Book cover design: key tips to make yours work

Great news! You’ve written a book – your first book perhaps? – and if you’re self or hybrid publishing (as many people do now) you need to commission a cover design that will do your superb words the justice they deserve.

Book cover design: key tips to make yours work

My own design for an eBook – hardly art, but it ticks all the boxes for nonfiction

Not surprisingly, what your book cover design needs to take into consideration depends to a large extent on the following key issues…

Is it fiction, or nonfiction?

And, are you self or hybrid publishing in which case you have the final decision on cover design? (See below.)

Or are you submitting ideas to a conventional trade publisher (who may well disagree with your ideas and do something different, and unless you make one hell of a fuss, they will over-ride any complaints you have)?

OK: let’s sort those out! We start with self/hybrid-published fiction

As you’re see from the points I made in this article, fiction book titles are not as easy to analyse and create … and perhaps that’s a good thing.

Book cover design: key tips to make yours work

Preliminary design by the amazing Harvey Dormer for my as-yet unpublished novel…no tagline yet, however.

But needs must. And even given how romantic, mood-related and often frivolous is the choice to buy a novel from a bookshop in an airport lounge, or as a low-priced eBook from an online retailer, our fiction cover designs still must abide by some pretty unromantic rules if they’re going to succeed.

There are ways of achieving this: most hints on how to do this are below and apply almost equally to most genres of book sold both online and offline. Keep reading.

How about nonfiction?

Here many nonfiction authors/book cover designers could learn a lot from the really good fiction cover designers.

Book cover design: key tips to make yours work

No image – but it works.

All too often – especially, but not exclusively among self-published business books – you’ll see designs that use dreadful icons and images like upwardly pointing arrows accompanied by dollar or pound signs … smiling faces of utterly unlikely people supposedly having a meeting … the author addressing the multitudes in a rigged conference set … you name it, the clichés reign supreme.

My own feeling is, if an image doesn’t really share the ethos and foundation of your nonfiction book, dump it.

Some of my own business books have had only typographical designs and they work.

Book cover design: key tips to make yours work

Image looks great full size, but too “vanilla” so disappears in smaller versions.

Vanilla images make your book look like it’s vanilla. When in doubt, leave them out.

Title should be big and easy to read, concept too

And that’s not just because you want to get your message over, whether it’s for fiction or nonfiction.

The real reason is boring, technical and totally outwith the realms of literary charm. Sorry, folks.

With online book sales, your design not only has to look good when presented in its full size, or at least a reasonably large interpretation.

Your book’s cover design has to look good – plus get its message (and especially if nonfiction, its title) over when the whole design is squashed down to the size of a matchbox.

Book cover design: key tips to make yours work

Looks great here, doesn’t it?

I can’t even count the number of book cover designs I have seen that look utterly amazing at full size. They are true pearls of design creativity … until you reduce them down to that horrible little matchbox.

What then? All creativity disappears into a murky mess which hardly even shows the book’s title or author.

Don’t believe me me? Try shrinking down some of your favourite titles on Amazon – preferably from pre-Amazon days – and see what you get…

Book cover design: key tips to make yours work

How does it look now, in this size which commonly is used on Amazon and other online book retailers’ sites?

More cover design issues to bear in mind

Simplicity. Once again, small means incomprehensible unless words / fonts etc. are plain and visible. Avoid cookie fonts/typefaces, obscure illustrations and more than a pure minimum of text

Your name. Sorry to be a party-pooper, but keep this smaller than the title unless you’re very famous. Unless you are famous, people will buy your book on what its title, tagline and design suggest.

If you use a professional designer/illustrator. This may sound like a very stupid statement, but … make sure they read your book. If they don’t, they won’t know how to visualise it properly.

And what if you’re working with a traditional trade publisher?

Whether your book is fiction or nonfiction, your choice of cover design will be very much up to the publisher, not to you, although if you’re lucky they may consult you and ask what you think of the design their people come up with.

Depending on your contractual agreement, you may have at least some “wiggle room” on cover design

I could share a hilarious story here about how a mainstream publisher got an extremely expensive wrong number while in the throes of publishing one of my books.

I won’t bore you with it though. Just try to ascertain whether the publisher’s designers have brains, can read, and will read your book before designing its cover.

Good luck.

To summarise: what makes an effective book cover design today?

Frankly, unless you are famous author with a traditional publisher who promotes your book widely across the general media, you are dependent on online promotion along with social media marketing, etc. (Watch this space for more book-specific social media marketing – coming soon.)

Book cover design: key tips to make yours work

Almost gets it right!

Assuming that the main sales outlets for your book are online book retailers like Amazon – and, for that matter, your own social media platforms, it’s easy to sum up what your book cover design needs to do:

1.With the title, image, and text to convey, as far as possible, what’s in it for the reader

2.To convey that information and feeling via design and illustration

3.To convey that information as effectively in miniature when the book’s cover design is compressed down for cataloguing purpose

What other elements of book design for today’s market do you think we should be looking at?

Please share!