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Creating a Captivating Cover

Creating a captivating cover is a balancing act between cliché and individuality. Why?

Genre = Cliché

If it’s going to let the reader know the book’s genre, a cover needs to conform to the conventions of that genre – i.e. it must reflect a certain clichéd quality. A mystery can’t have a cover that screams chick lit – it will attract the wrong reader.

Individuality Attracts the Eye

At the same time the cover must have individuality, otherwise it looks like every other cover in that genre. If it’s too stereotyped, it doesn’t ‘sell’ the individual qualities of the book to a new reader.

Creating a Cover for The First Lie

I chose Julia Kuris at Designerbility to do the new cover. First she talked to me at length about the particular elements of the book that the cover image should reflect:

  •  - psychological mystery/thriller
  •  - a strong female protagonist
  •  - elements of the paranormal and the mythological
  •  - a Hawaiian setting


I also gave her a list of objects featured in the book that might find a role on the cover – moon, beach, mirror with attitude, graveyard on a cliff, little red suitcase, cowry shell necklace etc.

Cover Concepts are Visual

Talking is the first step, but seeing actual concepts brings home what works and doesn’t work. Julia presented me with eleven different concepts based on our discussions. These were to be shortlisted and tweaked, possibly combining elements from more than one concept in the final, changing title fonts and playing around until we found the cover that blew us away.

Why Use Stock Images?

Unless you’re a photographer and a graphic designer it’s almost impossible to take a photo that does everything you want a cover image to do. Most fiction covers are created from a composite of images because you want them to hint at more than one element in the story in a visually compelling way. Julia used low resolution stock images (hence the watermarks that are visible) to give me as many concepts as possible to choose from.

Do They Work as Thumbnails?

Before I looked at the concepts, I reduced them to thumbnail size to see which ones would catch the reader’s eye in the Amazon store. Images need to be clear and captivating at all sizes.

Evaluating Each Concept

Below each concept are the notes I made, based on the following qualities:

  •  - First impression – strong/dramatic?
  •  - Mood – does the image hint at the mystery?
  •  - Woman – does she feel “right”?
  •  - Colours – are they appropriate for the genre and setting?
  •  - Titles – which fonts are the most effective?


Concept 1

Strong image

Silhouette too small

Add the sea?

Too clichéd?

Concept 2

Woman too young, looks like Young Adult genre

Doesn’t hint at a mystery, path not compelling enough

Title strong

Concept 3

Strong & dramatic - has the WOW factor

Both faces compelling - left one haunting, right one haunted

Hints at paranormal elements of the mystery without telling too much

Mirror needs to be clearer

Monochromatic colours work

Concept 4

Mood too wistful, not threatening enough

Silhouette disappears in thumbnail, loses impact - make silhouette bigger?

Shoreline good, Hawaiian feel

Colours work

Add a sense of threat/danger?

Concept 5

Not dramatic as thumbnail

Shoreline strong

Woman in overcoat suggests cold place, not Hawaii

Straight from stock photo, so not unique enough, might be used on another cover

Concept 6

Too clichéd

Woman’s expression ambiguous

Don’t like colours

Concept 7


Shadows could be darker

Woman’s expression suggests menace but this woman appears on other covers, not unique

Shadow hints at paranormal elements of the mystery

Overcoat suggests a cold place, not Hawaii

Colours good

Concept 8

Genre not right – looks too much like a woman’s book

Image a bit clichéd and doesn’t reflect the book

Like the black & white & red

Concept 9

Strong as thumbnail

Quirky, not clichéd

Great mood and colours

Movement of silhouette is strong, but arm, hair & skirt look odd

Love the suitcase!

Path looks odd, needs a different background – path across the sea?

Sky spooky and threatening

Concepts 10 & 11



Look like Young Adult genre

Don’t ‘say’ anything, don’t reflect the quirky compelling mystery of The First Lie

The Final Cover

Concept 3 became the final cover. It went through several rounds of different versions, tweaking the size of the faces, making the mirror frame more distinctive, adding a palm frond and selecting a more individual title font. This fine-tuning will be the subject of a future blog post.


You can read an extract of The First Lie here and see how the cover reflects the opening pages.

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