Is Your Book Good-Looking Enough For The Internet?

I like to title posts with questions. Questions can often be funny, although that’s not why I do it. The reason I do it is because there is always a 23.485% chance that upon seeing the question floating across a Twitter or Facebook feed, someone will click on it, because the question registers in their brain enough for them to think “Hmmm. Why DO we always pack 4 times the number of underpants we will need for any given trip?”

Is Your Book Good-Looking Enough For The Internet?

And the reason I want people to click on the article link, is because I am a shameless Blogwhore whose only raison d’être is massive political upheaval. Sorry – I meant, getting readers. Because it’s all very well having opinions and shouting about them on the internet, but there’s no point unless you’re getting shallow Likes in return, right?

Now that we’ve got that established, let me answer the question I posed in the post title:

No, your book is NOT good-looking enough for the internet.

In fact, in the great dance hall of social media, where some books are getting asked out to dance for both the fast and the slow numbers, I’m afraid your book is propping up the wall, picking at the lint balls on its drab little cardigan and making far too much headway into the punchbowl, which has been 55% proof ever since some idiot emptied 6 hip flasks into it.

Why is that, though?

Every now and then another article comes out about book covers which are similar. “LOOK AT ALL THESE BOOK COVERS WHICH ARE THE SAME!” they shriek. “PUBLISHERS ARE ALL COPYING EACH OTHER!” they shout with glee, as though the news that the idea of copying something successful is either novel (see what I did there) or ill-advised.

Occasionally, even I jump on the bandwagon, albeit in more complainy-moany-irky kind of way. Because if there’s one thing more annoying than an annoying book cover which in no way represents the story within, it’s an annoying book cover which in no way represents the story within and which is repeated over, and over, and over and over again. And let’s face it, we see an awful lot of those.

But even I don’t see the issue with copying successful book covers. Of course successful book covers should be copied. They are proof of a design which sells, in an industry where your entire worth is quite literally judged by its cover.

And one thing strikes me about the fashionable covers of today. Take a look. What do you see?

Is Your Book Good-Looking Enough For The Internet?

That’s right. BIG TITLES.

We are in the era of the Big Title Book Cover. These are book covers where the title is everything and the art is only trotting after it. It’s all about big letters, bold typefaces, and backgrounds which best show the text in contrast.

So why is that, do you think? And why do I keep asking questions like a teacher in a classroom full of bored 14-year-olds who are shortly about to fall into a teenage stupor which can only be relieved by the ping of an Instagram follow?

Let me answer that first question first, and the second question not at all: it’s because books are now sold on thumbnail images.

We’ve known that for a long time, but everything seems to take an even longer time to permeate the book industry, so it’s only now that the marketing is catching up with it properly.

Think about it. If you’re browsing online for a new book and you don’t know what you want, are you going to buy a book with a tiny title in cursive on a peachy-pastel seascape background with a silhouette of a 20-year-old woman? Of course not.

But how about a cartoonish drawing of a dog with an umbrella on a stylised background of psychedelic wallpaper which looks like it was designed by Delia Smith in a fever dream? Well, it might grab your attention.

But what will REALLLY grab your attention is a quirky title in massive type in primary colours on a contrasting background. And that’s precisely why they’re cropping up almost everywhere these days. Because they work.

The only place they’re not cropping up these days – at least not where I can see them – is in the world of indie publishing, which is precisely where they’re needed most. And that’s just a shame.

Traditionally published authors can get as fancy as they like with embossed covers and twirly fonts and gilt and exquisitely etched flowers all around their beauteous borders – because they know that someone somewhere is definitely going to pick up their book from a shelf at some point to hold in their hands, and possibly feel up left back and centre (without even buying it dinner).

Indie author book covers, on the other hand, may only ever exist in a thumbnail image or an Instagram post on a small screen, which is why they in particular must be arresting, even while being small.

I’ve said many times before that indie authors should be benchmarking their book covers against bestsellers in the market – not going with what they think looks nice, or pretty, or cool.

And unlike the traditional publishing process, which takes aaaaaages (a scientifically measured unit of time in publishing) an indie author can take inspiration from massive bestsellers this week, and have their own on the digital shelves by next week. (Or at least, I wouldn’t advise that kind of speed – but we can’t deny it can be done.)

Indie publishing is the one part of the book industry which can and does move quickly. So what are you waiting for? Crank up that font to 72, and get upsizing.

  30 comments for “Is Your Book Good-Looking Enough For The Internet?

  1. July 22, 2018 at 10:26 am

    Was the big title/ big author name not always the case for the big authors that were in the big publishing houses and then the indies/ smaller houses had to get people with their image? (Sorry for asking a question in your questioning post, I’m really not sure!) I don’t mind trends/ copying in covers when they suit me. So the whole bright yellow font on a dark blue/ black green background (am thinking The Woman In the Window, Lying in Wait and a huge amount of others), got me big time. Thrillers in general all seem to follow on from each other, if one has a dark background and shocking pink in the title, many of the same publishers do the same, plus there might be a number of creepy houses lining the bookshelves in spates. Many publishers actually just seem to have a cover designer who’s skill is in a particular design and they bolt with it. I’m not sure it’s lazy as we buy them. And actually it’s funny, because I buy mostly based on the cover (brings me to the blurb etc), but I read on a Kindle where the cover is basically unnecessary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • July 22, 2018 at 11:17 am

      I reckon the cover becomes redundant the minute you buy a book: that’s why we’ve got so used to not being able to see them on Kindles. Without a canny cover, though, the book would never wind up on our eReaders in the first place.

      It’s also interesting that the Big Title covers are more prevalent in Lit-Fic than anything else. Is it because Lit-Fic has never been easily categorised and so stock designs never had a foothold in the first place, unlike in genre fiction? As for the big types of yore for famous authors, I think it was always more for the author’s name than the novel title. It’s only in the last couple of years that the title has begun to stand out more than anything else on the cover…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. July 22, 2018 at 10:42 am

    Even for you, this is genius. That point about how indies-don’t-but-should was a thunderbolt.

    But first, since you had to go mention people feeling up books I feel constrained to point out that I personally have NEVER, and would certainly want to apologize to any book, pamphlet, magazine or ill-folded map who got the impression from my actions that…

    As I say it’s a fair cop, though mainly tilted toward the Lit-Fic end of the seesaw. Every title you showed (really, can I just admit I scan the pictures, reading the words not so much) concerns some Alleged Real World kind of plot. Us wallflowers over here in the Sword and Shield corner, pretty much still need swords and shields. Or dragons. But you know how tough it is to get one of THEM to dance.

    And there are certainly limits to how much you should try to copy, even if it is legal.

    The word “cocky”, one example…

    Liked by 2 people

    • July 22, 2018 at 11:22 am

      To be honest, Will, I wonder if indie Sci-Fi and Fantasy authors don’t need to rethink their covers altogether. I know they suit the genre, but I’m not sure they sell more books on a thumbnail image. There are ways which genre can be got across through typeface (e.g. antique or gothic styles and colours) without having to use busy images of dragons, swords and shields… but it’s a tough one to test.

      As for copying, legality or otherwise doesn’t stop a lot of digital imprints. There’s one house I’ve seen which seems to have copied every single one of its covers in every single respect other than book title and author name. It’s mad what people are getting away with – and that’s before we even get to the handling….

      Liked by 2 people

      • July 22, 2018 at 11:55 am

        Straight-up honest here. My first two epic fantasy novels have essentially BigWordOnly covers and I thought my publisher had found a nice cheap way to get something done, not so much any trend-forward solution. I mean, what’s it going to do for you to put up a name that no one’s heard of (mine), or one more verse of the title-formula that rules fantasy “The Blank of Blank”? Is the type-face and background color really going to get it done in thumbnail? It’s just such a big rock, and the hill is soooo steep…

        Liked by 2 people

        • July 22, 2018 at 12:58 pm

          But it’s not only that the words are big or even what they are: it’s the whole design and how it comes together. It’s not enough to have a big title – it has to be excellent graphic design that makes the book stand out in a thumbnail image, and there’s more science to that than authors realise. I’m constantly surprised by how many indie covers I see where a smudgy cursive type is superimposed on a landscape – making me think, who on earth thought that looked okay, let alone would sell a book?! The whole point about design is that those of us who aren’t professionals generally don’t realise what works and what doesn’t, until we see something that doesn’t.

          The most successful Big Title covers have been striking in many different ways, and the thing about most fantasy covers is that they’re all about the detail of the illustration, but when they’re small the detail is lost. It’s so hard to know what the right answer is!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. July 22, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    Very insightful commentary, as always. I worked for a business-to-business ad agency for a couple of years back in the late 80s and read up on basic rules for advert typeface (which also holds true for book covers). I’m always surprised at how often these rules are broken; ‘being different’ somehow trumps ‘being effective’. Rule 1: use a clear type face, not some bonkers bit of caligraphy. Rule 2: use contrasting colours such as black on white, not pink on mint green. Rule 3: DO NOT USE CAPS, lower case is more instantly legible. After those 3 you can pretty much go to town to differentiate your ad / product.
    I did our recent anthology on Amazon KDP so was able to create the cover exactly as I wanted, although this did result in spending £20 on sweets for the photoshoot. But I do love pink foam shrimps, so I count that as an expensive win.
    Here’s a link to our book. I hope it is sufficiently good looking to avoid wallflower status in the Tara Sparling Chart of Hot Book Covers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • July 22, 2018 at 5:15 pm

      I’m still in a good weather-related mood, Nick, so I’ve decided to overlook the fact that you might technically be advertising one of your books in the comments, which is usually strictly prohibited!! But see? I barely even mentioned it. I must be mellowing in my old age. Fancy that.

      I have to say I’m sceptical of design rules. I think successful covers break them all the time, they’re just obviously made by extremely talented people. It’s so hard to know because it depends on the overall package, doesn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • July 22, 2018 at 5:55 pm

        Ack. Sorry, I’ve never had a book before (and strictly speaking it’s not entirely mine). But it is my design on the front and that’s what I was trying to show.
        Yes, sometimes it pays to break rules (cough, Vote Leave Campaign, cough) but breaking rules just cos you fancy doing something weird and different may not be a smart move (cough, Disillusioned British Public, cough).
        So yes, if you’re a very talented designer and know the pitfalls, exploring new possibilities and formats is a viable exercise. But if you’re just a bod with a book who wants a cover design, best to go with what actually works.

        Liked by 1 person

        • July 22, 2018 at 6:59 pm

          Ah yes, but who knows what works?! That’s why it’s best to go with what’s already a proven success… that’s my take on it, anyway!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. July 22, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    I’ve asked people for years whether they buy a book (ebook or a real one) because of the cover or not. The ones not annoyed with my question (and suspicious since at the time I was working in Washington D.C. USA), said they bought a book because it was an author they read before, the title, or the blurb. Most did not buy a book because of the glossy cover. I certainly do not buy because of the cover, unless it is annoying and I buy a candy bar instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • July 22, 2018 at 5:18 pm

      Something has to make a person click on a book to read the blurb in the first place, though, Stanley – and if people only read authors they’d read before, nobody would ever read anyone new. I believe we’re far more influenced by book cover design than we even realise, because it’s subconscious, and that’s why it can be such a powerful form of advertising. When it works best, we have no idea that it worked at all!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. July 22, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    You know how you alway read the blog post you needed to read something like two weeks after you needed to read it? Why can’t you work on my schedule, Tara? It’s the time difference I bet. In Ireland it’s two weeks ago, right? Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • July 22, 2018 at 5:20 pm

      I’m like the quiz question you know you absolutely should know the answer to but don’t, Sarah – a little bit relevant, but ultimately annoying. I’m glad to know my mission in life is being fulfilled, and, also can I say: you’re welcome! I take it your book just went to print?!


      • July 22, 2018 at 8:57 pm

        Yep. Without giant letters in bold primary colors. Thank goodness. I wouldn’t know what to do with too much success.

        Liked by 1 person

        • July 22, 2018 at 11:33 pm

          I’m not sure I’d know what to do with any, Sarah. I’m pretty sure an inability to even recognise success is hard-coded into my DNA.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. July 23, 2018 at 11:09 am

    You are dead right! I think it’s especially true of thrillers/crime novels. If a cover is dark and vaguely ominous-looking with huge blocky font in a pale colour, it’s obvious it’s a crime novel. You’re looking for a ‘real’ crime novel, not an amateurish attempt? You’ve just found it. They are all the same, but that’s how the reader picks em out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • July 23, 2018 at 11:24 pm

      Not to mention the fact that amateurish covers too stand out immediately, Jane – for all the wrong reasons. You can spot them a mile away. I spotted 3 on Twitter just 5 minutes ago – on the one tweet!


      • July 24, 2018 at 7:09 am

        I’ve stopped noticing bad covers. There are just so many of them. Even the kind I would once have done a double take on and thought, what the fe*k is that?

        Liked by 1 person

  7. July 23, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    Interesting post, Tara. It makes total sense to see what traditional publishers are doing with covers, and to zero in by genre since they vary a bit. Personally, I find books that are super busy and yelling their titles at me annoying. But then, I’m old, so maybe frenetic covers are a young person thing. And taking thumbnail size into account is important!

    Liked by 1 person

    • July 23, 2018 at 11:29 pm

      I did an advertising course once as part of a postgraduate diploma, Diana, and I’ll never forget the lecturer telling us that what was once renowned as the most successful advertising campaign in Ireland (for a laundry detergent) was also renowned at the time as the most annoying advertising campaign in Ireland. What if it’s the same for book covers?!

      Liked by 1 person

      • July 24, 2018 at 1:16 am

        Ha ha ha. That’s so funny. I do remember the annoying commercials on television. 🙂 Book covers… hmmm. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. July 24, 2018 at 10:30 am

    This isn’t about size more about type face. When my book Titian’s Boatman was published they used curly writing for the Titian but first it looked like Sitian and then it looked like Fitian … I kept saying T,T,T it’s got to look like a T – that’s basic, isn’t it? Eventually it ended up looking like a cross between all three. Size wise it was fine!

    Liked by 1 person

    • July 24, 2018 at 7:01 pm

      I think it’s both, Victoria… overall graphic design is so important but there is definitely a trend for a larger type size too over the past year or 18 months, where title is more prominent than image. I would always question the use of any typeface which didn’t make a word immediately clear, especially where proper nouns are concerned!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Ali Isaac
    July 31, 2018 at 12:46 am

    I love these new covers with swirly fonts! However, as an Indie author have you tried hiring a designer to make one for you? I have, and it just doesn’t seem to be the type of thing that most cover designers out there can do. You need someone who does typography as well as cover design, a rare combination it seems, and if you do find one, they tend to be well out of the average Indie cover design budget. Shame! A gap in the market for some enterprising artist to work on…

    Liked by 1 person

    • July 31, 2018 at 11:58 pm

      Well, Ali, all I can say is…. typography IS cover design, and if they don’t do both, I don’t see the point of them. I have no experience of trying to hire one so I know it’s easy for me to say, but it puts me in mind of a tailor who doesn’t do sleeves!!


  10. August 22, 2018 at 11:04 am

    Serendipity at work? I’m currently designing not one but two book covers for my children’s books. I think I’ll call my cover artist now!

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 24, 2018 at 8:20 pm

      Do, and give them a STERN talking to, Nick. You’ve got to be harsh when it comes to children’s fiction. At least I THINK that’s what they said when I made those authors cry….?

      Liked by 1 person

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