Book Covers

Writing a Blurb for Your Book Cover

“Blurb” is such a funny word to say, but it’s a word that writers everywhere should know, because the blurb can have so much influence on who and how many people buy or download your books. According to Wikipedia (not the best source I know, but it’s quick and convenient, so what are you going to do?), a blurb is “a short summary or promotional piece meant to accompany a creative work.” In the context of a book, a blurb is usually the summary text on the back of the book describing the story, but it can also refer to reader reviews, promotional taglines, and author biographies. For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on the summary text on the back of a book, since that is what often plays a role in any reader’s decision to buy a book.

Generally blurbs are at most a paragraph or two, and give a brief idea to the reader what they can expect before they open up the book to read it. This brief idea is given in three parts: the explanation, the mystery, and the promise. Here’s what I mean:

Nathaniel is a magician’s apprentice, taking his first lessons in the arts of magic. But when a devious hot-shot wizard named Simon Lovelace ruthlessly humiliates Nathaniel in front of his elders, Nathaniel decides to kick up his education a few notches and show Lovelace who’s boss. With revenge on his mind, he summons the powerful djinni, Bartimaeus. But summoning Bartimaeus and controlling him are two different things entirely, and when Nathaniel sends the djinni out to steal Lovelace’s greatest treasure, the Amulet of Samarkand, he finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.

The Amulet of Samarkand, US edition

This was the blurb on the back of The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book of the Bartimaeus Sequence by Johnathan Stroud. I was maybe ten or eleven when I first read this book. I was just coming out of my Harry Potter junkie phase and wanted something new to read. I wasn’t at first really interested in the book, but then I saw the blurb on the back and I was immediately hooked. I ended up reading the entire trilogy and the prequel, really enjoyed them, and I’ve been influenced by it ever since. And just based on that one blurb it got me to read the first book.

Let’s look at this blurb using the parts I named above. First, we have the explanation, which tells us what the novel is about. Judging from that, the reader learns that the main character is Nathaniel, he’s a magician’s apprentice, and he decides to send a djinni named Bartimaeus to get revenge for him by having him steal an amulet from Nathaniel’s enemy. The explanation stops at telling us what happens next and how it leads into “a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.”

That’s what the mystery is for. The mystery’s purpose is to say that although a little bit of the story has been revealed to you in the explanation, the rest of it you’ll have to read the book to find out. All we can tell you is that there’s a lot of cool stuff there, in this case magical espionage, murder and rebellion. Usually the mystery is held off until the last sentence, meant to leave the reader intrigued enough that they’ll open the book to find out more.

Last but not least, the promise is found throughout the blurb, and it is as it’s called: a promise. In this case, the promise is telling us that this is an awesome story geared for readers just like the person reading the back cover, and that they will miss out if they do not open the book. This should be the main goal of the author when writing their blurb.

Of course, there are some things you should and shouldn’t do when writing your blurb. For instance, it may be tempting to make it seem like your book is the greatest thing that’s ever been written. For all I know, it has. But if the message from your blurb is “It’s new! It’s great! You should read it and make sure everyone else around you reads it!” and that message is too obvious or strong, it might turn away readers rather than make them want to read more. We want people to read our works of course, but coming on too strong never got anyone anywhere.

The best way to do is let the blurb and the story it’s summarizing do the talking for you. Instead of coming on strong, let the blurb subtly entice the reader into wanting to check out the story and find out more. Another way of looking at this could be like thinking of the blurb as a free sample in a grocery store or shopping mall. You get a small taste to begin with, but if you want more, you’re going to have to buy the whole product.

Another thing to keep in mind is not to put too much information in the explanation part of your blurb. Give them just enough information to form an impression, maybe give them a few images in their heads, but not too much that they’ll have a basic idea of where the story is going to go and what will happen, so why bother picking the story up? Make sure to leave some room for the mystery in the story to hint at what’s to happen so the reader will be intrigued enough to open up the book to page one.

And finally, try to do all this in as few words as possible. The blurb above is less than a hundred words and still manages to grab your attention. You should aim to write an effective blurb around a similar length that does the same thing. This isn’t just because keeping it brief is good for giving hints and mystery, though that’s part of it. It’s also because practically speaking you only have so much room on the back of your book, so you should try to keep the word count around one hundred so that the printed summary doesn’t feature tiny, tiny letters that make it difficult to read. And if the reader has difficulty reading the back cover, what are the chances they’ll want to read what’s on the inside?

What tips do you have for writing blurbs?

Categories: Book Covers, Book Promotion, General Writing, Marketing & Promoting, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, The Reader, The Writer & Author | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tips on Making Covers or Working With a Cover Artist: Part 2

I’m going to cover the viewpoint of the author, and Stephannie Beman will cover the viewpoint of the cover artist.

Today, we’re going to talk about what to look for when choosing the “look” for your cover.

1.  Less Is More (Or Keep It Simple Silly)

Ruth’s Thoughts:

There is a tendency to want to put as much on covers as possible.  The problem is you can only fit so much on a cover.  I like to think of the cover as a snapshot where you give the readers (at a glance) what kind of book you’re giving them.  In my case, I do romance, and in romance there is usually a woman, man or the couple is often the focal point.   But you don’t want the background to overpower the cover.  I could have a cover with a bride, a stagecoach, a horse, a dog, the hero, a couple of kids, a mercantile, and a lasso on it.  But just how attractive would cramming all that stuff into one cover be?  Maybe all of those things have something to do with the book, but it’s not necessary to put it all into the cover.

My advice is to pick 1 focal image and 1-2 images for the background.  This could be a bride for the focal point, a carriage and a field for the background.  Of course, you can get away with using just one picture.  Some of my most popular covers are ones with a single stock image.

Steph’s Thoughts:

As a cover designer, I run into lots of authors who want to add all the key elements of their stories on the cover. While in theory it might sound like a good idea, it isn’t. Keeping your design simple does two things for the cover design:

  1. It doesn’t confuse the message you want to give the readers
  2. It allows the image to be better seen when it is shrunk down.

Too many items and people clutter your cover. It’s best to pick one main element from your book to place on the cover design. If you aren’t sure what that item should be, ask someone who reads your book to tell you. Or you can do as I suggest to my clients and describe your book in one sentence. This will give you a better idea of what you should place on the cover.

2.  Use Professional Images

Ruth’s Thoughts:

Don’t hand draw something.   If you want an image is drawn, get a professional artist to do it for you.  Most of the time, though, you’ll be looking for pictures.  Unless you are skilled with a good camera, I would advise you to choose a stock photo site and buy a royalty free image.  Your cover doesn’t have to look just like a big traditional publisher’s book, but it should be attractive.  I would advise authors to buy the images and send them to the cover artist.  Stephannie can explain more of “why”, but in a nutshell, it helps to protect your right to have those images on your cover.

Steph’s Thoughts

I know that wanting to I save money on a cover and scouring the Internet for free images to use might sounds like a great idea, but it’s not. I suggestion using professional images from a stock-photography site, hire a photographer to take pictures, or hire an illustrator to draw your cover. Yeah, it costs money, but in the long run it can also save you thousands of dollars.

You should purchase professional images because:

  1. It would really suck to find out later that the free image you used was uploaded to Flickr by someone who didn’t own the rights and now you have to pay $8,000 for its use. (True story)
  2. When you purchase the licensing rights this allows you to use the image according to the stock provider’s terms of use. Please read the licensing terms of each site carefully. You don’t want to find out later that you have to pay a percentage of your royalties or that they can demand that you remove your cover with the image on it and purchase another at a later date.
  3. You can download your proof of purchase so when someone comes to you for using the images and the option for going to the designer there because they’ve gone out of business, cannot be reached, etc., then you have proof.
  4. There may come a time when you need an extended license because you want to use the images on other items, you might not have the option of going to the designer because they’ve gone out of business, cannot be reached, etc., and with an account you can manage this yourself.

Unless you are really good with a camera or know how to enhance the pictures you take, I don’t suggest using your own images. Most amateur photographers aren’t aware of the tricks that make a picture useable. Including and not limited to lighting, shape, direction, color, balance, position, etc. Does this mean you can’t use them? Not at all. Just that you should know more about photography before you use one of your own.

3.  Listen to Your Cover Artist (if you hire one)

Ruth’s Thoughts:

While you should have an idea of what you want on the cover so the artist knows your vision for the cover, there are times when the artist’s experience can be beneficial.  The artist has worked with a lot of images.  They’re familiar with fonts, colors, lighting, and how things line up.  This comes from experience.   Maybe you wanted to use a certain picture on the cover, but it turns out the photo is at an awkward angle that makes the way you want to use this image a bad idea.  The artist will probably see that right away.  They may suggest you find another picture or maybe they’ll find one that is better.  Be willing to take their advice into account.  If you are in serious doubt, have them do both pictures–one yours and one with the way they think it looks better.  Then pick the one you want from there.

Artists usually allow you 2-3 rounds of proofs for free so you can give them feedback on what you like and don’t like.  If you keep changing things though, be prepared to pay for the additional proofs.   But go ahead and do as many proofs as you need to get the cover you want.

In the end, it’s your book and the artist will consent to your wishes, but be open to new ideas and at least take a look at what they suggest.

Steph’s Thoughts

To add to what Ruth said above, if you are hiring a cover artist to create your book cover design, chose one whose design portfolio has covers you like. This will go a long way to getting a design you like.  A good designer understands the trends in design. They know the little tricks that make a design better or suggest the right genre.

It’s your job to have an idea of what you want, it’s the designers to create a cover that reflects your vision. However, be open to suggestions. A good designer will protest a bad design choice and explain why it would be bad. They will suggest a better choice and tell you why it would be better. If their suggestions makes sense, listen to them. They are doing what you paid them for and trying to make a great cover. Remember this is their job and a bad cover reflects poorly on both of you.

Categories: Book Covers | Tags: ,

Tips on Making Covers or Working With Cover Artists: Part 1

Covers are the visual your reader sees when they see your book on a book site.  In addition to being an author, Stephannie Beman is also a cover designer.  As for me, I’m just an author.  So she’ll take the viewpoint of the cover artist while I take the viewpoint of the author.

Here is the first of many tips–stay-tuned for more–we have come up with while talking about cover design…

Tip #1. At a glance, your cover should tell people what your genre is.

Ruth’s thoughts as an author: The average person will only glance at your cover while searching through books.  So the first thing you want to do is tell them “The genre for this book is….” Some people buy books based on the covers.  They don’t go through and read the description first.  Whether or not you think this is the right way to do things, the fact is some people choose to buy books this way.  This is why it’s crucial to have a cover that tells them, “This is a historical western romance” or “This is horror novel where the protagonist is a kid” or “This is a paranormal about a werewolf” or “This is a science fiction novel that takes place on another planet”.

Just by saying the “This book is…” I bet certain images popped in your head without even realizing it.  For the historical western romance, you might expect a cowboy, a woman in a long dress, a couple embracing, fancy fonts, and a happy feel.  For the horror novel with the kid, you probably visualize a dark background with a kid who looks scared.  The font will probably have a creepy feel to it.  For the paranormal werewolf cover, you probably will get a man and the image of a wolf or a couple and the image of a wolf somewhere.  It’ll probably have a little bit of dark feel to it, though not as dark as a horror novel.  For the science fiction novel featured on another planet, you probably expect a scene from outer space with space shuttles or spaceships (perhaps ones ready for war), maybe a planet or two, and maybe a bold font.

You might want your cover to stand out from the crowd, but people are so used to seeing covers in all the genres that it’s a good idea to make sure your cover is similar to the others. That doesn’t mean you take a cover and make the exact same one.  But what you do is take the elements (the common themes) and use it in your cover.  For example, if you have a thriller about a serial killer who is a man, you might want bright red letters in a bold font with a gray or black background where a man is standing in the rain holding a gun and looking like he’s ready to kill the next person who talks to him.  I bet all of us could take that idea and we’d all come up with different covers because the way I’m visualizing this cover in my mind is different from how you do.  But it’s the same idea and the same genre and will tell readers the same thing: this is a thriller about a killer.  This message in a single image can reach the right person to your book and tell the wrong person to go elsewhere.  (For example, if someone would rather read a medical thriller, they will probably look for something like a needle or a medical instrument.)

Steph’s thoughts as a cover designer: I agree with everything Ruth said above! :D

Readers, like most consumers, are drawn to the packaging of a product. Like Nike or Pepsi that design needs to be memorable and catch the attention of a passerby because that is where the bulk of your readers will come from. Your cover is your foot in the door. It’s usually the readers first glimpse of the book. That first glimpse needs to tell them a story that makes them want to hit buy. Otherwise they’ll wander away to another shiny book.

Now that book you’ve slaved over for months might be your baby, but to everyone else it’s entertainment. And book covers are your marketing tool. They tell the reader what they are about to purchase. Which means they need to tell about the story and the genre in a single glance. If you don’t know how a cover in your genre should look, your cover design may not work. So do your homework.

Research what is trending in book cover design in your genre. Take screenshots of books that stand out in a good way, with designs and fonts you like. Check out The Book Designer’s (http://www.thebookdesigner.com/tag/awards/) ebook cover awards to see some of the good, the bad, and the plain ugly covers. The Book Design will even tell you why they are his pick for good and bad design. Pay attention and you’ll learn a lot.

So for fun I thought I’s post a few cover designs for you to look through. Can you guess their genre?

Children'sStories,AnimalAdventuresStrategicPlanningUnleashedeCoverMichelleBoth_Sides_of_Broken_ecoverHistorical Western CoverParanormal Fiction CoverHistorical Fiction CoverHorror Movie PosterPrettyPregnantEBookCovereBook CoverHistorical Western Romance CoverPoetry Cover

Categories: Book Covers

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