Chris Gardner

The joys of self-publishing.

How relevant does your book cover need to be?


Is it important the picture on the cover of your book tells the reader something specific about your story or is only important that it’s an attention grabber? Should it just indicate the genre of the book? We all know what to expect if we see a couple on a front cover–depending on their posture it’s either a sweet romance, a bodice-ripper or erotica. Is it important the couple actually looks like the couple described inside? Sometimes book designers working with traditional publishers get it wrong and I’m not sure how much it matters to readers; if I’m engrossed in the story I’m not going to check back to the no-one covercover. A friend of mine has had several books picked up by overseas publishers who change the covers to what they feel best suits their readership and the covers sometimes seem totally irrelevant. As a self-publisher it’s all up to me and I do try to make the covers relevant to the story but it can be difficult. I do have some training in art and design but I prefer to use photos, some of my own and some from online. The beauty of this is that I can always change it if I find something I like better. Apologies to anyone who finds this annoying! I’m considering changing the cover of my children’s book, ‘No-one’s Good at Everything‘, which currently has a train pulling into a station. There’s two stories in the book, for middle primary kids–one about Billy, who is on a train with his mum until she disappears, and the other about Sophie, who isn’t good at sport like her friends and family are but she is very good at something else. Daffodils are relevant to Sophie’s story, hence the cover I’m now thinking of–the reason I’m considering changing it is that it’s been pointed out to me that the train I’ve used on the cover is a Canadian goods train, which would never be used for passengers in Australia! So does it matter? It’s a much better looking train than Australian passenger trains and it is a book for kids, after all. I’d appreciate your opinion on this one and if you have kids, I’d really love their opinions too! Thanks.


Author: cmsgardnerblog

I'm a writer of fiction and non-fiction, for teens and adults. I live in Central Victoria, Australia and my books are available at

11 thoughts on “How relevant does your book cover need to be?

  1. Hi Christine from Nola in Toronto.
    That is indeed the Canadian National Railway (CNR).
    The symbolism of “the little engine that could” …I think I can concept is compatible with what your title suggests. Maybe look for an Australian train image…a modern or old steam engine (but from some of the websites where copyright is not in question, where images are also free or you can purchase various licenses).
    But, it is odd to have CN in Australia…The title is large, but squished beneath the image. You have then tried to acknowledge a second previous book, but it now leaves your own name dwarfed and unreadable, squished at the bottom.

    The cover with the “daffy” makes title and author easy to read with less clutter and white writing on black background. The image seems unrelated to the book.

    • Thanks Nola,
      Good to hear from a Canadian about the train. There’s two stories in the book–a train suits one while a daffodil suits the other. I don’t think there’s a good image really that suits both.

  2. I haven’t written any kids’ books yet, but I would imagine that bright colors are favored. Both of your covers satisfy that notion, but I think sex-roles are still so much a part of children’s upbringing, that each one omits half of the age range you’re targeting. Have you considered splitting the front cover between the photos/titles? Or perhaps going to a more generic front cover, featuring both titles, and if you really like the train and the daffodil, moving them inside, to serve as frontispieces for their respective tales. One more idea is to have the book printed to “tumble,” with two different “front” covers: read one story, and then turn the book over and upside down, to read the other. That would probably be more costly to produce, but the unusual format may be a “hook.”

    I don’t care much for photos of people on covers, and I’m especially irritated by photos or artwork that beheads people, or cuts their heads in half. That said, I am considering a cover that includes people, for the American English edition of my first novel (the cover art is only of objects, on the Commonwealth English edition:

    Best wishes, and good luck with your cover decision.

    • Thanks Christine. I have given some thought to the gender thing–it is a bit tricky but I’m still thinking. I like your cover as it is by the way, but I read somewhere that readers like to see people on the cover.

  3. I think it matters, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Two couples embracing for a romance? If they’re the right gender and roughly the right skin color, it’s accurate enough. A sunset for a chick lit book that never actually mentions sunsets? Probably fine. A book with a tomato on the cover that’s about spies and action scenes? Nope, you’re gonna want another cover. As long as the cover doesn’t misrepresent the book by deceiving the reader, I think it’s fine.

  4. The title must be large and clear enough to be easily read – for this reason I prefer to avoid ‘arty’ fonts – and the overall color should, I think, say something about the genre. Other than that, I agree with Charlotte’s last sentence. The cover shouldn’t deceive the reader so they believe they are buying something they are not.

  5. Hi Christine, I noticed this pot on LinkedIn. I hope you won’t shoot me as the messenger, but neither of these covers suit a child’s book in my opinion. They are both too old looking, as in old fashioned.
    I have taken the liberty of doing a mock-up example of what you may consider. I am not a book cover artist or anything like that, but I thought it may give you vision. I got the image (royalty free) from

    Please email me at if you would like me to send you the mock-up. 🙂

  6. I think it’s most important to match the genre and time period. I agree when Lesley said the two covers didn’t indicate children’s stories. The daffodil is beautiful, but connotes poetry. Covers are difficult. I do my own, too, with the help of my animation-inclined sons…and I’ve changed a few. Good luck!

    • Yes, I think you’re right Gail. That’s why I was so hesitant about the daffodil. I’m less concerned about the train but I have an idea for something else which means me actually drawing something. It’s on hold for now–too busy writing.

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