Cover Design Tips by Guest Blogger Desiree Villena

What Romance Authors Need to Know About Book Cover Design

Got a red-hot romance title in the works? You’re probably already looking ahead to everything you’ll need to get it ready for press. Slogging your way through line edits can be boring, and drumming up pre-release hype can be stressful, but there’s one pre-publication “chore” that should be nothing but fun: getting your cover design.

Still, for those who aren’t already Photoshop-savvy, crafting the perfect cover might be just a little daunting. Should you go for a passionately intertwined couple, or a pair of glistening abs? Opt for a serif or sans-serif title? Should you just stick to the prose — and leave the artwork to the pros?

If you’re worried about the nitty-gritty of cover design, this post will bring you up to speed so you can stop stressing and have fun with the process. Without further ado, here are four cover design tips every romance author should keep in mind.

1. You don’t have to do it yourself — but you can

If you’ve opted to self-publish, you might be under the impression that the whole book production process now falls on your shoulders alone, from the final edit to the post-release (blog) tour. Maybe you’re even looking forward to it. After all, flying solo means you’ll never be strong-armed into cover art that misrepresents your story in the interest of marketing.

Of course, staying true to your vision doesn’t mean you can’t do a little delegation. If you’re not already comfortable photo-manipulating stock models into an artificial embrace, you don’t have to commit to a crash course in graphic design or resign yourself to an all-text cover that looks more “murder mystery” than “meet-cute”. You can hire a designer to create your cover, freeing up your time to get started on the next book. And because your cover artist will work directly for you, you don’t have to defer to them as with a big publisher’s in-house designer: you can hash out the details of your vision together.

Professional designers are surprisingly accessible, even to indie authors. Still, crafting your own cover is far from impossible. If you’re interested in honing your own design skills with a DIY book cover, read on!

2. Typography can be just as important as photography

If you’ve decided to tackle your own cover design, you’re probably fixated on the image that’s going to take center stage. But don’t forget about the text! You’ve waited all this time to see your name in print — you deserve to see it in a typeface that looks good and feels right.

When it comes to good cover design, the importance of typography can’t be overstated. A well-chosen font can pull a cover together. A bad one, on the other hand, will make your whole book look amateurish — or like it belongs to a different genre entirely.

Keep in mind that good cover typography is contextual. Romance novels in general have a rep for relying on delicate, curlicued typefaces. But actual design conventions vary widely according to the subgenre. A sci-fi-inflected MM story will have a different look and feel than a historical bodice-ripper: the typefaces on their covers should be different too.

To get a sense of the typefaces that might belong on your cover, take a look at some of the bestsellers in your category on Amazon. If you’re writing something “Clean and Wholesome,” for instance, the stereotypically curly script typeface is fair game. A “Mystery & Suspense”-tinged erotic romance, on the other hand, demands a starker, bolder look.

3. Stock photos costs range from triple digits to free

Once you’ve gotten a sense of the right typographical mood for your cover, it’s time to find an image to anchor that beautiful text.

Unless you’re already handy with the magnetic lasso tool on Photoshop, it’s best to use an image that can go on your cover basically as-is (instead of two or three photos that need to be composited together). Of course, that’s easier said than done — you’ll have to spend quite a bit of time scrolling through stock photo sites in search of the perfect shot.

If you’re hoping to land the right cover image for free, you have some options. Unsplash offers 1.5 million high-resolution photos free of charge, while the online art community DeviantArt is full of “freestock” uploaded by both photographers and CGI artists. Wikimedia Commons, meanwhile, gives historical romance novelists access to millions of vintage photos, paintings, and other images in the public domain.

These free resources can be a little cumbersome to navigate — you’re likely to scroll through fifty shots of the ocean for every portrait that looks kind of like your hero if you squint. If you’re willing to pay for stock, though, you can take advantage of more targeted, romance-specific sites, with photos priced from $10 to $500. (You can often pay more for an exclusive license, meaning no other authors can use the image you chose.)

Here are a few romance-specific resources to check out if you don’t feel like wading through pages of bokeh-haloed landscapes:

4. It can be harder to find images for diverse romance — but they’re out there

Of course, even romance-specific stock photo sites can have you pulling your hair in frustration if your book centers on something other than a lily-hued het couple. Several of the resources above are full of beautifully composed portraits… of lavishly gowned white women and their white male partners, more than a few of whom happen to be wearing kilts. What if your novel isn’t an Outlander tribute?

Don’t worry! You might have to dig a little deeper to find a stock image that looks like your MM couple or your protagonist of color. But those photos are definitely out there. In fact, here are a few stock photo sites that feature diverse models:

Armed with the perfect photo and the perfect typeface, you’ll be able to put together a cover that draws readers’ eyes without misrepresenting the love story inside. Failing that, you can always kick things over to a designer and watch them transform your finds into a work of art. After that, it’s onto the next book!

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Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. She hasn’t yet needed a cover for any of her work, but she still likes to experiment with potential designs.

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Thank you Desiree for a great post.  I have definitely been lucky with my cover artists (since I wouldn’t know where to start with putting one together myself) and they have all been fantastic at putting the finished products together with the perfect pictures and perfect fonts for the genres.