045 How to Avoid the #1 Cause of Bad Book Covers: Design by Committee

Here are the show notes for the most recent episode of the Christian Publishing Show.

You can listen to this episode here.


Today we are going to talk about design. This is an important topic and not one many people in the publishing industry have formal training in.  Just like everyone thinks they can write a book, everyone thinks they understand design.

Ignorance of the complexities of a profession is not a suitable replacement for mastering those complexities.

But, before we can talk about good and bad design, we need to talk about something more fundamental.

The Difference Between Art and Design

The purpose of art is to:

  • Make people think. To ask questions.
  • Elicit an emotion (joy, wonder, curiosity, grief, etc.)
  • Make the world better in intangible ways.

Art is subjective. Even the purpose of art is a matter for debate. Something that is beautiful to one person can be ugly to another person.

The purpose of design is to:

  • Serve a function.
  • Solve problems
  • Help people take an action.
  • Make the world better in tangible ways

Design is objective. You can use data and the scientific method to determine which of two designs is more effective.

“Good Art Inspires. Good Design Motivates.”

Otl Aicher

The art of a door vs the design of a door. Art is about making the door pretty. Design is about making the door easy to use (handle on a door or push plate). You can always tell a poorly designed door because it requires signs to tell you how to operate it.

Why is good design important for authors?

  • Everyone judges a book by its cover. (Brandon Sanderson story)
  • Journalists, event coordinators, and other influencers judge an author by their website. Does this person have good taste?
  • Cover design is the most important aspect of the book to potential readers.
  • The book cover establishes your in a micro genre (for better or for worse)

What is design by committee? 

  • When a group of people weigh in on the design of something.
  • Typically motivated by fear. Good design requires boldness.
  • Something that everyone likes is typically something no one loves.
  • Compromise leads to bad design. A camel is a horse designed by a committee.
  • Think of a recipe. If you try to accommodate everyone’s preferences you end up with catsup and peanut butter on ice cream.
  • Design by committee generates monstrosities for which no single person is responsible.

Where is design by committee an issue for authors?

  • Websites
  • Book Covers
  • Book Titles

How do you get feedback while avoiding mediocrity? 

  • Realize that not everyone’s opinion is useful. Some opinions can be harmful!
  • Only ask design experts and people within your target market.
  • Explain the target market and the goals of the project before sharing the design with experts.
  • People don’t know what they really like (iPad, Google’s new logo) when you ask them. You have to watch their behavior not listen to their words.
  • Ask “why” a several times in a row.
  • Ask for problems not solutions. “My engine is clicking can you change my oil?”
  • Don’t incorporate everyone’s advice.
  • Ask what kind of emotions it causes in them. How does it make you feel?

How do you give feedback to your designer?

  • Consolidate Feedback
  • Sleep on it.
  • Ask questions! He or she is the professional. Don’t squander their expertise by taking over design yourself by giving orders.
  • Pick your battles. Be willing to defer.
  • Identify problems and suggest (not demand) solutions.
  • Use data to make decisions. Split test versions to see which one performs better. (NM172)

Tips For Good Design

  • Work with an experienced professional.
  • Clearly identify a single representative target reader.
  • Clearly identify goals. What will make the design succeed. What would make it fail.

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The post 045 How to Avoid the #1 Cause of Bad Book Covers: Design by Committee appeared first on Christian Publishing Show.

3 Responses to 045 How to Avoid the #1 Cause of Bad Book Covers: Design by Committee

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 8, 2019 at 6:54 am #

    I think that when our God designed
    the Gospel, that He took great care
    to have the Greatest Gift combined
    with something of a dare.
    He made salvation free for all,
    propped Heaven’s door wide open,
    and issued out a challenge-call
    to the haughty, and the broken:
    “The first step, friend, is yours to take,
    and I can but urge you on,
    to a place where I might remake
    your heart to face My dawn.
    If you will give Me all that’s thine,
    you will be heir to all that’s Mine.”

    • Judith Robl October 9, 2019 at 3:08 pm #

      Andrew, you’ve summed up the Gospel in a Sonnet. Bravo, my friend! You are still in my prayers and on my heart. Love seeing you here.

  2. Roberta Sarver October 10, 2019 at 9:53 am #

    Thomas, many thanks for summarizing this podcast via written words. It helps those of us who are crunched for time and are not necessarily audio learners. I hope to see you do this more often. It took a lot of work on your part, no doubt, but it’s well worth it. Thanks again.

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