10 Cover Design Secrets from a Pro


As a book designer and consultant for 20 years, I’m forever curious about which book covers get the most attention. In a $29 billion business, book publishing values cover design in the highest importance: In addition to being the “face” of the book, it also represents a window into the story; setting the mood and style; engaging the reader on a deeper level; and finally, enticing them to buy.

So, without further ado, here are my 10 favorite trade secrets for creating a book cover that sells:

1.      Say no to cover clutter. Keep it simple and focused. Book browsers are ADD by nature—it has to grab their attention NOW. In a world full of graphic pollution, less is more. If your front cover is full of photos, text, or fancy fonts, it will be too much information to compute and it won't get noticed.

2.     Think in terms of billboards to drivers. Your book cover needs to be visually understood in 6 seconds or less, and absolutely clear reduced down to thumbnail size. The viewer will see either your spine or front cover first, then, if they like what they see, they will flip it over and read the back. The rules are the same for the back, but relaxed slightly. Keep your back page copy down to 3 paragraphs.

3.     Keep your title short and large. A good rule of thumb is a two-to-three words; with an optional smaller one-line sub-title. Your title should be legible reduced down to Amazon thumbnail size. Avoid fancy script fonts. The best fonts to use are san-seriffed or semi-seriffed fonts. Your spine should be readable five feet away.

4.     Avoid pure white backgrounds when displaying on a website. These will blend into the background too much, and look strange. If you insist on white, consider a colored border for definition. On the flip side, avoid going crazy with colored backgrounds. Your best bet: One flat color.

5.     Simplify your color scheme. Imagine designing a book cover like you would paint a home: A base color, trim color, and embellishment color. The colors should complement each other and work with the image.

*Tip: Go for contrast. A black background with white text is dramatic & mysterious. The bolder the color, the more it grabs the eye.

6.     Research book covers in your genre. Go to Amazon, Kobo, & Barnes & Noble and peruse the top-selling books. Put yourself in the buyer’s perspective: What grabs your attention? What qualities do the bestsellers in your own genre share?

7.     Big name mentions. If you can obtain a foreword or blurb by a famous person or popular trade magazine, give it a prominent place on your front cover - but truncate it if it's too long. This is instant credibility and has an immediate positive effect.

8.    Flaps matter. For book jackets, don't overlook the selling potential of the flaps. Consumers typically read the front, spine, back, then open up to the flaps for more information. Here is a great place for your bio, other books you've written, website, etc.

9.     Critique yourself. Print out your cover on a full color printer to gain perspective on what the consumer will see. Set it 5-10 feet away. Is it legible? Clean? Does it grab attention out of the corner of your eye?

10.    Friends & family. Give your cover to your most scrupulous circle, and get their honest opinion. Would they buy this book based on the cover alone? What are their suggestions?

I hope this has been helpful as you create that FABULOUS cover. If you want a professional's opinion, just email me your design and I'll take a peek! I will outline the areas of improvement and offer my suggestions. :)

To beautiful books,