We rely on the book cover to help us understand if the contents will be appealing to us.

We rely on the book cover to help us understand if the contents will be appealing to us.

They say, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” But we all do it. A good book cover design should give the reader a few big hints about what’s inside, so there are often good reasons to judge it by its cover:

  • The cover is the best way for the author and publisher to communicate what the book is about.
  • Details of the cover convey a personality to the potential reader.
  • In the online marketplace, the shopper doesn’t get the opportunity to hold a book, read the back cover or jacket flap, and flip through the pages, so the cover is more important than it would be in a book store or library.

What Makes a Good Book Cover Design?

Appealing to your audience. As you will notice if you take a look at a few book covers, they don’t all look alike. There’s a good reason for that. Not all readers are alike. And the most important thing your cover needs to do is appeal to your audience. Every element on the cover should be formatted to arouse interest, emotion or excitement in the members of your audience.

Artwork or image. Often the main image on your cover will dictate what many of the other elements will look like, so it’s good to find that first. If you are a new author, don’t go for a Harry Potter look, an image that shows many elements of the story in a scene or collage. This may work for a best-selling author, but a new author is competing against so many others who are relatively unknown, so you want your cover to stand out. Another no-no: don’t use artwork you’ve drawn yourself or that was drawn by your wife or one of your kids (or one of your parents) or other relatives. Unless your relative is a professional artist with a style that appeals to your audience, you need to look elsewhere and hope your loved-one understands.

Colors — An important step in designing anything is to pick a color scheme. I could write a whole book, or at least a series of blog posts, about the use of color, but I’ll try to sum up the most important points here:

  • As was stated before, pick colors that will appeal to your audience.
  • Colors can set a mood or convey an emotion. This isn’t always the reason to choose a certain color over another color, but you should consider this when making your color choices.
  • What types of colors appeal to your readers and are used in your genre? Don’t just look at which colors (red or blue or yellow) but are they bright? dark? muted? earthy colors? sparkly colors? Do other book covers in your genre tend to have only one color? two colors? several colors? Consider how you want to use colors in making your choice.
  • Some colors will be dictated by the artwork you choose (though if you’re clever, you can look for artwork with specific colors, or request specific colors when commissioning an artist or photographer). But once you have your artwork, you want to choose colors for text and possibly the background. A tool I like to use to choose a color scheme is the Color Scheme Designer. Start with a color — likely it is a color in your main image. Or it’s a color that sets a mood you want your cover to convey. Set that as the main color and then decide how many colors you want in your color scheme. The very small circles under the title of the app show how you can have complementary colors (two colors on opposite sides of the color wheel), a triad (three colors spaced apart on the color wheel), a tetrad (4 colors) or two options for analogic color schemes where all or most of the colors are on one side of the color wheel. You can adjust the spacing of these colors, and then the app delivers to you a set of related colors, darker and lighter shades of the main colors.

Fonts also set a mood or tone. This is a very important choice because it will send a message to readers even if they are unaware of it. Again, it’s a good idea to take a look at other books in your genre to see what kind of fonts they use. You want there to be a good contrast between the background and the title, and you generally want your title font to be larger than that for the author’s name, unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. Readability is key for a new or relatively unknown author’s book. Even if you think you know what font you want, see what your title looks like in that font before making the final decision. You might find the capital K looks odd, or that the descender of the g on the top line crashes into the h on the bottom line. Don’t use Comic Sans, and you probably want to steer clear of Papyrus and Times New Roman also.

Practical Book Cover Design Tips

Simple is better. Pick one image with a clear focal point, and one or two colors. Unless you are a graphic designer, you want to be careful using gradients, metallic effects and any backgrounds you can download free on the Internet. Also, it’s best not to use white as a background, since online shoppers will see your book cover against a white web page, so a color will help it stand out.

Image Usage Rights. You can’t go to Google images and just use anything that comes up. In fact, you may not be able to use even some stock images that you have paid for. Wait, what? That’s right. Even if you pay for a “royalty-free” image, it comes with license terms. Read them! They may limit the number of copies you can sell if you use the image on a book cover, or they may forbid you from using the image in any downloadable content, which may or may not include ebooks. If you’re not sure, contact the website or the artist to clarify the terms. If there is a limit to the number of “impressions” or copies you can sell, just keep that in mind. If you sell that many, chances are you’ll have made enough profit to afford a new cover design.

Inspiration. There are a couple of strategies you can use to get ideas for your book cover. You can see examples of book cover designs at the Book Cover Archive, or take a look at eBook Cover Design Awards at The Book Designer where you can see examples of good book cover designs and an analysis of why each one is good and often how it could be improved. This helps you be better able to evaluate book cover designs even if you don’t intend to be the designer. But don’t forget to check out the top selling books in your specific genre or category — take note of their covers so you know what potential buyers will be seeing next to your book.

What have I missed? Do you have a question about book cover design? Let me know in the comments.