Judge a book by its cover: 3 Golden Rules for Designing an Eye Catching Book Cover

Guest blog by Scribbly Roo, a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer working from her home studio in Norfolk, UK, where she writes and illustrates her own graphic novels and children’s picture books.

Part One: Genres and Trends

As much as any writer would hate to admit it, we all judge books by their covers. It’s unavoidable. Whether browsing online or in a bookstore, the first thing any potential reader sees is the cover of the book. Before scanning a blurb or noting a title, a successful cover design will grab you by the collar and pull you in. So your cover has a lot of work to do in a short space of time. It needs to imply which genre it belongs to, but stand out enough to entice people to pick it up. It has to reflect something of its content without giving anything away. And on top of that, it has to present the basic information of the book, ie its title, author, blurb and any review quotes, in a clear, concise and memorable manner, without coming across as cluttered.

So where do you start?! These three simple rules by no means cover everything, but they’re vital to remember if you want to create an eye catching design for a book cover.

Golden Rule #1: Identify Trends in the Genre

Each book genre has its own specific design trends. Identifying these trends can be useful when it comes to creating your own effective designs. Readers know what genres they prefer, and a book cover that implies which genre it belongs in goes a long way to getting someone to pick it up.

Here are a few examples:

Think of a book cover with the title in a handwriting­style typeface, bright feminine colours like purple, pink or light blue, and a very stylised, sometimes humorous illustration that would look at home in a fashion magazine. Now name the genre. If you guessed chick lit, you’re on the right page! Designs for these books reflect the light-­hearted nature of the content, hinting at romance and humour, nothing too offensive.

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When you compare the above genre to one like ‘Fantasy’, it becomes clear how the design of a book cover can point a reader in the right direction when locating their preferred book themes.

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Immediately you can see this genre is much more masculine. The colours are dark and the images are more often photographic. The hard lines of capital letters creates a sense of seriousness, while the typefaces are mostly serif fonts as they look more classical or historical, implying the book is set in perhaps a medieval world or one not as modern as our own. Imagery of weapons infers not only the time and place these books are set in, but also they promise conflict and war.

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The ‘Crime and Mystery’ genre is also a good example when looking for design trends. The next book you pick up that features an image with strong perspective and a vanishing point in the middle distance, I bet you it’ll be categorized under Crime and Mystery. The use of a vanishing point, mist, or strange color filters over photographic images all adds to the sense of uncertainty and mystery, perfectly suited to this genre. Landscape shots create the idea of vast space and isolation, vulnerability. As with ‘Fantasy’ the use of uppercase letters infers a serious tone. Certainly, a handwriting-­style typeface would feel pretty out of place here!

Clearly there are design trends in every genre and subgenre you can name. To find out what they are, all you need do is compare cover designs from the same categories and find the similarities.

What is the use of these trends?
The idea is that you can look at a book cover and, without so much as glimpsing the blurb, tell what genre that book belongs in. Essentially, you’re taking the effort out of it for any potential reader, meaning they can quickly identify the kinds of books they know they like.

So create elements in your design that hint at what genre the book lies in. This doesn’t mean to say you have to obey all of the trends­ that could be disasterous! Imagine a book that is so generic to its genre that it is deemed completely invisible! But for a commercially successful design it can be worth giving a nod to at least one or two trends to comfort the potential reader and drawn them in.

Next time:
So I’ve talked about genres and joining in with trends. In my next blog I’ll be discussing how to make your design stand out from the crowd without alienating your audience. See you then!

E.L. James New Book in the Fifty Shades Series: Why You Should Change Perspective Too

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The news has probably traveled by now that E.L James, latest queen of erotic fiction, will release another edition of her Fifty Shades series later this year, this time from the perspective of her protagonist’s kinky love interest Mr. Grey. Fans will be delighted to finally see some of the action of E.L.’s sexy world through the eyes of the enigmatic Grey, but there are many benefits of changing perspective that you can take advantage of in your own writing, even if you don’t have an erotica fan base clamoring for your next edition. You can change your angle:

To simply take a break 

You want to keep writing but the more you write, the stranger and more convoluted your plot seems to become. Taking a break not by stepping away from your story but by changing your angle can refresh your writing voice so that you can return to your narrator with a lot more love and patience when you’re ready. A change is as good as a rest in writing.

To solve a logical problem

When you switch up your perspective, the movements of your characters may become clearer to you, allowing you to make more logical steps in your plot and avoid the overthought and overwritten action sequences that sometimes crop up when you spend too long in one viewpoint. When you find yourself getting stuck moving your narrative from one point to the next, getting a character from A to B, negotiating a fight scene, or understanding a love triangle, switching up your perspective can provide you with an easy visual solution to move you forward.

To see your protagonist’s inconsistencies

Contrary to popular belief, inconsistency in a main character is actually a good thing. It can make the character seem more rounded, real, and allow you to create real twists and turns that occur in relationships between people who sometimes say and do inconsistent things. When you view your protagonist from an outside perspective, you can witness the full extent of their character, including strange moods, moments of secrecy, and other qualities that will look completely different depending on whether you’re viewing them from an internal or an external perspective. And try several different perspectives, from the eye of a stranger, the eye of the person who loves them most, to see how they change according to who they’re with.

As a gift to your readers

E.L. James has obviously come a long way because of her loyal following of readers. They’ve made the Fifty Shades series what it is by talking about it, sharing it with friends, tweeting and generally being curious in James’ crew of characters. The latest edition of the series, Grey, is a treat for these loyal readers, a little thank you gift. J.K.Rowling did this too when she released her spin-off books, about the spells and beasts of Harry Potter’s magical world. Readers appreciate being appreciated, so when you’ve summoned up a little following, consider giving them a treat read, a tale from your villain’s perspective or an after-the-happy-ending chapter for your romance novel.

Have you used a different perspective to get closer to your characters or refresh your writing voice? Let us know how it helped.

What do you think of the New Judy Blume?

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She’s been a household name for decades. Since publishing her first book in 1969, she has been the literary confidante of millions around the world, especially young girls, with books like Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret and It’s Not the End of the World. She taught generations of girls in the 70s and 80s what to expect from puberty and relationships, in a time when sex education in school was much more of a euphemism than it is now. To this day, those she stands against censorship and those books aren’t afraid to say it like it is, to talk taboos, and to confront issues that sometimes schools and parents get tongue-tied about.

In fact, Judy Blume is so much a feature of adolescent girlhood of the seventies, eighties, and nineties that when I recently saw Ms. Blume promoting her newest novel for adults on her Twitter page, I thought it might have been a joke. Judy Blume on Twitter? It’s like the definition of anachronism, right? (Her Twitter handle is perfect, just for the record – “Are You There, Twitter? It’s Me, Judy”)

But Judy Blume now fits into a new era. Her name still carries with it the nostalgia of the Judy Blume brand, but in 2015, it also has a sort of vintage appeal. Girls and adults can get a dose of nostalgic seventies adolescence but also the caring, honest advice that we all need just as much as we did then. Her latest book brings her into 2015 as gracefully as if it was her debut, but it’s for adults now.

Judy herself has grown up. Though she was an adult and a mother when she first started writing her books for children, she’s been through a lot since the first prolific stretch of her fame. She’s suffered from cancer and gone through divorce. Her written voice appears to have grown with her. She has followed her readers and now offers her agony aunt touch to an adult novel, In the Unlikely Event, released today. But the novel is also Blume’s opening up to her audience about her own story. After years of telling universal stories of love, romance, adolescence, she’s delving into personal tragedy with the new novel, which tells the story of three fatal plane crashes and how they effect the community in New Jersey where Blume is from.

Judy Blume has stayed true then to the ethos of her most well-loved books, to be honest with who you are, to confront even the worst truths. Because she’s always stayed true to this ethos as a writer, her fans are willing to go with her to new territory, even Twitter territory, even if it’s a little hard to believe at first.

So, what do you think of the new Judy Blume?

Towerbabel Conversations: The Alternative Year of Books

Mark Zuckerberg’s not the only one having a Year of Books; your fellow authors at Towerbabel have some advice for your bookshelf too. On the Towerbabel Forums, we’ve been having a Getting to know Eachother chat, and sharing our favorites. Sounds like the makings of a rival book club, Mr. Z.

Suzanna J Linton recommends Sunshine by Robert McKinley, and Coren Graves favorite is The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien…

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hobbit

Sean Conway’s pick is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

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Sherri Fulmer Moorer has some high profile recommendations including The Bible, and the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin

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M.H. Soars goes for the Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley

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Sharon Stevenson recommends anything by Simon R. Green

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And me? I think The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is one of my all time favorites.

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Sounds like a cracking list to me! But if you still want to do Zuckerberg’s, you can catch up with all the books on the Year of Books Facebook page.

What’s the book you think everyone should read? Join us on the Forums and share it, as well as some fun facts about yourself, the best thing you’ve written yourself, and anything else you fancy! Welcome to the Towerbabel community :).

Top 5 Short Things To Read Online This Month

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More unconventional stories to get you thinking this month, from journals, mags and other places online.

A Numbered Graph That Shows How Each Part of the Body Would Fit Into A Chair by Mary Jo Bang in Granta

A little square paragraph of poetry to bring out your experimental side today. The illusion of prose that Mary Jo Bang creates here gives a feeling of domesticity, of simple confession, but the inner workings and convolutions make it a much denser, deeper animal.

Tuesday Night Figure Drawing at the Community Center by Diana Smith Bolton in Anderbo

This delightful little scene is a great example of how effective it can be to create your own unique jargon as you write, a language that belongs only to the world of your story. Here, Bolton’s life model navigates different faces as she changes poses, each introduced by its nickname, the “Renaissance Face” transforming into the “Les Miserables Face;” this unique language creates a comic peculiarity that sticks in the mind after the story is done.

The Easing by Gary Joshua Garrison in decomP

This is an uncomfortable narrative. In a stream of violent sensations and little idea of the rules and physics of this setting, The Easing reminds me of the opening of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, huge, abstract scope but with a very real sense of menace. A good one to read if you’re trying to write some horror or suspense.

Pleasure to Make Your Acquaintance by Sarah Kokernot in Crazyhorse

Character and place are quickly and gorgeously evoked in this story, which follows the young, charismatic Magdelena Schuller as she begins to work for Mrs. Woods of Hot Springs, Arkansas one spring. Read for its exquisite sense of place and time, and the way detail, gesture, and routine create characters’ relationships with one another.

Dead Mouse by Caroline Macon in [PANK]

“There is a teeny tiny dead mouse on the back porch. He died about three days ago and looks corpsier every time I pass by.” What a way to start a story! This creepy but super colloquial voice has a strange fresh kind of lyricism to it. It lulls us in with its unserious tone and then comes out with gems of human observation – “It takes a lot of energy to miss someone I hardly know at all”  – and it comes with an audio version so you can get your fiction fix on the go.

What are your reading picks of the month? Share them with us!