Cover Design Essentials
With nearly 200 thousand new titles published each year, bookstores have books featured everywhere—stacked on the
floor, standing on end caps and sitting on tables, not to mention the rows of shelves. This mass of inventory
provides a wonderful selection if you’re a book buyer, but if you’re an author, this book-laden landscape proves to
be highly competitive as each product vies for the browser’s attention and investment.
In the few seconds they have to catch the eye of a potential reader, authors are leveraging the power of an engaging
cover design to help the book stand out and rise above the competition. Even if you can spin a story as suspenseful
as the best of the literary greats, your book must have an attractive exterior. If not, readers are likely to pass it
by without giving a second glance. Great covers are strategically designed to catch the eye of a book buyer.
Browse through our top book cover design tips for some expert advice:
Importance of an Engaging Cover
Your Cover Should...
The Shifting Cover Paradigm
The Process of Creating a High-Quality Cover
The Psychology of Color and Branding
Front Cover Elements
Back Cover Elements
Capturing Your Audience with an Engaging Cover
Importance of an Engaging Cover
Five Reasons why your book needs a great cover:
1. Garner a second glance. Your book will only have seconds to attract a browsing
reader’s attention. An engaging cover
ensures readers take a second look at your product.
2. Dress the part. Consumers first gauge books based on their visual appeal, so a
well-designed cover appears to have more value for a consumer. If you plan to sell your book at a price competing
with bestselling authors, your cover must be able to
3. First impressions count. Your book’s cover design is usually a potential
reader’s first interaction with your content and writing style. A well-crafted cover will expose readers to your
story and pique their interest in your book.
4. Opinions are formed in a snapshot. In
just a few minutes, readers will shape an opinion of your story and writing based on the content of your cover. Make
sure your book puts its best foot forward with a well-designed cover.
5. People take your book more seriously if it's professional. If you plan to have your book
professionally reviewed, you must have a polished cover that will compare to other reviewed materials.
1. Fall within the norms for your genre but visually stand out among other
2. Appeal to readers and convince them to take a closer look at your book with a strong
3. Reflect the content of your book and expose readers to your writing
4. Convince a potential reader to invest in a literary journey with your story.
The Shifting Cover
Computers have revolutionized design-oriented industries like architecture and
packaging and have changed the world of book covers as well. In the 1980's, publishers favored art departments that
produced covers that sell, enforcing tight restrictions on individualism. Pre-press work required hours to create
printing plates, which were then used for offset print runs. In the last fifteen years, however, computer-driven
graphic design has opened up the range of options for unique cover designs. Intensive artwork that only ten years ago
was reserved to elite pre-press print houses is now possible on your designer’s desktop computer.
With the advent of desktop publishing and digital printing, pre-press work is now completed within the constraints
of digital assets. Now, when your designer is finished with his or her file, your cover is ready to be printed.
The Process of Creating a
In traditional publishing houses, authors have little direct involvement
with their books once the manuscript leaves their desks, but with iUniverse, authors have a high level of involvement
and interaction. The best book design involves initial creative input from the author and his or her feedback to the
creative team. This unique author-designer relationship allows book covers to move away from the rudimentary
application of title and pen name and rise to an art form.
Although a cover may take less time to complete than the text of a book, the cover is usually the central visual
representation of the book. The cover presents an image that combines the artistry and thoughtfulness of the text
with elements necessary to sell the book, such as the title, author biography or reviews. Designers select the
perfect layout of symbols to bridge the divide between art and commerce.
The symbolic meaning of a well-designed cover will inherently change as the reader delves deeper into the story.
These symbols may appear opaque at first glance, but as the reader turns each page the interrelated metaphors
embedded in the cover gradually become more obvious and meaningful. The book’s message is only complete once the
reader has finished the story and, with one last look at the cover, fully understands the complementary relationship
between the text and cover.
Forming Your Ideas into a Marketable Cover
Cover design is crucial. Though we have been told since childhood not to judge a book by its cover, your cover
forms the reader’s first impression of the book’s content and your writing style. A successful front cover attracts a
browser’s attention, while back cover content assures the reader a book is worth investing time and money in the
literary journey. Your cover design is the front line of advertising for your book, a key marketing tool to sell your
product. Think of your front cover as a movie poster and the back cover as the 30-second preview. Your front cover
should attract attention and leave your viewers wanting more. The back cover content should compel your audience to
invest in the experience your book has to offer.
In the same way you have written your story for a
specific audience, create your cover so that your target audience will immediately identify with the work. What
images or designs would attract the kind of people who would enjoy your story? A book detailing a bicycle journey
across the country might attract readers with an image of a road through wide-open rugged landscape. A book about the
latest trends in market investing could attract readers with a sleek design around endorsements and
If you are planning a wide marketing and promotional campaign for your book, your cover image will be the crux of
all your marketing materials. The image will be incorporated into bookmarks, posters and postcards as a central
design element - just one more reason why your cover should receive significant thought and resources.
If you’re searching for cover ideas, start by spending some time relaxing in a bookstore. Notice how customers
interact with books. Which positions, displays and colors tend to attract specific demographics? Look at other books
in your genre that target similar demographics or sell at a similar price. What makes one cover stand out more than
another? What type of cover attracts browsers to pick up a book and read the back cover?
The Psychology of Color and
Color can impact shoppers and influence their feelings about products. When making
decisions about your cover design, consider the psychological responses certain colors evoke. Traditionally “warm
colors” in the spectrum, including red, orange and yellow tend to be high-arousal colors that cause feelings of
warmth and stimulate the senses.
- Warm colors tend to appear closer to the viewer and can attract attention from across a room.
- “Cool colors” of the spectrum, including blue, green and purple, are low-arousal colors and tend to cause
feelings of relaxation, calmness and tranquility.
Like any other product’s design, a book’s design can effectively create a brand for an author. Bob Shumaker, author
of The Schmooney Trilogies, created a brand around his series, starting with his book covers. The book
covers are easily identifiable with the same subtitle bar at the top of the front covers, similar font for each title
and mystical environments in the background. Designers not only attract consumers to buy books with eye-catching
covers, but also generate a degree of brand loyalty with instantly recognizable elements. Take this point into
careful consideration if you plan to turn your book into a series.
idea of “simplicity” in design isn’t new. The principle of simplicity is also referred to as Ockham’s Razor, a
concept stating simplicity is preferred to complexity. The main thesis of Ockham’s Razor is that unnecessary elements
will decrease the overall efficiency and aesthetic appeal of a design. It can be a good indicator of why one design
may succeed and another one will not. A good writer will spend hour after hour editing and re-editing their book,
cutting words, paragraphs and so forth until it is “clean.” The cover designer's method is not much different, other
than it is a visual process rather than a written one.
Respecting Ockham’s Razor can assist you to strip away any unhelpful design elements and achieve a cover that
balances simplicity of theme and detail of design to appeal to readers and reflect the author’s vision.
Content that Captures the Essence of Your Book
An appealing cover design is a delicate combination of imagery and text. The difference between an average
cover and an exceptional cover lies in the balance of the overall layout: the placement of text in relation to
images, the psychological effect of the colors, and the equilibrium between simplicity of theme and detail of the
Front Cover Elements
The publishing industry relies on visual stimuli to sell books to readers, and consequently, the cover can
have a huge impact on book sales. If customers arrive at a bookstore without a particular book in mind, there are
three elements that play a role in attracting book buyers: position within the store, merchandising (how the book is
displayed) and cover art. Since bookstores usually determine the location and position of a book within their stores,
the cover is the best resource within the author’s control to attract buyers. Even in the best retail circumstances,
if a book does not visually stand out from the books around it, it is usually overlooked.
Books from first-time authors require an especially attractive cover, relying on their good looks rather than name
recognition to attract readers browsing the aisles. Many books contain the title and the author’s name on the front
cover, as well as a short sales pitch of a few words. In his latest book, Zen Millionaire, CBS MarketWatch
columnist Paul B. Farrell incorporated the line, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his
soul,” across the top of the cover. The phrase complements the book’s title and gives the reader insight into the
book’s content, as well as balancing the author’s name at the bottom of the design.
If your book doesn’t happen to sit face-out on a shelf, the spine text and design will be the only immediately
visible aspect of your book. Many of the best book covers are designed to wrap around the spine so when the book is
completely open, it presents one coherent design. The spine text should always include the book title, as well as the
author’s name near the base of the spine. The title is usually displayed in the same font as the title on the front
cover, unless the spine is too thin or heavily stylized. Additional information and designs can be incorporated to
make your book stand out. For example, Abel Sanchez, author of Van Halen 101, had legendary Queen guitarist
Brian May write his foreword so he featured “Foreword by Brian May” on his spine to attract readers.
Back Cover Elements
If you’ve gained a reader’s attention with your front cover, they will most
likely turn to the back cover to gain more details and make a decision about purchasing the book.
- Nonfiction books usually feature a few paragraphs about the book’s topic and may use bullet points or a list to
cover specific subjects in the book.
- Fiction books usually feature an excerpt of the text and a brief plot synopsis. This text is the best opportunity
for an author to convince shoppers to purchase their book. It deserves careful thought and attention.
An author’s bio is also included on the back cover, especially in nonfiction books. In many fiction books an
author’s photo and biography are reserved for the inside flap text or an about the author page near the end of the
book. The author’s bio is a great place to list accomplishments, honors, credentials and other impressive or unique
details of a writer’s journey. If you have spent years spinning a thrilling story inside your book, spend time and
carefully consider the words you’ll be placing on the outside of the book as the reader’s first introduction to your