book cover design

How to Design a Book Cover? Book Cover Design Basics

Ann O'Brien

June 20, 2022

What makes a reader grab a book off of the shelf? Is it the book with the brightest cover? Or the most eye-catching photograph? Or is it bold graphics or the way the title jumps off the page? In truth, all of these are factors in why a reader snags a book from the shelf to check it out. Authors that self-publish have a lot to think about when preparing their work for printing and creating a captivating book cover design is one that many writers worry about getting just right. But just because you are a writer and not an artist doesn’t mean you can’t deliver a good-looking book cover design to complement what is in between the covers. So to help out, we have rounded up all of the tips and tricks to help you make your cover stand out and grab a potential reader’s attention.

Does Book Cover Design Matter?

As much as authors would love to believe that only the contents and quality of the writing matter, the cover design does matter. With thousands of books being published every year thanks to the popularity of self-publishing printers like Publishing Xpress, authors are wise to consider crafting an appealing cover that captures the attention of those in search of a new read. By following some straightforward cover design basics, authors can develop a great front and back cover as well as a book spine that represents the writing, genre, and overall feel of the book inside.

How to Design a Book Cover?

While not all books are stored in bookstores or libraries with the front cover facing outward, the cover is the area people first look over when thinking about reading a book. Just like movie-goers watch movie previews to decide if they want to watch the whole feature film, readers peruse book covers to decide if they want to shell out the money for that particular book. Of course, other considerations come into play, like reading reviews or hearing recommendations, but readers often select a book based on what the author provides on the book’s cover alone. A book cover contains two general styles of content: typography and imagery.

Typography: The typography describes the wording that is used. Typography usually utilizes more than one font style for a book’s cover to help the title stand out. The sizing of the type tells the reader the most important content on a book cover with the title being the largest font size, while the author’s name appears in a smaller font and other typography presented in a hierarchical sizing pattern.

Typographical Hints:

  • Make the title the first thing readers see on the cover by placing it in the top half of the cover.
  • Subtitles (when used) should be smaller than the title.
  • Don’t clutter the cover with extra wording.

Imagery: The cover’s imagery can be an illustration, photograph, interesting shapes, or even bold color choices. The imagery projects the feel of the book, which is why beach reads often sport light and bright color combinations, while mystery or true crime books typically use darker, brooding colors and designs.

Imagery Hints:

  • Focusing on one main imagery element can provide a focal point,
  • Imagery should be balanced on the page and not be off-center or weighted to one side or area only,
  • Colors should be harmonious and present a unified feeling (for example, don’t put neon colors with soft pastels),

What Does the Front Book Cover Design Tell the Reader?

The wonderful (and scary, for some authors) thing is that the cover tells the reader a whole host of things about the book’s content. But careful planning can use the cover to an author’s advantage. The key is to not unintentionally give the reader an impression about the book, genre, or feel of the characters that is incorrect or misleading. Creating a cover that speaks to the book and the feel of the writing is the most important thing to remember when developing a front cover’s typography, imagery, and design choices. Take a look at these six critical areas that make a cover compelling along with an excellent cover example.

 1. Book Cover Design Gives a Sneak Peek

Readers love to get an idea of what is inside the pages of a book by looking at the cover. By providing a hint (and not the full picture) of what is to come, readers can get excited about reading the story to find out where it is all going. The cover should not give away any major plot elements, spoilers, or the resolution of the story, but instead, provide a general framework so readers can choose if they want to dive into the story.

2. Covers Reveal Genre

There is nothing more frustrating to a reader than picking up a book that looks like one genre only to be surprised to figure out a few chapters in that it is something else entirely. The cover of a book should also let the reader know what genre they are reading. A comedic autobiography with a dark and ominous appearance will be overlooked by comedy lovers, because the humor didn’t convey on a cover that is more fitting for a mystery or dystopian young adult novel.

3. Covers Introduce Main Characters

Covers that introduce the protagonist and provide an initial connection for the reader with the main characters can draw readers into a story. Whether the protagonist is an underdog, a well-known archetype, or a unique character altogether, giving the reader a glimpse into the character and their world in your book cover design can help build an emotional connection to the story and encourage a reader to give the book a chance.

4. Covers Set the Tone

One of the cover design basics authors should consider is using the cover to set the tone for the book intentionally. The dominant tone of your book should be obvious on the cover so readers instantly get a feel for how they will – or should – feel when reading. Of course, most books move readers through a wide range of emotions through the course of a story. But a romantic comedy should not use typography in bold red with dripping letters that are more fitting for a crime or mystery novel.

5. Covers Include Details that Matter

Don’t cut corners on cover design. Instead, utilize all imagery elements like shading, lighting, layering, the hierarchy of typography, and relevant color schemes to convey the book’s overall feel.

6. Covers Confirm Stylistic Choices

Create a cover that has its own distinct style without falling too far outside of the genre norms. Many romance novels choose a beautiful lead character in a breathless pose to grace their cover. Sticking to the obvious cover imagery connected to romantic novels, an author whose book uses a comedic angle to help the main character find love might include the protagonist in the midst of a whimsical situation or action to connect the two genres of humor and romance.

The Back Cover

While the front of a book is what grabs a potential reader’s attention, the back cover contains information that may help seal the deal and convince your book to be the next one they dive into. The back cover should contain:

  • A brief, non-spoiler book description
  • Short, meaningful quips from reviews if available
  • A brief author bio
  • A unique ISBN and Barcode so booksellers can identify and help sell the book

Covers and E-Book Considerations

Tiny details and too much typography may be lost or hard to view when the covers end up on an e-reader, so make sure that all of the elements will transfer to the smaller electronic format should you choose to release the book electronically.

Getting Started with Designing a Book Cover

Designing a cover for your book can be a challenge for some authors, so using professional design help from a trusted printer like Publishing Xpress to get it just right might be just what you need to make sure the cover stands out from all the others. By following basic design principles and knowing the key elements of your book’s genre, tone, and style, authors can be certain that their cover will grab a potential reader’s attention and have them flipping the pages open to see what is inside in no time.

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