The cover of your book is the first point of contact between you and your reader. And, let’s be honest: we all judge a book by its cover. Books with eye-catching covers sell more copies than those without – it’s that simple!
A good book cover design is therefore an extremely important marketing tool, especially in the age of social media (see our article on how to promote your book on social networks). Now that you can share images with thousands of people on a whim, book covers are spread out across the web. Your cover is therefore an essential part of your promotional toolbox.
In addition, self-publishing is a rapidly growing field and as a result, more and more books are entering the market. This unprecedented diversity makes it more critical than ever to stand out. As such, book cover design is even more important for a self-published author, who is responsible for the promotion and sale of his/her own book. An attractive design that represents your story well can make the difference between success and failure.
So, what should you consider when designing a book cover? Well, before you start designing your cover (or before hiring someone to do it), do some research. Think about the message you would like to convey to your readers, your target audience, and how to translate that message visually. In this article, we will provide you with some tips that can help you conceptualize your design and find appropriate ideas.
Step 1: Define the genre and identify your audience
The best covers can convey the genre of a book without mentioning it explicitly. Is your book a thriller or romance novel? Or, if it’s non-fiction – is it biographical? Historical? Your cover should provide clues; the goal is to captivate your target in seconds. Some genres target adults; others are aimed at young adults and teens. Some can target both. You should know the age of your target group and adjust your cover ideas accordingly.
This may seem like a tall order – especially if you’re not a visually creative person. Creating a cover that immediately tells a potential reader what he or she is about to pick up? A cover that has the ability stand out from the crowd enough to catch the attention of a passerby? These can definitely be intimidating goals to set for yourself.
Don’t worry though! This article will take you through all the steps necessary to do just that. You don’t have to be an artistic genius to design a great book cover!
Step 2: Settle on the key themes of your book
You can think of your book cover as a puzzle piece. Writing a book is like solving a big puzzle – and your cover is just one piece (but an important one nevertheless!) A well-designed cover must intrigue the reader, without revealing the whole story – it must provide enough information to captivate a passer-by without giving away too many details. Your cover must bait the reader and capture the substance of your book, all without revealing too much of the story!
The images and colors of your cover should represent the key message or story at the heart of your book. Remember: people are not just visual creatures, but also emotional ones. To paraphrase the great Maya Angelou: people don’t remember what you say, but how you make them feel. So, you want your cover to be memorable and impressive, and to do this you need to evoke emotion. Make your reader feel something as he/she looks at your book cover. The emotion you present through your design should reflect the themes, ideas, or essence of your story.
- Illustrate the threat or problem that is at the center of your story. This can be an abstract concept or concrete object, like this portrayal of everyone’s favourite white whale:
- Display one or more of your main characters in an attention-grabbing way (see the Life of Pi and Little Red Riding Hood covers at the beginning of this article)
- Depict a pivotal scene in your story, like in this cover for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:
- Use symbols that represent or relate to the themes of your story (like the War and Peace cover at the beginning of this article)
- If the title is powerful on its own, limit the imagery and make it the centerpiece (minimalism is always appreciated!). There’s probably not much explanation required here:
Steps 1 and 2 make up the ‘reflection’ phase of your research. Before continuing, it is important to keep in mind the literary genre, the readers, and the essence of the story. All these elements should come together in your design. If your design represents your story but does not appeal to your readers, your book will not reach as many people.
Step 3: Get inspired
After thinking about what you want to convey, it’s time to look for ideas, and chase inspiration. Start with other books – how did your favorite authors illustrate their covers (they probably didn’t do it themselves, but still)? Sometimes different editions of the same book have different covers. It may be interesting to see how the same story is ‘represented’ differently.
You can also compare covers of books of different literary genres. If not, you can compare different styles – minimalist or extravagant, focusing more on images or words, etc. Use sites like Pinterest or Flickr to find ideas. Look for “book covers” for general examples, or use specific search terms like “fantasy fonts” if needed.
Step 4: Turn your inspiration into concrete plans
After surfing the Internet for a little inspiration, it’s time to put the ideas you’ve unearthed into action. You can even use Pinterest to create a mood board from which to work! Pin colors, fonts and images that you like. When searching for images, you can look beyond the social networks we have already talked about. Some sites, for instance, offer copyright-free images such as Pexels, Unsplash, Pixabay and Pikwizard.
Of course, a book cover is more than just a picture. There are several elements which you need to balance for the best possible effect. Try to synergise the following aspects of the cover with each other:
- The picture/main visual component
- Color palette
Finding a balance between your chosen visual, font(s), and the colours of these elements is the key to a professional-looking cover. You want the text to be clear and legible, but not intrusive or overwhelming – unless you have opted for a monochrome background of course.
If you plan to design your own cover, you can make your sketches or plans more or less detailed. Mental notes are also fine, if that’s how you like it.
It might be a good idea to present a few options to your online community and ask for feedback from your subscribers. It will generate enthusiasm among your audience, who will be delighted to contribute to your project.
STEP 5. FIND THE RIGHT TOOLS OR SPECIALISTS TO DESIGN YOUR BOOK COVER
Nowadays, you can find free tools and software that can help you design your cover. You can even use Microsoft Word or PowerPoint to create your cover. Once you know the size of your cover, change the size of a Word page or PowerPoint slide to match the size of the cover. There are more suitable options, however, like Canva. It’s a free and useful tool for authors who do not have design experience: Canva offers pre-formatted layouts that you can implement directly or modify according to your preferences. There are even book cover templates for you to use.
Nevertheless, the best way to create a cover on Canva is to use the custom dimensions, an adapting them according to requirements of your printer and/or publisher. Here is a useful video tutorial on how to design a cover on Canva. You can also check out the article we wrote on the topic!
Your cover dimensions depend on your printer and publisher: some will ask for a file that only contains the cover, while others need the front and back cover, as well as the slice, individually. For some self-publishing platforms such as Mybestseller, the file you need to upload for your cover must contain all three: cover, back cover, and spine. The size of the spine depends on the number of pages and the type of paper you have.
As you can see in the picture below, Mybestseller calculates the dimensions of the cover for you, depending on the size of your book, the number of pages and the type of paper, with a 3 mm bleed along the outer margin. The bleed refers to the edges of your image, which the printer will trim off. This ensures that your image will reach the very edge of the cover, without leaving any white edges. Keep in mind that the bleed should be larger for hard covers – for example, the bleed for hard covers on Mybestseller should be 16-17 mm. This is due to the fact that the image is folded over the cover rather than simply being trimmed off.
Our tip: if you want to create a standard format book cover using Canva, create a cover with the dimensions 327 mm x 241 mm (converted into pixels for the best result). As seen in the image above, you should keep a placeholder for the spine of your book in the centre of the rectangular space (of 11 mm in the example above). The spine should include the title of your book; however, this is optional.
Of course, you may use more advanced programmes to design your cover, such as Adobe InDesign and Photoshop or Microsoft Publisher. Here are some tutorials for each of those:
Please keep in mind that this software can be rather expensive. A free alternative is GIMP, an open source graphics editor with a lot of specialized functionalities. You can find some useful tutorials on how to use it here.
For some people, the best option might be to hire a designer. A widely-used platform for book cover designers is 99designs, but you may also get in touch with them through social media. Most designers have an online presence these days, allowing you to look at their work before deciding to contact them. The good news is that hiring a designer does not necessarily have to cost you an arm and a leg. Starting from about €150, you can get a professionally designed cover for your book.
The advantage of having done your own research is, that is way easier to discuss what you want and need with your designer. You can brainstorm designs together, which might even lower the cost a bit too!
SOME LAST WORDS ABOUT BOOK COVER DESIGN
With this article, we wanted to share the tips and thoughts of some book cover experts. We also tried to emphasize the importance of a well-made, aesthetic cover. Remember: people will judge your book by its cover! You have to grab their attention and get them excited; provoke an emotional response. We’ve already mentioned some tools that you can use to design your cover, but if you know of others, leave us a comment below!
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.