Covers that Connect

By Rod Mebane, Starshine Galaxy

Rod was MIPA’s scholarship participant at the 2014 IBPA Publication University (PubU), held in San Francisco last March. This is one of a series of reports that Rod is sharing with fellow MIPA members from his experience at the conference. Contact Rod by email at [email protected] or by phone at 312-343-2235 with your comments and questions.

The literary purists among us may wish that people would not judge a book by its cover—believing fervently that the quality of the underlying content is what counts—but we all know better. No matter how we try to angle around it, the cover of a book creates the first impression, and it can make or break a prospective reader’s interest in the book. This is particularly true in the wild open marketplace of books in which we are currently swirling, where a good cover is “table stakes,” and a great cover is a critical success factor in winning the attention of readers.

At PubU, sponsored by IBPA in March 2014, a workshop appropriately called “Covers that Connect” focused on the things that matter in cover design. The workshop was offered on a seat-limited basis, and you had to sign up in advance. One of the requirements in pre-registering was to submit a cover in electronic form for critique by the class and by the two instructors, Shannon Bodie and Jeniffer Thompson—both experienced and well-regarded book designers.

The session began with some great teaching points, including: “Think of your cover as a billboard (not as an ad)”—driving home the point that you have just a few seconds to capture someone’s attention. (See the complete workshop slide presentation at the link shown below.)

Then the different covers that participants had submitted were displayed on the screen, one at a time, and we were asked to judge each one quickly and to document our thoughts on the special evaluation form that was provided. Once we got through the independent appraisals, we had a class discussion about each cover during which people shared reactions and suggestions. So, each participant, on a cover that each submitted, got the benefit of individual feedback, group discussion, and each instructor also provided a written critique of each of the covers submitted. Very rich, honest feedback, and extremely insightful.

I especially appreciated: 1) the impact of the advance prep work, 2) the practical hands-on evaluation, with immediately usable takeaways, 3) the quality of the forms and process used, and 4) the insight that we all have a tendency to get too close to the covers we work with and that we all need the blast of reality that a fresh set of eyes can bring.

I’ve posted blank copies of the forms used in the workshop on my website. Get them here:

And, if you’re an author or a publisher (or both), I encourage you to round up an informal group of people (all they need to bring are their own opinions) and have them evaluate the cover that you’re working with right now. Odds are that you will see things differently as a result of the feedback.

It happened to me—like a two-by-four across the forehead. For this workshop, I submitted the cover of our flagship publication, Tomorrow Comes, which I felt very good about (and have been in the market with for over a year). On the basis of feedback I received at the workshop, I am in the process now of having that cover “freshened up” professionally. Once the cover is recast, I will swap it out with CreateSpace and Ingram/LSI for a look that is “new and improved” and much better aligned with the excellent underlying content.

For future publications, I plan to use this approach to gather feedback in a structured and timely way in an effort to create covers that invite and entice readers to pick up or click on.

Takeaways: Go to for several valuable resources: presentation slides of the workshop, a quick review cover checklist, and a group review form.