As an indie publisher, I’ve picked up a few ideas and tricks from direct marketing gurus. Here’s one on designing a book cover.
The thing about a book’s cover is that people actually do judge your book by it. That is, the book cover is going to be one of the first things someone sees. The book’s cover is therefore the book’s own advertisement. So why not design it as such.
Start early in the process, and test several cover designs. I talked about this a little in my post “How Much Does It Cost to Publish a Book”. Different elements of the book cover you’ll want to experiment with include the graphics, the title, the subtitle, the layout, the color… even the size of the title text verses the size of the author’s name. (You’ll note that The Conscience of Abe’s Turn cover doesn’t even have my name on it at all. This is not an oversight. I had determined through ad testing that no one cared what my name was, which makes sense, because I’m Tim King, not Stephen King.)
One thing you can do on the cheap is to print out mock-ups of two or three different cover designs on your cheapo inkjet printer, wrap them around actual books of similar size, and show them to friends, acquaintances, and strangers. (You can see what I mean by a “mock-up” in this video about the Abe’s Turn ARC.) You especially want to find people in your target market. Show them one cover mock-up at a time, and for each one, ask, “If you saw this book sitting on a store shelf, would you pick it up to find out more about it?” In general, the cover design with the most “yes” answers wins. Then you can repeat the experiment with more and more refinements of the cover.
(Note that I haven’t actually tried this myself yet, but it’s based on sound direct-marketing practices. I’m expecting to do something like this, however, for an upcoming title.)