Designing an effective and engaging book cover is super important, but it’s usually the last step in the authors to do list. Authors spend money and time getting their book just right, and often there is little left in the budget to spend on a cover.
If you can afford it, I would ALWAYS recommend you hire a book cover professional to do this, but I also know that this is just not an option. In this article, I am going to go over the cover basics so that if you find yourself either designing the cover yourself (least best option) or hiring someone on fivvr, you will have the minimum requirements to get one designed.
Remember, you get what you pay for and I have had my share of rescuing badly designed book covers, but it’s such an important part of the process I hope my information will help.
The 4 main elements of a book cover
- The image or text for the front cover
- Font choice
- Front and Back blurb
- The finish of cover (Matt, Gloss or spot UV colour)
The image or text for the front cover
Whether you decide to use an image or use text only as your cover, it’s really important to get this right. You need to decide if you’re going to use the text as the ‘art’ (text only) or an image to depict your main message.
There have been some great examples of text-only covers – take a look at these examples. (These are still popular choices and best-sellers.)
Top tip: If you decide to use this style – I really suggest you use a professional, as text only are the hardest covers to design. It’s all in the font choice, and how the font sits on the page – and if you’re not familiar with design, it’s the hardest one to pull off. If you are going to attempt it, then make sure use proper design software (not Microsoft Word) and take a look at other titles to get inspiration.
Text alignment is really critical, and choosing the right font will really have an effect on the overall look. Try out different ones to see what works, but make sure you follow the rules outlined in this post.
If you’re going to use an image, then make sure it’s one that resonates with the book. Of course, you can use something completely incongruous – something really random to get attention – but again, unless you’re really familiar with design this is a risky strategy.
If you can get an image that is unique to you (a photo you’ve taken, or you know someone who can draw or illustrate one for you) then great. This is the ideal scenario, as no one will have the same image.
This is a cover I created for a client and it’s a photo of her daughter. The contrasting swirly font aligns with her website and is used within the book itself.
Of course, you can buy images from stock sites, like I-stock and 123F – but remember, these images can be used by anyone, and they won’t be exclusive to you. I use stock photography in some of my book cover designs, but I’m careful what I choose and I certainly would stay clear of these types of images as they scream stock photography.
When choosing an image, always buy the biggest one you can afford, if it’s a vector brilliant, as this can be scaled to any size. Just remember if your book cover is not white, make sure your image has a transparent background, this way you can place it on any colour. If you’re not familiar with what type of file to get – then ask your designer or get a professional to help.
You also need to make sure your image is 300dpi and over (dpi stands for dots per inch) – most pics used for screen – blogs etc – are only 72 dpi and this is not suitable. Your images will look fuzzy and out of focus and trying to upscale (make it bigger) in programmes like photoshop won’t necessarily work. The image resolution – ideally at source – needs to be right, so before you go snapping your pics, make sure you have your settings correct.
This is another biggie – and in fact one of the quickest ways to spot an amateur cover. There are books dedicated to fonts, so I’m just going to outline a few of the key points when choosing your fonts for your cover.
Make them relevant to the insides. I always like to choose similar fonts that have been used in the book, so there is continuity. This is not always possible, but do give this some thought when deciding your title font.
Try and have just 2 font types on your front cover. (You can use 3, but again, you really have to know what you’re doing.) Every time you use a different font, you’re pulling the eye to it. This is why less is best. If you want certain sentences to stand out, try using an italic version of the font you’ve chosen.
The title and strapline (see next point for tips) can be different fonts, but make sure they’re complimentary – I like the combo of serif and sans serif for title and strapline, but make sure they work together.
What to avoid
- Shadow effect on the font – Don’t. It makes your book look really dated. Unless it’s an integral part of the design, avoid.
- Overly cursive font that is difficult to read – or misread altogether.
- Using over-popular fonts – it may seem like your bang on trend, but if that font goes out of style, you’ll date your book really quickly. There is one font at the moment that is everywhere, and I would be very reluctant to use it as a font for a book title. Try and stick with contemporary ones.
- Never, ever use comic sans. EVER!
Top tip: Line spacing is critical when designing your cover. Design tools like Canva come with preset line spacing, and I don’t think they always get it right. Getting this wrong is one of the biggest giveaways for DIY covers.
Front and back blurb
Now I’m going to assume you’ve got a great title for your book. Having a compelling title is really important as is a great strapline. I try and avoid asking questions – but that’s not to say question titles aren’t effective. Some people say that long titles are best, some disagree. The aim of the title is to provoke curiosity (a reason to buy the book) or solves a problem – compelling enough to make it easy to buy (this book solves my problem).
- The strapline needs to back up the title and if the title is short, allows for more explanation about what the book is about. Aim for one or two sentences – not a paragraph. Don’t make it too big – and using capital letters is a great way to make it different from the title (if the title is in upper and lower case and vicer-versa)
- Author’s name – this can appear at the top of the cover, at the bottom, or even in the middle. Don’t make the authors name too big or in a different colour which could then detract from the title. Unless you are a best-selling author where their name drives sales, then don’t be tempted to make it stand out. (This may seem like strange advice, but people don’t know you yet, and often I see first-time authors try and make the cover all about them, rather than the reader… remember, at this point, the reader doesn’t care about you – they care about what you have to say to solve my problem (or whatever the books aim is)
I like a serif font for authors name, and I like to increase the leading, so it appears stretched at the bottom.
- Interesting quote – or extra info that entices the reader to buy. If you have a foreword that has been written by someone who is an expert in the field of what you’re writing about, then make sure that is on the cover. For example, let’s say you’re writing a cookbook and you’ve managed to get the foreword written by Mary Berry – then use that to drive sales. Include that info on the cover.
Perhaps you’ve managed to get a great review from someone who writes for the BBC good food magazine, again, put that quote on the cover. Sometimes the cover is the only thing people see before they buy the book, so it’s critical to get all of the hooks on there you can. I like these on the top of the book and in italic font.
Back cover. This is just as important as the front, but remember, although the back cover is prime retail, the front is the first port of call. Not everyone will see the back cover (think Amazon for example) so don’t assume all ready to buy people will get to see this bit…
- Headline – I always like my books to have a compelling headline. Just repeating the title of the book is a bit of a waste, as readers know what your title is… it’s right there on the front cover! Choose something that provokes curiosity. Something that makes readers want to open the book and start reading – it can be a sentence from within the book or a partial sentence which is followed by ellipses.
- Synopsis – this should be just a few short paragraphs, not too long, but enough to give a really good indication of what the book is about. You can use this synopsis in your marketing too, so do spend some time on this. I also would say shorter is better – but 100 – 150 words is ideal.
Also, don’t be afraid of using bullet points to drive snappy how to’s. You can have ‘in this book you’ll discover’ and then three or four compelling bullets – but don’t give the secret to what it is, word it in such a way that it evokes curiosity.
For instance, if we take a cook book as an example:
Some of the recipes you’ll master in no time include:
- A 3 ingredient recipe which will be your go-to for any dinner party
- A simple easy no-cook recipe that your toddler will love
- A recipe that’s so simple your friends will think you spent hours in the kitchen (when actually it took 10 mins)
Do you see how these bullets have evoked curiosity, without actually saying what it is?
Remember to use the same fonts that you’ve used on the front, but feel free to add some colour if you’re back cover is white. Remember, reading white writing on a coloured background is really difficult, so if your front cover has a blue background, consider making the spine the same colour as the front, but having a white back cover. Or if you really know what you’re doing, applying a white transparency over the coloured background, so you can use a black font.
- About the author box. I like to include a small para about the author and if you can include a pic even better. But don’t make the para too long – again, the reader at this point doesn’t really care about you – so leave the long spiel for the ‘About The Author’ section in the book.
Include some interesting info… and let us know who you are when you’re not writing.
- ISBN and price – I like to create an ISBN box, where the ISBN barcode is displayed, the price, and who it’s published by. If you want to include other price denominations, like $ and E then do so. You can also include any copyright info for the cover image if appropriate. Putting the genre of the book is also popular.
Finish for your cover
This needs some careful consideration – and can add costs to your book production.
I am a fan of a matt finish, as this can really make a book feel and look very contemporary.
Spot UV is where you just have certain elements of your books font in shiny, slightly raised font. This can look really effective.
Gloss – this is the most common finish. It usually comes as standard in your printing quote – whereas matt and spot UV are extra’s.
Top Tip: When choosing your colours for your cover, I would always recommend you source them from a Pantone book. What you see on screen, is not always what prints. Especially if you’re choosing a matt finish.
Once you have all of these elements sorted, you’ll have a cracking cover – and one that will sell your book!
Need help? Get in touch. I offer a cover design service – just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss your cover needs.