The Ins and Outs of Book Covers (and Hidden Depths Cover Reveal)

While the old adage says you can’t tell a book by its cover, the newest science for marketing books says you most definitely can. And as readers and writers of mystery and crime fiction, we need to understand what that means.

Readers have expectations for book covers, and authors need to meet them

Users have definite genre expectations for book covers, and if your cover misses the mark for any detail, the author pays the price. If your cover doesn’t look like the covers of all the other books in your genre, readers won ‘t buy it.

Perhaps even worse, if it looks like the covers of books in a different genre, people may buy it and give you scathing reviews when your book doesn’t actually conform to the genre expectations.

Same as except is harder than it sounds when it comes to book covers

‘Same as except’ is a difficult mark to hit. It’s a typical marketing concept that provides a shorthand for potential customers to understand what your product does or is, and how it differs from other products in the same category. Using it effectively can help shotgun your product to increased market share, while using it ineffectively may consign your product to the remainder bins.

Everything must match expectations, including fonts, colors, images

The same holds true for book covers. Genre readers expect book covers to adhere to a very small color palette. They expect certain fonts for the title. Some genres require sans serif fonts, while others require serif fonts. Some need modern looking fonts, while others require old fashioned or flowing, flowery fonts.

Genre cover expectations also extend to the artwork. Should it be a simply drawn graphic, like the covers of many cozies? Or should it include a close up photo of a woman’s face, as in a lot of domestic suspense? Should the cover sport one character, two characters, none?

And it has to fit in while standing out from the books around it

Along with all this, it goes without saying that the cover should be eye-catching enough to grab a potential reader from across the aisle in a bookstore. It also goes without saying that it should also catch the reader’s eye in a tiny thumbnail on eBook sellers like Amazon or Apple.

Some of these characteristic differences are obvious, while others are quite subtle. If you’re traditionally published, your publisher will have relationships with graphic artists who make it their business to study best-sellers in various genres and to apply the requirements to cover designs.

It sounds complex, and it is

When I first decided to publish my books myself, I was sure I could capture all the required nuances by myself. I spent weeks designing a cover. I loved it. My friends loved it. I thought, ‘Huh, this isn’t so hard.’

I was wrong.

I ended up hiring a professional cover designer. She took my design—which I once loved but which now looks totally amateurish to me—and reworked it so it fit the genre expectations.

Oh, I came close, but my personal preference for simple, clean delicate fonts wasn’t right for my genre, where readers go for larger, bolder fonts. I pretty much got the color scheme right, but even there, a few tweaks made the cover pop for my audience.

Her expertise opened my eyes.

It’s certainly possible for an author to research and understand the genre expectations. Authors can also buy research that distills best selling covers into a list of fonts, colors, design elements, and more. But why?

We’re writers, not graphic artists. In my opinion, our time is better spent on writing. We can sub out non-writing activities like cover design.

So, this whole blog was leading up to the cover reveal for Book 5 in the Fin Fleming Scuba Diving Series. The book’s title is Hidden Depths, and it’s coming out in May.

Hidden Depths cover reveal

And here’s the cover, designed by a terrific graphic artist. It looks the same as most other covers in its genre, except it’s different. It fits with the other books in the Fin Fleming series, so it’s got “branding,” yet it’s different enough that readers should recognize it as a new entry in the series. And I love it.

Readers, what do you think about the new Hidden Depths cover?

And do you consciously or unconsciously choose books based on their covers?

Sharon Ward

Sharon Ward is the author of the traditional mysteries In Deep, Sunken Death, Dark Tide, and Killer Storm, all part of the Fin Fleming Scuba Diving series. Hidden Depths, the next book in the series, will be out in spring, 2023



  1. Beautiful cover, Sharon! I think the biggest surprise to me was that a cover had to look good on a tiny Amazon thumbnail photo. (Thank you for teaching me that word.) Made me realize how hard it is to make a book stand out, and that I definitely look for books where the cover stands out.

  2. Stunning new cover! I like how your series covers are the same but different. Definitely mysterious.

    I definitely by books because of their covers. Especially love the British library reprint of Golden Age mysteries.

  3. This topic is very close to my heart. I find the design decisions publishers make to be quite illuminating. There’s always some design that becomes iconic, and then everyone copies it and then it becomes the style for the genre. The Twilight covers did this and so did 50 Shades. The typical look gets an overhaul every 5 years or so, with superstar designers leading the way when a bestseller hits it big. I noticed that often even the font used for a book cover is then used in a screen adaptation. Your covers are top notch, Sharon! Really great.

  4. Your covers give a clear idea of what the reader will find, Sharon, including that hint of mystery. I love the new one! It adds to the series but has its own distinct look.

    I use a color wash on my Nora Tierney English series that is matched in the title. Readers who know the series know if the title of the coming one is “The Golden Hour” for example, they will find a gold color wash over the image. I’m always surprised by readers I meet who will ask me, “what’s the next color?” I’m with you in that I feel the covers lend themselves to so much information about the book inside.

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