGNAL GENRE RIGHT.
But– NO. The most important thing your cover can do is signal the genre right. Even if you get everything else wrong, there’s a chance that if it comes up in a search someone will look at your listing and find out it’s their kind of book.
90% of science fiction covers (unless post apoc) would be all right with: a background of stars/generic spaceship.
It doesn’t matter that the background stars/planets might make no sense. That’s “science fiction” to most humans.
For Post-apoc, honestly, you could go with some ruins. Just make sure it looks drawn (filter, dude) otherwise it might look non-fiction.
3- If you can, DO signal subgenre.
“But Sarah, I wouldn’t know subgenre if it bit me in the *ss.”
Oh, yeah? Think of a book that has the same “bits” as yours. — Not those bits. Get your mind out of the gutter. At least teach it to do the backstroke in the ditch above the gutter, really — like… do your characters fold to monsters, or are they fighting monsters? Is your book set in the historic past, in Tolkien’s general world or in the future? What kind of supernatural creatures does it have? Vampires? Or dragons? Or witches? Is there a murder in your book, and does solving it consume your entire plot? In that case, is there supernatural in the book or not?
Anyway, think of a title or two that have most of your “bits” in it, and look them up on Amazon. If the books that come up in also bought also are in the general same area as yours, congratulations, you found your subgenre.
And BTW NO ONE CARES if you have a personal hate-on for sexy aliens. The people who are looking for those books like the covers with naked men whose face you never see. If it’s not your cup of tea, don’t drink it. No one is forcing you.
You don’t have a right to despise other subgenre covers. They are what they are.
4- Have your covers fit with the covers in the genre and subgenre.
“ARGH, Sarah, you already said that.”
No, as a matter of fact I didn’t. This isn’t on subject matter, or whatever. It’s on whether the cover is photo realistic (even if rendered) or painted or cartoon figures, or whatever.
Heck, for a while there cozy mysteries was a weird assemblage of vectors of things that appeared in the novel. A cup cake and a bloody knife, say.
I’m not sure now because the mystery I’m reading is weird in itself. So….
For Austen Fanfic you’re completely allowed to have flowers with the lettering over.
For clean regency romance, find a painting (yes, you can use them. There are restrictions. I’ll talk about them later) anywhere between the 17th and the end of the 19th century (Yes, purists will yell at the dress style. Most people don’t care.) and letter over it.
“But Sarah, most spaceship covers look like they’re painted, and all I have are these bits from Pixabay.”
Well, there’s a ton of filters that do AI paintings from your image. The caveat is that unless you know what to use, you’ll probably have trouble with it. BUT trial and error are your friend. Or find me in an idle moment and ping me. I have suggestions.
5- Be minimally competent
Look, learn photoshop, okay? Or gimp (I’m hopeless at it) or Paintshop. (What I actually use.)
Yes, your early ones will be atrocious, but if you keep at it, you’ll get better, and you can go back and fix it. That’s the beauty of indie.
Next week: How to ACTUALLY do it!