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How to Create a Great Book Cover That Gets Results

What exactly makes a great book cover design? Is it the colours, the font, the image? We dive into the anatomy of cover design whilst also looking at some brilliant examples.

 So what makes up a basic cover design?

A great book cover, first of all, needs to be formatted properly. And a common mistake is that the front, spine, and back of a cover are separate files. In fact, they form one whole file. Imagine you lay an open book down on the table with cover facing upwards. This is what a cover design file looks like.

It’s important that all the elements of a book cover are consistent with its theme. Sometimes part of the design wraps all around the cover. A block of colour, for instance, could carry over from the front onto the spine and back. This helps bring continuity to the design.

 Focus on a theme

Is there a main theme that runs through your novel? Or maybe there’s a certain image which embodies the meaning of your story? The His Dark Materials books by Philip Pullman, for example, each have the object that the individual book is based around.

great book cover

Or, you can use something as simple as font and colour to bring your message to the forefront. Take a look at Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.

great book cover

Something as basic as “whiting” out the three words, reflects the concept of the whole book.

 Less is more

Another common mistake when thinking of ideas for your book cover design is trying to communicate a scene in the book.

You can’t put all the details of a moment in your story onto the front cover. Plus, from a composition point of view, most scenarios in a narrative won’t work for the rectangular shape of a book.

This is why it’s important to strip away the details until you have an image or idea you’re happy with. This is how you end up with a great book cover.

Stand-out book cover designs of 2017:

great book cover

Top row: The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner, Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta, The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne. Middle row: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins, Idaho by Emily Ruskovich Bottom row: Shark Drunk by Morten Andreas Strøksnes, The Worm and the Bird by Coralie Bickford-Smith, A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

The books above have all made an impact this year. And although each is different, they all conjure a particular feeling.

Ever since Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent was published, there’s been a surge in similar cover designs (see Frances Hardinge’s novel above). This Victorian tapestry-esque theme conveys an idea of the traditional and also the sinister or supernatural.

 Fonts and Colours

Choosing your font and colour palette is the next biggest step after deciding on your overall concept. This is because the font you choose gives a particular impression about your book. For example, just take a look at the following differences:


great book cover

What does each line of text suggest about the content of the book? How does having all-caps change the feel of story? Does a handwriting style suggest a more light-hearted tone? All these choices are crucial in portraying the book inside.

Colour is also a big part of making a browser pick up your book. Take a look at each of these covers:

great book cover

Top row: Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives, The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, The Stranger by Albert Camus. Bottom row: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, The Martian by Andy Weir, Leaves Of Grass by Walt Whitman

Whether it’s a solid block of colour, or fading tones, each technique adds to the feel of the book. Neon, pastels, monochrome, there are so many options for you to choose from!

So, if you’re struggling with all the options, think about it like this… If your book was a colour, what colour would it be?

 Drawing the reader in

After noticing a striking book cover, the reader then flips it over to read the blurb. This is why it’s important to nail your text on the back. Don’t let your great book cover down with a shoddy back cover.

The blurb should give a sense of the book and your own personal voice. As with the design, less is more. Don’t bombard the browser with every plot detail of your story – keep it concise and make sure you include your hook.

Your hook is the element in your narrative that makes it different or gets the ball rolling. Some call it the inciting incident in your book. Make sure this comes across to set your novel apart from others in its genre.

 Researching your market

Your genre and market plays a part in the book cover you decide on. In general, book covers for chic-lit books are very different to sci-fi. Books can sometimes have multiple covers depending on the location of the market. Just take a look at some of the designs for Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

great book cover

Even though the designs above are all different, the theme of heat, flames and boldness is consistent. The main concept of the novel remains.

Think about your target market. Will it be men, women, children, reading your book? What age? What are their other interests? All of this will contribute to the decisions you make for the look of your book.

 A great book cover

With the plateauing sales of ebooks, it seems people really value the physicality of the book. People’s bookshelves have become a craze through #shelfie on InstagramAnd with the wide range of extras you can apply to your book: embossing, debossing, foiling, ribbon marker, spot uv, books are becoming an aesthetic product in themselves.

Publishers are also getting bolder with their design choices. Take a look at the new Penguin editions soon to be released, here. 

This expansion into more imaginative designs and focus on the book as a beautiful object, means your particular title has to stand out. A great book cover encompasses the story within the pages in one simple transcending image.


If you’d like some expert advice on your book cover, why not get in touch?

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