Book covers and titles are so critical to the success of a book, publishing houses have entire teams dedicated to choosing the perfect title and designing the perfect cover.
If you’re self-publishing your book, the weight of these decisions falls to you.
That’s why it’s crucial to test book covers with your target audience before putting your baby out in the world. We’ll dive into that process in this article.
Table of contents
- Book covers — how far they’ve come
- What does a good book cover do?
- How to write a book title
- Book title testing
- Book cover design
- Testing book covers
- Beyond the book cover
- Frequently asked questions
Book covers — how far they’ve come
Imagine what shopping for a book must have felt like a century ago. Browsing shelves and looking at clothbound book covers in gray, black, red, and brown hues. Narrowing your eyes and leaning in to try and read the titles.
Things were plain back then. It was hard to tell what a book was about or whether it would interest you just by glancing at the cover.
That’s no longer the case. The cover of a book is its most powerful advertisement. We’ve moved on from dull-looking books to expertly designed covers that can be the deciding factor in whether someone makes a purchase.
What does a good book cover do?
Whether you’re designing the cover or hiring someone to do it for you, you need to ensure that your book cover conveys the right information to the reader.
It should show:
- Title and author
- A compelling glimpse of the story: a visual of the characters and setting that hints at the conflict, for example
- Whether or not the book is part of a series and if so, which volume it is
Every element of your book cover works together to communicate this information to your readers. The font, the images, the design, the colors — everything.
How to write a book title
Ah, the book title. It seems like such a short, easy task to come up with a title. It’s anything but.
A book title should:
- Get a reader’s attention
- Stick in their memory
- Give an idea of what the story is about
- Be easy to pronounce
- Stay away from any offensive language
Brainstorm titles that work well with your book. Research other books in your genre or related to your topic.
If you’re having a hard time coming up with names, try using a book title generator. This one from Adazing lets you enter the genre; location; occupation of your protagonist; opposition of the story, and positive and negative character traits. It then generates title options for you.
Keep in mind that a book title should be easily searchable. It also needs to be distinct enough that it quickly pops up in Google search results.
Here are eight more tips for coming up with a good book title.
Book title testing
Now that you’ve come up with two or three potential titles for your book, it’s time to test them with unbiased respondents — in other words, not your family and friends.
Using PickFu, you can create a poll testing up to eight titles and choose the audience you want feedback from, starting with a minimum of 50 U.S.-based respondents. You can target your audience by demographics like age, gender, and income, or by other traits such as reading frequency or their preferred book genre.
Respondents vote on or rank their favorite options and give written explanations for their picks.
Example poll: Choosing a mystery book title
In this PickFu poll, an author tested two titles for a mystery novel with a general 50-person audience.
Option A is Blood on His Hands. Option B reads The Girl on the Hearth.
In just 29 minutes, the author had a winner: Option A, with 66% of the vote.
Respondents felt that the title, Blood on His Hands, fit the mystery novel genre best. They said things like:
- “This one really makes me anxious in a good way, like I’m anticipating the thrill of the mystery.”
- “Option A…seems a lot more interesting and intriguing to me. Why does he have blood on his hands? Whose blood is it? How did it happen?”
- “‘The girl on the ____’ is so commonly used and overtitled at this point…it won’t stand out among the existing titles.”
Some readers found Option A too scary.
“[Option B] sounds a bit less gruesome. [Option A] sounds like a cold-blooded murder which is too scary,” wrote one respondent.
Yet, for another respondent, the gory title sealed the deal: “[Option A] sounds like there will be more action and more killing which I like in the mystery novels that I read.”
Analyzing the poll results
The comments in this poll give the author plenty to think about. For example, who is the intended audience — those who like blood and gore or those who want mystery more than murder?
Here’s something else to consider: one person mentioned the overuse of “The girl on the _____” titles. The Girl on the Train comes to mind.
But a quick Google search shows there are already several books titled Blood on His Hands or something similar, which means it would be that much harder to find this book in search results.
Note to author: there’s still no book out there with the title The Girl on the Hearth.
Finally, one has to wonder what the results of this poll would have been had the author polled only mystery and crime readers, one of the many available audiences on PickFu.
Split test your title options with your intended readers, and you’ll get helpful feedback that will lead you to the right title for your book.
Book cover design
Once you have your title, it’s time to focus on the cover design.
You can use a service like 99designs to hire a freelancer to design your book cover. Or, create one yourself.
Study the covers of books in the same genre as yours and take note of any trends. Your book should fit in with the others in its category, but it should also stand out.
Make sure to gather (or create) two or more designs to test with your target audience. They’ll tell you if they would be compelled to pick your book up or leave it on the shelf.
Testing book covers
It’s easy to test your cover design on PickFu, whatever your book’s genre.
For example, if you’ve written a fiction romance book, choose an audience of romance book readers.
For a nonfiction book about caring for dogs, choose an audience of dog owners, like this PickFu user did.
Example poll: Testing a book cover with dog owners
The dog-loving respondents in this poll — which completed in just 23 minutes — gave Option C the most votes.
Here’s what some of them had to say:
- “The 3 cute dogs look more friendly and happy and thus more appealing. The one in [Option] A looks kind of sad, so not really nice for a cover.”
- “The Maltese [in Option C] look as if they have been groomed [and] make me think that they are well taken care of and that the author has knowledge about the subject to write this book.”
- “[Option C] is the best choice because it has beautiful colors that coordinate and look very good and professional. It is easier to hit on a larger market of people with these colors and an adorable puppy picture.”
Option B, which ranked second, also shows a “smiling” dog, but respondents wanted to see more than one dog. They also preferred Option C’s color palette.
Option A’s Maltese is cute, but as one person pointed out, she looks a bit melancholy. This could give potential buyers a negative impression before they even crack the spine.
Beyond the book cover
As you can see, PickFu is a quick and easy way to test book covers and titles with the audience you want to reach.
That’s not all. You can use the platform to test the book blurb, your author bio, and your website, too. Take the feedback you get on PickFu to develop your author brand in a way that connects to your readers.
Need more inspiration? See how this author used reader input to launch an Amazon bestseller.
Frequently asked questions
Shorter is generally better. We recommend a length of 2-4 words for fiction or 6-10 for nonfiction, which often benefits from a subtitle. These tend to perform well in Amazon searches, and they’re easier for readers to remember.
A book title should give readers a hint of what’s to come and make them want to know more. Even better if it makes the reader start asking questions that lead them to crack open your book! A book title should also be short, memorable, and easy to say. Finally, make sure it’s unique and therefore searchable. If it’s competing with dozens of similar titles, it’ll be harder for readers to find.
A powerful book title is one that both embodies the story you’re about to tell and sticks in the reader’s mind. Think Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Or The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. Or Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. Each of these titles encapsulates the story on the page and sparks all sorts of intrigue.
Try PickFu for free and put your book title to the test.