People can tell a good book cover from a bad one—even if they might not take the time to mentally pick it apart. Whether the tone is off, the imagery is cheesy or the typography is just plain boring, a reader will simply move on to a novel that looks more worthy of the hours they will spend reading it. On the other hand, sometimes a cover is so thematically perfect that you could almost think it was the only cover that book could have—that cover design is simple and straightforward.
But consider the amount of plates a designer has to keep spinning at once. The cover needs to be accurate, evocative, attention-grabbing and true to the book’s genre. The designer has to properly represent the book’s plot, characters, tone and style, while still leaving enough to a potential reader’s imagination for them to want to purchase the book. It needs to be trendy, modern and marketable, while not looking too much like other covers already for sale. Got all that? If not, the covers outlined below will give you some solid guidelines that make will make sure your book cover is the best it can be.
1. Focus in on one object
A good cover shouldn’t be crowded. Think about what’s important in your book and isolate an image that sums the book up. By leaving lots of space on the cover and giving only a tiny corner to the bouquet of flowers, The Ineligible Bachelorette is a great examples of how designers breathe new life into a genre like self-help. Be sure to choose an object that doesn’t send the wrong message to your audience—a knife, for example, will never not seem violent, no matter how important it might be to your romantic novel!
2. Harness the power of handwritten type
Every story is unique, just like our handwriting. Handwritten type has been riding a wave of popularity for the past few years. Originally used in novels, handwriting has been popping up on more and more genres of books, most recently in nonfiction and memoir. The handwriting used in Leaving Thomas and Tom, Dick, and Happily Ever After, efficiently communicates that a real, human story is held within.
3. Collage makes complex stories engaging
Sometimes one image just isn’t enough: for books with a complex themes and settings, consider the power of collaged images. This is particularly true for the romance and science fiction genres.
The collaged landscapes on The Vanguard create a desolate, dystopian world, with a single protagonist caught in a struggle for survival. For a tragic 18th century romance novel full of drama and passion, the cover for Caught combines images of a beautiful young woman and a fleet of ships sailing toward a distant sunset to set the mood and hint at the story line. Collaged images allow the reader to absorb a book’s multiple themes in one quick glance.
4. Good design doesn’t need to be clean
An exciting new trend in cover design is allowing a cover to messy or disorganized—in an artistic way, of course. A popular execution of this is partially obscuring the title or author name with graphic elements. How to Navigate Darkness is a successful and eye-catching cover for this very reason. The slight clouding of the title doesn’t repel or rebuff the reader’s eye—instead, it makes you want to focus in on it and give it a second look. This style works particularly well for psychological thrillers and books with edgy, danger-filled storylines.
5. Sci-fi and horror covers that are out of this world
Gone are the cheesy spaceships and dripping blood: genre covers are having quite a moment. If you write science fiction, fantasy or horror, you need a cover that will sell itself—especially when viewed in small size on Amazon, since eBooks control a larger share of the market for genre. Large, bold fonts and dark and striking imagery are all the rage as genre covers seek to compete with their literary competitors and draw the largest audiences possible.
The jaw-dropping visuals of The Last Days of Earth or The Space Elevator could make even the most hesitant reader want to give science fiction a try, while the cover for Something Down There tells you there’s a good story inside—even if you may have to leave your nightlight on after reading.
6. The power of a face
A common book design trope involves the image of a person’s back. On covers meant to interest women and men, kids and adults, in every conceivable fictional genre, if a person was portrayed on the cover, it was often from behind. There are some simple reasons for this: it’s often difficult to find an image of a person that looks precisely the way the author has drawn the character through words. And sometimes authors want readers to build the visuals in their own head.
Recently, however, more and more faces are making their way onto covers. You want your cover to demand attention from ten feet away. If your book has a strong lead character, don’t be afraid to let them face their audience: a pair of eyes on a cover can be downright arresting.
7. Books for young readers that don’t pander
Kids’ books have always had to walk the line of being interesting and appealing to their intended audience, while also grabbing the attention of parents, who after all, have the wallets. Increasingly books for younger readers are embracing the trends that are popular with adult books—things like bold typography, beautiful hand-drawn, illustrated covers, and expensive finishes, like the foil elements on the Rising Depths cover.
Young readers seek the same depth of feeling and excitement from their books as their grown-up compatriots. Most importantly, younger readers love drama. Make sure the images and text on your cover promises them a world far from their reality, filled with danger, awe and excitement.
8. Textures from real life make compelling covers
Another inspiring trend that is showing up everywhere: textures and details from real life. The folded brown paper on the TresPassers cover or the incredible meat packaging of the Hidden Evil cover draw the eye in with their unexpected use of recognizable objects. Readers’ immediate familiarity with the visuals will pique their interest and make them more likely to pick the book up. These covers move us out of the abstract realm and into the unexpected pleasure of the everyday.
A good book cover design matters
A reader will look at your cover for an average of two seconds—less if they’re scrolling online. Think about what you want them to take away from that glance, what you want them to know about you and your book. Your cover will be the thing that your book is judged on more than anything else. Put some time and thought into the design—no matter what style or genre your book falls into, there is a great cover for it just waiting to be discovered.