We all know that books are, in fact, judged by their covers. But why? How? What are those successful elements of a cover design that cause a potential reader to click on your thumbnail graphic while skimming over dozens of others in the course of 20 seconds?

 It’s important to us at SparkPress that authors understand every aspect of the design process, particularly—and sorry to break it to you—that just because you’re the expert on your book does not necessarily make you the expert of your book’s design. As Brooke Warner, the publisher of She Writes Press (our sister imprint) stated: “It’s a work of art that evokes an emotional response in a viewer—who happens to be a person who’s considering whether the text behind that cover is worth their time.”

 So, welcome to our new series, Ask The Designer, with book cover guru Julie Metz.

 With more than 25 years in the graphic design and publishing industry, Metz brings an interesting mix of vision, talent, and industry-driven perspective to her designs. She’s worked with heavy hitters like Random House and HarperCollins, and her covers have appeared in the AIGA 50 Books and 50 Covers Show. Interesting side note: She also designed her own New York Times bestselling memoir, Perfection, and the bestseller The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, which was selected for Oprah’s Book Club and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in ’99. 

 Since 2012, Julie Metz has worked closely with SparkPress to create dozens of successful fiction, non-fiction, and YA book covers—some of which you will see within this series as case studies. Metz hopes this series will give authors some insight into the thinking and practice behind cover design in today’s competitive marketplace. So please—read on in the first installment of our series to understand the seven successful elements of a book cover design by Julie Metz. Let’s see what she has to say:

Each book requires a unique design solution. As we begin the process of considering what kind of cover will best suit a particular book, the first consideration is identifying the genre, and therefore the target audience for the book. More and more people are buying books based on a small icon on a website. If they are browsing on Amazon or another website, you have a brief moment to catch their attention, so a cover is one of the most important ways to reach your audience. If you as an author can imagine the different readerships I describe as overlapping circles, you can develop a sense of your likely readers. You’ve probably thought about them while you were writing your book. The cover memo you prepare helps designers understand that, so that we can consider how best to reach those buyers, even if they straddle more than one readership. We’ll take a look at the different genres in detail in a moment.

  • Your cover memo is really important

I cannot stress how valuable this document is for our design team. The lead time for covers is well in advance of publication and in many cases, a manuscript is incomplete at the time when we design, or still in an early editorial phase. Given the list of titles we have, it’s not always feasible for the design team to read a full manuscript even if it is complete. So we pay a lot of attention to your cover memo. It’s our way of getting to know you as an author, and your project. The so-called “elevator pitch” is helpful to us, and also to you, in identifying your readership and the best publicity/marketing strategy to reach those potential buyers.

In the case of fiction and memoir, your synopsis is especially vital. It’s great to include all the major plot points, themes, and imagery that might help us as we design your cover. We also pay close attention to the comp titles you choose to include. I find I also learn a lot from the short bios authors write, which give me a feel for their sources of inspiration.

  • Trust in this collaborative process

We at SparkPress know that you’ve put years of heart and soul into your book. I could never write your book for you, but after more than 25 years in the publishing business, I have worked on a lot of books in every possible genre. Please http://www.honeytraveler.com/pharmacy/ know that our design team wants your book to look fantastic, so that the sales team will be excited to sell it, and you can reach readers. We have the experience and expertise to make the outside of your book look as great as the inside. Design involves back and forth and a spirit of open-minded collaboration. We’ve got your back! The process will work for you. It can be fun and gratifying.


  1. If your book is Adult Fiction . . .

Many of our books are adult fiction, and within that there are a number of categories that are generally marketed to distinct audiences. Literary fiction describes a novel with distinct artistic intention in terms of its story, themes, structure, and writing style. Upmarket women’s fiction is somewhat more commercially focused, with particular appeal to women buyers, who are, by the way, the largest book-buying market. Commercial fiction includes novels with wide reader appeal, everything from “chick-lit” to mysteries to fantasy.


  1. If you write Young Adult novels . . .

Young Adult novels aim for the 13-17 age group, with a wide variety in terms of style and subject matter. A related category known as New Adult includes some YA audience, as well as readers in their early 20s and beyond.


  1. If you write Nonfiction or Memoirs . . .

In the non-fiction category, we publish many memoirs and the style can also be wide-ranging. Some memoirs are intimate and lyrical; others are bold and sensational. Some straddle the line between memoir and reporting.


  1. If you write Self-Help/How-to books . . .

Some books in the Self-Help/Advice/How-to category offer personal narrative as well. But in general this category of books is more instructive, whether the author is presenting medical or nutrition advice or hands-on guidelines for redesigning a kitchen or garden.


  1. The power of crossover genres

Especially now that there is so much crossover into visual media of every sort, the category lines are useful, but can blur—a little, or a lot. Sometimes an especially sophisticated YA novel hits a nerve with older readers or an adult novel can reach a younger audience. Sometimes a well-crafted commercial novel with an irresistible story finds fans that would normally read more “highbrow” fiction. Some memoirs like The Glass Castle can read like a novel, or the reverse. I myself raced through the pages of The Devil Wears Prada as well as David Mitchell’s complex Cloud Atlas and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I love Alice Munro’s elegant short stories, I was riveted by the Harry Potter series along with my daughter, and I cried at the end of Wonder, a moving novel intended for middle-grade readers. I’ll read anything by Jane Austen. I love a fast-paced political thriller. My favorite book On Writing is by Stephen King, otherwise known as the master of keeping us up all night in a state of terror.

Books are like food for me—sometimes I want to twirl up a forkful of pasta, sometimes I want a fresh salad, sometimes I want a thick steak, sometimes I head right for a sweet dessert.

Now that we’ve taken a look at some of the readership groups that play an integral role in our cover design at SparkPress, my next posts will dig deeper. I’ll present covers that work especially well at capturing their target market by reflecting the content and spirit of the book. The cover doesn’t need to tell the entire story of your book—it needs to intrigue the viewer enough that they will be moved to click on that tiny icon and take a closer look. Or if they are in a brick-and-mortar bookstore (we love those!) we hope they will pick up the book, read the back cover copy, look at the cover again, flip it open, read that first page, and know that they can’t wait to read the rest.

In upcoming posts, I’ll describe the creative process and invite you to ask any questions you might have about how our designers work. I warn you ahead of time that some of it is super secret magic: Some of my best ideas come to me while listening to a song, taking a walk, or doodling absent-mindedly on Post-It notes.

But I’m sure that I’m not alone in praying for inspiration to the goddess of happy accidents