The saying goes that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But with so many books stacked together on store and library shelves, the cover is what will attract readers.
While authors affiliated with a publishing house have a team to work with on their book cover, self-published authors are usually left to their own devices.
Enterprising authors can attempt to work on their own book cover design, but they also have the option to hire a graphic designer to do the cover for them, which we always recommend first. However, this adds to self publishing costs, so unfortunately, it's not always an option for everyone.
Whether you want to create a design yourself, or ask someone else to do it for you, there are some aspects of cover design that you have to be aware of.
Plus, there are elements that you have to include on a book cover, even if the design you have is fairly simple.
Here are some tips for creating a simple book cover that will attract readers.
Research Book Covers
This is the first and most important step of making book covers—and of writing books. You have to research what the most popular kinds of book covers are.
Head to Google and look for celebrated or award-winning covers. Look at the books on your own bookshelves—which ones stood out to you and made you want to buy them?
Visit bookstores and look at their bestsellers—but don’t focus too much on the biggest selling authors, as they already have a massive audience.
Instead, take note of which covers you like, and why. Did the colors look attractive? What about the graphics and images? Was the typeface legible and interesting?
You should also take time to understand what you didn’t like, as that will help you decide what to avoid when you are designing your own book cover.
Having done this research, create a mood board for your cover—get a selection of images, color swatches, posters, and even magazine pages that evoke the feelings you want to evoke.
This will help guide the rest of the book cover designing process.
Choosing Colors for Your Book Cover
Colors matter when it comes to design—people tend to associate emotions with certain colors so you need to ensure you choose the right colors for your book.
Though it is tempting to choose a color that you love for your cover, you have to keep in mind that the book cover isn’t meant for you; it’s supposed to be attracting your audience.
Turn to your mood board to decide which colors could work. Remember that the colors you choose should have some relation to the theme of your book.
For instance, red shades are good for thrillers, horror, and romance, while blues and greens can be mysterious or serene.
Narrow down the list to five or six colors and then decide on which work best together. The handy guide below should help you determine which colors combinations will be successful.
When deciding on colors for your book cover, it doesn’t hurt to be bold—a particularly rich maroon may make your book stand out from the crowd.
But it is best not to stray too far from the norm—if the majority of books in your genre are using a certain color palette, don’t opt for shades that are too different.
Though your intention is to be noticeable, by going against the grain, you risk your book being dismissed as belonging to a separate genre altogether.
Graphics and Images on Your Book Cover
Book covers are rarely one solid color—but if that works for you, choosing one strong color is a good option, particularly if you are writing a self-help or technical book.
But for the most part, book covers include graphics, illustrations, and pictures. This is an area where you can easily trip up—the wrong imagery could lead your readers away.
Decide whether you want an illustration or images, as they make very different impressions on readers.
A number of romance and YA books use stock images with people to make an immediate connection with the reader.
Travel and history books generally have beautiful visuals of the people and places they are focusing on, like in the below example.
Mystery and horror novels often use objects on their covers—like a knife, a purse, or a noose—to drum up a feeling of dread.
Illustrations are excellent for children’s books, but they could be used for non-fiction and how-to books as well.
Having written the book, you will know what will work best for your cover and you can choose the elements accordingly.
If you don’t have a graphic designer at hand, you can create these elements using graphic design software online, or source high quality illustrations and photographs from stock photo websites.
Book Cover Typography
While the imagery and colors of your book cover are important in attracting attention, you can’t forget the typography for your cover.
Book covers usually need typography for the following areas: book title, author name, publisher’s name, book tagline, and one-line review.
When choosing fonts for your book cover, it is best to limit yourself to a maximum of three—one for your heading, one for the sub-heading, and one for the remaining text elements to be included on your cover.
How do you choose a font for your cover, particularly your book title? It goes back to the emotion you want to evoke from your cover and what your book is actually about.
The below graphic shows various heading fonts and what kind of emotions they evoke.
Writing a romantic comedy? Choose a playful font like Pacifico. A sci-fi novel could have an Ubuntu Mono title. Choose Raleway or Archivo Black for a historical drama.
When deciding on fonts for your cover, remember that they need to be legible in multiple sizes—not only when the cover is printed, but also in digital thumbnails.
Not only will your book cover likely be unveiled on your website, but you will be sharing it on social platforms as part of your social media marketing plan, and the cover will appear as small thumbnails in online book stores.
Do a few tests to understand whether or not the font sizes need to be increased or decreased, and whether the font choice conveys the story.
Get Feedback on Your Book Design
You can’t know everything and you aren’t expected to have an unbiased opinion of your work. Once you have made a few cover options for your book—a maximum of three should be fine—it is good to ask for opinions from people you trust.
Ask close friends and family for their thoughts on the covers you have designed, especially if they already have an idea of what your book is about. Accept that there may be some criticism and that not everyone will see what you do—you are very close to the subject, after all.
Take detailed notes of what people have to say and make adjustments accordingly, if you think the points make sense.
Avoid opening up opinions to complete strangers, or turning to the internet. You don’t want to tempt trolls to give negative feedback, nor do you want to be inundated with opinions.
Keep your feedback group small but noteworthy so you know which cover will work best for you.
Keep Your Book Cover Relevant
The most important thing to remember when designing your book cover is that it must be relevant to the story you have written.
Whether you are designing your own cover, or are asking someone else to do it, the subject matter of your book must be reflected in the cover.
As tempting as it might be to add the most exotic and attractive elements on your cover in the hopes of attracting an audience, if readers feel that the cover lied to them, you will get bad publicity and that will severely affect your sales.
Create a cover that does justice to your book, and to you, and it will encourage readers to pick up your book.
Ronita Mohan is a content marketer at Venngage, the online infographic and design platform. She is an avid reader with an interest in mystery fiction, history, graphic novels, marketing, and diversity.