Ask BHP: How Do You Decide on Covers?

Questions about cover design are by far the most popular ones we received to our Ask Bethany House survey. And with good reason: art can sometimes seem a little bit like magic, and not many of us get a glimpse into the process of creating the lovely images that grace our favorite books.

Here’s the question I’ll be answering today: “What does the Bethany House team consider when deciding on a final cover?”

First of all, here’s a list of who’s on the team. The author starts the process by providing character and setting descriptions, covers with looks they love, and ideas for scenes to portray. Our art director and designers work with Bethany House editors and marketers to get the right look. And we always get feedback from the sales team as well, since they’re the ones who know the buyers who will be putting books in stores.

At the beginning stages, a designer will show the editors and marketers several sketches or rough stock photography mock-ups to give us an idea of what the scene on the cover might look like. Obviously, we’re not commenting on the details at that point, but we will indicate a direction by making bigger-picture design choices like whether a character should be pictured close up or as a small figure in the background, what sort of scene would be most interesting, or whether to include options that split the design in half with a title bar.

After the photoshoot (which I’ll cover in more detail in a future Ask BHP post), the designer will take different images and arrange them into designs like the ones the team agreed on, creating a draft version of several cover options. The examples below are alternate covers for A Light on the Hill. They haven’t been polished and tweaked, and occasionally the design team might ask for a major change like “move the model from 1 into the scene of 2,” but we’re starting to get to a clearer idea of the cover.

In this case, while all of these design concepts are striking, the team didn’t care for the harsh color scheme of the first. The third option was some people’s first choice and others’ second, but eventually the argument was made that it would be harder to continue that look for the whole series while still remaining distinct. (There was also one team member who pointed out that the sun being right there on the city made the title really literal.)

We all loved the striking image of the protagonist facing us, and the prominent title. Here is what the final cover looked like once the designer made some tweaks (including moving the series name and using a different image from the photoshoot):

Here are just a few of the things we consider when giving suggestions to the designer:

  • Do the colors of the cover match the tone of the story? (Is it too dark for a lighthearted story or too cheery for a suspense novel?)
  • How can we hint at the setting or historical time period in the background, clothing, or fonts? Is there anything about any of those elements that seems mismatched?
  • Is the background too distracting or cluttered?
  • What’s the balance between type that’s interesting but also legible? (This especially matters because the book will be showing up in a thumbnail online.)
  • What sort of reader will be attracted to this design?
  • If there’s a model, does he or she convey the essence of the character as described by the author?
  • Is this cover too similar to one on an already-published book that readers of the genre would be familiar with? Is it too drastically different from everything else like it?
  • Would you want to pick this book up just by looking at the cover?

There are individual questions for each cover too, of course. For A Light on the Hill in particular, we talked about the best way to show that the protagonist is ashamed of the brand on her face, and how we could establish that the novel was biblical since it doesn’t have the name of a key Old Testament figure in the title to give readers that cue.

So there’s a little glimpse into the process we use to determine what cover makes it on the final book. I love bragging about our designers…they do excellent work! If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more cover alternates, Jocelyn Green wrote about the making of her latest release, A Refuge Assured, on her blog. Be sure to check it out!

So, readers, what’s an element of book cover design that you love to see? Are you able to complete the phrase, “I’ll be drawn to a book almost instantly if its cover…”?

21 thoughts on “Ask BHP: How Do You Decide on Covers?

  1. What a difficult choice, they are are so good. I do like the final cover except for her sandaled foot. For some reason, it doesn’t look feminine to me (blame it on BC fashion).
    The audiobook was good and I hope to continue the series.
    BTW: The cover of book 2 is probably the best of the year!

  2. I’ve just spent an hour with the publisher of my forthcoming yoga book trying to decide on a cover design. What we thought we liked at the start of the conversation had completely changed by the end. It’s as though we can’t decide what we want until we see what we don’t want.

  3. A cover design will definitely affect whether I read the back-cover synopsis of a book by an author I have never read before. I don’t see how there could be a set formula for a cover, though – considering characters, setting, time period, plot………I did think Kristi Ann Hunter’s book cover for An Elegant Facade was pretty but wondered why the character’s face wasn’t shown in entirety………until I read the book, and then it made perfect sense.

    • It’s so true, Amanda! Plus, our designers say they are the ones who can most closely empathize with authors, because they share the experience of having their work critiqued and sent back for revision. 🙂

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  4. I’ll be drawn to a book almost instantly if it’s cover is beautiful and matches the title in concept. In other words, if the cover seems to portray the title/

  5. I thoroughly enjoy these “peeks behind the curtains” especially on the topic of cover design. I absolutely judge books by their cover … and don’t even apologize for it!

  6. Thank you for this information, it is very enlightening. From my standpoint as a reader, the cover prompts me to ask some of the same questions and influences my decisons on whether or not to read that book. There are some covers that appear to have the same models but in different poses. One that comes to mind is not appealing for that genre and while the book is good, the cover can be offputting, causing me to cringe each time I encounter that model as these books are not even written by the same author.
    Thanks for the careful design of your covers, they complement your authors hard work. A true cut above!

  7. There really isn’t anything that will make me necessarily pick up a cover other than it being visually interesting or appealing. But what will definitely make me put a book back down and never read it ever, is if there is an image that I recognize instantly from someone else’s cover. There are some things that are used more than once, which I am fine with because they were changed enough to be different at first glance, but otherwise, it is a no go for me.

  8. Bethany House has such gorgeous covers! They make me want to grab and read. You also have amazing authors. I love having print versions of BH books, because they are so beautifully done and fun to hold and look at.

  9. I like a cover that seems to match the back of the book’s summary. Like the cover of Out of the Ordinary. I thought it went so perfectly with the story!

  10. Pingback: March 2018 Around the Web |

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