Skip to content

Cover Design For Novels, by Giles Kristian (guest article)

Ebooks are okay but they don’t have pretty covers. Not proper covers anyway. What’s wrong with that? You ask. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. The jacket of that there hardback is simply some amalgamation of ideas from some graphic designer (with a helping of opinion thrown in from marketing) who probably hasn’t even read the book. It’s nothing more than the shiny lure at the end of the line meant to hook us and make us part with our hard earned cash. It’s the culmination of countless hours of market research and data collection (probably), designed to catch our eye and entice our imaginations. How sneaky is that? It’s what’s on the inside that’s important. The story. The craft. The words. Well if that were true we wouldn’t comb our hair (I don’t as it happens) wear make-up (ahem) or bother what clothes we throw on to leave the house.

Rightly or wrongly, we find ourselves manipulated by book covers. They are bewitching. I can stand for so long in a bookshop just looking at covers that people begin to wonder if I’m all there. It’s not always that I’m searching for my own books. I’m intrigued by the process. I love trying to figure out why a designer or publisher took the cover in this or that direction. Fortunately, I am exceedingly happy with the cover of my latest book, Brothers’ Fury. The colour pallet is different enough to catch the eye and despite the somewhat ‘boy’s own’ action look (it’s a man swinging a sword) I think the colours, tone, letter styling and blue silver foil give the whole thing a classy edge. However, when I showed the previous book, The Bleeding Land, to a good friend (who is with another publisher) she said she did not like it. Not at all. This might have hurt my feelings rather more had I not already discussed my own concerns with my publisher about it.

You see, the cover of The Bleeding Land is pretty brutal-looking. Again there is a sword but there’s also blood and lots of it. Added to this, my agent commented that the chap on the front looks like a homicidal maniac. I admit that part of me (the same part that used to read Conan comics) jumped for joy at this. Another, more sensible and perhaps market savvy part of me worried that the overtly violent scene did the story something of a disservice. Yes the tale of the Rivers, a family divided by civil war, is at times gruesome. These were violent days. But wasn’t The Bleeding Land also a tale of brothers and sisters, mothers, daughters and sons? There was a family saga in there and none of that could be gleaned from the cover. More importantly perhaps, wouldn’t all that blood put off a great number of women who might otherwise enjoy the tale? Erm… women buy most of the books, don’t they?

‘The first thing we must do,’ they said, ‘is appeal to your core market. Everything else is secondary.’

‘Could we perhaps have Bess (the heroine of the tale) on the cover somewhere? In a dress? Thumb size?’

Apparently not.

Still, side by side, the first two in the new series look very handsome indeed. At least to my eyes. Who knows if that lure has hooked readers in who otherwise may have walked past? All I can tell you is that we authors are quite sensitive about our covers, for all that we probably pretend we don’t really care. As much as I respected my friend’s right to dislike mine (yes it still hurts), I stopped short of asking why. Perhaps I just didn’t want to hear it.


Giles Kristian’s author website:

Guest articles


United States (and beyond)


United Kingdom (and beyond)


Australia (and beyond)

The Bleeding LandBrothers' FuryRaven: Blood Eye (Raven 1) (Raven)Raven 2: Sons of Thunder (Raven)     Spartacus: RebellionHadrian's Wall: A NovelThe Winter Palace (a Novel of the Young Catherine the Great)

Writing Historical Novels

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Carol m #

    I loved this post. I, too, love book covers and when a teenager I wanted to have a career doing this. However I was torn and to study history at university needed Latin. That was an end to art at school for me. Fortunately I really am pleased with the cover for The Handfasted Wife. It at least isn’t a woman’s back or her feet in medieval frock or medieval shoes. It does indicate what the book is about and it’s period setting. I agree about the content. The Bleeding Land has a violent looking cover yet it has so much emotion and certainly I am fascinated by this fictional family so hurry up Mr Kristian with book three.

    July 9, 2013
  2. Elaine M #

    A great piece Giles. Like you and Carol, I adore book covers. As an artist as well as a writer I drew cover designs for all my stories. I still do in fact. However, despite any and all efforts in design, book covers remain intensely personal. I was drawn to read your Raven Saga books because I found the covers dark and alluring; I wanted to learn more of the savage mystery I hoped lay within the pages. I was not disappointed. Thank you and keep up the good work.

    July 9, 2013
  3. “…wouldn’t all that blood put off a great number of women who might otherwise enjoy the tale?”

    That’s a joke, right?

    July 9, 2013
  4. There was a time when all that was on the cover of a book was the title, the author’s name, and the publisher. Sometimes I wish that that time would come back…

    July 10, 2013
  5. Covers. Can be a delight or a nightmare – I have had some awful covers in the past – but you couldn’t argue with publishers a few years back: I was told “we know what we are doing” yeah. Right. Which is why the characters on the cover are nothing like the ones in the book, the cover has nothing to do with the story and anyway it’s dreadful. (one,cover, an early edition of The Kingmaking, I call the Purple Puke it’s that bad!) I’m not too happy with my present US edition books either, but they are an improvement on the early stuff. In the UK I am now Indie published – and the joy of that is I am in charge of the covers (with the aid of a professional designer!) The big problem for Indie writers is that we have limited budgets and limited access to stock images. I SO wish I could find a friendly pirate who would pose, in costume, for my pirate-based adventure series.
    Any Offers? 🙂

    July 10, 2013
    • I could if you’re in the New England area, Helen.

      Also, stoked to find another swashbuckler writer. I’ll have to check your stuff out. 🙂

      July 10, 2013
  6. Interesting read and glad you care about those of us still in denial about digital…. I prefer the second book’s cover but it was the inquisition features of the chap on the first rather than the blood (that I had not noticed) that I was not too keen on… the girlie that I am would have preferred someone cuter…. even with blood and war face that was never going to put me off…. I came to your books from personal recommendation and, once one had been devoured the covers could have been blank for the others and I would have been desperate to read them kind of a similar story to when BK was considering different names for his next book… That said there are some books that you buy partly because the cover is just heavenly such as Conn’s Stormbird. I do sometimes think a more gender neutral cover would be a good idea when I am trying to convince my mother or mother in law to read something but the girl style covers applied to PG’s books are more likely to have me running for the hills than some blood and gore… I would say that for bleeding land which is generally less bloody an alternate cover might be a cool idea like harry potter books 😉 I think you are obviously right to aim for a core audience but don’t forget your non core following… I don’t suppose I am the only short dark and dumpy girl who likes to dream of salt spray and clashing swords! Having struggled to find new authors to read for years I am now overwhelmed by titles to read through twitter and the HWA!

    September 16, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Month In Review (July 2013) | Writing Historical Novels

Leave a Reply

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

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

Google+ photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: