You’ve Got This Covered: Four Tips (and One Important Truth) to Great Book Cover Design
Four Tips (and One Important Truth) to Great Book Cover Design
By Xavier Comas
Move over eBooks, TikTok, and Instagram, “sales of print books rose 8.9% in 2021… up from 757.9 million in 2020.” Publisher’s Weekly says book sales have slowed but will top pre-pandemic levels. While publishers still dominate, self-publishing is “the fastest growing segment in the global [book printing] market.”
With all those books competing for attention, your book cover is an essential marketing tool and uses “the font, the images, the colours,” to inform expectations of what’s to come. Publishers want the author’s input on cover design (though they may have the final say), so understanding design fundamentals helps express a cohesive and informed vision, while self-published covers rely solely on the writer’s taste and design sensibility, adding great urgency to solid book-cover design knowledge.
Work with a Pro
This is not a tip, but a critical truth: you should hire a professional graphics art team experienced in book cover design to create your book cover. This team should include designers, illustrators, and photographers. This could be an agency or a one-person shop, but find a pro. While money always factors, professional design can mean the difference between commercial success (money isn’t everything!) and lost sales, missed opportunities, and just another book on the discount pile. In a test of competing book ads featuring covers created by self-published authors versus identical ads featuring professionally rebranded covers, the rebranded ads:
• Had a click-through rate that was 12.5–50% higher than their non-professional counterparts, across genres including YA fantasy, nonfiction, romance, and mystery/thriller.
• The higher click-through rates translated to a 35% increase in a book’s marketability.
Functional & Creative
Your book cover should attract eyeballs to bookshop shelves and displays, and clicks on social media posts, review sites, and in online stores. Every design aspect: font selection, colors, graphic elements, must convey genre and story and personality, but most important of all, a book cover should scream: READ ME!
Design rules can be broken, but aesthetics must always yield to functionality: your cover serves the greater purpose of selling your book, attracting attention, and informing potential readers of genre and narrative. Here are book cover design tips to help get your book read:
- Keep the Cover True to the Story: Book covers provide a “sneak peek,” into the book’s content. “When a potential reader picks up your book, they should at least get a general framework of what they can expect between the front and back cover.” Give potential readers a taste of what’s in store, but not too much to give anything away. Make sure the cover matches the content.
- K.I.S.S (Keep it Simple, Silly) or, Less is More: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” While Steve Jobs may have never designed book covers, keep his advice in mind when working with your publisher or graphic arts team. You never want your ideas lost in too many visuals. Cover Kitchen says, “keep the decorative elements down to just a few, or you risk weakening the main concept. With too much … you'll undermine your core message and end up with a messy and unclear cover. In turn, it can confuse potential readers, and they may not take a closer look at your book.”
- Form Follows Function: A long-held design belief says, “aesthetic considerations in design should be secondary to functional considerations.” Your book cover’s priorities are marketing and communication, never hide those crucial factors behind intricate design. “Although experimenting with different fonts and color schemes can work in your favor, remember that you only have a short window to attract a reader's attention.”
- Design for Digital (and other formats): consider book cover thumbnails on book selling and review sites. Research competitive designs on your desktop, phone, tablet, and e-reader: Your cover design should remain legible in various sizes and sparkle across billboards, bookstore displays, magazines, newspapers, computer monitors, or on mobile devices!
Xavier is a Fine Arts graduate of the University of Barcelona and Spanish graphic designer, photographer, and author with 30-years' experience in book cover design. In 2004, Xavier moved to Asia and founded Coverkitchen, an award-winning book cover design studio based in Singapore and Bangkok. Coverkitchen works for international publishers such as Penguin-Random House, Planeta, Tuttle, and Wiley. His cover design for the European bestseller Viajo Sola was selected by leading art directors in the publishing industry as one of the best cover designs in Spain for 2014. Xavier’s first book as an author, The House of the Raja, was published in 2019 by River Books.