John Briggs Books

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How to Create a Great Title and Eye-Catching Cover

I’ve been hitting the interview circuit lately to promote my latest book, and I realized that many of the questions I get asked about writing would make great blog posts. Of course, in an interview you give short answers, but here I’ll take those same questions and give them the attention they deserve. This is the first in that series.

A few decades ago, most book covers were a solid color with a standard font and a title that almost always told you nothing about what was inside if you didn’t already know. Those days are long gone. Today, we judge books by their covers in a nanosecond, so your cover not only has to stand out as a thumbnail image, it has to hold a potential reader’s attention for five seconds or more, and have a title that is alluring and able to be listed on page one in Amazon’s search engine.

That’s a lot to cram into one image and three to ten words

So, how do you do it?

Below are five pointers to consider when trying to name your book, and a few more for putting together a memorable title for both human mind and Google algorithm.

  1. Add a Face or Two to Your Cover. Studies have shown that people Next Christmasstare at photos longer when there are faces in them. The same goes for book covers. Potential readers will study those faces looking to understand them; identify with them. So, make sure your book cover has people on it. I once worked on a romance book called Next Christmas. The first pass of the cover had a Christmas tree on it, which definitely said Christmas—but so did the title. I suggested adding a canoodling couple in front of the tree, and that book went from general Christmas to sweet, Hallmark-style romance that caught the eye of its target audience.
  2. Have a Reason Behind Your Color Scheme. Why did you choose the colors you did for your cover? Because they’re your favorite colors? Your partner’s? Children’s? Pick the colors with purpose. Blue says trust. Black says mysterious or deadly. Red can say action or romance. What color are most of the book covers in your genre? Include them, too, and then work in some of your favorite colors.
  3. Make Your Title 1/3 of Your Front Cover. This has become the new standard, though I still see it violated. The size of your title should be one-third the size of the total cover. Don’t make it smaller than your name unless you’re famous. Don’t make it smaller than your name unless you only expect friends and family to buy it. There are several reasons to do this. One, it must be big enough that people can read it in a thumbnail image in case it gets placed on a review site, Facebook, etc. Also, it encourages people to read the title, which, if it’s intriguing enough, will encourage them to look inside.
  4. Use a Font That can Be Read Easily. Tied to number three is using a font that can be read easily. Yes, you might want to use something fancy that looks like Old English, but ask yourself if people will stop to check it out if they can’t figure it out. Even if it’s big enough in a thumbnail, if they can’t read it, they’ll likely pass. Ask yourself, “Would I use Wingdings?” No, because no one can figure it out. The same goes for any difficult fonts.
  5. Does Your Cover Image Tell a Story? A picture is worth a thousand words. The same is true of cover art. In my picture book Leaping Lemmings!, we see a lemming dropping from the sky with a parachute while his friends race along a cliff. It tells a Leaping Lemmingsstory about one lemming who isn’t like the others. In my political satire A Vote for Jesus, we see Jesus walking across the Reflecting Pool in front of Congress with angry protestors behind him waving signs that say Vote for Herod. Here, too, we have a mini-story about politics and adversity. The same is true of the thousands of action covers (like the Escape trilogy), comedy, romance (see Next Christmas), and so on. See if you can get your cover to convey the essence of your story with a story of its own.

While I touched on how to make your title look appealing above, you still have to create a great-sounding title for man and machine. My best piece of advice here is don’t be afraid to add subtitles, and not just to subsequent titles in the series. While certain books, such as The Hunger Games, get away with it because, hey, that title tells us it’s a game about food (which actually does the full story a great disservice, but it intrigues us nonetheless), it doesn’t work for most other books.

Take The Great Gatsby. We know what’s it about today so no subtitle is needed, but if it were brand-spanking new, would you have any idea? I mean, it sounds like a superhero book. Amazon’s algorithms find your book by genre and keywords you provide, but keywords in your title get more weight. If Gatsby came out today, it would probably be called something like, The Great Gatsby: A Roaring Twenties Love Triangle Among the Long Island Elite, and I’m only half-joking here. The subtitle to my book A Vote for Jesus is A Satire on Campaigning, Corruption & Political Crucifixion for just that reason.

Also, know what your audience knows. When the first Harry Potter book came out in the United States, the title was switched from Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone because the publisher didn’t believe Americans would pick up a book with the word philosopher in the title. But sorcerer? Kids love magic, and that title told them exactly what the book would have. So, while philosophers and sorcerers are often old men with long white beards, one is cool and one is not.

Good luck creating those covers, and if you’d like, post your book’s cover (with sales link, of course!) in the comments.

This post was inspired by an interview with NF Reads. For the full interview, click here!


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