Book Covers 101: Five Steps to Getting Your Design Right

They say not to judge a book by its cover. But if we’re being totally honest, we all love to judge a book cover.

And as an author, your book cover can make or break a reader’s interest in picking up your work. 

For any book, the cover is an important marketing tool to attract readers. A book can stand out on even the most crowded shelves or tables if it has an eye-catching and genre-appropriate cover. 

So how do you get there? What elements should the cover include? What message do you want the cover to convey? Let’s explore those questions–here are five things to consider when designing your book cover!

1. Research Your Genre for Comparisons

Are you writing an epic fantasy? A psychological thriller? A romance novel? Determining your genre (and subgenre) is essential to understanding what your target audience will expect from your book’s cover design. Look at popular and bestselling books within your genre, or comparable books, and take note of their similarities. Take note of the colors, font choices, and artwork. Pay attention to what you personally like as well as what you don’t like. This will be important information to communicate to your book designer.

2. List Your Key Messages, Plot Themes, and Genre Tropes

Now that you have a better idea of what your audience expects from the genre, it is time to figure out which major plot themes you want to convey on your book cover. What feelings do you want to evoke from a potential reader? What tropes are expressed in your book? For example, romance books include common tropes, such as “enemies-to-lovers,” “second-chance romance,” or “opposites attract.” Writers are almost always avid readers first, so you might have a good idea as to which tropes you’ve already incorporated into your novel! Once you’ve compiled a list, you should have a realistic idea of the overall vibe that you want readers to get from your cover. 

3. Think About Your Book Spine Design

Retailers constantly rearrange and catalog titles to show either the book’s front cover on a table display, facing outwards on the shelf, or they only show the spine. To catch readers’ attention long enough for them to pick up your book and read about it, we recommend prioritizing making your book title, author name, and publisher name as legible as possible. This might include having contrasting colors and fonts that mimic the front cover to make the spine stand out on the book shelf. 

4. Consider Digital Shelf Appeal

Picture a potential reader scrolling through, Amazon, B&N or the many other online retailers, and they stop on your book’s creative cover! “One of the things we are always worried about is making sure the title, subtitle, and any other important information is legible but is also eye-catching and weighted correctly,” says Ulysses Press Director of Editorial & Acquisitions Casie Vogel. “For example, the title should be the biggest thing, maybe followed by the author and any credentials, if it is relevant. This is even more important when you consider the digital shelf, where book covers are reduced to thumbnails. This is a small rectangle to make a big impact.”

5. Pick the Best Cover Designer – For You

Lastly, it’s time to find a book cover designer! Use the information that you’ve gathered on comp books, popular books and bestselling books in your genre as a guide. Look at the books’ copyright page, book jacket, or front cover to find the cover designer. Another option is to use Google and platforms like Instagram, Reedsy, and LinkedIn to find cover designers in your genre. Take a look at their digital portfolios showcasing their past cover designs and determine whose work you like the most.

Once you’ve found a cover designer that you like, reach out to discuss your book needs and deadlines including overall turnaround time, the feedback/editing process, and budget. When communicating your needs, it is wise to show the book designer your comp books. “Usually when we send out cover design briefs to the designers, we will send them 4 to 5 covers of books that not only fall within the same genre, but that are pretty similar in content, i.e. direct comps,” says Ulysses Press Associate Editor Kierra Sondereker. “That way you can see what kind of covers are working for titles you’ll probably be directly competing with, so you can have a cover designed that fits within this scope, but is also different from the direct comps.”

Come back next week for our author Q&A with author Evette Davis to learn more about working with a cover designer!

Leave a Comment