What does the author want on their cover?

What makes the ideal book cover? It depends on whom you ask.

By Scott Bury

Author Ben Bova, who was also editor of Analog Science Fiction and Science Fact magazine, described the cover meetings he attended every month. Everyone had a different desire for the cover of the magazine, he said: the designer wanted a beautiful image with no text at all to distract from the elegance of the design. The editor wanted to list every possibly enticing thing in the contents. And the publisher wanted a mechanical claw that would reach out and grab anyone passing and not let go until they bought a copy.

What do I want on the cover of my books? All those things. But mostly, in this virtual age, an image that does what that claw would in a bookstore: seize the book browser’s attention and drag them to the checkout cart. With their credit card.

What you need on a cover

Covers are hard. As an independent author, choosing the right, the perfect cover image is another job for me, in addition to writing it and ensuring it gets professional editing, proofreading and layout. Like all those steps, it requires professional expertise. And I always turn to a professional designer.

A book cover in the 21st century has to be clean and simple so that it can be distinguished at the tiny 4 x 6 cm size readers see on e-book retailing platforms.

It also has to be appealing to the audience, an image that makes people who see it want to read the book. It has to inspire curiousity, evoke that feeling that I have to find out what this book is about.

And it has to be original, so that it doesn’t look like every other book cover in its category. I mean, how many hot romance novels have a cover image of a man’s rippling abs? How do you tell them apart?

My journey for a new cover

The Bones of the Earth by Scott Bury cover

For example, I want to update the cover to the first novel I published, The Bones of the Earth. Here’s the original cover:

It has a number of problems.

  • First, my name as author was far too small. Barely visible at that tiny size on Amazon.
  • Second, it doesn’t really match or evoke any of the main themes of the novel. Briefly, they are coming of age, environmental degradation by civilization, and the deepest, most powerful wisdom of the earth itself.
  • There are a lot of other ideas in there, too. It’s over 400 pages, after all. But I decided I wanted to illustrate a theme that I don’t see in other books—even those titled “The Bones of the Earth.” One of them is about dinosaur bones.

The point is, the first cover did not satisfy me. So I set out to make a better one.

Step one: The easy fix

The Bones of the Earth cover

The first step was the easy fix: the size of my name. So I went to the original designer (no, it wasn’t me) and asked where she got the image. After all the time that had passed, she couldn’t remember, and wasn’t in the book cover design business anymore.

So I had to search, and eventually found the constituent elements I needed for the cover: two images I had to license, and some type. I put them together and made my name visible, then uploaded that to all the e-book publishing sites I could.

But that was the one easy fix I could do. Still, the image isn’t satisfactory. It’s going to require a professional designer.

Step two: deciding what I want

Anyone who’s ever worked with a cover designer knows that one of the questions they’ll ask you is what kind of image you want for your book.

So before I went to a designer, I thought about what kind of image I’d like to see on the front cover. I decided on the theme suggested on the back cover blurb:

The Dark Age, eastern Europe: the earth has decided to rid itself of humanity with earthquakes, volcanoes and new plagues. Civilizations, even the mighty Roman Empire, crumble under the pressure of barbarian waves that are fleeing worse terrors.

Okay, so now I just have to find an image that evokes the deep, powerful wisdom of the earth. The source of all life, the power that will outlive humanity itself. That power and wisdom human civilization has abused—to our own peril.

Guess what you get when you type “deep power of the earth” into a search engine. Right. Nothing remotely useful. Photos of earth movers and engineers.

I tried various terms, and eventually found something I thought might be useful. I tried them out. Here’s what I, not by any stretch a professional designer, came up with:

Starting points, I know.

Back to the drawing board. Or more precisely, back to someone else’s drawing board: a professional designer.

Who asked, “What image do you want to represent on the cover?”

I told him: something original, unique that evokes the deepest, wisest power of the earth itself.

He came up with a concept. Simple. Why didn’t it think of it before?

Step three: putting an image together

I’m not there yet. But I’ve started the journey. I’ll share more with all of you when we get closer. Watch this space!

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