Updated: Apr 15, 2021
What Makes a Good LitRPG Cover?
The first thing that tells you whether a cover is good, is whether or not it fulfils the purpose a cover is meant for.
So What is the True Purpose of a Cover?
...I’m not talking about something to just hold the pages together...
A cover is a marketing image that tells potential readers that your book is a type of story they might enjoy and turns off the people who won’t like your book.
That’s it in a nutshell.
Notice that purpose doesn’t mention the specifics of your unique story, a representation of the entire plot, or things that make it stand out and appear different to other books.
It also goes into turning some people away. This is a good thing. No book is for everyone. You don’t want people reading your book if they hate the sub-genres that are in it. That just leads to bad reviews.
So in short, a good cover is one that gets the right people to think they might enjoy reading your story. That’s all. You just want them to recognize it’s a LitRPG book (including any sub-genres) and get them to click it.
Remember, no one is going to buy your book and then once they’ve read it come back and complain that your MC had black boots, not the brown ones on your cover.
Potential readers just want to know things like; “Is this book about a magic user or a melee character?” “Is it focused on crafting or are there a lot of battles?” “Is it a male or female MC?” “Are there harem elements?” “Is it a portal fantasy, a dungeon core or a game-like world?” etc.
Your cover is designed to get potential readers to click it, so they can read your description and decide whether or not they want to read it. If you have unique stuff happening in the book, or stuff that could potentially turn some readers off (like the romance side of things, lots of stats tables, swearing and so on), then your description, rather than your cover, is where that information needs to go.
Thumbnails (not the finger kind)
Your cover is first seen on somewhere like Amazon, at thumbnail size, as your potential readers are scrolling rapidly through, having typed in something like “LitRPG books” in the search. See how small this cover is? It has to look good tiny.
The first thing that matters is whether or not, at that small size, they can make out what’s happening on the cover.
Humans see and identify things in shapes. The shape of another person is one of the most identifiable and attractive things to us. However, if there are several people, all indistinguishable from each other or the background - either because they’re in front of each other in a battle, or because they’re next to the castle wall - then your eye doesn’t see it at a small size.
Things that aren’t easily identified become thought of as complicated. And to put it bluntly, at the speed a potential reader is scrolling through Amazon, ‘complicated’ gets scrolled past.
So the first thing your cover needs to do is be “readable” at thumbnail size.
This means dark characters on a light background or vise versa. Just the head, shoulders and arms (and possibly weapons) are what need to stand out. However, you never want to be looking at a cover (even full size) wondering which body part belongs to which character. That’s just a recipe for ruining your book sales.
The other important thing that will catch the potential reader’s eye as they glance over the list they’re scrolling through, is a picture that loosely reminds them of other books they’ve read and enjoyed.
This is something that’s called “cover tropes”.
Similar to tropes within a story, they’re overriding concepts that give people a rough idea of what’s going on.
For instance, if they enjoy science fiction themed stories, then covers with a planet in the sky, or space ships with lots of glowy attacks coming from them will catch their attention and it’s those cover tropes that tell them the book is a scifi story.
If they’re more interested in fantasy themed stories, then a castle, a knight and swords will catch their attention.
For LitRPG, those cover tropes are often a battle scene, or an image of the characters either ready for battle, squaring off against something or someone off of the side of the image, or just having completed the battle and walking away.
It could also be a single character with a really cool scene behind them that draws the potential reader’s eye (especially if they like epic fantasy style stories) however that seems to be getting less frequent than some kind of fight / preparation for a fight.
Within LitRPG there are lots of different sub-genres - from dungeon core, to cultivation, to harem and more. Each of these sub-genres has its own cover tropes as well that need to be on that cover so the potential reader can identify with it.
At the same time as making sure your cover has the correct tropes for your story, you equally want to make sure you avoid having the wrong ones… So if your story doesn’t have a specific sub-genre in it, then you don’t want to show that specific cover trope on your cover, or you’ll end up with a lot of disappointed readers - who then tend to leave bad reviews.
It’s actually more important to display the correct tropes than it is to be 100% accurate to your story. Now I’m not saying to mis-represent your story, just don’t put stuff on the cover that goes with a different sub-genre.
So, let’s say you have a fairy as a character, but your story isn’t a dungeon core novel…. Then simply leave the fairy off your cover and feature other characters instead, or people might assume it has a dungeon core element going on.
The same goes for the harem side of things. Harem covers are identified by scantily clad women. Sometimes they’re in a group of three (2 girls and a guy), others it’s a single woman, just posed for the camera. If your story doesn’t have harem elements in, then don’t use this imagery. It’s fine to have someone with not much clothing, but make sure they’re in a vivid fight scene, not just posed, looking longingly at the viewer.
A good cover is one that attracts the potential readers who will enjoy your story and repels the ones who won’t.
It works to show the sub-genres / tropes in your story in a way that’s visible and identifiable at the thumbnail size Amazon uses.
As a final extra, your cover should also manage all of the above when it’s in black and white / greyscale, for those people who read on something like a Kindle Paperwhite.
Accomplish all that, and you have a good, solid LitRPG cover that will help your book sell.
Karen Dimmick is a book cover designer at ArcaneCovers.com who specializes in LitRPG stories (as well as doing other fantasy sub-genres). She creates custom covers for authors, as well as premades (pre-designed covers that inspire future stories). Karen also runs the LitRPG Releases group on Facebook and is a published LitRPG author through Aethon publishing.
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