Anatomy of a Good Book Cover

You’ve heard the axiom that a picture is worth a thousand words…well, in the case of your book, the picture on the cover is worth approximately 80,000 words. Just as people first eat with their eye, they also shop with them. Title and cover heavily influence whether or not I’m going to read a book’s synopsis, which then influences whether or not I’ll sample a few pages. Your audience—and possibly you—shop for books the same way, which is why you need a good cover for your book.


Why You Shouldn’t DIY Your Book Cover

This was my favorite book / book cover as a child. While it's whimsical and eye-catching, it's not the model for "best-design" (it still beats my first design effort).

This was my favorite book / book cover as a child. While it's whimsical and eye-catching, it's not the model for "best-design" (it still beats my first design effort).

For most of us, doing a DIY book cover is a bad idea. I have a background in art history, good painting and drawing skills, and some expertise using Photoshop and other design software. Despite this, I wouldn’t endeavor to create my own book cover. Here’s why:

  • It will take me a lot longer to design a cover than it will a professional
  • The results are likely going to be amateurish at best
  • I don’t have the knowledge for the different font types nor do I know the psychology behind such

In reality, a good, professional-quality cover will only set you back $200-$900 (give or take; some say $500-$1,500). As one who made the egregious error of trying to design a book cover herself in her early 20s for a self-published children's book (I mean, I was a painter with an art history degree...what could go wrong?), I can say that it would've been in my best interest to pay an experienced book designer to do what I --after writing and illustrating the book-- had little steam left to do. (Note that this book is currently not available; it's in a landfill with those E.T. Atari cartridges where it rightfully belongs.)


Cover Art & Design for Your Book

So, above all things, the cover art plays a huge role in selling your book. Cover art should do the following:

  • Tell your audience what your book is about
  • Indicate the genre
  • Compel your audience to want to read the book

No pressure, right? Keep in mind that the cover art often works collaboratively with the text (i.e., title and blurb) that are also featured on the cover. For example, Dan Brown’s recently released Origin’s cover looks like some kind of mollusk shell or spiral staircase. Without the title Origin, the cover doesn’t resonate.

Readers are usually very loyal to authors they like, so author branding can help your writing career.

Readers are usually very loyal to authors they like, so author branding can help your writing career.

Other aspects of that cover that work are that:

  • It’s not too busy (generally speaking, covers that balance white space and imagery are the most successful)
  • The coloring is aesthetically-pleasing (blues, gold, white); it’s a comfortable canvas for your eyes to rest upon. What’s more, your eyes can rest on that image. You’re not so over-stimulated visually that you don’t know where to focus.
  • The font / lettering is straightforward; it’s stylish but not curly or loopy or improperly spaced, so that prospective buyers struggle to read it.

You’ll also notice that Dan Brown’s name is enormous…as big as the book’s title. That’s because at this point in his career, Dan Brown is an author who’s name sells his work. Authors that are just starting out, though, should focus on having a compelling and intriguing title and making that the textual emphasis of their cover.


Book Cover Text

Speaking of cover text, in addition to the title and the author name, there’s usually –though not always—a blurb that gives the author new information. A quick survey of recently-purchased titles on my shelf reveals the most common blurbs are:

The subtitle of this book is actually what compelled me to read further and to make a purchase.

The subtitle of this book is actually what compelled me to read further and to make a purchase.

  • Something that reveals the type of writing (ex: The Glass Castle –A memoir or Sleeping Beauties –A novel)
  • A subtitle (ex: Hillbilly Elegy – A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis
  • Author accolades (ex: #1 New York Times Bestseller or From Award-Winning Author….)
  • Now a Major Motion Picture
  • A quote from a reviewer (ex: On the cover of It’s Not Yet Dark, there’s the review quote, “Beautifully written. Utterly life-affirming.” –Alan Rickman)
  • Reference to a previous hit (ex: The author of The Da Vinci Code on Dan Brown’s Origin)

Romance, mystery, sci-fi, and genre books will often have blurbs like “a psychological thriller” or “He’d die to protect her” or something along those lines.

Whatever you can add to your cover text, it should help sell your book. Where you put this text will also help sell your book.


Back Cover Content

The review quote from the late Alan Rickman, a man I revere, turned my head. Getting quality, reputable reviewers is important.

The review quote from the late Alan Rickman, a man I revere, turned my head. Getting quality, reputable reviewers is important.

Generally-speaking, there are three things that usually make the back cover:

  • Brief synopsis of the book
  • Review quotes
  • Author photo
  • Author bio

There’s no rule of thumb for this as some books will have the author bio and photo inside of the dust jacket. If it’s a small book such as is the case with It’s Not Yet Dark, the dust jacket will also contain the summary.

I have two copies of Jeanette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle. One the paperback, a summary, author bio, and some awards are listed. On the back jacket of the autographed hardcover, awards and accolades are listed above reviews from three major reviewers. The summary and bio are on the inside cover of the jacket.

Notice the use of negative space in the hardcover edition. The book jacket is more artistic and more of a selling feature. The paperback back cover is less dynamic; though, equally informative. Ultimately, you'll find the same content in both books; however, the allocation of space varies.

Notice the use of negative space in the hardcover edition. The book jacket is more artistic and more of a selling feature. The paperback back cover is less dynamic; though, equally informative. Ultimately, you'll find the same content in both books; however, the allocation of space varies.

So, the layout of the content varies based on the type of publication. If it’s an e-book, then your focus is going to be more on front matter; of course, now we’re moving away from book cover anatomy, so I’ll stop there.

I digress. The point is that when it comes to book cover content, you want it to look good. Marketing is as important for a book’s success as is the story itself in many cases. The book cover is a major component of its marketing. People shop with their eyes. For the sake of time and quality, I recommend hiring an experienced book cover designer to do the content for your book.

Using different covers and even updating covers with film releases or for re-releases is common practice to revive sales. 

Using different covers and even updating covers with film releases or for re-releases is common practice to revive sales. 

  • Give the designer a synopsis of your book, so he / she understands what it’s about
  • If you have any thoughts on how the cover should look, feel free to share them, but be open minded to different interpretations
  • Trust the designer’s expertise
  • Find a designer who works with your genre or type of writing
  • Don’t be shy about asking for revisions or just asking questions in general; when you look at your book, you want to be as proud of how it looks on the outside as you are of what’s written on the inside.

To find a designer, check out Fiverr. Use Google searches, LinkedIn, Publishers Marketplace, and other reputable resources for finding an experienced designer. You’ll be thankful that you did because people really do judge a book by its cover.


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While I’m no designer, I know good cover art and when and why it works and when doesn't. More so, I know good writing and good storytelling and can help you make sure what’s behind that beautiful cover draw audiences in and keep them invested from page one to ‘the end’. I specialize in working with new authors. If you’re ready to get your writing out there, click here and fill out a contact form with your project’s details. I’ll be in touch soon!