The Amateur’s Guide to a Professional Book Package: Part Two

by Melinda VanLone
published in Community

Hopefully by now you agree that a great book package is vital to your publishing success. That thought might even be overwhelming, especially if you have no graphics background. First, take a deep breath. Like any problem, if you break it down into steps it becomes much more manageable.

Step One: Change Your Hat

Take off your author hat and put on a marketing one. Even if you hire someone to design for you, this step is vital. It’s no longer about your fantastic story. What you have is a product you need to sell. To do that, you need to wrap it in a way that potential buyers will respond and pick it up (or click a link). That’s the bottom line.

A professional designer understands that all too well. They’ll be looking for standard elements that will shout to the world that here is a story worth reading, remaining true to the genre, and keeping that promise to the reader that what looks like a mystery or romance or thriller is, in fact, what they promised. They can do this easier than you because it’s NOT their story. they aren’t emotionally attached to it.

So rip off that hat. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Not so easy, is it! I speak from experience when I say it’s very, very hard to take that author hat off. You know your story, and you have a vision in your head that nobody else can see. And you want that on the cover, even if you have no idea what, exactly, it is. That’s bad. Because the vision you have of your story doesn’t matter when it comes to marketing.

Harsh, but true. What matters in marketing is making the sale. Getting that click. So keep that in mind.

Step Two: Think

What genre is the best for marketing this product? As you think this through, remember what you set out to write might not be what you ended up with. That paranormal romance might have ended up more urban fantasy. Your mystery might have morphed into thriller, or vice versa. From a marketing perspective this decision is vital, so be critical. It’ll affect everything from the keywords you choose for meta data on Amazon to the cover design, because one genre does not equal another when it comes to design. Readers looking for mysteries get caught by different images than paranormal romance readers.

If you think you’ve crossed all genres and done the impossible Sci Fi Fantasy Mystery Thriller Historical Romance, I submit that you aren’t ready to sell the story. Ask others what genre they think the book is. Get it critiqued. No book is all things to all people, and if it’s trying to be it won’t be successful.  Now’s the time to be exclusive.

For instance, if you remove the romantic element of your story, does the plot still stand? Then it’s not a romance. Is there a ticking clock in your story? No? Then it’s not a thriller. Is it set in the future, or an alternate reality with heavy emphasis on science? No? Then it’s not a science fiction. Does it include magic or an alternate reality filled with unicorns? Yes? Fantasy! Bingo. Yes, there are sub-genres. But figure out the main one, and then boil down to the very exact point. So your story takes place in our modern day world, but it’s mixed with magic and includes fantastical creatures? Hello urban fantasy! Now that’s a genre! A specific, targeted segment of story that makes designing a cover much easier.

Step Three: Study

A trick for figuring out where you should go for cover design is to examine what’s already out there. Why re-invent the wheel? Now’s not the time to get all artsy fartsy (I say that with all due respect to artists, whom I envy). Now’s the time to be critical. You aren’t going to hang this cover in the Louvre. You’re going to post it on Amazon in a sea of other covers and hope someone notices it enough to click.

Think of the best selling authors who produce something similar to your product. Study their covers. What colors do they feature? What mood do they set? Which ones strike you the most and make YOU want to click? Study those in particular. How big is the author name, WHERE is the author name, how big is the title, what kind of font, what kind of image, what’s in the image specifically?

Keep looking. Do they have a person on the cover? Or do they feature scenery? Can you tell just by looking if the story is humorous? Does it hold true? (read the free preview in Amazon to find that out). Be cautious here, make sure you’re studying a best-selling author and not a book rocketing up the free page. While there’s great books on the free page, you want to study the things that are selling. You know, for actual money. You don’t want to be like the fly-by-night one hit wonder. You want to be like the career author. The one making an actual living from it.

After some time you’ll probably notice that a lot of them look pretty similar. You might even scoff at the cliches you’ll see. The scantily clad girl holding a sword in fantasy, the planets on the sci fi, the couple laying on a beach for the romances. Yes, cliche. Yes, somewhat cheesy. And yes, that’s exactly what you want. You want to be like them, because whether you think it’s great artwork or not the fact remains that they are selling. They’ve created a cover that promises the reader exactly what they deliver. People who love romance might not like that the covers always feature a couple smooching or rolling in sand or whatever, but they know beyond a doubt when they click that link that they are getting the romance story they are seeking.

That’s what the cover is supposed to do, and that’s how you’ll find success.

Step Four: Study More

Now that you’ve changed hats, determined the genre best for your product, and researched the competition, it’s time to learn about those cliches. Each genre features common elements that will help guide you when selecting artwork for your cover. Knowing about them takes the scary right out of the process. By limiting your playing field, you’ll find it much easier to face the task of selecting the perfect design.

Next post, I’ll examine the main genres to provide you with a guide of what to look for in your own cover.

MelindaVanLone-ThumbnailMelinda VanLone serves as DIY MFA’s official shutterbug. Melinda earned an MA in publishing from Syracuse University, which she applied toward years as a graphic artist/designer, a skill she uses today at

In addition to book cover design and photography, Melinda writes urban fantasy and blogs on her website As an air force brat, she’s lived briefly in places all across the country, but currently resides in Rockville, MD with her wonderfully supportive husband and furbaby. When she’s not playing with imaginary friends in her fantasy worlds you can find her playing World of Warcraft, wandering through the streets with her camera, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks.


Twitter: @melindavan

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