We live in a world of near instant communication. Thanks to the mobile revolution, our attention spans are worse than goldfish—about 8 seconds. We expect to immediately understand whether or not we’re interested in what’s in front of us.

While book covers can be beautiful, artfully and meticulously designed and wonderful illustrative, they are so much more than that—and have an important job besides being pretty: sell your book. In fact, they’re a lot like movie posters: they need to catch your attention amidst all the other noise and immediately communicate the genre or the subject. Is this something I want to read? Will I like it? Whether it’s mystery, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, chick lit or general fiction, a winning cover communicates all that and more.

The title, sub-title, author’s name, teaser copy, endorsements or accolades and any series identifier need to appear on the cover and work together. The choice of typography is key, not only providing clues about the book’s subject matter, but the emotion and genre as well. Typefaces used on general fiction and chick lit are often very different from those used on action, thrillers or mysteries.

Image choices range from photography to illustration, from full bleed to collages, montages and cut-outs and communicate important clues like locale, time period and main characters, as well as genre. Visual art can also communicate the emotional tone of your book: is it sweet or scary? thought-provoking or escapist? It needs to communicate the lifeblood of the story without giving too much away.

All the elements of the cover work together to connect your target audience to your work and set expectations. A winning cover will do that in 3-8 seconds, resulting in your book being picked up or a click on that 40 pixel thumbnail. The design on the back also needs to do it’s part, because after the cover and title, the back cover, especially the copy, is an extension of the ad for your book. And it gets as much as 15 seconds before the book is purchased, a sample is downloaded—or the book is left behind.

The price of professional design services, photography and stock images may seem daunting, but the right design can double or triple your sales. It’s an investment, not only in that book, but in your career as a writer. You spent months crafting your book and then months polishing the draft. Shouldn’t the marketing get the same amount of attention? Booksellers know that of all the different elements that go into a successful book, the design – the look and feel of a book – is one of the most important.