The Key Elements of Successful Book Cover Design

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We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Most readers judge books by their covers. No matter how hard we might try to focus on substance over appearance in other aspects of our lives, when it comes to books, what’s on the outside counts. It’s a considerable time commitment to read a novel, so people must use superficial information like the cover design and blurb to determine whether to buy a book. 

Writers want the story to speak for itself, but the truth is that most readers taking a chance on a new author will choose the book by its cover, which is why cover design is such an important marketing tool in the publishing industry. It is, essentially, a marketing campaign for your book.

Even prominent authors with loyal fan bases won’t get by with an underwhelming cover, so you can imagine how crucial it is for new and emerging writers to produce an appealing, interesting, and compelling book cover. If you don’t have name recognition fueling a good portion of your sales, your cover has to be that much better to entice prospective readers. We strongly suggest hiring a professional for your cover design, but there are certain basic elements that authors should be aware of to make the design process more collaborative and create a cover true to the written story. 

Why is cover design so important? 

Your book cover design—front, spine, and back—has a singular purpose: to sell your work. It’s the first thing a potential buyer will see, which is why a good designer will use images, colors, fonts, and distribution to effectively create a feeling and hint at a story that will compel readers to choose your book over the competition. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s certainly the case with book covers.

An effective front cover will grab a potential reader’s attention and get them to check out the blurb on the back, so it has to make a powerful first impression. If your cover doesn’t pack a punch, the prospective reader won’t even give your blurb a chance. It should emphasize the genre while still making it stand out from the competition, so although it should look different and original enough to be noticed, it has to meet certain standards and expectations that make it recognizable within its genre. 

It also needs to convey the mood of the book, to give an idea of what the story is about and how it will make readers feel, so utilize this opportunity to say something significant about the content inside. Every element of your cover, from the font and images to the colors, communicates a message, and a good designer knows how to put them all together to convey that message in a cohesive way.

What elements should the cover include? 

Your book cover needs to have certain non-negotiable elements such as the title and author’s name, which themselves can be powerful marketing tools. If you’ve published previously and built up a fan base, some people will gravitate to the book simply because it has your name on the cover. A good title can also create intrigue, so choose carefully. 

Your book cover can include other tidbits that will entice the reader. For example, you can add a subtitle or a review from a well-known person to make it more appealing or incorporate images if it adds to the story you’re telling, like the shirtless hunks on the covers of most romance novels. Consider whether symbols, negative spaces, colors, or monochromatic backgrounds will work best for your genre and topic. 

The font also matters a lot. Don’t just slap your title on in Times New Roman unless you have a very strong design justification for doing so. The font is another important element in communicating the genre. The font for a horror novel should be a world away from that for a romance novel. 

Keep in mind that these elements should look good and be clear, whether they're on the cover of a hardback or on a thumbnail in an online shop, so don’t use any overly intricate designs that will crowd the cover—in design, less is more—and make sure the font is clearly legible. 

Although the spine and back cover don’t need to look perfect in thumbnail size, they definitely shouldn’t be an afterthought and must be consistent with the front cover design. After all, the spine may be all the reader has to determine whether they should even take your book off the shelf and glance at the front cover. The back cover should also include a blurb (a short paragraph on what a reader can expect from your story) and a minimalistic author’s biography. The spine should only have the title and author’s name written in the same font as the front cover. 

Should you hire a professional cover designer? 

The short answer is yes. Unless you have experience designing book covers, we highly recommend that you get someone skilled to do it for you. A badly designed cover or one that simply doesn’t look professionally created can make or break a book, and after putting in so much work, time, and money, you can’t let this final element sink you. 

Most people aren’t good at design, so even if you’ve dabbled in Photoshop before, it’s a good idea to entrust the job to a professional unless you really understand how to design a good book cover. Professional cover design can be a bit pricey up front, but it’s a worthwhile investment in your book.

Design and book cover design are independent fields that require specific skills which, let’s be honest, most writers probably don’t possess. They are trained to tell stories in words, not images and colors, and if you want your book cover to be up to industry standards, you should definitely hire a professional to design yours, front to back. 

Cover designers’ goal is to attract new readers in mere seconds, online or in print, and they will collaborate with authors to produce the most effective and aesthetically pleasing cover for each manuscript based on current trends, best practices, and their years of experience helping writers maximize sales and royalties. While you should trust your designer’s expertise, it’s your book, so you ultimately have the final say. Check out our professional cover design services and start working with a professional designer today. 

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