If you’re reading this, congratulations on the incredible achievement of writing your book. Or if you’ve been asked to design a cover for someone else, well done on being tasked with such an important job. The next phase of any completed book’s journey is to design a cover that’s as compelling as what’s inside.
A well-designed book cover is important because it serves as the face of the book, and entices readers to purchase it. A book cover uses design elements like color, font, images or illustrations to reflect key themes that are relevant to the text, and helps readers to understand a little more of what it’s about.
You already know a picture tells a thousand words but distilling an entire body of work into one design can seem daunting. Never fear, in the article below, we’re going to provide you with the ultimate guide for designing a book cover on your own, and also provide you plenty of book cover ideas to inspire you.
And if you'd like to get into the nitty gritty of fonts, typography and layout for your book cover, we recommend you jump into Canva Design School's free Typography and Layout course to get all the skills you'll need to hook a prospective reader.
We’re all familiar with the printed book jacket, however, today, one third of all books sold are eBooks. The key difference is that eBook covers are much smaller than their printed counterparts, usually appearing only as tiny thumbnails. Therefore, it’s important your design makes an impact no matter the size. The second thing to consider is that many device readers, like Kindles, are in black and white, and that means you can’t always rely on vivid color to get your book noticed.
79% of people say that a book’s cover plays a decisive role in their decision to make a purchase. Humans are visual creatures. Even if we go to the store with a particular book in mind, we can be easily persuaded to rethink our decision or even pick up a few extra options along the way. Keep this in mind as you create your cover, and always think like your desired reader.
Book covers aren’t just there to look pretty. They exist to sell the book by communicating what the reader should expect. It needs to catch the reader’s eye as well as imagination so that they turn the all-important first page.
A book cover should:
While there are three elements to a printed book — the front cover, back cover, and spine — our focus is on the front cover as this applies to both print and digital formats.
The front cover must include:
The front cover can include:
Assuming you have your title ready to go, the first stage is finding a template that’s right for your publication. When selecting a cover, follow this five-point checklist:
1. Get to know the author
If the author has an established look or feel from previous publications, stick with it to build brand recognition. If it’s a debut novel, think about a design that reflects the writing style. A lighthearted illustration could be good for a humorist while a refined design may be better suited for an intellectual. The personality should be present, even if it’s just the choice of font you use for their name.
2. Understand the content
Fiction tends to use evocative imagery while non-fiction uses images more relevant to the subject matter. In both cases, avoid the ‘see-say’ rule of depicting an image too similar to the title. For example, showing an image of a lone wolf for a book titled, ‘Lone wolf’. You only have two key elements to work with (design and title) so don’t waste an opportunity by having them double up.
3. Identify key themes
Once you’re familiar with your content, it’s time to pick it apart. Identify key motifs, symbols, ideas, characters, or settings that can be visualized in some way. If the book has an underlying dark theme, perhaps you could use a monochromatic palette. Or if there's a recurring object or symbol, it could be the centerpiece of your cover.
4. Acknowledge the genre
Different genres have an established design style to help readers easily identify books they enjoy. While you may assume doing something different will help it stand out, it risks ostracizing itself from the pack when what you really want is to be front and center. Be sure to follow the well-trodden genre rules.
5. Consider where the book will be sold
As previously mentioned, there is a difference in design for print and eBook. If you’re focusing attention on the digital market, make sure your font is legible when appearing as a small thumbnail. If print is your market, consider what size the book will be beforehand as a large title on a large book may be overbearing. Remember, browsing print is a tactile experience so consider designs that make you want to pick them up.
Photographs are great to alter, adjust, and combine to create a raft of different designs, solutions, and effects. Choose an existing photo or add your own. Work with the shape and colours, ensuring the type doesn’t fight against your image but instead complements and enhances it.
Illustration styles are so varied, they can convey almost any tone. Old fashion illustrations can be soft and gentle while graphics can be cutting-edge and modern. Illustrations are also perfect for when a photograph just won’t do.
Type is important, especially with book covers. There are a lot of ‘rules’ concerning type (here’s a list of 20 common ones), and of course, you’re always able to break, bend, or follow these rules as needed, but consider the hierarchy (title should lead) and contrast with the design, making sure your type is legible.
If the title is strong or you want to keep things clean, a minimalist approach can be as impactful as a bold, bright imagery. You could stick with either type or image only, or be a combination of both. For minimalistic harmony, reduce the amount of colors to a single choice, or allow room for white space.
When generating concepts, the trick is not to give too much away. Provide the reader a hint of what they’re looking at, while teasing at the missing details. The reader will want to see more and dig deeper into the book.
You’ve chosen the template and designed the cover. Now it’s time to take a step back and think like a reader.
Imagine yourself in a book store—either a physical or digital one—and asses your design by asking these three questions:
1. Is it legible?
What does the design look like from a distance? What does it look like as a tiny thumbnail? If you can’t see what it’s about when you’re looking straight at it, you can’t expect your readers to either. Be sure to suitably adjust your design.
2. Is it intriguing?
Does the book cover entice you enough so you want to read on? It’s always difficult to separate yourself from your own design, so enlist the help of friends by asking them for their personal opinion. The more people you ask, the better.
3. Is it emotive?
We tend to think of readers as logical but it’s widely accepted that most purchase decisions are emotional. Again, step back and ask yourself if the design is drawing you in and if it’s compelling enough for you to read on.
Once you’ve got a great cover, it’s time to promote your book launch online! Fortunately, social media has made it really easy for anyone to do so. Whether you’re selling through a store or sending it out yourself, here’s a few great hints on how to get your book out into the world.
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