For Authors: 4 Things You Should Know About Cover Design

When you meet someone new, within seven seconds, you form a first impression. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but it is always quick. Now, imagine your book is sitting out there on the shelf, waiting, hoping even, to meet a new reader.

Have you given them everything they need to make a good, lasting first impression?

You can’t exactly teach them small talk and pop them a breath mint, but what you can do is ensure that your cover says “I’m amazing! You should check me out! You should take me home! You will LOVE ME!”

I am not a designer by trade, but I know what draws my attention and I’ve hung out with enough designers to have a pretty good idea of what makes a cover worthy of all of the hours you’ve spent preparing your book for publication (you have spend hours and hours and hours, haven’t you?”). As an independently publishing author, no one expects you to design your own cover. In fact, with rare exception, you probably shouldn’t design your own cover, but you should have a basic understand of what makes a good cover so that you can help your designer create the perfect one for your book.

Study the Market

If you really don’t have any idea of what your want or where to begin giving your designer input, then take some time looking at other book covers. Look at imagery, color, typography, and the overall feel of other covers out there.  Use these as examples of things you like. It’s a good idea to look at books in your genre, but if you really love the cover of the memoir your mom is reading, or the paperback offered in the checkout line at the grocery store, use them for inspiration.

Images & Typography

Reader use the imagery and text on a cover to determine genre and tone, so make sure those things jive. If I told you imagery helps the reader understand what the book is about, you’d probably look at me with a “well, duh,” look on your face. But what if I told you the font used to display your title can tell a reader just as much? Take these examples (I put these together, they are NOT professional, but they get the point across!). Each of these uses the same image of a black door, but the font greatly changes the perception of the image. The first one makes me think it could be a thriller of some sort. The second one has a bit of a whimsy fantasy vibe, and the last is screaming romance. So, when working with a designer, make sure you clearly convey the genre and the tone of your book.

Also, keep in mind, that this is another one of the many areas of life where size matters. You want to make sure your font is legible, even in a smaller, thumbnail image. And unless you are a best selling author, it’s probably a good idea to keep your title the focal point. Once you’ve hit the big time, your name becomes your brand and you can pretty much do what you want. That being said, don't hide your name. As proof that I am not a designer check out those same three black door covers. The author name is way too small (I should have known better). Find a balance, but don't hide. You made this amazing thing. Don't be afraid to put your name on it.


Google the impact of color on mood and you’ll find a litany of studies and blog posts about how color can influence customer buying habits. A study by Setyendrah Singh suggests that customers will spend no more than 90 seconds determining whether or not to buy something, and a significant amount of that time is influenced by color! That’s not to say that your book should be an obnoxious glow-in-the-dark lime green (though, that would probably catch a lot of looks), but just like imagery and typography, it should match the message or story of your book. Think about any horror book cover you’ve ever seen, more likely than not, it’s dark with lots of deep, rich colors.  Think about a well-known YA book. The cover is probably a little softer, the colors could be bright or pastel, but there is an overall welcoming feel to the cover. There are always exceptions and a good designer will know how to bend the rules to work, but it’s probably a good idea to give them an idea of the color palette you’d like to see.


This is probably the easiest and the hardest aspect of cover design. A good cover will have movement to the layout. Common layout’s include the “Z” shape or “A” shape. That is, the text an image work together to create the shape of those letters. For example:

(If you love either of these covers, or are looking for some great pre-mades, checkout The Book Cover Designer.)

There are no shortages of great cover layouts. The two covers above offer a classic take, while others adopt more of a modern feel by offering a design in symmetry and simplicity with plenty of uncluttered whitespace.Whatever design layout you ultimately decide on, be sure to look at the entire cover as a thumbnail to ensure your image, title, and layout conveys as readers are scrolling through the many options available on book-buying sites.

Got a great tip when it comes to cover design? Got a question?

Hit us up in the comments or come join our FB Group: Badass Storytellers.


Further Reading

I found a lot of great articles with all kinds of must knows about cover design. And like any good business owner/self-publishing author, you'll want to do your own research, right?

Here are some articles on cover design you might find helpful:

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