In this age of indie publishing, I think covers are nearly as important as the content they wrap. In a brick and mortar bookstore, there is the option to pick a book up and thumb through for a peek. If you go to Amazon or somewhere else on the web, you get a thumbnail picture to draw people in.
I really hate to say it, but people judge a book by its cover. If the cover is hand doodled, or looks like you've taken a stock photo and then typed the title in Times New Roman font, then people will likely assume that the work inside is equally unpolished. Think of the cover like a query letter to your reader. It's unfair, I know (I stink at queries), but you only get that first impression once.
Here are my thoughts about what I've learned on the anatomy of a good cover.
The front image has to be eye catching and a pictorial representation of what the inside holds. It must appeal to your specific market. Animated covers are for children's books and some women's commercial fiction. YA or literary fiction almost never does animated, especially a cartoonization of the main character. It tends to appear more middle grade that way. Notice that YA often uses photoshopped pictures of a real person. Whatever the image, it needs to be high resolution and be pertinent to the story it represents. That's the trouble with stock photos. Unless you really find one tailored to your story, the reader might have no idea what is interesting or compelling about the imaginary your book will portray.
A workshop I went to said, The Title should never be in a font that comes default in a word processor. Because it looks like you took the picture and typed the title over it. And on basic covers that's what is done. The Title needs to be incorporated in the imagery of the cover. It needs to be adding to the art. If it doesn't elevate the cover, then redo it.
This is one sentence that sits above the back blurb. It's usually a line from the text, a bit of dialogue, or something that stands out. Not all books have it. It's making the biggest point or hook in a one liner
This is not a synopsis, it's a tease. Entice the reader to want to buy it, but don't give spoilers. What's awesome and unique? Most blurbs are done in the 3rd person, even if the book is written in 1st. It gets even trickier if the book is autobiographical like mine. Some books have the main character appearing to write the back copy, but it has to be done really well to get away with it. Most importantly, it can't be dull or dry. There needs to be narrative voicing in the blurb.
These are the thumbs up from someone who wants to recommend your book. They can be one or two lines, or a whole paragraph. On books by the big 6, you'll see praise from a best-selling author. But chances are, you can't get J.K Rowling to put her approval on your cover. But your mom or Aunt Fanny isn't a good idea either. Ask other authors with published works. Most are willing to help, provided they have the time. And the worst they can say is no, so it doesn't hurt to ask. Usually it's a good idea to have endorsements from other authors in the same field, or non author authorities in the case of Non-fiction books.
Put it all together and you get something like this. This is the full cover wrap for my book, including the back.
I hope this little anatomy lesson helps anyone who's trying to compose their own cover. I would have no idea how to do this myself, and I recommend even when self-publishing to invest in a cover artist to help you out if you are not a pro at photoshop.
If you have a topic you want So What to cover, leave me a comment in the notes. If I don't know the answer, I will find someone who does.