Award-winning Book, Award-Winning Cover

9 Nov

I’ve got a great article from designer Lewis Agrell about what an award winning cover needs already posted on Your Shelf Life. You can read it here. Lewis says that the most successful book covers are the most beautiful. I think so, too.

They’re a few other things winning covers need as well. Here are some guidelines for award-winning covers, illustrated with covers of award-winning books.

  1. The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy

    The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy--This book won four national awards, including the Gold Medal in the 2011 IPPY (Independent Press) Awards in Visionary Fiction, the Visionary Fiction Category in the 2011 Indie Excellence Award, and New Age Fiction in the Best Books of 2011 (USA Book News). It was also a finalist in Fantasy/Sci-Fi in the Best Books Awards. This cover achieves dominance by being light and airy. It's theme, the transcendent dancer, carries out the theme of the book. It is a beautiful cover, meeting Lewis Agrell's standards. (It should: He designed it.)

    The text on your cover should be visible from six feet away. Some designers are in love with the notion that “small is beautiful.” Maybe, but not on book covers. If the type on your cover is tiny, blurred, or unintelligible, your sales and saleability will be impaired. You won’t win anything in contests. Sorry.

  2. “Achieve page dominance.”A concept from telephone book ads. For a quick tutorial on commercial design, let’s look at phone book ads. Open the yellow page ads in any phone book. Scan the page quickly. Where do your eyes land? Note the ad. Do it again on another page, and another.In all probability, the ad that draws your attention is simple. Uncluttered. Either black, white, or mostly empty. The ads that grab your eyeballs and hold them have attained page dominance. People hire consultants to create dominant ads for them.Now go to a bookstore sale table and look at the books. Which books grab your eyes? Which do you pick up? Buy? A book contest is like that table. Clear, bold design that dominates the competition will win.Your cover must have an emotional hook. Think archetypes. Primal images. Something that grabs the inner psychology of your reader/judge.To win contests, and much more importantly, to be purchased, your book cover and spine must dominate any table and any bookshelf.
  3. Your title is really, really important. Your title embodies your book’s essence. It is the first text the reader sees. It should be engaging, easy to read, evocative, and compelling––it should set the emotional tone for your book. As should the subtitle or tag line (the one line description below the title). Also, most of the big catalogs of books will list your book by its title only. It better be memorable.
  4. The words on your cover, flaps, and first few pages of your book, your book’s copy, should be unforgettable. These words are your prime real estate and are what will make your book succeed. The book contest judge, book store owner, and your buyer will make a decision about your book based on these words––in seconds. You want emotional hooks, ease of reading, and enchantment.Writing copy is a skill. You can write text like an angel and not be able to pump out a winning tag line. Emmy-nominated screenwriter Laren Bright, the best copy writer I know, wrote an article about “The Most Important Writing in Your Book.” It’s copy. That’s what sells the book.
  5. Book design, interior & exterior: Your book should look like Random House produced it, no less. Every page and every word should be as well designed as your cover. Go to a book store and look at bestselling books. Get a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style––a gigantic book that lays out everything about books––and make it your best friend.
  6. Numenon Cover

    Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money. This book won the Silver Nautilus Award in Bicultural Fiction, the Silver Medal in the IPPYs, and awards in Visionary and Religious Fiction in the Best Books and Indie Excellence Awards. Notice how this cover would dominate pretty near anything.


    A very important note: Never have your title page on the left side of the book. Do not do that. (I saw books with this flaw in a book contest I once helped judge. This is such a bad error that if you don’t know how bad it is, you’re in big trouble.) Know the proper order of pages in a book. Know what a half title page is and where it goes. The contest judge will know about these.

    I was going to put a few links to other sites about award-winning covers, but when I looked up the articles, I found I didn’t like their covers. A major rule is: If it’s your book (or blog) you should like the cover.

  7. I’m going to do a scrapbook of winning covers below.
    [My blog software has decided it doesn’t want to work any more on this post. ;-(  So I can’t label the last image. That’s the cover of a new book, Sam & Emily: A Romance from the Underground, Book III of Tales from Earth’s End. It hasn’t won any contests yet, but I hope it will. It fits the book perfectly.]

I’ll sign off here. All the best,  Sandy Nathan



Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice. Another big winner:2007 Benjamin Franklin Award Finalist in New Age (Spirituality/Metaphysics)Bronze Medal Winner in Self Help, 2007 IPPY AwardsNational Indie Excellence Awards 2007: Finalist in THREE Categories: Autobiography/Memoir, New Age Non-Fiction & Spirituality.Best Books of 2007, USA Book News, Finalist in


Sam & Emily: A Romance from the Underground

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