Seeing Red? – Imagining Your Novel’s Cover Design


Seeing Red? – Imagining Your Novel’s Cover Design

Quick.  Close your eyes and imagine the cover of your favorite romance novel.  Can you see it?  What does it look like?  What image strikes you most?  What made you pick it up and buy it?

We buy books for many reasons, but Goodreads readers groups agree they buy often based on what the covers look like.

Cover design is a critical factor in buyers’ decision and in authors branding, so why do we spend months writing our novels yet so little time thinking about their cover design?  It’s a detail the publisher–or someone–will take care of, right?

A novel cover millions of readers recognize instantly is Anita Diamont’s The Red Tent.  Can you see it?  Eyes open or shut, I can.  I still hold the cover’s vivid imagery in my mind all these years later.  What about Nora Roberts’ novels?  Eyes open or shut, I can visualize her covers. Think, for example, of The Villa.  A favorite of mine, the English version of The Villa conforms to Roberts’ visual branding.  ImageIn France, La Villa provides readers with more visually stimulating imagery (see left cover):Image

Even if you don’t remember a specific cover, you know the pastel-colored covers are part of Roberts’ brand.  It’s like sniffing your favorite wine before you take a sip.  Seeing the cover adds to the high you feel when you get one of Nora’s novels home and can’t wait to read it.

What about the cover design of Fifty Shades of Grey?   Can you see the covers?  Although it’s like walking into a wall of grey fog, Fifty’s covers are distinctive and memorable.  They undeniably lend to the mystique of these novels and, in addition, the covers spur readers to buy.

The Red Tent, The Villa, and Fifty Shades of Grey are best sellers.  Is there a measurable link between their cover design and sales?  I’m suggesting there is a subtle ineffable connection.  Although hard to quantify, it’s there.  There’s something about these novel’s cover that makes us pick them up and buy.  Readers know this instinctively.

So what do novels with great cover design have in common?

They all share one design aspect: world-class cover designer, illustrators, and photographers.  One of the greatest of these is Honi Werner, an illustrator who illustrated the memorable cover of Diamont’s The Red Tent and Roberts’ The Villa (La Villa’s incredible French cover is photographic art from an Archangel portfolio).  I remember the first time I saw Twilight’s cover.  The dark background with the spot of red did it for me.  Twilight’s cover designer is Gail Doobinin.

So are your juices flowing yet?  Ready to get out some paper and start playing with your novel’s cover design?  My critique partner, Meghan Hill, and I have done this with collage over lunch.  Visualizing your novel’s cover is a great way to begin connecting now with the novel cover that will make your readers love to pick up and buy.

Have fun visualizing and writing.  Feel free to share this article.  Copyright, 2012.  Mary McFarland, romance writer and global culture junkie at  Where covers and culture click.


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