Book Cover Design and Blurb: Agony or Ecstasy?

by Anna M Holmes
published in Writing

When I was a kid, after a weekly shopping trip to my hometown, the place our family arranged to meet before driving home was the bookstore. There we’d pick up the weekly magazines (Woman, Girl, Eagle… ) and browse books while waiting for stragglers to arrive. My parents — primary school teachers — would be on the lookout for books to stock, or to give at prize giving. Every child in our rural New Zealand school had an annual book gifted, so seeing and feeling books helped identify which was right for a particular child.

Times have changed.

A few months ago, on DIY MFA, I wrote an article about research and world building for The Find. This time, I’m sharing the agony and ecstasy of deciding on those all-important decisions to be made about the front cover design and back cover blurb. 

With every rewrite and polish, your story shines. You’ve received beta reader feedback (that’s a must-do). An editor and proof-reader may have tidied up things (I’d recommend both). You are confident the words inside your book are ready for publication. Now for the outside.

As a reader, I still like handling and browsing books in actual shops, but like most others, I browse online, frequently purchasing digital novels.

As an author, I rely on online retail platforms to market my work. Few of us get to see our books displayed in actual shops relying on potential purchasers to click through rather than flick-through.

Front Cover Image

What kind of cover design image captures the mood of your story-world and genre? For The Find, the Book Guild designer provided advice and a briefing form with all sorts of questions, such as:

  • What is the title inspired by? 
  • Who do you feel is your target audience? 
  • What do you wish your cover to convey?

After researching and selecting images on iStock, where I had been directed to, I tested concepts with beta readers who knew the story and between us we narrowed my ideas down to a combination of a non-specific male head and boggy landscape. 

The digital image of a male head came in two colors: bronze and silver. The two boggy landscape photos I selected were browny-gold tones and bluey-gray. I mocked up two versions and sought feedback from beta readers. The brown/gold color palette won out, and I forwarded a roughed-up idea to the publishers to work with.

What came back surprised and delighted me. The designers tossed out the head image as it didn’t work, they said, instead focusing on one boggy landscape image. They played with it, altering and enhancing it in magical ways designers have. I loved it immediately.

On a 1-10 scale, agony to ecstasy, I give working on cover design a high 9. 

Take away:

  • Take your time to look at books that are a similar genre to yours. 
  • Share ideas with beta readers who know your story.
  • Take advice from professionals who know the current book market.

Back Cover Blurb

Let’s imagine people browsing online. You’ve hooked them with a strong, yet relevant, cover design and they decide to stay a while longer and read the blurb. You’ve not got much time before restless fingers are going to click through. Grab them!

  • How can your back cover blurb capture your story succinctly? 
  • In under 200 words, how can you convey the essence of your story without including plot spoilers? 
  • How can you grab peoples’s attention to make them think, yeah, that’s worth spending money on? 
  • How can you ensure the blurb reflects your values and themes in your story? 

I went through many versions. It’s hard to get the blurb to the point where you don’t want to tinker a second longer. 

I tested paragraphs with beta readers and my writers’s group, changing, tweaking, chucking away, starting again… In other words, I stewed over the whole darned thing for weeks. Many suggestions from valued supporters were included in the blurb. Here is what I settled on.

“When human remains are found deep in an Irish peat bog, the National Museum of Ireland takes charge and their bog body specialist, Carrie O’Neill, begins to investigate. She notices unexpected features on this well-preserved body and later tests suggest an intriguing history. 

As Carrie tries to make sense of all she learns, speculation sends people reeling. Repercussions ripple throughout the world, pulling Carrie into the ensuing controversy. She finds herself caught up in events that she has not foreseen and cannot control. 

The more she delves into the mystery that is the talk of every TV show, the more she is warned off. Fear and outrage mount as she prepares a much-anticipated exhibition of their precious discovery.

The Find raises one almighty question that will shake up everything we think we know.”

On a 1-10 scale, agony to ecstasy, I give working on the blurb a 5. It was difficult, and I really did agonize over it. 

Take Away:

Don’t rush. Take your time and listen to advice. Live with your cover design. Play with it by moving sections around. (I moved the final sentence in my blurb from opening to ending.) Read it aloud.

Enjoy creating your book!

Stories with big themes written as page-turners are Anna M Holmes’s speciality. She loves research — exploring and building worlds and complex characters. The Find is her latest novel following Wayward Voyage and Blind Eye. Initially, she worked as a radio journalist before a career in arts management working with UK Arts Councils and as a creative producer. Writing, reading, dance, and yoga shape her life. Originally from New Zealand, Anna lives in South-West London.

To discover more about Anna M Holmes visit her website or follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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