8 Keys to a Successful Book Cover

We say to never judge a book by its cover, but in reality it’s one of first things we do judge! The cover is an author’s first (and most important) arsenal in marketing a book. For a book to be successful, it must attract the right readers. How does a book cover accomplish this? There’s no scientific formula for designing a successful cover, but there are certainly things to take into account that will help.

1) Appeal to the Audience (elicit some kind of emotion and pique interest)

This seems pretty obvious, but that doesn’t make it less important. There are a lot of options out there for readers, and if the cover doesn’t speak to someone, he/she won’t pick it up. “Appealing” doesn’t necessarily mean pretty or cute; disturbing, striking, and mysterious covers are appealing as well. The cover just has to elicit some kind of emotion and pique interest.

In order to appeal to the audience, authors and publishers need to first clearly define who this target audience is. When you define your audience, you can then think about what they specifically will find appealing. Will they prefer pretty and cute, or will they gravitate toward disturbing, thrilling, and mysterious? Knowing your audience is key.

Example: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
Design by Maria Carella

Simple yet striking. The bright color makes this book easy to spot on the shelf. After looking at the book more closely, a reader might wonder why the dog is upside down, and why are all the titles lowercase? A curious incident indeed…curious enough to pique a reader’s interest to open the book and read.

2) Fit into Genre…

When readers look at a book cover, they make assumptions about the book itself. And, they expect to be able to make relatively correct assumptions. The cover should convey a general sense of the genre to which it belongs. Is this book fantasy, science fiction, nonfiction, young adult?

Example: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Design by Laura Duffy

Can you tell which genre this book fits into?

3) …But Stand Out

Your cover should fit into its genre, but not be generic! Don’t let your epic adventure be just one wave in a sea of fantasy. Use your style, imagery, type, and color to set your cover apart and make readers notice it (this does not mean it has to be neon pink). If you were looking at a shelf in a bookstore, would you notice your book? A few ways to achieve outstanding, genre-appropriate covers are to…(keep reading)

Example: Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Design by Katy Riegel

Freakishly original, and now iconic.

4) Use Colors That Engage Your Target Audience

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we all make associations with different colors. Red is passion, blue is calm, green is natural, etc. Sometimes there are significant cultural differences in color association that you should be aware of. For instance, in most western cultures white is associated with weddings, but red fills that role in many eastern traditions. Make your color selection appeal to the people who should be reading it. Maybe cheerful pastels aren’t the best choice for a biography of Genghis Kahn.

Example: The Martian by Andy Weir
Design by Eric White

Very appropriately red…

5) The Same Goes for Type

Typefaces also carry strong connotations. If the title of a nonfiction study of physics is written in Comic Sans, there had better be a good reason. Otherwise it feels incongruous with the topic and detracts from the credibility. Use fonts that reflect your tone, content, and audience. And use Papyrus only with great care.

Example: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Design by Jaya Miceli

6) Be Readable as a Thumbnail Image

We’ve already mentioned that you want your book to stand out on a shelf at a bookstore, but many people don’t shop for books in physical stores anymore. A lot of book selection takes place online. The cover that your audience sees could likely be a small thumbnail image on a screen. Covers whose type and visuals maintain their integrity and impact at small sizes are more likely to succeed in our world of digital scrutiny.

Example: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Design by Ellen Granter

7) Elicit the Right Emotions

Readers often buy or choose which books to read based on the emotion the cover elicits. Use type, imagery, and color that reflect the tone and mood of your book. If a reader is looking for an uplifting book and chooses one with playful font, bright colors, and a butterfly on the front for that reason, he/she may react negatively upon discovering it’s a dark, dystopian tale. Covers that contradict the tone of the book can be very powerful, but only when executed with intention.

Example: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott-Fitzgerald
Design by Francis Cugat

8) Demonstrate Good Design

“Good design” is subjective, of course. There are rules, though, that guide design to create balance and harmony. Successful covers can be ornate and colorful, minimalistic and monochromatic, representative or abstract. But they should all look intentional and professional. If the cover doesn’t demonstrate care and craftsmanship, why should the reader assume the content will be better?

Example: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
Design by Connie Gabbert

 

If you’re interested in learning more about the craft of book design, you might be interested in 5 Must-Read Books for Book Designers.

 

Kelsey Brown is a graphic designer, 3D digital artist, and motion media designer. She’s also an avid reader and book lover. You can find her design work here.

Library of Congress Control Numbers: Do Self-Publishers Need Them?

The Library of Congress Control Number

The Library of Congress Control Number, or LCCN, is an often overlooked detail in independent publishing. This blog post will explain what it is, how to use it, and why you need one (or don’t).

(Note: this post applies to books published in the U.S. Other countries will have their own requirements.)

The LCCN

First, what is it?

Here’s the description directly from the Library of Congress website:

A Library of Congress catalog control number is a unique identification number that the Library of Congress assigns to the catalog record created for each book in its cataloged collections. Librarians use it to locate a specific Library of Congress catalog record in the national databases and to order catalog cards from the Library of Congress or from commercial suppliers. (source: https://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn)

In other words, having an LCCN assigned to a book makes it much easier for libraries to acquire it. If selling to libraries is a major part of your marketing plan, it might be worthwhile to obtain this cataloging number.

But wait, there’s a catch.

The LCCN (and corresponding Catalog in Publication (CIP) Program) is largely reserved for large publishers or pre-approved independent presses. To be eligible to apply for the CIP program, you must meet these requirements:

Only U.S. publishers who publish titles that are likely to be widely acquired by U.S. libraries are eligible to participate in the CIP program.

Every publisher/imprint must have already published a minimum of three titles by three different authors. All three titles must have been widely acquired by U.S. libraries.

(The full list of requirements can be found here: https://www.loc.gov/publish/cip/about/membership.html)

The PCN

Since most self-publishers and small presses do not meet these requirements (at least with their first book), there is a second option available: the PCN, or Preassigned Control Number program.

The purpose of the Preassigned Control Number (PCN) program is to enable the Library of Congress to assign control numbers in advance of publication to those titles that may be added to the Library’s collections. The publisher prints the control number in the book and thereby facilitates cataloging and other book processing activities. The PCN links the book to any record which the Library of Congress, other libraries, bibliographic utilities, or book vendors may create. (source: https://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/about/index.html)

Just like the LCCN has a CIP (cataloging in publication), the PCN has what’s called P-CIP. This is simply the cataloging data for the PCN.

Applying for a PCN is a two-step process. To read the application steps and to submit your forms, visit https://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/about/process.html

When you receive your PCN, the Library of Congress asks that you include it in your copyright page in the following format:

Library of Congress Control Number: 2007012345

(The first four numbers will correspond to the year you applied (in the example above it is 2007). Even if your book is published the following year, do not change this number. It must remain exactly as received from the Library of Congress.)

Is it worth the time and effort?

As the application for a PCN is a lengthy process, you might be wondering if it’s worth all the work and wait.

In his blog, TheBookDesigner.com, Joel Friedlander offers the following insight:

“If you anticipate making any appreciable sale to libraries, it’s probably well worthwhile to get P-CIP. Having this cataloging information simply makes librarians’ jobs that much easier, reducing their resistance just a bit to acquiring your book for their collection.”

“Particularly if you publish reference books, histories, books about local events that would be of interest to libraries in your region, travel books, directories, how-to books on popular topics, or similar books, you could well have a good sized market with the thousands of libraries, both public and private, throughout the country.”

Read more here.

LCCN / PCN Conclusion

Think about your book marketing plan and target audience. Are libraries a major part of your ideal purchasers? If the answer is yes, then it’s worth your while to obtain a PCN or LCCN. However, if the library market is not part of your marketing plan, then perhaps you can ignore the entire PCN process. If most of your book sales will be direct-to-reader via online retailers like Amazon, then you don’t really need to go through this extra process.

Also, keep in mind that just because your book does have a PCN, this does not mean that libraries will automatically accept your book. With such a large amount of published books, libraries unfortunately cannot accept every single book. But, you never know until you try!

If you’re curious to learn more about the PCN and the data block for your copyright page, visit Joel Friedlander’s post. He offers valuable advice, a breakdown of the various parts of the data block, and also resources and vendors that prepare P-CIP data blocks for small presses and self-publishers.

Another great article about the LCCN and PCN can be found at IndiesUnlimited.com.

Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

Are you writing a book? Let us guide you through the self-publishing process.

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Elena is founder and creative director at DTPerfect. She loves collaborating with authors to create books that inspire, teach, and leave a legacy. When she is not working with authors, she writes and illustrates a few of her own stories and is the award-winning author of Thank You, Me, a children’s book created to inspire gratitude and self-care.

Top 5 Websites for Copyright-Free Images

For authors and bloggers on a budget, one of the biggest challenges is to find high-quality images that are copyright-free. While you can always purchase stock images from sites like Shutterstock or iStockPhoto, it can be a strain on your budget. Thankfully, there are generous photographers that release some of their work under a public domain license, meaning that you can use these photos free of charge (but check each website’s license for complete details).

Before you get too excited, there are both pros and cons to free images.

Pros: The images are free, yay!

Cons: Because they are free, everybody seems to be using them! Have you seen the same stock photos used over and over again online? “Free” seems to combat originality. (By the way, here’s how you can check where a photo has been used before.)

What’s the verdict?

  • Do not use: If you’re looking for a photo to incorporate into your book cover, it might not be in your best interest to use a public domain photo. After all, you want your book cover to be original…you don’t want the same photo used on hundreds of other book covers.
  • Use: If you just need an image for a blog (and you’re not particular about it being totally original), this would be a fine time to use a public domain image. You save some money, you have a nice image on your blog, and it’s OK if someone else used it somewhere too. Plus, if you want, you can credit the photographer and help them with more exposure. It’s a win-win.
  • Use: If you need something quick for social media, and it’s alright if the image has been used before.
  • Use: If you have a fantastic book designer that can alter, adjust, combine, and Photoshop the image into something totally original. In this case, public domain images become a great base for new and original artwork.

 

Now that you know when to use and not to use these images, here are 5 awesome websites that offer these totally free images.

1. Unsplash.com

This is a wonderful website with (very) high quality, beautiful photography that you can use for free!

The photos are free for personal and commercial use.

Here is an excerpt from their license:

“All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.” (https://unsplash.com/license)

 

2. Pixabay.com

Pixabay offers public domain photography, as well as some vectors and illustrations.

An excerpt from their FAQ:

“Pixabay is a vibrant community of creatives, sharing copyright free images and videos. All contents are released under Creative Commons CC0, which makes them safe to use without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist – even for commercial purposes.” (https://pixabay.com/en/service/faq)

 

3. Gratisography.com

A project by Ryan McGuire, this site offers images that are…a little bit out there…and super awesome. These are great for attention-grabbing social media posts (and daily inspirational breaks from work).

“Free high-resolution pictures you can use on your personal and commercial projects, free of copyright restrictions.”

(Read the full license terms here: https://gratisography.com/terms.html)

 

4. Pexels.com

A very nice collection of thousands of public domain images.

These are also free for personal and commercial use. Here’s an excerpt from their terms:

All photos on Pexels are licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. This means the pictures are completely free to be used for any legal purpose.

The only restriction is that identifiable people may not appear in a bad light or in a way that they may find offensive, unless they give their consent. You should also make sure the depicted content (people, logos, private property, etc.) is suitable for your application and doesn’t infringe any rights.

(Read the full terms here: https://www.pexels.com/photo-license)

 

5. ISO Republic.com

Another nice resource that categorizes images into nicely organized categories.

Images here are also free for personal and commercial use, but check out their full terms here: https://isorepublic.com/terms/

 

 

 

Elena is founder and creative director at DTPerfect. She loves collaborating with authors to create books that inspire, teach, and leave a legacy. When she is not working with authors, she writes and illustrates a few of her own stories and is the award-winning author of Thank You, Me, a children’s book created to inspire gratitude and self-care.

How to See Where Your Stock Images Have Been Used Before: Google “Search by Image”

With so many websites and so many (but not enough) stock images, there is a very high probability that your stock image has been used before.

This is not a big deal if you are using an image for a blog or social media, but if you are choosing an image for a book cover, you might want to check if (and how) it’s been used before.

So, to search an image, here’s the step by step:

  1. Have your image ready. (Have either the URL link, or download it to your computer. You can download a watermarked version if you’re curious to search the image before purchasing it.)
  2. Go here: https://images.google.com/
  3. Click the little camera icon.
  4. Insert the URL or upload the image.
  5. Google will show a list of blogs and websites that have used this image. The match is not always perfect, but it gives you a good general idea of where this image has appeared before.

 

 

Elena is founder and creative director at DTPerfect. She loves collaborating with authors to create books that inspire, teach, and leave a legacy. When she is not working with authors, she writes and illustrates a few of her own stories and is the award-winning author of Thank You, Me, a children’s book created to inspire gratitude and self-care.