What makes a good book cover?

good book cover featured image

When you buy a book, you want it to be a real page-turner. And if you want other people to buy your book, you need to show them what a page-turner it is.

The best way to do that? A well-designed book cover.

Think of your book cover design as the face of your book project. It’s the first impression readers have, and it can be the deciding factor that makes people choose your book off the shelves instead of the competition.

Clearly, book cover design is important. But what, exactly, makes a good book cover? What elements do you have to incorporate? And how do you design a book cover that’s going to jump off the shelves (and straight into readers’ hands)?

What makes a good book cover?

Before we jump into how to design a good book cover, let’s talk about what good book cover design looks like. A good book cover design should:

Attract attention with ease

good book cover

The cover of Jenny Lawson's Furiously Happy looks cute at first glance, but when you take a closer look... Image via Amazon.

There are hundreds of books on the shelf (or in the digital marketplace) and if you want your book to succeed, it needs to connect with your ideal reader.

But how do you do that? Well, there’s no one size fits all solution. The right book cover design for a business book targeted towards millennials is going to be completely different from a historical fiction novel targeted towards a more mature audience. So, the key to creating a book cover design that speaks to your ideal reader is getting crystal clear on who, exactly, that ideal reader is.

Take some time to define your audience.

  • Who are they?
  • Why would they be interested in your book?
  • Are they going to connect with something bold and in-your-face?
  • Are they attracted to fun illustrations or typography?
  • Are they more traditional?
  • What are they looking for in their next page-turner?

Once you know who your ideal reader is, you can reverse engineer the process and figure out what kind of design is going to speak to them.

A good book cover design will grab your audience’s attention. Design your own eye-catching book cover with one of Canva’s templates, like the Yellow and Red Burger Recipe Book Cover or the Teal and Pink Eyes Science Fiction Book Cover.


Be relevant to your book

good book cover

Book cover design by ultrastjarna on 99designs.

As we mentioned earlier, your book cover is a reader’s first impression of your book, so it needs to give them a clear idea of what they can expect.

Or, in other words, your cover needs to be relevant to your content. Your book cover design (the outside of your book) should be congruent with your writing (the inside of your book); people should be able to tell from your design whether they’re in for an epic adventure story, a marketing how-to, or an instructional textbook.

Why is relevance so important? A book cover design that isn’t in line with the book’s contents (like a neon color palette for a science-based research book or a featured photograph of a smiling family in a book about insects) will not only lead to confused readers, but you also miss an opportunity to connect with readers who would be drawn to your book’s subject matter. So not only does the wrong book cover design draw in the wrong readers, but it also puts off the right readers and it will be nearly impossible for your book to find the right audience.

A relevant book cover design is a must to connect with your ideal audience. Target the right readers with one of Canva’s book cover templates, like the Blue Orange Illustrated Handshake Business Book Cover or the Photo Lettering Typography Book Cover.


Be well balanced

good book cover

Cover designer Tal Goretsky initially had an illustration of the book's main characters in mind, but focused on featuring the magical elements prominent in the book. Image via Owlcation.

There are a lot of elements you need to include in your book cover design, including typographic elements (like your name, book title, and recommendations), colors, and graphic elements (like illustrations or photos). But if you’re not careful, your book cover design can become crowded and visually overwhelming, which can lessen its impact.

A good book cover design pays careful attention to balance and spacing; that way, none of the book’s message or impact is lost in an overcrowded, visual mess.

If you want to avoid visual overwhelm in your book cover, you need to create a sense of balance in your design. Keep all of your design elements balanced with one of Canva’s book cover templates, like the Red and White Graphic Design Book Cover or the White Graphic Design Book Cover.

How to create a visually impactful book cover design

All right, so now that we know what a good book cover design is, let’s get to the good stuff: How to design a great cover for your book.

Look for inspiration

good book cover

Mood board inspiration. Photo by Andy Art on Unsplash.

Before you start designing, you need some direction. And a great way to find that direction? A mood board.

A mood board is a helpful way to pull together design inspiration (like images, colors, words, photos, or other book covers) that captures the look and feel of what you’re going for in your book cover design. Then, as you’re designing your book cover, you can refer to your mood board for inspiration, direction, and guidance.

There are no rules for creating a mood board; they can be digital (using tools like Pinterest or Canva) or physical, can have multiple sources of inspiration or just as a few—but as long as your board captures the essence of what you want from your book cover design, it’s a great jumping off point.

Plan your layout

good book cover

Book layout. Image via WordzWorth.

Once you’ve gathered inspiration and have a sense of how you want your book cover to look and what elements you want to incorporate, it’s time to start the actual design process. And the best place to start? Your layout.

Your layout is one of the most important parts of your book cover design; how you balance, space, size, and layout each element will determine the look and feel (and, ultimately, the success) of your design. It’s called visual hierarchy; it helps you draw attention to important elements of your book cover design by:

  • How large they are
  • Where you place them
  • How large/small other elements are in proportion

For example, do you want the title to take center stage? If so, you would want to use large text to emphasize the title—and keep other elements (like the author name and any graphics) smaller. Or do you have a graphic element (like a photo or a custom illustration) you want to be the focus? If so, you’d want to build your layout around that graphic.

The point is, there are certain elements you want your audience to pay attention to in your book cover design—and you can use your layout (and, more specifically, the visual hierarchy you create with your layout) in order to draw attention to those elements.

Not sure what kind of layout you want for your book cover design? Experiment with Canva’s book cover templates, like the Pink Floral Abstract Graphic Design Book Cover or the Yellow Surgeon Creative Book Cover, until you find the layout that feels like the right fit for your book.


Choose your fonts

good book cover

MUTI created a series of typographic book covers that features some of their favorite classic novels. Image via Behance.

At their core, books are about words. That’s true about the pages inside your book, and it’s true about your cover design.

The fonts you choose for your book cover design will give readers insight into more than just your name or your book’s title. Different font styles will communicate different messages—which can give readers a clue as to what they can expect from your book.

For example, did you write a historical fiction novel? If so, an Old English-inspired font could be a good fit. Write a cutting-edge business book? A more modern sans serif font would be a great choice.

In addition to choosing the right fonts for your book cover design, you also want to choose the right number of fonts. You can certainly have more than one font on your book cover design, but don’t go crazy. Typically, three fonts (a focal font, a secondary font for things like author name, and a tertiary font for smaller details like publisher name) is a great way to add visual interest without feeling overwhelming. (Also, feel free to go with fewer fonts; when it comes to design sometimes less is more!)

The right fonts can take your book cover design to the next level. Get started on a font-tastic book cover design with of Canva’s templates, like the Mustard Simple Typography Book Cover or the White Dotted Typography Book Cover.


Choose your color palette

good book cover

Author Jodie Crook needed a cover for her self-help book, Freedom. She launched a contest on 99designs, and the winning design was by Meella.

People have strong emotional reactions to and associations with colors. This concept is called color psychology. And if you understand the psychology behind different colors, you can harness it to attract people to your book.

When choosing a color palette for your book cover design, stick to colors that create the emotional response you’re looking for in your audience; for example, if you wrote a meditation book, you want people to feel calm and serene—which would make blue and green solid choices. If you wrote a sales book, you want people to feel passionate and excited—and you can achieve that by incorporating red into your book cover design.

If you want your book cover design to really draw people in, you need to think bigger than what colors you prefer (“I like purple, so my book cover should be purple!”)—and instead, leverage color psychology and choose colors that are going to speak to your readers.

Want to go bold with your book cover design? Embrace color with one of Canva’s colorful book cover templates, like the Pink Circle Cake Recipe eBook Cover or the Yellow Minimalist Fashion Book Cover.


Choose your graphic elements

good book cover

Book cover design by Meella on 99designs

Now, you don’t have to include graphic elements in your book design (like a background, cover photo, or fun illustrations), but you certainly can—and, in most cases, it can make your design feel more alive.

Like any part of your book cover design, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing graphic elements. The best strategy? Think about what you’re trying to convey with your cover design and then experiment with different elements until you find something that feels right for your book.

For example, did you write an exploration of the history of your city? Then a background with your city’s skyline circa 1900 would make sense. Did you write a children’s book? Illustrations of the characters are the obvious go-to. The point is, graphic elements can help strengthen your book’s messaging—so choose graphic elements that not only look great but are in line with the overall feel and vibe of your book.

Want to incorporate graphic elements into your book cover design? Canva has a variety of templates to play with, from backgrounds (like the Purple and Yellow Circle Patterned Fashion Book Cover) to photos (like the White Minimalist Modern Fashion Book Cover) to illustrations (like the Funny Monsters Kindle Book Cover).

Examples of good book cover design

All right, so now that you know how to design an amazing book cover, let’s take a look at some amazing book covers in action (and, most importantly, why these book cover designs work so well):

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

good book cover

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. Book design by

Why it works: Sometimes, all it takes is one or two powerful elements to make an impact with your book cover design. The cover of Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders lets two key elements, the illustrated black magpie and the red background, take center stage—and wisely keeps the rest simple, which just makes the key elements even more striking and attention-grabbing.

Want to capture this bold-but-focused look in your book cover design? Try one of Canva’s book cover templates, like the White Red Photo Thriller Book Cover or the Green Owl Illustration Character Children’s Book Cover.


Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

Designer: Shelby (nevergohungry on 99designs)

good book cover

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris. Book cover design by nevergohungry on 99designs

Why it works: The book cover for Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans keeps from straying into generic business book territory thanks to interesting font choices (a mix of a modern sans serif and a handwritten font) and the featured illustration, which grabs your attention with a pop of gold on the crown and an unexpected, paintbrush-like effect.

Like the handwritten feel of this book cover? Recreate the look with one of Canva’s book cover templates, like the Pink and Black Grunge Creative Wattpad Book Cover or the Blue and Orange Tower of Pisa Creative Wattpad Book Cover.


Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD.

good book cover

Image via Amazon.

Why it works: As we mentioned earlier, a good cover design needs to be relevant to the book’s content. Why We Sleep (which is—you guessed it—a book about sleep) nails relevance in their book cover design with the night sky inspired background, complete with twinkling stars and a crescent moon.

The more relevant your book cover design, the more successful it will be in capturing readers’ attention. Make sure your readers know exactly what to expect from your book with one of Canva’s book cover templates, like the Brown and Green Photo of Vegetable Recipe Book Cover or the Teal and Orange Tools Graphic Design Book Cover.


Alone On The Wall by Alex Honnold

good book cover

Image via Alex Honnold.

Why it works: Alone On The Wall explores renowned climber Alex Honnold’s experiences free soloing some of the tallest rock formations in the world. And what better way to capture that sense of thrill and adventure than with a picture of Honnold actually alone on a so-high-it-will-give-you-vertigo rock wall? The image chosen for this cover is a sneak peek at the adventure people can expect when they read the book—and is far more powerful than any other design element they could have chosen.

As the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words”—and with the right picture, you can convince your audience to open your book to read your thousands of words. Get the look with one of Canva’s book cover templates, like the Simple Thriller Wattpad Book Cover or the Minimalist Photo Wattpad Book Cover.


The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

good book cover

Image via The New York Times.

Why it works: Sometimes, it’s not a single element that makes a great book cover design—it’s how all the elements come together. From the visual hierarchy created with the typography to the pop of blue to the ominous feel created by the dark shadowing near the top, this book cover for The Perfect Nanny is impeccably designed (which, given the title, makes sense).

All of your design elements should strike the right balance and come together to create a cohesive, impactful book cover design. Get started with one of Canva’s book cover templates, like the White Edgy Photo Fashion Book Cover or the Black and White Photo Girl Wattpad Book Cover.

Design your way to the bestseller’s list

You’ve already written your bestseller. Now all that’s left to do? Get out there and design a cover that’s going to grab your reader’s attention and get it in their hands!

Want to expand your knowledge about book cover design? Check out this guide to designing book covers. You can also look at more inspirational designs to get your ideas flowing.

Your secret weapon for stunning design