I’m noticing a trend in some ebook covers. It’s the Kitchen Sink syndrome. It’s kind of understandable. The author has told this story that has all kinds of specific detail; it could be a dog and a pony and a boy and a pond and a red barn in the story, so they decide they want that on the cover. Or they want the hero and heroine, but also a castle and a moon and a ship and a hint of the bad guy.
Occasionally it works. You can get a hormonious meld of several disparate elements that somehow makes it. If you really want to put quite a few different elements on your cover, it’s a good idea to assign importance and have one main element that is large and striking, then let the other elements flow around that element in such a way that they move the eye smoothly through the cover. Consider offsetting the main element to one side to provide visual interest. But in many cases you are better off going with a simpler and less literal cover.
Here is Marjorie Liu’s Tiger Eye. This cover actually has excellent design elements. The typeface is relatively simple. There are really two main figures in the cover, the man, who holds you with his very direct gaze, and the tiger’s head. The head avoids looking disembodied because it easily melds behind the big diagonal slash of color. And the tiger is also looking at the man, which reinforces drawing your gaze to the hero.
That diagonal slash of gold light is very well done. It serves, again, to highlight the hero. It also helps move your eye through the cover. You want the eye to start at the upper left, read across, then sweep down through the center to read left to right again at the bottom. This creates a smooth path for the eye and ends, importantly, with the eye looking at the right side of the binding, encouraging the hand to open the cover. The Dirk and Steele series has recently been redone, and all of them share the element of the slash of color diagonally from right to left, a really useful element.
Another type of cover is more symbolic than realistic. I think this kind of cover can be especially effective for ebooks because for ebooks the less clutter the better. Now a first look at Karen Marie Moning’s Shadowfever cover might not make you think “less clutter” but its intricacy and symbolism works beautifully well. This book cover made me catch my breath when I saw it. It has an inside cover of a girl with wings tattooed on her back, but the initial cover is totally symbolic of the mood and atmosphere of the series and stands very well alone.
Then we can go with the simplest kind of cover. I think the Diana Gabaldon covers are striking and, importantly, they draw the eye and stand out from the more complex covers around them.
So when you are thinking of your cover, especially in ebook format, think simple, distinctive, cohesive. Think of allusions and references rather than literal interpretations. And good luck!