A Peek Behind the Curtain: How We Come Up with Book Covers

by Kirsten Weiss

While cover design is certainly not the most stressful part of the book publishing process, it has its quirks. A good cover doesn’t tell the story, but it does need to do three things:

  • Grab the reader’s attention and make them curious about the story

    Bound cover

    Thumbnail size on Amazon

  • Tell the reader what type of story they’re buying – funny mystery, spooky suspense, lighthearted romance.
  • This information needs to be easy to identify when the reader is looking at a thumbnail sized image.

That said, I’ve made my share of cover mistakes.

Exhibit A: What Type of Story is This?

The image on the left, below, is the original cover for the first book in my steampunk series, Steam and Sensibility. I was pleased with it. Corset. Gears. Fog. It’s San Francisco steampunk! I thought the font was a little too much, but that was what the cover designer came up with, so I went for it, thinking all was well.steampunk covers

Except when I attended a steampunk convention, a lot of people asked me if the novel was erotica. Ooops!

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against erotica. But that definitely wasn’t what the book was about. So I switched to the cover on the right – also clearly steampunk, but with a magical flare.

Exhibit B: Contrast Issues and Originality

Another miss, but for a different reason, was the first cover (below left) for The Metaphysical Detective, the first book in my Riga Hayworth series of supernatural mystery.Riga covers

The contrast is low (which is not such a good thing when people are squinting at a tiny icon on Amazon), but it looks suitably gloomy and mysterious.


Since there are seven books in this series, I wanted original artwork that had more of a “series” feeling. Hence the new cover on the right. It’s got slightly higher contrast, and it’s original art. I’m not entirely satisfied with it, but I haven’t gotten around to changing it.

Exhibit C: Try, try, again…

hoodoo detective coversEven when you’ve got a great cover designer, there are typically several iterations before the cover is just right. In fairness, cover designers don’t know what’s in the author’s head. You have to provide them with samples of what you want, and even then, things can get tricky.

And for The Hoodoo Detective (book 6 in the Riga Hayworth series), above is proof that my cover designer has the patience of a saint.

(I ended up with the cover on the bottom right).

Exhibit D: Just right!

And then, sometimes, the cover designer nails it right away…

At Wit's End coverThe cover to the right is for a cozy mystery coming out in June, 2017.

What does this cover say to you? And what do you think makes a great book cover?

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten worked overseas for nearly twenty years in the fringes of the former USSR, Africa, and South-east Asia.  Her experiences abroad sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives. Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes genre-blending steampunk suspense, urban fantasy, and mystery, mixing her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem.

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  • Reply
    shannon esposito
    March 28, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    Oh Wow! Love the new Doyle Witch cover! Perfect. Covers are…UG. I’m actually thinking of having all my Pet Psychic series covers redone because as much as I love them, I’m getting tired of people thinking I write YA.

    • Reply
      Kirsten Weiss
      March 28, 2017 at 4:45 pm

      Really? YA? They look cozy to me, but I’ve come to learn that what *I* think is obvious is often not.

  • Reply
    Vinnie Hansen
    March 28, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    I think it’s interesting that your new cover says, “A Doyle Cozy Mystery” because the cover screams cozy. 🙂 But then, I guess, you want to ID the series. So question, on my WIP, Lostart Street, Shannon responded that the cover immediately said, “literary fiction” to her. But one of my beta readers said she couldn’t tell, from the front cover, what type of book it would be. So, I am considering adding “A novel” somewhere on the front, or maybe the whole tagline, “A novel of mystery, manslaughter and moonbeams.” Thoughts?

    • Reply
      Kirsten Weiss
      March 28, 2017 at 4:44 pm


      I like having something about the genre in the subtitle, but I hear Amazon is now cracking down on them (not on the covers, but on their website as a subtitle). That said, I *think* what they’re going after are people who load it with too many keywords, like “A werewolf shifter Texas cowboy erotic romance.”

  • Reply
    Vinnie Hansen
    March 28, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    Sorry about making my previous comment so much about me. I loved seeing the evolution of your covers, Kirsten, and knowing that we all go through this process. I love art, so cover design is one of my favorite parts of producing the book, but you’re right, our cover designers need the patience of saints!

    • Reply
      Kirsten Weiss
      March 28, 2017 at 4:44 pm

      Nothing to apologize for! We all agonize over covers! And yours was a good point.

  • Reply
    K.B. Owen
    March 29, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    It’s funny, but your first Steam and Sensibility cover didn’t suggest erotica to me! I totally get the angst and trial-and-error process of book covers. Oy, you should have seen my first cover for book 1. I didn’t even like it at the time, but I was working with a prickly artist who wasn’t listening to me, and I was risking having to throw more money at the problem and delay the book launch, so I went with it.

    My come-to-Jesus moment was when I found my current cover designer. I loved her work so much that I had her go back and re-do the first book, less than a year after it came out! Those old copies still mock me….

    Good luck with your upcoming release, Kirsten! I love that series.

    • Reply
      Kirsten Weiss
      March 29, 2017 at 1:08 pm

      Thanks, Kathy!

      Trust me, I also did not see “erotica” when I went with the first book cover. But then, I’d read the book! Live and learn…


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