Book Cover Design Mistakes #3: Cheesy Vamps and Other Poor Portraits

Welcome to Book Cover Design Mistakes, a new series of posts on Shelfbuzz which help identify common mistakes of amateur book designers. In Part 3 of this series, we’ll start by looking at cheesy vampire and other supernatural images.

Since Stephanie Meyer hit it big with her Twilightseries, thousands of authors have tried to jump on the supernatural gravy train. But creating a supernatural look is not as easy as making a model’s eyes an unnatural color in Photoshop.

Here are some examples of book covers that scream amateur (pardon the pun). The first book, Unfinished has multiple issues. 1) The photo is distorted horizontally (which is an effect that was popular in the early 1990s as Photoshop became a common design tool). Today this is considered a dated effect which professional designers steer clear of. 2) The “canvas” texture (another stock Photoshop effect) looks cheesy. We’re guessing that it is meant to be actual paper (due to the folds below the image), but the texture doesn’t look real; it looks computer-generated. 3) The typography is unprofessional as well, again using stock Photoshop layer styles and poor tracking (letter spacing). The lesson here is just because you can use Photoshop doesn’t mean that you are a book cover designer—in the same way that people who know how to operate circular saws are not necessarily qualified to design houses.

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The next two covers are further examples of misuse of Photoshop. Although the intention is to identify these books in the horror or mystical/fantasy genres, the designer needs to go beyond just coloring the eyes.

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free kindle books
 

The following cover is trying to clearly establish its novel as a vampire story in the most obvious way possible (dripping blood). This cover brings up another problem we see with amateur cover designers: they are also amateur photographers who rope friends and family members into posing as models for their book covers.

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Here are a few more examples of amateur models and photographers.

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free kindle books
 

free kindle books
 

Most people can tell just by glancing at the photos in the covers above that they are not professional. Portrait photographers carefully choose their models and style them with appropriate hair and make-up. Then these professional photographers spend a lot of effort (and often use specialized equipment like soft boxes or ring lights) to create effective lighting of their models.

Check out the difference with the following professionally-designed book covers featuring professional portraits:

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free kindle books
free kindle books
free kindle books
In the four covers above, the portrait images are all visually arresting and make the casual browser curious about the book. They also do a great job of conveying the tone of the genre for each book. In most cases the designer does not do their own photography; they hire a professional (sound familiar?) or license a stock photo shot by a professional. But the key is having the talent and expertise to choose meaningful photos.

Bottom Line: if you plan on using a portrait for any type of cover (including horror or supernatural books), hire a professional photographer or license an image from iStockPhoto or BigStock. And steer clear of cheesy Photoshop effects. Or better yet, hire a professional cover designer to handle the whole thing.