Ebook Cover Dissonance


Ebook cover design is a fun–albeit sometimes frustrating–opportunity for indie authors to stretch those artistic muscles more linked to visual rather than the more familiar written media. Whether you have your covers designed for you or want to design your own, I encourage everyone to experiment with the design process. This will A) give the graphic artist a better idea of what you want if you are in the first group or B) help you hone your skills and artistic appreciation of why good covers look good if you are in the second group.

Let’s get started with the basic color wheel. Complimentary colors (those on opposite sides) attract attention.  However, beware of cultural connotations: red and green make us think of Christmas while orange and black call to mind Halloween. Don’t use those two pairings unless your book is appropriately holiday themed. The title and author’s name (whichever one is bigger depends the fame, ego, or brand strategy of the author) should stand out and not become obscured or buried by the background.


1) Use complimentary colors

2) Make sure the author and title are distinguishable from the background

3) Have a large, strong, central image that is recognizable as a thumbnail

4) Make your cover as uncluttered and as simple as possible

However, even if the covers hit all (or most of) these bases, there remains the matter of genre dissonance. Can the reader tell at  a glance to which genre your book belongs?  This is trickier than it sounds. This is where connotations, conventions, themes, memes, and cliches are your friends.  The tried and true tricks work. Think of the last movie poster you saw: you can tell if it’s a mystery, horror, thriller, or action-packed adventure within five seconds.

Let’s use the following examples to illustrate the ways to correct for ebook cover genre dissonance.  Take these covers, each with an image and genre listed below.

comparePlease note that with the exception of the control A, none of the covers match their expected genres.  Cover A could easily pass as a romance anthology (although that gray background is a little dark).  Everything else is a dead ringer for horror. Whoops. Someone is a bit to much in love with dark themes and colors.  A) Lighten the background.  B) That could be a lonely child…or a stalker. The middle of the title is washed out by the sun spotlight effect. Also, the author placement is out of place. C) This one could cause nightmares.  D)  The images and colors say “slay me” rather than “kiss me.” What exactly is that man supposed to be looking at, anyways?

Let’s try again, eh?


covers.02Let’s also remember that genres have subcategories, each with their own conventions and reader expectations.  A) Damn, that looks good.  B) Looking more young adult, but the title typography (i.e., how well does the font match the image or genre) still says horror or thriller.  C) Looks more like a fantasy adventure, but the central image is dull.  The tagline is hard to read. D) The images and color say “romance”, the title typography says “thriller.”


coves.03We’re getting closer to the mark, now.  A) Love it.  B) The font looks better, but nix the ribbon on the tree.  It draws focus away from the children, is hard to discern, makes the cover too busy, and looks fake.  C) Still not happy with this one.  D) This now looks playful and romantic–bingo! D) I had to find a use for the old man’s face and that font. Brrrrrr, scary.


coves.04One more issue linked to reader expectations, which involves pseudonyms. The short stories, young adult, and fantasy novels are all for lack of a better term, clean.  Think PG or PG-13.  The romance and horror are smutty and gory, respectively. Think R or NC-17. I don’t want some teenager to enjoy reading B and then see the same author name linked to D and E, and expect the same experience.  I would be derailing their expectations–and their parent’s expectations. If you don’t want the same audience reading all of your books or genres, or don’t expect a modicum of crossover among those  genres, you should think about using different pseudonyms.

A) Bingo! B) Bingo! C) I brought the first fiery foreground image back to use with the new background amulet image.  Looks dark and mysterious without being outright creepy. I like how the font ties the title and tagline together. Bingo! D) This is actually a legitimate old, Francofied version of my surname. It also sounds like how a romance author name should sound. Bingo! E) An obvious pseudonym, but cheeky and appropriate given that cover image. Bingo!

Thanks for reading!


J. H. Bardwell