Book Covers: What makes a good one?

sbdp-email I’ve just read the excellent blog post, Book covers: Should we put people on them?, by Belinda Pollard. Belinda is an Aussie writer, editor, publishing consultant at Small Blue Dog Publishing, lover of dogs, the wilderness and things spiritual. In her post Belinda talks about what makes a good book cover.  This is very timely as I’m in the middle of developing a book cover  for my new crime novel (Killer Shoeshine) and eager for all the advice I can get.

As you would expect getting it right is not straightforward, what one person loves another hates. But there is some evidence to suggest certain covers sell more books than others.  In a nutshell Belinda says for a cover to work it has to immediately do three things:

  • stand out on a crowded shelf? (i.e. be distinctive)
  • be clear about its message
  • engage the reader emotionally.

And one of the best ways for a cover to achieve this is to place somebody on/in it. She quotes  from Derek Murphy of Creativindie who says:

Having a person on/in the cover creates intrigue and interest. But only if done right.”

Okay, “getting it right” may be easier said than done, but the message loud and clear is:

People sell!”

This was a shock for me.  You see, I personally hate seeing people on book covers, especially when they are generic photos of stock models. But what I have suddenly realised (in one of those rare light bulb moments) is that when it comes to covers what I personally like or don’t like doesn’t matter.  The important thing  is for the cover to do the three above things. It’s fascinating stuff and Belinda has convinced me. Now all I need to do is convince my publisher, AKA the long and suffering other half 😉

What do you think? Do you like seeing people on covers of books? Not convinced? Why not go over to Belinda’s  site and check out the full article? It really is worth a read. Plus, Belinda wants your help! She is running a straw poll on two possible covers for her new wilderness thriller, Poison Bay* (due out at the beginning of next year).


As you can see, one cover has a person on it, the other doesn’t. Which do you prefer?  Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to tell Belinda your answer and to see the results!

*Belinda briefly says of Poison Bay: My book is about a bunch of people with a shared secret who go trekking in the New Zealand wilderness. Let’s just say, they don’t all come home. ;-)




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15 Responses to Book Covers: What makes a good one?

  1. Thanks Marianne! Oh, what a tangled issue this is. And at the moment I am more confused than ever. My poll is fairly even between option A and B, but the comments are tending to favour the cover with the person…

    Your comment… “But what I have suddenly realised (in one of those rare light bulb moments) is that when it comes to covers what I personally like or don’t like doesn’t matter.” So true, and one that I have struggled with myself. And continue to struggle with.

    We must have a book cover we love, or how will we promote it with confidence? But if it doesn’t get people to make that important first “click” on an online bookstore, all our promotion will be wasted. A Catch 22.

    Looking forward to seeing your cover for the new novel! 🙂

    • Oh and by the way, the three points came from Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management… I probably haven’t made that clear enough. 🙂

    • Been thinking about what you were saying regards loving our book covers. Hm? Must we love the cover in order to promote the book, really? If we think the cover works, whether we like it or not, would that not give us the confidence to promote the book? Groan … it really is a Catch 22!

  2. Hi Belinda, it is fascinating to see the results on the covers. When I asked for comments on facebook/twitter, the majority are against having somebody in the cover :/ Yep, what a tangled issue! I first liked the wave alone cover, its striking, but then when I tried to remember the covers in my head, the cover with the woman popped in first and I couldn’t shift it. I also then realised that I when i’m looking at photos from friends and family i want to see people in them, even people I’d don’t know as long as I have some vague connection to them ( my son’s mother-in-law’s aunt etc). So, I can see why having a person on the cover can work, if done right, because it taps into that emotional connection we humans have with each other. It’s just that thing about doing it right (yikes!) Thinking about it, is the woman simply wrong? She makes me think of Wuthering Heights, could she be mysterious in a romantic sort of way but not intriguing, or deadly, enough for a thriller? If you see what I mean? Is the sense of danger/threat too understated for a thriller? Maybe she needs to be a smaller figure, on the shore perhaps, being dwarfed by nature encroaching all around her (towering waves, towering trees etc) … that’s what the story is partly about too, isn’t it, surviving nature? Is there is more than one survivor/s? But we don’t see the survivor/s close up, can’t even tell if male or female so we have to read the story to find out. Getting carried away now ;o) Good luck with it all, whatever you decide I am sure will be right!
    We have started on Killer Shoeshine designs and when/ if we ever get down to two options, I’ll be looking for thoughts ;o)
    ps regards Jeff Kleinman points, you did make it clear, i realise in summarising I missed out some important bits that i meant to include! Sorry.

  3. Ruth F Hunt says:

    It’s such a difficult topic. Personally I like simple but striking as I like to make my own mind up about what people/characters may look like. However, in saying that I’ve seen some gorgeous/intricate covers that make me want to stroke them (not in public).
    If I pick a handful of books out most don’t have people on them apart from crime novels who have dead women ( it’s usually women) lying dead on the ground. This just could be my selection of books. Someone else might have lots with people on the front covers. What an interesting subject!

    • Hi Ruth,
      it really is interesting and certainly isn’t an exact science, is it? I agree, there are some wonderful book covers out there but I still wouldn’t necessarily buy the book based on the cover alone but I would pick the book up and check it out ( if that makes sense!) ! Getting it right is not easy, no wonder publishers spend so much time and effort trying to. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished version of The Single Feather! Meanwhile, i’ll continue to peg away with Killer Shoeshine cover … eek! Thanks for comment 🙂

  4. Katie says:

    Hi Marianne.

    I think its a hard choice but out of the two cover I like (B) because it look adventurous. I think for me I like people on cover as at times it give a book the personal feel a bit like cats on cover make people go Awww etc… That said I also think some cover are fantastic without people on etc on them. Sometimes I think it depends on the story and what suits best.

    I hope you’re well.


    • Hi Katie,
      interestingly Belinda’s poll showed more people prefer the woman on the cover but when I asked my friends on facebook (and showed them both covers), the majority preferred no woman on the cover. It is confusing! But ultimately, one will have to be picked and good luck to Belinda with that. Its also worth remembering its not just the cover that attracts us to a book, the title is as important, if not more so. Getting both the cover and the title right is pretty challenging! But nothing wrong with a challenge! 😉 Have you thought about a cover for your Finding Destiny novel?
      Thanks for comment!

      • Katie says:

        Hi Marianne.

        I think its down to personal taste when it comes to covers. And no-one can please everyone. I think if one goes with a cover and title one stands by then at least one knows they did what they thought was best by their book. I agree the title is important as well.

        Finding Destiny…. I have some ideas of how I would like the cover to look. But still thinking on it as well. 🙂

        I agree there’s nothing wrong with a challenge, normally the things we spend time pondering over turn out the best. (I think ;))

        I hope you’re well.
        Take care.

  5. Kendra says:

    Hi Marianne,
    What an interesting topic. I too am surprised that covers with people on them are more memorable. This makes sense when you think about the fact that we connect to faces more than just images. That said, I preferred the cover with the wave. I like to decide for myself what the characters in a novel look like and sometimes find that having dramatic natural imagery on a cover is enough to get my imagination going on a story.
    I really liked the cover for Food of Ghosts, it still sticks in my mind which is unusual as I don’t often remember book covers, even of books I loved. I think this is because it was an interesting graphic which could be turned over and interpreted in different ways, and this made it unusual and striking.
    Whatever you choose, I’ll be interested to see it, and even more interested in reading it!
    Best wishes,

    • Hi Kendra, sorry for this tardy thanks to your comment. We were away in Portugal and somehow in the travelling back and forth and not always having the internet this sneaked past me. Grrrr! (I don’t have a smart phone either, in fact my phone can’t even take pics, that’s how old it is and the way I like it ;o)) The whole cover design thing is really thought provoking, isn’t it? So easy to get wrong and so hard to get right. Still working on one for Killer ~Shoeshine, which should be finished sooner than later ( hem!) Onwards and all that ;o) So glad, though, you liked the cover for Food of Ghosts.
      Talk soon
      ps how are ideas for your own blog going???

  6. Kendra says:

    Hi Marianne,
    That’s okay 😉 I always have trouble keeping up with everything online. I too lack a smart phone, which is the way I like it, though I can see their convenience. The subject of cover designs is fascinating. I recently heard back from Pilrig Press asking for links to book covers I enjoy. Yay! I am well chuffed that they are going to publish my book! It was so hard to decide on which links to send though. To be honest, my blog had gone a little off my radar but I am putting it back on as of right now.
    I’m looking forward to reading Killer Shoeshine. Congrats on becoming the featured author for the Crime Readers Association!

    • ha ha ha – so I am not alone with my ancient mobile. When I was wee I think we were the last people in the street to have a telly, and then the last people to get a colour one so I think a resistance to technological change it is in my genes! Its very exciting PP are publishing your book. Yay! I m so looking forward to buying it and reading it. Regards the book cover, i think it really is worth taking the time to get it right. And as Belinda said somewhere, you want it to work for you but you also need to like it – of course, we don’t always know what we’ll like, that’s the tricky bit for me. I am very good at knowing what I don’t like!! Thanks again for good wishes. 🙂

  7. Kendra says:

    p.s. thank you too for all of the help and support in the writing of my book. The writing classes I took with you gave me the confidence and skills I needed to put butt to chair and hands to keyboard and just write it. 🙂

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