Book Cover Design: Readers WILL Judge

You’ve probably imagined your book cover for a long time. Once you decide to self-publish, you have to get down to the basics of book cover design. Paying attention to what will give your book a professional, appealing cover will keep it from having an obvious “self-published” look.

In fact, your cover is perhaps the most important design element of your book. Everyone judges books by their cover—despite warnings not to—because it’s often a reader’s first impression of your book. So it’s wise to invest time, energy, and possibly money, making your book the best it can be. Your book cover design is the first chance to grab a reader, and you don’t want to squander that opportunity.

Here are some ways to create an attention-getting book cover:

The Concept: Borrow from the best

Other books offer a readily available guide when it comes to determining your cover design. Go to your shelves or a bookstore, and start to browse.

Romance novels have a particular look and feel that is inappropriate to noir fiction or horror stories. Nonfiction and literary fiction have a broader range, but they still generally have covers that announce what they are, as do young adult novels. As you study other covers in your genre, you’ll notice these distinctions.

There are design variations within each genre, of course, but when you are considering your own cover, don’t stray too far. You don’t need to do something unique and original to make your cover stand out. This is the place to exercise a little restraint—you can make professional book cover that attracts to readers but also fits in.

The Elements: What your book cover should include

  • The front cover: The front cover includes a cover image, the book title, author name, sometimes a subtitle, a brief line about the story, and/or a testimonial.
  • The spine: The spine has the book title, author name, and the publisher’s logo.
  • The back cover: The back cover may contain any or all of the following: a book description, an author picture and brief biography, testimonials, barcode and ISBN, book price, and publisher logo.

The Design: Make it stand out by blending in

I have a few front cover rules that I employ for the books I publish. Aside from being genre appropriate, I recommend the following:

  • Make your cover easy to read: Most readers will first see the book online, at about an inch or inch and a half wide. You want them to be able to read your title at this size.
  • Limit images and ideas: A strong, central visual element, elegantly married to the text, is your best bet. If you crowd your cover with significant book elements, use imagery to make visual puns, or use a symbolic image that makes no sense unless you have read the book, you’re missing an opportunity.
  • Use appropriate, readable fonts: Fancy fonts can jam things up or can be difficult to read. And ho-hum fonts (hello, Times New Roman and Papyrus!) are just boring and the sure sign of an amateur design. Remember: your cover should be creative, yet suitable to your genre and readable.
  • Make it understandable: The cover is not a place for clever wordplay—you have a whole book for that, so keep any cover text clean and approachable.

Once you have developed an idea that works with your genre and is clear, it’s time to execute the design. This may be one of the best times to employ a professional. Even though cover design can be costly, if you expect your book to have commercial success, it will be well worth it.