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Creating a Great Book Cover

One of the unintended consequences of doing your own novel’s cover is having to translate what you had originally created in written form to a visual form. Usually, authors don’t have much input or control over what happens to their book after it sells to a publisher. But when you do it yourself, you become the producer of a product and as a result, must make tough decisions on how to market that product.

It suddenly becomes a terribly important issue, almost as important as polishing your manuscript. This is the first thing your reader will see in regards to your story. What will make them pick up the book and then turn it over to read the back cover copy? Will that copy be engaging enough to make them crack it open and look inside? Will that in turn get them to bring your book to the cash register? It must be. Because unless you are famous, your good name alone is not going to guarantee you any sales.

Cover art is so important that it could literally determine if your book is sold or passed over. Many, many buyers judge books by their covers. It’s a fact of marketing. Even on Amazon, if your cover does not engage the reader, it will be passed over. If a reader can’t grok what the book is about by looking at the cover, they will move on and leave your book in the digital wasteland.

For my latest SF book, Tyrmia, I have struggled quite a bit to come up with a good cover. The story is SF, but the traditional SF elements are at the beginning and at the end. For much of the story, the hero is alone with indigenous aliens in a rain forest.

Our first attempt involved showing the hero’s space ship crashed in the tree tops of the rain forest. It hinted at the story but it was just not engaging enough.

Tyrmia Cover Concept

Our second attempt involved showing a scene from the book that involved the hero killing a tiger-like animal with a bow and arrow. While dramatic enough, it was not clear that the story was even SF. It could have been a Fantasy novel.

The final idea involved something more intimate and realistic in nature. An extreme close up of the native alien’s eye. Inside the pupil of the eye, would be a reflection of the heroine. The Tyrmians are green with yellowish eyes so the color scheme was locked in. The shape of the eye and details of it would suggest human but at the same time would be very alien.

Here is my original sketch of the idea.

Tyrmia cover sketches

This is the first mock-up from the cover artist, Jeremy Wynn.


I moved in closer on the eye to better match my original sketch and added the title and author name in the correct font. This is pretty much how the final form will be. Details will change, but the overall design is now set.


The final cover will be engaging, unique (at least as far as anything else on the SF book shelves) and  immediately says Sci-Fi. As an added bonus it also communicates something about the plot.

In order to guide the artist in bringing the title aliens to life, I had to have a clear image in my head of what they looked like. I always allow artists to have a degree of freedom, artistic license if you will. But the end product must be clear in my mind and I have to communicate that effectively. It’s very similar to being a movie director.

All the hard work and imagination that goes into creating a good cover can pay off big time in book sales. I firmly believe that the military coin idea for the Starstrikers book has led to more sales than anything else. People who are in the military get that its a Unit Coin and people who are looking for military SF are attracted to it for similar reasons.

With any luck, the cover for Tyrmia will also inspire readers to give the book a chance.

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