Titles, covers and how to get it wrong.

I am in the process of self publishing a novel. This has the title Border Line, which should (I hope) give rise to thoughts about the borders of a country, the edges of sanity and the distance between of success and failure.

I am setting the text using InDesign, but as I can’t afford Photoshop to do the cover work, I  downloaded the free illustration software, Gimp. In order to familiarise myself with the basics I knocked up a random cover by grabbing a recent photo and putting in some text in a couple of colours. Feeling quite pleased with myself for getting this far, I emailed the result to a friend and my husband…

Gimp testjpeg

… to whom it is obvious that I have written a book on gardening – How to Keep Your Border in Line!

A few days before this effort, I mocked up some simple photo and text covers in InDesign, and printed these off (along with one professional) one to show to a group of friends. I asked them which ones(s) they would pick up and turn over to read the blurb. Several unerringly picked the professional one (a lovely image, but not related to the story). They then made clear that what mattered to them, apart from the cover’s initial attraction, was that it should be relevant to the story. Nothing seemed to irritate more than a misleading image (which, as I feared, counts out the lovely image).

Does the relevance of the cover image matter to you? Here is a pdf of the covers, if anyone feels like spotting the professional one.

cover tests


20 thoughts on “Titles, covers and how to get it wrong.

  1. I think if I were to pick up one, it would be probably be number eight.

    This is a really interesting post because just today I received the first mock ups of my UK and US covers, neither of which looked like I was expecting to look as they did, but both of them do convey what my book is about. (Unfortunately I can’t share them yet.) I think it is critical that the cover conveys some sense of the story because hopefully some people will buy it simply because they like the jacket, and if the insides don’t match what they see they aren’t going to recommend it.

    And, for what it’s worth I prefer the layout of the cover at the start of your post (rather than those in the link), assuming you found the right arresting image to go with the content of your novel. But I would have the text at the bottom and the image at the top.


    • This is really helpful, Claire. I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks for the pointer towards the ‘gardening’ cover. I am interested that your covers are relevant to the story as I have found it difficult to convince artists (as opposed to readers or writers) that the story must connect with the cover. I do hope you like your own covers, one of the few advantages of self-publishing is supposed to be the freedom to choose the cover, but I’d willingly exchange some some of that for professional expertise.

  2. My choices would be 2 and 6. I like simple covers which also leaves something to the imagination of the buyer of the book. If the design says too much, the reader might be confused that the book is all about what it is depicts; mountains or charming villages such as in 7 and 8.
    So, a hint might be better than a too overpowering image.

  3. The relevance matters negatively: if a cover is misleading readers would not like that.
    To be actively relevant a cover would have to be representational to an extent,
    but the more conceptual or abstract the idea at the centre of the book the less possible that is.

    If ‘borderline’ were to mean on the border between neurotic and psychotic (as in borderline personality disorder) then that would be difficult to represent except, perhaps, by an illustration taking the form of a diagram from a psychology textbook. And that would be misleading.

    Of the images in your link, I liked the fourth best, not as the finished article but as something to work with.

    • As I only wish to suggest a psychological link in the lightest way (hence Border Line, not borderline), I think I have, as you say, to avoid any direct textbook allusion. The fourth is an photographer’s image, which looked interesting to me, but I am still in the foothills of learning how to control the text.

  4. Three captures the concept of a difficult border for me, Hilary. Everything I have read says that covers are critical to selling your book. And yes, I would like some relevance between the cover and the context. The Writer’s Digest to Self-Publishing recommends Cover Creator by createspace.com for creating covers. It also is a free download. –Curt

  5. I’m lucky in that my husband can do my covers – he’s done a lot of graphic design work in his job over the years. Which is definitely handy for me to utilise his skills for my books!!

    • This is definitely a bonus. My cousin, a photographer, did my last one and may well be involved in this one in the end and I also have an artist daughter. I am quite enjoying trying my hand, but this has given me increased respect for graphic design skills.

  6. The one that immediately appealed to me was number 3 🙂
    Sunset or sunrises suggests the border of a day, the Spikey barrier the border you can’t cross, the colours suggest a warm story

  7. My vote would be for number 3 as most pleasing overall design and it conjures up a romantic or otherwise nostalgic story. But number 6 is very effective as it conveys some sort of psychological mystery and is a very dramatic image, but I’m not as fond of the font in this one. Number 2 with all the trees and greens has an abstract quality that I like but I’d place the title and author at bottom, or maybe in middle, and not on the side. My thinking is that yes, it’s important for the cover to be relevant to the story, at least convey the mood of the story, but it’s best to leave something to the imagination of the viewer.
    I confess the title Border Line for me suggests a thriller about immigration/drug smuggling. But maybe where I live out here in New Mexico explains my reaction.
    BTW I’ve used Gimp to design the covers of all my books and like it very much. It does all the things I need in a cover and the price is right.

    • Thank you for your extremely helpful response. You have unerringly picked the most professional cover design. I love impact of this, but worry that it is too romantic. The fonts on all the others are my first attempts in InDesign. I am no graphic artist and InDesign is limiting for image work. I am pleased to hear you have good things to say about GIMP. Mmm, your response to the title Border Line is a worry I have already in mind, hence the need to test reactions to cover images. The story is set in Slovenia which has borders with four other countries, but there are no (illegal) drugs and it is not a thriller. Thanks for your help.

  8. The cover totally matters (though I’m guessing it will matter less over time as e-readers take over and videos/other media take the place of the covers in advertising the book to consumers). What matters more than anything else though is word of mouth. If a friend tells me this book with a boring or terrible cover is good, I’ll read it. 🙂

    • Thanks for the feedback. The cover is still a vexed question, but I have moved away from landscapes as these, combined with the title, tend to take people down a story path of immigration, drugs, war etc. I can’t change the title now as I have registered it, so I go on experimenting…

Leave a Reply to hilarycustancegreen Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s