Choosing the colours of book covers

Covers I loveIt’s a well-worn statement, a cliché even, that it’s the book cover that sells the book.

I’d refine that a little. What a cover does first is grab a browser’s attention, nothing more. You’ve made them pause, even stop to investigate further. If they pick it up or click on its image, that’s a second victory.  Perhaps they’ll read the back cover, then flick the book open to test a paragraph or two on the first page, then drop it or buy it. And that’s it. In a few seconds, they’ve made their decision to add to that author’s royalties or not.

Before I first published INCEPTIO through SilverWood Books , I took weeks to collect a selection of covers I liked. I chose them all on pure instinct, not giving myself the chance to think about it. Click and copy, save, close document. You can see the whole selection by clicking on the image to the right.

My conclusion?  What attracted me was a strong central image with two messages; one clear and one underneath. Also, all those I liked were bold colours.

First editions (2013-2018)

When I specified the INCEPTIO cover to the SilverWood design team, I asked for a gold symbol with imperial purple. Purple signifies Rome, power, strength, royalty, rarity; the gold eagle is a sign of Rome, America and the Nazis. Oh, the latter wasn’t so good, but the ‘aquila’ is the classic Roman symbol so that’s what ended up on the cover. 😉

INCEPTIO_front cover, first edition

First edition cover

I decided then that each book should reflect the content.

PERFIDITAS was red –  the colour of betrayal as well as of Mars (god of war), anger and blood.

SUCCESSIO’s blue cover suggested midnight and coldness; the villain is a real shocker, calculating and cold-hearted and many of the pivotal scenes take place in the dark of night.

For AURELIA, the gold emblem of the first three became a silver one, a reflection of Roma Nova’s most important natural resource which is central to the plot and a way of showing we’re into a new cycle of stories within the Roma Nova series. The green background? Dark like the other covers, yet it brings in the Roman ideas of youth, vigour and evergreen along with the suggestion of dark trees and the Roman defeat in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD. A significant part of the action of AURELIA takes place in Germany. Will she end up like Varus, defeated in a dark forest?

INSURRECTIO had a black cover to signify the darkness of the story; combined with the silver logo common to the second strand in the Roma Nova series (AURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO), this cover recalls the uniform of a brutal tyranny of the 20th century in our own timeline.

The following book, RETALIO, had an amber colour to signify endurance, yet warmth, the fire of battle, yet light shining through. Amber has semi-mythical connotations of courage, balance and ancient right.

CARINA, the novella, ended up with a colour in between  purple and red as the story took place between those INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS. (I can be practical sometimes!)

New covers(!)

When I decided in early 2019 to completely revamp the Roma Nova covers, I gave the new designer a wide brief, but specified the colours had to say the same as the originals, not just for sentimental reasons but to stay with the original symbolism.

I hope you agree these new covers are more attention grabbing but that the colours have remained true to Roma Nova.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

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2 comments to Choosing the colours of book covers

  • Covers are so important, and there are many factors that go into the design, including how a thumbnail of the cover stands out against all the competition.

    • Alison

      Very true, Pat. Colours, font, image, composition and so on should be given maximum focus. And yes, the thumbnail is crucial. this is why we need designers!

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