Guest Post: Writing a Good Cover - Part 1

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I am a published author. Both traditionally and, more recently, self-published. When I was traditionally published I got to work on the written word and let others worry about what the packaging would look like. As a self-published author, I don’t quite have that same luxury. All the responsibility for all aspects of the book fall onto me.

I do, however, have a bit of an advantage. In my “day job” I’m also a graphic designer. That allows me to understand what goes into a cover design and how to lay it out most effectively.

Lately I’ve been doing some thinking, and I want to share an approach that might help the writerly folk out there breach the wall between words and pictures.

Let’s start with your book. It most likely started with a spark. A basic premise that took you down the rabbit hole of creativity. From there you developed the plot. Putting together the events and situations that made up the story you wanted to tell. Roughly at that same time you developed the characters. The people that would convey the story. The focus of the novel that told the tale. At that point began the actual act of writing. You executed the story to the best of your ability, putting together everything that you had thought up into one coherent book. Finally, came the editing. Either yourself, or more likely, another person came in and went through the text to help refine the work into a polished piece ready for presentation.

A book cover works exactly the same way.

You have to start your cover with a premise. An idea of what will represent the book. It doesn’t matter if it’s a detailed illustration, a highly graphic color-blocking technique, or even just bold text, you have an idea. This is your foundation for the cover. Now you have to tell a story with that cover. You have to come up with a plot. What is it that will convey the story to your readers at a glance? How will you draw them in with a single image?

So, who is going to convey that story? What one character is going to tell it to the reader? Don’t limit your thinking about what that means, either. This can be a person, an object, a setting, or even colors and letters. This is your character. The one thing that is going to tell the story on the page.

And don’t think that idea is beyond you. You just wrote an entire novel. You described scene after scene throughout the course of the book. This is just one more scene. Which is where your execution comes into play. Write the cover out. Describe it, and remember that it is more important than ever here to show and not tell. You don’t want a paragraph on your cover to tell the reader what is happening, you want to let them see it themselves. (Unless, of course, you are writing a genre where a cover blurb is appropriate. There are no absolute laws here.)

Lastly comes editing. If you have the means, you can finish this off yourself. More likely, however, you will need to bring in an outside talent to help polish off the cover and make it what you want. This can be an illustrator, a photographer, or just a graphic designer to put the elements together into a press-ready file.

So, when you’re thinking about the cover for your book, don’t think of it as a separate piece. It has the exact same qualities and concepts behind it that you’ve already put together. Premise. Plot. Character. Execution. Editing.

Don’t push this aside as an add-on to your novel. You’re creative. Take that ability and put the same thought into the creation of your cover. Make it yours, because, ultimately, this is your story.

And if you are the type that wants to get in there and do the physical construction, stick with me. I’m creating a follow-up post to this one that explores the technical side of things and hopefully gives you some pointers on how to do actual layout, both inside and out.

Author Bio:


Brett Brooks most recent novel is The Devil Was Green, the second novel in the Pussy Katnip pulp-noir adventure series. In all, Brett has published five novels. He has also published work with Dark Horse Comics, White Wolf Publishing, and many others.

If you want to follow up with the author or purchase a copy of his books, please follow these links: 

Find inspiration in Brett Brook's guest post? Tell us about it in the comments below!

* This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I'll receive some type of commission. For more information, you can read our full disclosure here. *

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