Designing Book Covers

The book cover design: 7 guiding principles

An effective cover design grabs attention and prepares the reader for what one might find within the book. On this blog we give you some tips that will ease you to navigate the process, and better equip you to demand a design a superior cover.

A good book cover doesn’t equate to being crazy or loud. You don’t have to yell at people to get their attention; there’s enough of that happening already. It just needs the cover to be clear, well done, and compelling. You may want to grab people with the title of the book; entice them with the emotion and narrative the title alludes to, and then let them know who you are. Make your title the largest and clearest part of your cover design. If you’re a new author, it’s a safe bet that no one knows who you are (yet), so designing a cover that suggests otherwise is not going to engage an audience

Similarly if your name is as big, or bigger, than the title, you’re doing it wrong. There are general guidelines that a good designer will understand when creating a design – and it’s good for you to know them so you can articulate these from the outset.

#1 Provide a Hierarchy of Information

Some elements are more important than others. This should be reflected in the design through use of scale. Another way to say this is: if everything is the same size, nothing is important. Don’t make the various elements of your design compete for eye-attention, use size and scale so the elements complement one another.

 #2 Avoid clutter
If there’s too much competing information and imagery on the page, it just becomes visual white noise; there is no focus and it’s hard to discern what’s important or relevant (similar to what we discussed above when considering your hierarchy of information.)

Too much clutter includes:

  • Too many colors
  • Multiple images or components within an image
  • Use of more than 2 fonts (more on that in typography)
  • Having quotes competing with title or author
  • Using drop shadows
  • Having Outlines on multiple things
  • Use of excessive gradients

 # 3 Typographic considerations
Avoid decorative fonts, such as scripts, which are difficult to read (particularly in small sizes) and should be avoided- AND THEY DEFINITELY SHOULD NOT BE USED IN ALL CAPS. A general rule of thumb in typography is to only use two fonts in a single design – one serif and one sans serif – and they should have some kind of visual harmony or relationship. That being said, you can choose fonts that have a variety of weights and italic options to give you some spice while maintaining unity. Avoid anything below an 8 point font size will require a magnifying glass to read.

If you are going to format your typography vertically, it should read from top to bottom. (Look at any spine on your bookshelf.)

# 4 Size matters
A cover will not be able to convey everything about you and your book, but it should say one or two things in a striking way. It’s important to remember that the cover will initially be viewed as a thumbnail. Make sure the cover is compelling and clear, even when reduced to the size of a postage stamp. This is a universal design rule that applies to book covers, event posters, corporate logos etc. You should know the size of the finished product before you start designing. That might sound like common sense, but plenty of amateurs make the mistake of designing first, only to discover that what they’ve come up with won’t work within the dimensions they later select for their printed book. Strip it to the basics. Make your book cover about the title and who you are.

 # 5 Print and Digital (e-Book) considerations

Even if you’re only planning an e-Book at first, you may want to print in the future, so always plan for printing. The final book cover design document for printing has to be created at a higher resolution than the version for your e-Book cover. You can always “save down” to a smaller file size, but it does not work the other way – you can’t take a web-ready 72 ppi file and expand it for print. So as a rule of thumb, set files up at 300 ppi !

#6 Pixels vs. vector
Digital files are read in one of two ways: raster (pixel based images), or vector (based on points and lines). Vector is infinitely salable with no loss of quality; raster is not. If you’re working in pixels (i.e. Photoshop), make sure NOT to take an image that’s smaller than you need and attempt to blow it up. It will look like trash. Get a file that is 300 ppi at the size it will appear in print (at least).

#7 Consistent visual branding

Cross-branding and reinforcement of your product is important. Here’s a few things to think about in terms of branding: Is the book part of a series? If so, maintain visual consistency (use the same fonts, similar photographic imagery, illustrations, typography, etc.).Do you have an online presence? Integrate design elements from your website, press, social media marketing, advertising, etc. into your design – and vice versa. Now that the book cover design is established, use the same aesthetic and elements to promote your writing on various platforms, including your Facebook author page, your website, print and banner ads, posters, or the side of a bus. Keep the look consistent to build familiarity, excitement, and interest for your awesome book. Of course, all the above rules for design still apply!

Conclusion

We are constantly looking at existing cover designs for inspiration and motivation. Many of the books on our shelves are kept as much of their form as to their content. If a story is going to stand the test of time, shouldn’t the image on the front do the same?

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