Book Cover Basics
by Chris Payne (@99designs)
As an author, your book is your baby. Just like a real child, you spend years putting work into it, crafting it into all it can be, and then you’re ready to send it out into the world. But as with your child, you wouldn’t send them out in just any old outfit. You’d send them out dressed for success.
The purpose of book cover design is to draw the attention of your potential readers away from all those other tomes and novellas and sell them on the idea that your page-turner is the next book they need on their nightstand.
But what makes a book cover jump off the shelves? Let’s take a look at the anatomy of a book cover and how you can create a cohesive look that appeals to your readers:
Think of your front cover as the preview into your book. Just like a movie preview is there to help viewers decide if they want to shell out $20 to see a film, your front cover is what your reader is going to use to judge whether they want to invest their time and money into reading your story. This is your chance to hook them and get them intrigued enough to read your book.
There are two main parts of your front cover: imagery and typography.
Book Cover Imagery
Your imagery could encompass a number of things: you could use a photograph, an illustration, geometric shapes, or just an interesting play on color. Whatever imagery you decide to use, you should showcase it in a way that feels true to the spirit of your book. So, for example, if you wrote a memoir about your summer camping in Yosemite, you might have an image of a tent with Half Dome looming in the background.
You also want to make sure you use your imagery in a design-friendly way. Make sure that your image doesn’t overwhelm your typography, and make sure it’s laid out in a way that feels balanced; you don’t want to have a ton of imagery in the top right corner of the cover and then nothing on the other three corners to balance it out.
Book Cover Typography
The typography on your cover should include three things: your book’s title, the subtitle (if you have one), and the author name. Make sure to use text hierarchy to bring attention to the more important text (for example, you’ll want your title text to be larger than your subtitle text). In terms of where your text should go, you can put your title on the top of your cover or towards the bottom; just make sure you put it somewhere above your name so it’s the first thing people read.
If you’re publishing digitally, pay extra attention to how your cover looks at a small size, as most people will be viewing it as a tiny thumbnail. Make sure you have one clear visual element that tells your story and makes your cover stand out on the screen.
Once you’ve hooked people with your front cover, they’ll flip your book over to find out more information about the book. The back cover is your chance to build on the intrigue you sparked on the front cover and close them on the idea that your book can’t be missed.
On the back cover, you can include:
A blurb about your book
An author bio
ISBN number and barcode
Make your blurb or reviews the focus of your back cover (since those are the elements most likely to push people over the edge and inspire a purchase). Then, put your author bio, ISBN number, and barcode on the bottom quarter of the page.
If you’re publishing a hardcover book, some of this information can be put onto interior flaps of the dust jacket. Similarly, if you’re publishing digitally, this info will be text on the ebook’s description page.
The last part of your book cover design that you’ll need to put some thought into is your spine. Since most bookstores shelve their books vertically, your spine is the only real way for your potential readers to easily spot your masterpiece on a shelf.
When it comes to spines, you’ll want to keep it simple. On the top of the spine, write the title (this should also be in the largest font). Then, include your author name towards the bottom (for space reasons, just use your last name) followed by your publisher’s insignia.
When you’re designing your cover, just be sure to check with your designer to make sure your spine design will work with your book length; if your book is less than the 150 page range, you might run into some formatting issues.
The physical parts of your book, including your cover, are key to getting your book off the shelf and into your reader’s hands. And now that you know the anatomy of a winning book cover, you can get designing if you have the personal know-how or better know how to judge the cover you receive from a professional.