As part of Paid Stories, we create new covers for the authors all the time. Evaluating covers, ensuring the best designs come forward, and thinking about market impact is a big part of Paid Stories. It’s also one of our favourite parts, as we put a sample of covers up on TV screens then have debates over which ones are the best.
With all that said, here are tips on the type of cover your story should pursue from the people who care about covers. I’m sure many of the designers in this space will already know a lot of these things too, which is why I also have one of our cover designers, Ren, going over this post and adding in her own insights.
It’s also worth noting, not everyone is great at covers and that’s ok. Writers are good at writing, not necessarily all art or design. Similar to how it can be tough to write a catchy blurb since not all writers are also marketers and salespeople. That’s why we have a community to help rely on the expertise of others to cover our gaps.
- Use copyright-free images, such as stock photos
It’s critically important that you respect copyright and ensure your cover can’t be taken down in the future for such violations. Many books on the platform contain copyright warnings, lengthy notes on how it’s wrong to steal their story, but then have a random Google Image with text as their cover. Make sure you’re not committing yourself to irony and better understand stock photos, copyright on images, and creative commons licenses, and check with a designer or cover creator if they did the same. Most designers on Wattpad use stock photos or create their own.
- Minimalism is key
When it comes to covers, you want them to look as clean as possible. A common issue we have with covers and designs is how busy and cluttered they can feel. People want to pack in several different themes at once or showcase the spectrum of things that will be encountered in the story, or they drop tons of stickers all over the place or additional taglines and notes.
The best covers are straightforward, have a clear theme or image they’re trying to deliver, and deliver upon it. White space is very powerful and helps to elevate certain components of your cover. If the entire thing is wall to wall imagery or bulky text, it stands out less than when there’s a lot of gaps.
Letting something sit alone helps give it impact.
Simplification can create things like the first two covers, where there’s a lot of empty space, especially around the edges, to better attract your eye to the centre and the parts that matter. They use simplified drawings of normally complex images and have a lot of clean separation of different parts. You can see a similar effect in Electric Impulse, which uses the more Wattpad-standard of actual people. The images are cleanly separated by the title, which is given space around it in the form of a black gap.
Even in cases where the image appears to be fairly complex or cluttered, using repeated patterns and clear lines to space things out can help keep things feeling clean and easy to absorb as a viewer.
- Ensure you have great visibility
This is one of the biggest questions we have when we’re reviewing covers. We often get to see them in a larger format on our big, bright screens. Make sure to be very careful about the readability of your fonts and colours. Watch out for putting the same colour on top of itself, for darker or lighter sections, and scale the cover down to the mobile version and see how it looks. Quite often the issue with covers we see isn’t a matter of good design but a matter of readability, where fonts or images blend in to each other or have cool effects on them that make it tough to distinguish the words.
- Feel free to go abstract
Your cover doesn’t have to capture an exact image or scene from your story in photographic form. Simple, clean imagery can attract attention and draw people into your story without the need to find a perfect stock image. Simple shapes, lines, and fonts can combine to be more than enough.
Often these covers stand out specifically because they don’t look like anything else in particular, or they make you think a little about them. In some cases, like The Multitudes Within Me, there’s no greater meaning to be found other than some good colour, bold font, and a simple reminder it’s about hockey (it’s more complex than that but you get the idea). Hey Noah is similar to a note, framing the whole story as a love letter to a special boy. Albatross is one of the more unique and complex covers of this sort since its shapes are an actual albatross framing the image of the tide. Hypnos helps create an eerie feeling with its use of colour and flipped imagery, even though it’s basically just a red/teal cover. Not all covers need to be as complicated as some of these examples or to reveal other meanings, it’s simply to show the range of unique covers that you can create when you aren’t tied to a particular image in the actual story or the pursuit of the right photo.
- Font matters
After minimalism, font is the biggest factor in how we select a cover. It’s the number one thing we request to be changed in the cover designs we review, often mixing and matching different fonts from different samples. It can absolutely make or break a cover. Great images or designs fall apart if they don’t have a solid font to hold it all together. And I’m sure many of the designers reading this will agree and have personal nightmares about selecting fonts, or gush when they purchase access to a new amazing one. It’s a big deal. It can go so far as to be the entirety of your cover and suck people right in.
Street Girl and Blink are examples of strong imagery that’s solidified by a bold font to capture your attention. Dirty Lying Faeries uses its font to express its playfulness and creativity just by switching fonts on the one word. With nothing else in the image, the font carries all of the weight.
There’s also a lot of ways to integrate the font into the cover image and help tie the two together. A lot of covers we see will have a picture and a title, where the title looks very removed from the picture; it’s basically just slapped on top. Using some of the minimalism tricks above, you can separate a title out from the photo so they both stand out, but another trick is to find ways to bring them together. The Star and The Ocean places imagery within the font itself. Before Noon lets the title character interact with the words and stand between them. The Irresistible Mickey Holly throws red highlights into the image and also the font, giving you a connection point between them.
So when you’re working on a cover for your next project, aim for something that is clean in its lines and imagery, clear on the message it’s delivering, with a strong font. Stay simple and straightforward to help elevate the beauty in the cover. And work with your designer, if you have one. They are bringing their knowledge and skills so you should utilize them. They’re more the experts in this space than writers. This can take time to get things right and a lot of back and forth. Never cut corners like scaling down sizes or using incorrect dimensions or skipping the font.