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Do's and Don'ts of Books Cover Design

I've seen a few bad covers. I don't know any web sites on the topic, but I think "good design" for a book is one that enables a reader to do the following:

1. take notice of it from a sea of other books
2. see, at a glance, the type of book it is
3. read the back to learn why it's worth reading
4. easily read the book title, the spine, and the back cover copy --
without squinting or holding the book sideways.

Here are some of my other thoughts:

First -- absolutely, positively use a graphic designer ***who is experienced in designing book covers*** and has a variety of examples to show you.

Make sure it includes:

- price

- appropriate category (genre) in upper left corner -- don't make up any genres and try to limit it to one, no more than two
- two to three paragraphs that answer the questions, "What will the reader learn?" or "How will the reader benefit?" from reading this book. Use bullet items, each one starting with a verb, such as, "Learn ...." or "Discover how to ..." Focus on the READER and use the word "you."

- short blurbs if you have them

- appropriate bar code

- everything in its proper location and far enough from the margins so it doesn't get cut off.

- legible text - no small light letters on dark or patterned backgrounds

- optional - paragraph about the author IF the author's background is appropriate to the book -- otherwise, leave it off.


The title should be bold and easy to read when the book is on a bookshelf. Include the author's name, and then the publisher if you can squeeze it in without making it looked squeezed in.


- To me, an ***amateur*** cover has a title with a simple Times New Roman font, solid background, and the title in the upper third, with no text on the back. That says to me, "I'm too cheap to hire a graphic designer." So don't do it.

- The cover should match the tone and the topic of the book. If it's a fun book, you need a fun cover. Serious book, serious cover.

- The book title should be legible. Imagine having it shown on TV; your title should be very easy to read.

- The book cover should be easily copied in black and white, such as for use in a newspaper review.

- Do not make your book look like another type of book (or an existing book). For example, you may like child-like images, but it may end up looking like a children's book. Same with space images, flowers, etc. Your image must match the contents of YOUR book and be unique.

- Look at other books in your genre and see what's selling. Keep in mind that hot sellers are often hot sellers not because of their covers but because their authors are widely seen in the media. So you need to try harder and have a GREAT cover.

- Stand in front of your genre's section in the bookstore and see what type of spine catches your eye. Look at ones that you can't read. Learn from both types.

- Consider using royalty-free images if it will help spice up the cover. See and - most images are $29.95 to $150+ to license. Even if you don't use those images, browsing the site might inspire you, and you'll be able to offer examples to your graphic designer of what you like.

Then have several people who are in the book business look at your designed cover (in a .jpg) before you even print it. Don't depend on the graphic designer to spell check it. Check every word yourself, and have a few other people edit it as well.

When it comes time to print, have your printer send you samples of book cover stock if you're not familiar with it. Bring it to the bookstore and compare it to the books you see -- and notice details such as finger prints and how easy a book can become ripped and shopworn. Create the most durable book you can.

Recognize that YOU have the ability to coordinate the design and manufacture of a book cover that looks like it was created by a team of people at one of the larger publishing houses. You are competing against them, and it MUST look as good as or better than theirs. The exciting thing is is that you CAN do it.

Hope that helps. Merry Christmas!

Lorilyn Bailey

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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