2-3 Organize the Information for the Book Cover

The book cover has three parts to it – the front cover, the back cover and that skinny part in between, called the spine.

The typical reader who goes into a bookstore to browse for a good read does judge a book by its cover, so careful preparation of a cover that is professionally designed and does a good job of representing what the book is all about it essential.

There is a wide latitude in what makes a good book cover, but there are elements that should be covered in each part.

Cover Designers

Hiring a Talented Designer

One of the keys to finding the right designer is to look at books you love and pick out several to use as samples. If you can, find the designer or look for the graphic artists whose designs fit the looks you love. There are hundreds of gifted designers, but it is absolutely imperative that you find one who has substantial book cover experience. The best way to find graphic artists who do good work is to get referrals from happy authors and publishers. You should ask about how they met deadlines, how easy they were to work with, and what their prices were like. Research each designer’s Web site as well to see the work they have done for other clients.

You may choose to get bids from several designers. You will need to give them much of the information you developed in your publishing and marketing plans so they can do their best work in developing the perfect cover for you. Ideally, that would be the one that matches not only your publishing specifications (trim size, and the like) but also your positioning and platform.

Contract terms with book designers

Analyze each quote you get in terms of:
How they charge – Typically, the designer will want at least 30 percent to get started, another payment after the design is selected, and a final payment when the artwork (usually as an electronic file) is delivered to you and/or your printer. Additionally, you want to be clear on how payments are made for the work and what will happen if you want to terminate your agreement with him or her.

The author should expect to spend at least $1,000 for a professional cover design and often $2,000 or more to get a great design, and more if original artwork must be created or photographs purchased.

The process – Be sure you get several designs to choose from and at least two to three rounds of edits on them so that the one you choose is fine-tuned. You would also like the designer to take on the responsibility for coordination with the printer.

How long they will take to do the work – If the author has a tight deadline, make sure the designer can meet those dates. In general it will take about 3 weeks to prepare the cover.

Who owns the work – Preferably, you also want to own the design so that you can use it everywhere you wish. Some designers insist on owning their own designs, and you may need to pay a licensing fee in this case in order to use the designs on items other than your book.

Elements to Prepare for the Designer

Front Cover

Author name, credentials
Illustration, photo or other graphic

Back Cover

Retail Price
Bar Code
Back cover copy
Author bio
Author photo
Publishing company logo


Size of the book (based on number of pages, will be determined last) Title, author, publisher logo

Front Cover

The front cover is truly a work of art. The brand created in the cover design can be carried over to all your other marketing pieces. Many book covers use type as the only design element, with no other graphics or illustrations. The copy on a front cover should be sparse but draw the reader’s interest enough so that he or she turns the book over to read the copy on the back.

You will use the cover on all your marketing materials, so be sure you get a high-resolution Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPG) file from your designer—at least 300 dots per inch (DPI) resolution—to have ready for print publications.

The look of the cover should be consistent with the contents of the book. If the book is on a serious subject, a brightly colored, happy cover won’t be appropriate and will take away from the credibility of the author and the message.

If you self-publish, you’ll need a designer for your book cover, publisher logo, collateral materials, and Web design, along with help in uploading your book and cover to your printer’s web site.

To the professional eye, it is clear which books are professionally done versus those done by first-time self-published authors. A poorly packaged book might have chapter titles in all caps in one font, be overpriced, and not have an index. It might be poorly titled or not focused. A book may be well written with a myriad of important things to say yet be packaged in a way that is not likely to sell.

There are all too many knowledgeable and carefully crafted books with covers that hinder them from reaching their potential. This happens to many new authors who are concerned about costs and find the cheapest designer they can to do the cover.


Book Title

Selecting a title that perfectly represents the contents of the book and is going to appeal and communicate to your audience in only a few words is a daunting task.

A title is not subject to copyright law, so there can be many books with the same title. Even one that is particularly clever or seems to be unique to that book or author could be used by another author. There are probably hundreds of books entitled Trees.

Most nonfiction books have a title between three and five words long, with an added subtitle that goes into more detail about the subject of the book.

The book title not only has to express meaning in a marketing-savvy way, but it has to be computer-search-friendly as well. You want your author’s book to be found when anyone does a Google™ search on the important words in your title—especially for how-to books.

Back Cover

Most back covers have four elements to them:
1. Across the top and down the top third of the cover are as many inspiring testimonials from important, influential, and name-recognized people as you can fit in. Usually, there will be at least two and as many as four.

2. There is a synopsis of the critical, not-to-be-missed core messages of your book. Be able to tell readers in fifty words or less what they need to know—much like an elevator speech you might give as you network for your business.

3. There is a short, to-the-point bio of maybe five sentences—just enough to establish your credentials as an expert in your field or to include something else that qualifies you to write this book. So if you’ve got work to do to establish those credentials, this is the time to do it.

4. There is a photo of the author—a picture that says “Wow! That person is a real pro—and approachable too.” If you don’t like the picture of the person on your cover, then do what’s needed to become that person now. You want this picture to be your best you. Focusing on these elements, you can begin to see how the ones surrounding your book must come together to result in a successful publication. They comprise you, your message, and your audience.

Back Cover Design for a 6×9 Book

Back Cover Sales Copy

On the typical back cover of your book, you will have a few testimonials, a few sentences to convey the message about the content of the book, and a few sentences to talk about yourself and your expertise. In those few sentences, you must excite a potential book buyer enough to buy.

Whatever is said on the back cover can be utilized in a number of other sales opportunities, such as on Amazon.com or sell sheets.

Testimonials should be written professionally as well, and the person endorsing the book can choose which message he or she feels comfortable with.

Too often, cover copy is written by the author and tends to be wordy. The style of writing in a book is different from the short sentences and high-impact wording required by cover copy.


Retail Pricing

To price a book correctly to maximize sales, you need to know how other similar types of books are priced, as well as the costs of the book, in order to maximize your profits. Beyond these two factors, you must also factor in the discounts required to sell online and in bookstores.

The author/publisher will typically set a retail price and then select a wholesale discount off of that retail price.

Here are the steps involved in pricing:

1. Seek out competitive titles, and make a list of the title, the page count, and the retail price of the book. Consider a price that makes sense based comparing your book’s page count and complexity with the other books in the market.

Here are some typical US retail price ranges for soft cover books based on page count:
110-175 pages: $12.95-$15.95
176-250 pages: $13.95-$19.95
251-325 pages: $14.95-$21.95
326-400 pages: $15.95-$24.95

2. Add up the costs of producing the book, and divide by the quantity to determine the cost per book. You want to be sure you cover your costs adequately, even with the deep discounts you will see explained below.

Typical printing costs for self-published books depend on the quantity printed and are generally between $2 and $5 (US) a book on quantities from 1to 500 copies.

Other hard costs include editorial services, book design, illustrations, proofreading, indexing, permissions, bar code, and cover design. Unfortunately, you can’t include the expense of your time or marketing costs or the book price would be much higher than the market will bear.

3. Consider where and how you will sell the book to determine the discount you will need to offer for retailers and online sales. If you want to sell to bookstores through a distributor, the typical wholesale discount from retail price will be 50 percent to even 70 percent. Consider a typical 55 percent wholesale discount for sales through Amazon.com.

The price of the book is on the back cover, usually on the bottom right corner next to the bar code with the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) number.

If you self-publish and don’t plan on selling in bookstores, you may decide not to print the price on the book so you can easily change it if you find your costs are different from what you expected.

Another cost that must be considered here is shipping. Bookstores and Amazon.com will want you to pay for book shipping. The exception to that is if you use Lightning Source as your printer, there will be no shipping cost for books ordered by Amazon.

Bookstore Categories

It is always helpful for you to tell a bookstore where you want a book to be placed in their store. And you should do that right on the book cover. When you go into a typical bookseller’s, you will find a “business” section, a “children’s” section, and many more. Bookstores will place the book in the right section or category and then alphabetize it by the author’s last name within that category.

To assist an author in getting proper placement, The Book Industry Study Group (bisg) has created the Book Industry Standards and Communication (bisac) committee, which has designated both category and subcategory listings. The category name or names appears on the back cover of a soft cover book, usually on the top left. It is hard for bookstores to accurately place a book based on the title alone, so the more information you can give them, the better they can locate the book where your likely readers will find it. There is no process for making a correct selection and it is up to the author (or the publisher) to let bookstores and others know where the book belongs. You can select up to three categories for the book. The BISAC can be found on their website – www.bisg.org.

When you put the subject heading on the back cover, do not include the associated code listed on the BISG website. Just use the plain text version.

Author Photo

Having a professionally done head shot is essential for the author who will be doing any speaking engagements or media interviews. Usually, the more attractive, polished and presentable the author, the higher the likelihood of media attention and interviews.

It’s useful to make several different headshots and other photos to vary the choices. Be sure the photographer supplies you with a high-resolution JPG file of all photos (at least 300 DPI) that will be adequate for all print uses.

Book Spine

The spine of the cover is often overlooked or designed as an afterthought. This is a mistake—just go into any bookstore and see how books are shelved. In about 90 percent of them, all you can see is the spine, which must have the title, author’s name, and publisher. It is important that the title (and if famous, the author’s name) be bold enough to stand out from all the other books surrounding it.

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