Judge Your Book By Its Cover (Because Everyone Else Will)

It is my total pleasure to turn my blog over today to the very talented R. S. Guthrie. I asked Rob to appear here in anticipation of his Kindle Nation Free Preview which begins Wednesday, March 14, and runs through March 15. You will be able to read for free the FIRST FIVE CHAPTERS in his first book of the Clan of MacAulay series, BLACK BEAST. Now I have read all of Rob’s books. He has four on his Amazon website and I can tell you right now he is one exceptional writer. This is an author whose name you will get used to seeing on the Bestseller List.

I’m working on my first novel and have the distinct honor of having this author act not only as my mentor, but my Editor, my proofreader and beta-reader. Do I have an edge over all the other first-time novel writers – I most certainly do. And that’s because Mr. Guthrie is all of those things. He lives and breathes the written word.

You ever met a writer and they’ve got “it”? That spark, that gleam in their eye – the window to their imagination? R. S. Guthrie has got “it”. When you read his books, Black Beast and L O S T, you never know what’s coming next. His next book due out will be Dark Prairies and he’s harnessed that magic again. You’re sitting there thinking and saying to yourself Chapter after Chapter, “Wow, didn’t see that coming.” The imagery he sets up in your mind in each of his books has you living the story. You’re not sitting comfortably on your bed or your couch, you’re on the sidelines – rooting Det. Bobby Mac on or when it gets intense, too scared to look over your shoulder because you just know something is there waiting to grab you. He picks you up and delivers you into the scene with the characters.

I’m pleased Rob has chosen to bring his experience and expertise to discuss one of – if not THE MOST – important topic in getting your book recognized. The Book Cover. Once you’re done reading the article, I hope you go over to Rob Guthrie’s own blog at RobOnWriting and become a subscriber.


Judge Your Book By Its Cover (Because Everyone Else Will)
By R. S. Guthrie

We’ve all heard the saying. And when it comes to judging people, it’s probably pretty darn good advice. And even with an actual book, what should (and really does) matter is the quality of what’s on the inside. Face it, when’s the last time you HATED a book but thought “it’s okay, because the cover was INCREDIBLE!”?

Ironically, when I published my first book, Black Beast, I was fully aware of the importance of the cover art. I’d read some articles and even spoken to a designer. So I went out and hired a professional. This guy was an incredible artist; I loved his previous covers. We worked out a price (not cheap) and then I proceeded to tell him exactly what I wanted on the cover.

Mistake number one. I was too new with the market to understand what really popped, what kind of covers really attracted the consumer’s eye (and, more importantly, any particular symbols or types of things that might actually turn readers off). The artist produced exactly the cover I asked him to produce. He made a few suggestions here and there but I was pretty specific.

I wanted a priest, reading a book, with an ancient weapon forged from a cross lying on the table. I then wanted a dark creature rising out of the shadows behind him, as if he’s unaware.

As you can see here, he did a great job at producing exactly what I wanted. And I even received compliments from people on the artwork. So I thought I’d succeeded. My book was up on Amazon for several months before I decided to redesign my cover. I was selling books, but I was also a first-time author—how was I supposed to know if I was selling the right amount or if the cover was hurting me.

Then I entered a cover contest. Nothing fancy, but my cover received almost no votes. I was a little surprised, but come on, it was just one contest. Then I was involved in a book promotion around Christmas where the promoter offered a second follow-on promotion for any books they felt had covers worthy of generating purchases. Mine was not selected. Not even as “worthy of generating purchases”!


I knew then I had to redesign the cover, no matter how much I’d originally paid for it. By that time I had already designed the cover for my second book, LOST, myself. I’d noticed right from the start that my second cover was getting much better feedback than my first (this time I, too, could see the differences—in fact, whenever I needed to choose a cover to promote myself I always preferred the second cover).

My book, LOST, was due out on New Year’s Day, and once released it did so much better than Black Beast in terms of sales that I decided to try my hand at redesigning the new cover for “the Beast” myself. I used the skills I had acquired in designing the LOST cover plus I worked through some more tutorials in graphic design.

Once I had the first draft of the new Black Beast cover finished, I put the old one and the new one up on my blog and asked the readers to weigh in.

I was stunned. I actually had responders state that they literally wouldn’t have purchased the book if they’d seen the first cover! I received outstanding feedback on the new cover. Even people that liked the first cover agreed the new cover was much, much better.

I changed the cover on Amazon and my sales started increasing that very day. The new cover made that much difference! I also get a lot more comments on the new cover (some suggested the priest and cross were too religious; I personally thought the piece he did was beautiful as art; it was not contemporary enough for a current book cover).

I’m not claiming to be the greatest designer in the world, and I’m definitely not suggesting that cover design is something every author should do for themselves—but I have always been pretty good with design and the fact is no one has my vision except me. Yes, yes, I know, that’s what got me in trouble in the first place. But now I don’t build my cover in a vacuum. I have my beta readers give me input on my designs (because they, too, have read the book—they know the mood, the characters, etc.). And I listen to them.

I also allow myself the possibility on each new book that I might not be able to do it myself. In other words, if it just isn’t happening, I have no problem at all bringing in a professional. But as long as my covers are satisfying me and my readers, I actually really enjoy doing the graphic work (it’s one of my favorite moments—I like having the cover completed early in the process, not unlike the movie posters being out before the movie).

I have a new book releasing soon (Dark Prairies). I had a cover I put together in 2011 but redesigned it this year. That’s another advantage to doing the work yourself: you can totally change your mind and it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg. I liked the first cover for Dark Prairies, but based on trends, things I had seen in the marketplace, and just my own gut instinct, I knew I needed something different. You can tell me if cover number two is better than number one:

Cover 1 (2011)

Cover 1 (2011)

Cover 2 (2012)

Cover 2 (2012)

The main point here is that whoever does your cover, the design and how it relates to your book (and mostly how it looks) is REALLY important. It is the packaging for your book and it is the very first thing the reader will see.

A great way to decide on covers is to have a poll on your blog or ask some of your beta readers which cover they like better. The elements should also convey something about your story, whether it’s a scene from the book or a mood or a setting. Look at your cover as if you’d just come upon it and see if it grabs your eye. Be as objective as you can and ask yourself that all-important question:

Would you want to read your own book based on its cover?

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13 Responses to Judge Your Book By Its Cover (Because Everyone Else Will)

  1. Julie M says:

    Include me in the ‘not a fan of the first cover’ group. But it wasn’t the iconography that made me hesitate. I guess I’m just one of those people who likes to see a creature like the beast as I visualize them in my own mind. The cover rendition didn’t provide that for me and in fact, it almost felt like an amateur artist had rendered it. (Sorry Rob, but A- I know you can take it; and B- I suspect you appreciate the feedback.) I wouldn’t have purchased the book if I hadn’t already read an excerpt of it (along with additional writings) on his web site. I am now a dedicated reader of Rob’s self-published work, follow his blog, and read many of the authors he suggests. Thanks for pointing me to some terrific reads!

    • Thanks, Julie! Funny thing is, I got the exact same feedback from other people (on not wanting to SEE the beast but imagine it for themselves…another lesson learned)! Oh, and the comment on the beast doesn’t bother me at all—that was the paid artist who drew that. You should have seen the first few I rejected! Bot I agree with you on ALL COUNTS!!! More than any of that, I am SO GLAD you are a fan and a reader. That, lady, makes my whole day. Seriously. Thanks for letting me know. :)))

  2. Austenite78 says:

    Reblogged this on Cinta's Corner and commented:
    Wonderful guest post on book covers by extraordinary writer and great friend R.S. Guthrie

  3. I just went through almost exactly the same experience! My novel, Inanimate Objects, has been on amazon for a good six months, to modest sales. The (admittedly) pedestrian cover did little for it. However, I asked a friend recently to pose for the cover, wearing eyeliner and feathers. My friend is male. Suddenly the response was pouring in, thanks to the striking street-art photography style and the handsome, andro male in decadent clothes. It’s fascinating how these things can change people’s perceptions. Thanks for the article. I’ll have to reblog this!

    • Thanks Kendra. It’s amazing isn’t it, how it can turn everything around? I really appreciate the reblog 😀

    • I LOVE your story, Kendra. It’s really amazing how a (seemingly) small creative difference can knock it right out of the park. Just your describing it had me visualizing the difference. Sounds to me like you are well on your way to making your covers all they can be!!! (And it’s fun, isn’t it???)

  4. Rob: I am curious – what applicaion(s) do you use to design your covers?

    • Hi, Maureen. Mostly Adobe Photoshop CS4. I also use Adobe Fireworks and Illustrator. Photoshop is the core, though. I learn more amazing things in that app every single time I use it (and the beauty is, YouTube is FULL of tutorials on PS)! 🙂

  5. Hi Rob,
    I really enjoyed reading about your experience of cover successes – I’m designing my first cover just now and finding it really hard! Like you, I had a design in mind that did not work at all when translated onto paper. Then I went with the idea that a cover doesn’t necessarily have to represent the book exactly, just be attractive to readers and relate specifically to genre. Still getting feedback but haven’t found my ideal cover yet! (Might get photoshop and try it myself). BTW, for Dark Prairies I actually prefer the first cover, but I do like continuity so perhaps I like it because it’s similar to your others.

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