Covers, covers, covers and more covers—how do covers for a series work?

As an indie publishing house, we’re able to move quickly at Cool Gus Publishing (yes, the official change-over will occur later this week as our web site shifts to  We track our sales and our metadata, always looking for ways to improve sales and our brand.  I’ll blog more about the Cool Gus brand in future posts, but today I want to focus on covers.

The Atlantis series was the first of my backlist that we published.  We learned a lot doing that.  We learned scanning was very imperfect and copy-editing was essential (we still have those early reviews on the Amazon page and that was the price of ignorance).  We learned how to do covers, by starting with some pretty bad ones.

I think we hit our stride with my new Area 51 covers, Duty, Honor, Country and I love our cover for the upcoming release (11 June) of I, Judas: The 5th Gospel.

Having cycled through over 70 titles in back and front list for our authors, we felt it was time to revisit our beginning.  We decided it was time to redo the Atlantis covers in order to make the six books seem more like a series and also so that they “popped” more.  That’s the word we use for a cover that really stands out in thumbnail.

Jen came up with a cover for the first book I really loved.  So then we had to figure out a way to make the next five books align, yet be different.  We decided to us the same base concept but with different colors and a different image on each one that represented something key from the story.

We spent days emailing back and forth as Jen tried concept after concept and I dove back into the books, trying to determine what images would be key.  So we’re putting this out there for your input.

Here were the concepts:

Atlantis—just the gate opening.  A gate to where?  By who?  That’s the story.

Atlantis Bermuda Triangle:  Opens with a ballistic nuclear submarine doing . . .  So we wanted a sub theme.  Here are two choices.

Atlantis Devil’s Sea:  Amelia Earhart plays a role in this book (and in subsequent books).  So first we tried the plane image.  But a gladiator in 79 AD also plays a role as Mount Vesuvius is erupting, so we had that image.  Then we also went with just the gate, but in red.  Here are three choices.

Atlantis Gate popped right away as the Battle of Thermopylae plays a key role in the past tale (the last 5 books have dual storylines from past and present).  I liked the helmeted image right away (although Jen did have one with the face in a shadow and glowing eyes).  I’ll show you that one here.

For Assault, I wanted the image of Crazy Horse, but in a statue (better than Custer with a few arrows in him).  They’re building a huge one near Mount Rushmore and I found these images.  We asked the photographer’s permission, Mike Tigas, and he graciously gave it.  Then Jen presented it in three different ways.

And for the final book, while the past storyline included Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, the present storyline featured an assault by Special Operations Forces against the Shadow and an advanced version of the Osprey figured in the storyline.  So we’ve got two options.

Feel free to weigh in.  Also, is it important that the covers in a series look alike?  Because the reality is, you’re never really going to see them like this, are you:

About Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer is a NY Times Bestselling author, graduate of West Point, former Green Beret (including commanding an A-Team) and the feeder of two Yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus. He's had over 60 books published including the #1 series Area 51, Atlantis and The Green Berets. Born in the Bronx, having traveled the world (usually not tourist spots), he now lives peacefully with his wife, and said labs, at Write on the River, TN.

Posted on May 7, 2012, in Write It forward and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. I think they do need to look similar so that readers understand that they are a series. Unless you put Book 1 … 6 on their covers, which implies an order that may or may bot be there. Even then, similar style and fonts help flag them as related. In the Amazon store the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” tab will bring them up together as your readers start coming back for more.

    Looks good!

    • I agree totally with what Ken said, so I’m not going to repeat it! Similarity is very important, the familiarity it stays in the readers mind

  2. I cringe every time I see the original Atlantis Covers. Capturing the essence of an entire series is difficult. There are so many things to consider, but your cover is the first thing a reader sees.

  3. I like the images but think you might consider adding more variety in the base colors (i.e., red, blue, green,etc) to really make them pop. You wouldn’t lose the series feel but would distinguish one book from another a little more. I really like the flare. Not totally into the images but I get why you’d want and need them. Good luck!

  4. lynnkelleyauthor

    Nice job on the VodPod! I’ll give you my layman’s opinion on the covers. The green submarine pops for me. I would think the other cover is very cool, too, but the green stands out much better. For Devil’s Sea, I like the gladiator much better than the plane. The flare alone works great for the first book, but I like the images in the flare for the rest of the books. That cover for Atlantis Gate with the glowing red eyes is good! I think it pops much better than the plain statue figure in the group of covers at the bottom. For Assault on Atlantis, I like choice two the best. Definitely not choice three without the flare. The colors for choice two go much better with the rest of the covers in the series and give it a little distinction from the others, yet it still ties in. For Battle, that’s a hard call. I like the image of the helicopter but the color of the helicopter is too close to the color of the horse statue. Look at them side by side in the bottom grouping. It doesn’t pop like the black cannon does. But I don’t like the cannon image as much as the helicopter. Can you have a black helicopter? Probably not. Those are my choices. I hope you get lot of others to weigh in. Decisions, decisions, huh? They’re tough. But the covers for this series pretty much rock. So good going, Bob and Jen!

  5. I like Choice 1 of the sub — but it’s also pretty dark. The sub starts to get lost into the background at the top. Choice 2 looks too cartoonish.
    On Devil’s Sea — none of them are doing much for me. The blaze on the cover is rather distracting, particularly with it being the shade of red it is.
    On Assault — again, none of them are doing much for me. The statue suggests something more about art and not something thrilling. Or maybe someone crossing a river — with the blaze, it looks like that.
    On the last one, the cannon disappears at thumbnail size. Helicopter is better.
    I’m finding overall I don’t like the blaze. It seems to dominate, rather than be a part of the cover. Maybe it could be more subtle. Red across the board is definitely overpowering. In some of the covers, it borders on being cartoonish. I think this is because the background is black, and it’s too sharp of a contrast. Maybe if the colors were more blended … ?

  6. Here are my picks (and I do love cover art, as Jen will attest):

    Bermuda: Choice Two
    Devil’s: Choice One
    Assault: Choice One
    Battle: Choice Two

    Awesome look for the series…very eye-catching and of a style that says, “big book” to me.


  7. The Gladiator definitely. For assault I prefer choice 1 the red splash is more consistent. And I gotta go with the Osprey. Trani made right here in Indy.

  8. The covers look cool, but I do like the “blue gate” more than the red. To me, red is just a difficult color on a computer (it always seems too bright and blinding to the eye). The red would look awesome in print, but I think the blue gate across all the books would bring an even more uniform feel.

    Also, no one’s mentioned the fonts. Love the fonts. Would be very cool if ATLANTIS was always in a dominant size (that would carry series over even more, since the word doesn’t always lead in the title — or maybe it should so it’s even Atlantis: Battle for Atlantis).

  9. Yvette Carol

    Hey Bob, I too am drawn to the image of the Atlantis gate opening in the background. That does indeed pop. Then the choices you made in putting the series of books alongside each other at the very bottom of the post, are coincidentally the covers I like the best as well. I think they really work and pack quite a punch. Awesomeness!!
    Yvette Carol

  10. Here are my picks:
    Atlantis Bermuda Triangle: For some reason, the one with the black sub totally creeps me out and I love that effect! So mysterious looking.
    Devil’s Sea: Choice 1 with the gladiator
    Assault: choice 1 or 2 (but I lean toward 1), I like the gate theme throughout the series
    Battle for Atlantis: choice 2 for me- love that picture!

    If the new covers are going to print, I would buy all the books just to have the cool colors on my bookshelf. Good job!

  11. This is so like going to the optometrist.

    I like the blue flare much better than the red flare. The brown submarine confuses me–I would not have known what it was if you hadn’t told us. The green one is a tad too cartoony–as is the yellow airplane, so the brown submarine wins, even if doofi like me think it’s a giant snail.

    Devil’s Sea, Assault, and Gate all have sculptural images on them. I like that. Also love the Osprey, which hubs tells me can come in any color you like, though most are gray. The canon is also strong, but with the helmet and the sculpture of Crazy Horse, the casual observer might be led to think of the series as being all set in the past while the Osprey is definitely in the present.

    Why is the flare blue on some covers and red on others? Maybe people who have read the whole series know why it changes colors.

    If I were doing this, I’d keep the Atlantis and the Bob Mayer part absolutely the same across all covers. In white. The individual titles would have to go in the largest font (also white) that would fit without crowding the image. Whether this is good design or just cowardice, I have no idea.

    You guys are brave but not rash. Cool.

  12. For the ‘Assault’ cover, it’s good that you have the photographer’s permission to use the photo but, since it’s a photo of an artwork (the statue), you also need the artist’s permission.

  13. I love the blue and red flares on the books, great branding. When people see them they instantly know they’re yours.
    Yes, it’s important a series matches. In signature lines, or blog interviews, they’ll run the covers of your books across, in a line, or some carousel widget. You want people to see that flare and say, “Oh a Bob Mayer book. Haven’t read that one yet.”
    My angel series uses one distinctive angel on the cover and I change the backgrounds. People instantly know my series. For my history mysterys I’ll use an old photo image mainly in red, white, and blue . Instantly recognizable as part of the series.

  14. Bob, I think it actually is important to have them have a similar look and that is the way they will be posted on amazon, probably exactly like that line you have. Please number them. I’ve enjoyed reading them but found it hard to figure out the order, had to go to your website. thanks for all the good reading experiences and I look forward to many more from you! Elizabeth

  15. BERMUDA TRIANGLE: #1 for sure. Be aware, however, that this submarine motif could put people in the mind of a Clancy-esque RED OCTOBER-style novel.

    DEVIL’S SEA: Mmm, #1 I guess. It doesn’t exactly tell me what the story is about, but the statue is menacing. The plane image doesn’t work for me; plus, Amelia is most famous for her around-the-world flight in her Electra; that yellow biplane is quite different. Looks like a plane circa WW1.

    GATE: Looks great; the green font on a blue & black background indeed pops, but move the titles to the center. Don’t worry about overlaying on the helmet. If it were my cover, I would move Gate up, move Atlantis down, move them left a bit, and put the blurb above Atlantis. (But perhaps you guys tried this and it sucked.)

    ASSAULT: #1

    BATTLE: #2

    I think they look good lined up together. They will be seen like that on Amazon, under the recommendations, as was stated above.

    Elizabeth suggested numbering the books. This is wise. Particularly if the books are told chronologically. I went ahead and put Book I, Book II, Book III, etc., on my SF series.

    As for covers in a series, yes, there ought to be some unifying theme. When designing my SF series, I studied a lot of covers and found imagery, color, and font to be the three primary elements. I therefore used slight variations of each, making each cover different but the same. Like they say in showbusiness, “Something fresh, something new . . . something with a track record.”

    I think you guys have done well. The covers look professional.

  16. Thanks so much for all the great comments! So many things to consider when designing covers. Really appreciate all the suggestions.

  17. While I don’t think the covers of a series all need to look the same, I really like the gate. I think it pulls the series together nicely. As for the choices among the individual covers: The Bermuda Triangle’s choice #1 has a nice Jules Verne look to it, but it’s pretty dark in color and doesn’t show up well. Choice #2 has no problem showing up well and reminds me of James Cameron’s mini sub. So for the Bermuda Triangle it depends on whether you want to go with the myth or be modern.
    For Devil’s Sea I like choice #1 the gladiator even though I love everything about Amelia Earhart. The plane depicted representing her looks cartoonish, and I’d rather see the Electra.
    All I have to say for the cover for Atlantic Gate is WOW! I love it.
    For Assault I also love Crazy Horse. It’s close between choice # 1 and 2 with a slight preference for #1.
    For Battle I like choice #2. Somehow, the old cannon doesn’t work for me even though I love Civil War history.
    Thanks for all the blogs you and Jen Talty write. They’re very helpful.

  18. Have to say that choice one for the subs works for me. Should everything in a series look similar? I feel that they should. Have been working on a couple series myself and after doing several covers I think a prevalent theme from one to the other is crucial. (here it’s the light). One thing I must ask is if more subdued covers work for people. I lean that way, because that’s my personal taste, but I wonder if that’s hampering my sales. Of course there may be more factors. But, just saying, do covers have to pop, has anyone done a proper analysis on this?

    • There are tons of consumer analysis on what goes into making a book good book cover. I’ve seen articles that say the Kindle has killed the book cover. The reality is we all have personal tastes and that affects our decision making. For example: I tease Bob all the time that he just doesn’t like people on his covers–he’s more of an abstract/object guy. BUT that also plays into his genre and the way he writes, so it works because I believe that the images and concepts we come up with attract the right kind of reader and its all about author/reader connection.

      Yes, a cover has to “pop”, meaning it has to grab someones attention. I’m working on a new cover concept for Bob’s Book Synbat and when I first showed it to him he responded back, wow, that’s really different. To me, that was the best response because that is exactly what I was going for. The cover is one of the first invitations a reader has into your world. The cover and then also the product description and maybe an excerpt. When you browse the internet and something catches your attention you stop and look. That’s what your cover needs to do. So if your genre calls for a more soothing kind of cover (feel good books) then that is what you should shoot for. If your book is horror, then shocking might be a way to go.

      From strictly a design standpoint there are some general rules–things like don’t always center, consider where the eye naturally lands or where you want to draw the eye. Use 4 contrasting colors (I don’t always buy into the 4 color scheme, but contrast, yes). And there is Bob’s favorite–less is better, meaning don’t crowd the cover with “stuff”.

      But nothing can be word of mouth for sales and that generally doesn’t come from the cover, but from CONTENT.

  19. Here are my thoughts.

    The image of the submarine coming out of the page is very powerful. Of all the covers that one pops out at me. I think the reason it is more powerful is that it is coming at the viewer, so it gets your attention. So you might want to consider that for the other covers in this series.

    I think for Devil’s Sea if you turned the plane so it was coming out of the page you would get the same pow effect.

    And then for Battle of Atlantis turn either image so it’s coming out of the page.

  20. ABT: #1 image too large and indistict #2 prefer but sub too bright
    ADS: #2 prefer
    AG: not with red eyes
    AOA: #1 but words different color than statue
    BFA: #1

    The gate light gives them a unifying look, but they start to look like the same book. Confusing for readers who is trying to remember if they read it or not. Mix up the letter colors more.

  21. I love the blue flare/gate opening. The red: not so much.

    Bermuda Triangle: Sub #1 for its eerie effect; the green one looks “alien green” and puts me off for some reason.
    Devil’s Sea: The bi-plane over the other two, but only because there’s no other option.
    Gate: Very cool.
    Assault on Atlantis: Choice #1, but with blue flare.
    Battle for Atlantis: Choice #1, but with blue flare.

    What fun to weigh in. Thanks so much for sharing this process.

  22. Along with everyone else here, I like the blue gate better than the red. I also agree with Diana that the sub coming out of the gate is very dramatic. If you use images on the other covers, the front view would be more dramatic. Have you considered just using the gate graphic, but in a different color for each book? The contrast is very eye-catching, but it keeps the cover cleaner.

  23. Fair enough (on the analysis). I definitely think that there might be different ideas for different themes/genres. I look at covers differently (and I say that as an acknowledged weakness more than anything else) since I don’t think simply flashy covers work , but they seem to dominate the top of bestseller lists everywhere. Four colors? I’ll try it. For the most part I center the words (on the horizontal axis) but keep away from centering the picture or image. I like my covers, and hear as much from others, but I’m always looking to improve. Thanks.

  24. They certainly reflect they are a series. You have to have similar pictures to let readers know they are a series or the same icon, and definitely the same fonts. On my Angel ebooks I have the characters with wings, the same fonts/type and they have my angel icon on there like a brand. She will be on all my Angel ebooks.

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