Potential readers will often first judge your book by the front cover, whether you display it online or in bookstores. The more eye-catching it is, the more likely people are to want to learn more about it and possibly buy it.
Of course, you probably already know this. You may even have invested money in a designer, and now you’re wondering how to quality-check their work or provide meaningful input to guide their revisions. You may be attempting to design your own cover or create a rough concept for a designer to follow. If any of these apply to you, you likely have many questions, such as “What makes a great front cover?” and “What elements go into a front cover, anyway?”
In this article, we’ll take a look at the common components of a front cover and how you can use each to grab readers’ attention.
The background can be an image, a pattern, or even a solid color. It should suit the book’s themes and genre. Images and patterns will typically be more striking and unique than solid colors, but if you do use a solid color, it should be one that is noticeable. When it comes to images, try to pick an engaging one.
Tips for selecting the right background:
- If you’re writing a book with elements of mystery or horror, then selecting an image that leaves something to the imagination can be engaging. For instance, if your book is Lovecraftian horror, showing just part of a monster creeping out of a lake can be more mysterious and gripping than showing the full monster attacking someone.
- Backgrounds vary from decade to decade. Back in the ‘80s, it was popular for adult fantasy books to have detailed, dynamic covers depicting fantastical creatures, beautiful landscapes, heroes slaying monsters, etc. These days, adult fantasy covers are less complex and more abstract, in general. There are exceptions, of course, but covers now focus more on conveying specific moods or themes rather than a single scene or characters from the book. You should look at the latest bestsellers in your genre to get a feel for what is attracting readers in the present.
- Depending on your genre, outright depicting the main characters on the cover is frowned upon because it can impact a reader’s ability to identify with them. When readers are allowed to imagine the protagonist’s physical characteristics, or the book’s theme is symbolically represented on the cover instead, a stronger link is created. For instance, on thriller and mystery covers, the protagonist is often depicted in deep shadow or facing away from the reader.
Almost anything goes in cover design, but for a cover to look credible (and not self-published) a few typographic principles should be followed.
The main title should be readable when the cover is reduced to the size it will be displayed on Amazon. Serif or sans-serif fonts can be used, informed by the genre and the design styles currently in vogue. For example, you wouldn’t use a frilly serif or script font for a murder mystery or a blocky, condensed sans-serif font for romantic poetry.
It’s OK to use both serif and sans-serif fonts together on a cover for contrast, as long as they don’t clash with each other. It usually doesn’t work to combine two serif fonts or two sans-serif fonts. The font color should contrast with the background so the text pops.
Don’t overlook the importance of text hierarchy. Usually, the title comes first, followed by the subtitle and then the author’s name. The title should be the largest because it’s the most important. We recommend making the author’s name smaller than the title except when the author is already well-known, in which case the author’s name will be more instrumental in selling the book. In these cases, the author’s name may also appear before the book title.
Don’t cram the cover with a lot of information. The front cover should only share the title, the subtitle, and the author’s name. If there’s enough space, it’s alright to add a short endorsement or a brief quote from the book, but that should be it. Too much information on the cover will look cramped and hard to read, and it can disrupt the background image.
All front cover elements need to be balanced to enhance readability and aesthetic appeal. All the elements should work together to create a cohesive design, and special attention needs to be paid to placement to make sure none of the text is cut off during printing.
- Make sure your title and subtitle suit your book’s subject matter. You may find other books with the same title, but don’t panic. This is actually quite common because there aren’t enough words in the English language to give every book that has been published a unique title.
- When creating an ebook, make sure your front cover is appealing even at smaller sizes. For instance, when displayed as thumbnails on Amazon, you don’t want your cover to look vague or unreadable.
- Readers should be able to tell your book’s genre by your cover. That said, your cover should still be unique while fitting in with the general style of your genre.
- Before sending your cover to the printer, be sure you view the cover in print and digital formats to make sure you’re happy with the color scheme for both. CMYK only works for print, and RGB only works for digital. In general, CMYK will be duller than RGB. Authors who aren’t aware of this are often unpleasantly surprised upon viewing their printed cover for the first time because the colors are usually more muted.
- If your book is part of a series, plan ahead for that while designing the cover. Books within the same series should all have a similar design scheme. Readers should be able to look at them and tell that they’re all part of a series. Good examples to reference are the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz, and The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.
- Once you have a cover you love, promote it as often as you can. If you’ve received a selection of front cover designs and you’re not sure which to choose, try running a cover poll on social media. Ask participants which cover they would most likely buy rather than which cover they The latter encourages subjective preferences and suggestions for design changes. Just take any feedback with a grain of salt. People who aren’t designers may not be the best judges of which cover has the highest selling potential, but cover polls are a good way to raise engagement on your social media and make your book more visible before publication.
So, in a nutshell, what makes a great front cover?
Answer: A lot of hard work, carefully applied skill and knowledge, and attention to detail.
If you’re attempting to create your own front cover, be careful. It isn’t impossible, but unless you have the knowledge, experience, and skills necessary, you run the risk of publishing your book with a subpar cover AND wasting your time. You probably spent years fine-tuning your manuscript. Why settle for anything less than a cover that’s worthy of the time and effort you put into your manuscript?
If you’re working or want to work with a designer, but you weren’t sure how to communicate or what to look for when reviewing their work, hopefully, you now feel confident enough to do so.
Keep in mind that an experienced designer will have an eye for detail, knowledge of design theory, and familiarity with the proper computer programs, among other skills. All of these skills are necessary to create a professional cover that will hook readers and help drive sales. So, be sure to vet your designer before making a decision. You should be able to view samples of their work, read endorsements/reviews, and fully understand all their fees and exactly what services they include for the price.
At 1106 Design, we offer three cover design plans to suit your needs. You’ll remain in complete control of your design and will be encouraged to provide your input throughout the process. Contact us to learn more!
A version of this article was previously published by the Alliance of Independent Authors in October, 2023: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/how-to-design-a-great-book-cover.