I thought it might be interesting to some of you, to show my thought process for creating the cover for my upcoming book “Den Of Snakes” which is currently on pre-order on Amazon (just search for the title to find it).

As a self-published author with limited funds, but with a not-insignificant amount of digital/creative media experience, I design my own covers. If I ever make my fortune from writing or, you know, enough to fend off the bailiffs, I may pay a professional to do it, but I’m not there yet.

I’ve read many an article on the subject and have worked through a very good course on the subject by Stuart Bache of Self-Publishing Formula. Given how basic (and formulaic) many book covers look – especially those of very successful authors – it can be tempting to be led by a desire to let your inner artist make the decisions. That would be wrong.

Book cover for Six Hard Days In Andalusia
Six Hard Days In Andalusia

I still like my cover for my first book, “Six Hard Days in Andalusia“, but it doesn’t tell the reader much, or anything, about the genre (fast-paced action thriller with a vein of dark humour). If you judged the book by its cover – and YOU DO – you might be forgiven for thinking it is a scary tale about killer insects who attack people in southern Spain. Now there’s an idea…

Book cover design is very much a commercial and technical process. It is NOT a medium for artistic innovation and experimentation. It is probably the most important factor for gaining a potential reader’s attention, be it on Amazon or in an actual bookshop, especially if – as in my case – they’ve very likely never heard of you.

As a self-published author you are not marketing to your Mum (although, thanks Mum XXX), or your mates on Facebook. You are marketing to people, you do not know, who do not know you and who are browsing an online book retailer looking for their next reading fix.

There are plenty of rules to follow:

  • It must be ‘scream’ of the genre. Genres have conventions. How many thrillers have a silhouette of a man holding a gun walking along a dark street or across a bridge?
  • The colours must make it stand out from a crowded field (the Amazon search results or ‘new releases’ page).
  • It must be legible as a thumbnail image, on a normal device, in less than optimal lighting conditions. People simply won’t click any further if they can’t read it.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share a timelapse through the covers I came up with for Den Of Snakes, and my reasoning for arriving at the current one …which I still intend to tweak BTW.

The first cover for Den Of Snakes
The first design

The image, above, was my first design. The ‘Five Bullet Crew’ are the main British villains in the story. I was thinking about trying to convey an aspect of the plot, as well as making it look very ‘Spanish’ (with the tortured flag in the background). The result was too messy, plus the rule is to nod to the genre overall, not actual story content.

Next (above) I attempted a more simple design, with a few variations of colour and texture. I was also playing around with titles here too – trying to convey a sense of time and place. A few of you saw this on Facebook, and liked the first one. The trouble is, neither the cover or title meet that objective of conveying the genre, so I moved on again. As a side point, although I, and other old gits, know that Marbella was a hive of crime and corruption in the 1980s in what was sometimes called the ‘Costa del Crime’, most people might not. Another ‘note to self’.

Attempt number three for cover for Den Of Snakes
The third attempt

For my third attempt, I added an image of an attractive, bikini-clad woman in the background. This hints at an important character called Veronica Peters who plays the role of a dangerous, alluring, shapeshifter. I shared this image with a book cover design community I belong to on Facebook. Their reaction – “It looks too much like erotica”. FAIL.

Next up, I decided to go full-throttle for using the visual tropes of the thriller genre – silhouettes, backlit and real-world background. I also went ‘full-on Spanish colours’ and dramatic text. As you can see, I tried to use the image of the big concrete sign that welcomes visitors entering Marbella from the east. I felt I was making progress, but the text style felt dated and the use of the Marbella sign, meant having text on top of text which was overpowering. The overall impression also felt somewhat cheap. Like the author had made his own cover. Ahem.

Attempt number five of cover for Den Of Snakes
The fifth attempt

I decided to dial down the black and reds and to relegate the Marbella sign to more of a suggestive element in the background, coupled with using the textured orange shades and silhouettes of palm trees to suggest at the setting. Result: Not ugly, but there’s still no real indication of the genre…plus it really makes me want to drink a large vodka and orange every time I saw it.

Cover for Den Of Snakes
The ‘final’ design

So, with all this prior learning, I opted to add the ‘gang of villains’ silhouette back in (key genre trope), added some palm trees and La Concha, Marbella’s mountain (setting), and simplified the colouring. I also kept the text simple, clean and crisp. I think it tells the reader something about genre and place. The strong orange tones will make it stand out amongst a sea of other thumbnail images on Amazon. I’m still not entirely happy with it – the figures seem too crisp to me, for example, but I think it is ‘good enough’. For now.

What do you think?