Judging books by their covers isn’t an uncommon thing.

Turns out, 79% of people say that a book’s cover plays a decisive role in their decision to make a purchase. You don’t want to rely on that remaining 21% as your entire market — they’re just buying J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown.

But what if you’re a non-designer and you can’t design anything complicated? If you’re looking to put your book’s best foot forward, but you don’t have as much design skills as you’d like, this post will give you a variety of simple stylistic options to suit a wide range of books. We’ve also added matching Canva templates so you can make it happen right away!

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01. F Poems

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F Poems

If there’s one thing we learned from the Bauhaus (the pioneers of Modernist design), it’s that being bold pays off.

Think about those Mad Men advertisements: Red, black, white and bold. Minimal detail, maximum impact. To use Donald Draper’s own words, “Make it simple, but significant”.

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02. An Ethics of Interrogation

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An Ethics of Interrogation

Drawing attention to one element cutting through space generates a fantastic sensory reaction from the viewer. It sends one’s imagination into overdrive. With this cover, you can almost hear the clicking on of the light bulb and the metal chairs dragging across the floor beneath it. Almost feel the coldness of the concrete room in your fingertips. It begs for the camera to pan down and reveal the scene below. It’s exciting!

Bonus points for the double meaning of “shedding a light on the ethics of interrogation practices”, and for making us feel like we’ll be in on a secret.

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03. For the Relief of Unbearable Urges

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For the Relief of Unbearable Urges

This cover takes that sensory experience one step further by depicting a simple close-up on a texture. Such imagery sends strong messages from our sense memory to our tingling hands. This sort of experiential reaction can only be a good thing when enticing new readers to your book.

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04. Undiscovered Gyrl

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Undiscovered Gyrl

When generating intrigue, the trick is not to give away too much. This cover photo has been cropped in such a masterful way as to give the viewer a strong sense of what they’re looking at while teasing at the missing details.

Her necklace charm, the only item that should give us a clue about the girl in the picture, has been completely obscured by the text box. The viewer wants to see more, to learn more.

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05. December

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December

This cover is the inverse concept of the above “Crop”. Rather than questioning what might be outside the frame, it encourages us to study the details of what we’ve been given. These details provide clues about the person, in this case, who’s life we might learn about in the book. Perhaps it’s a tell-tale habit of the protagonist, perhaps it’s a frustrating moment in their life. The imagery is unrefined and very human, which has a knack at drawing us in.

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06. White Like Me

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White Like Me

By concealing the identity of this portrait, it leads the viewer at first to wonder “who is this guy?”.

The brilliant placement of the text over his eyes, nose and mouth leaves us with only his hair, skin and shirt as a template to hinge other identities off. After a few moment’s consideration, the viewer realises that in fact, it doesn’t matter who this guy is, as there are many more people interchangable with him. Very clever. Full marks.

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07. Spent

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Spent

This concept builds the mise-en-scene and labels it so that it may be analysed for it’s meaning. It makes people stop and think, which means they’re investing their time in your book already. This example showing a caveman pushing a shopping cart gets us thinking – “But they didn’t have supermarkets back then… Wait… I think it’s saying something about our hard-wired consumer behaviour… Whoa.” Mind: Blown. Book: Purchased.

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08. The Book of Dead Philosophers

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The Book of Dead Philosophers

This cover refers to itself ever-so-brilliantly. To the point that I feel perhaps saying too much would ruin the effect… Dead philosophers. The book is flat on it’s back.

I think I’ve ruined it.

Anyway, if you can find a way to get all meta on your concept, run with it. And remember to keep it graphically simple, as the great architect and philosopher Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe once said, “Less is more”.

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09. The Opposite House

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The Opposite House

This design really caught my eye as it had my mind doing somersaults – also, extra points for being a clever working of the book title. The sky in the image creates a fantastic shard of light through the composition, creating it’s own version of white space as the house textures are so complex. If you’re at a loss, try turning your image on an angle and see what new meaning that action bestows upon it.

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10. Columbine

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Columbine

This cover is largely blank with a palate that gives a sense of stillness. By depicting the building itself, it leads the viewer to ponder the lives of those who once felt safe within those walls, while the emptiness above it carries a heavy sense of memorial. It is the simplicity of the composition that is in fact very moving.

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11. The Stranger

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The Stranger

This design gives a strong first-person perspective and draws the viewer’s gaze to the title. There is a sense of danger, of investigation, of being watched or perhaps surrounded. This bold graphic choice that does not rely on photographic imagery can give viewers a wonderfully tense sensation in their stomach, and a yearning to wrap their imaginations around a thriller!

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12. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Be it the clearly ironic use of an overall vintage-style, the bold choice of colour or the upside down poodle silhouette, there’s just something about this cover that screams dry humour to me. Simple, effective and polite (which makes me think the book may in fact be a bit rude), it looks like a little treasure that I’ve found in an old book store that is going to teach me some lessons.

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13. Burn This Book

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Burn This Book

This is the kind of cover that tells me that there are going to be some bold statements made in this book. It orders and challenges its audience, it gets hearts pumping, it gets minds racing, and we haven’t even opened it yet! If yours is a book full of words that form envelope-pushing ideas, let your cover be a direct representation of it.

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14. The Great Gatsby and How the Dead Live

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The Great Gatsby
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How the Dead Live

Three-tone designs mix simplicity with a block of pop colour. These covers would be great in black and white, but when one single block of colour is added as the background, the whole design is taken to the next level. Like honey bees and birds, we are attracted to bright things… play to those instincts!

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15. The Son

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The Son

This cover is shrouded in mystery. It’s the hoodie, it’s the anonymity, it’s the techno-font across the face, and it’s all likely to spike the interest of a curious audience looking for a fresh new read.

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16. The General Theory of Love

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The General Theory of Love

The beautiful juxtaposition of a very clinical text and line style superimposed on a simple gestural image gives the audience a lot of food for thought.

For example, the photograph shows only a inanimate red chair leaning against another red chair, and yet as humans we naturally personify those objects and read the image as one chair snuggling up to another — like a person might lean their head on their partner’s shoulder. With their first point demonstrated so simply on the cover, I think it’s time to turn to page 1.

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17. Fight Club and The Disappointment Artist

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Fight Club
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The Disappointment Artist

Body language speaks volumes – in fact, current theory suggests that 93% of communication is non-verbal. So why not take advantage of that and communicate with your future audience the best way we all know how: through gesture. These examples use hands to communicate meaning and give a sense of feeling. Perhaps there are other expressive actions that might capture your book’s message? Curled toes or the eye of a smiling face…

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18. Never Let Me Go

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Never Let Me Go

This is a very bold graphic choice. It confronts the audience with the inner thoughts of the person, and suggests a similar sense of introspectiveness from the book itself. There is something very contemporary about this cover – it’s got a strong “Mr Robot” aesthetic.

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19. The Old Man and the Sea

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The Old Man and the Sea

The whimsical beauty of the imagery combined with the simple composition, makes this cover a terrific example of refined classic design. The change in font carries a real sense of poetry with it and calls out to a philosophical-minded audience.

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20. Loneliness

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Loneliness

Finally, this cover gets my vote. A perfect bit of trickery playing on the concept of loneliness coupled with a basic palate that has only a bold moment of red. The dot of the i appears trapped and alone in a black box. Point made. It is simple and very clever, and sometimes that’s all you need.

There it is! 20 of the most incredible book covers ever published. Which design strategy suits your book’s concept? Remember, most readers consider the cover is an artistic representation of your book, so make sure your message is clear so it can end up in the hands of your target audience and generate the biggest return.

If you’re still feeling a little unsteady with your newly-discovered design skills, check out these design school tutorials for a helping hand.

Once you’ve got a great cover, it’s time to promote your book launch online! Here’s a few great hints of how to get started!

Claudia Pickering is a Sydney-born Director, Writer and Producer whose feature film projects have achieved widespread festival acclaim. She has a masters degree in Architecture and has worked extensively throughout the design field from buildings to murals to web. She is one of the founding partners of Sydney’s Freshflix film festival, which brings film, art and local music together on a quarterly basis.