How to Design a Book Cover – Everything You Need to Know
Table of Contents
A book cover is crucial in turning a curious reader browsing the internet or a bookshelf into a customer. If you’re looking to create a stunning professional book cover, you’re at the right place. This is the ultimate guide for indie authors like you.
If you know how to make a book cover yourself, keep reading. You’ll learn about the best design software for book covers and the qualities of a great cover.
If you want to know more about hiring a professional cover designer, stick around. We’ll show you where to find the best cover designers and what you need to communicate effectively with them.
Why is your book cover important?
Don’t be carried away, people do judge a book by its cover. In fact, a study shows that 79% of book buyers use the book cover to guide their purchase decisions.
The reason for that isn’t far-fetched. Humans are hardwired to be moved by visuals. We understand the world better in images. While the over 10,000 words in your book might be jarring, filled with stellar imagery guiding the readers to a whole new world without leaving their spaces, you still need a captivating book cover.
Colors and shapes move us more than other design elements because they reach the brain at lightning speed. So, your book cover isn’t just there to protect the papers within, it helps people make a judgment or decision on a book.
Whether you’re a new or old author, your book cover is a defining element in the popularity of your book. Check out the piece of advice from the American fantasy and science fiction writer, Lary Correia:
“Aspiring authors, get this through your head. Cover art serves one purpose, and one purpose only, to get potential customers interested long enough to pick up the book to read the back cover blurb. In the internet age, that means the thumbnail image needs to be interesting enough to click on. That’s what covers are for.”
― Larry Correia
While book publishing companies will not have to bother about making a beautiful cover, you, an indie author, will have to think about how to make your own cover.
Can you design your own book covers?
The simple answer is yes if you have strong design skills.
If you don’t have the design skills, you may want to use an online cover designer tool or hire a professional graphic designer. While a designer tool might help you save costs, you might be sacrificing quality, hurting your chances of making a strong impression with your book cover design.
Just like you’d prefer professionally-made clothes to homemade ones, you should prefer a professionally-created book cover to a DIY cover.
Remember, your book cover is your number 1 marketing tool. Whether it’s meant to be a self-published book or So, you don’t want to mess it up. So, while a designer might cost you a penny they will deliver a professionally-designed cover that raises your chances of higher book sales.
There are objectively good and bad book covers
You should know that a book cover isn’t entirely subjective. There are clearly good and bad covers, and a professional designer can tell the distinction between them.
A good cover shows the prospective readers why the book matter and makes them yearn to read a book. It is an attraction tool.
A bad cover design is everything a good cover design isn’t.
Whether you’re designing a book cover yourself or hiring a professional cover designer, there are some considerations to take note of:
- Your book cover is a gateway to your book content
- Your book cover is the first marketing tool, so you have to get it right.
- Great covers sell books
Keep in mind the following characteristics before you dive into your book cover design. This will help you check if you’ve made a great cover design.
Characteristics of a good book cover design
Stand out design
Great book covers command attention with their distinct style. Whether it’s on a bookshelf or as a thumbnail; whether it’s the front or back cover, your book cover should stand out.
To ascertain if you’ve made a standout design, print out your cover design put it across the room, and visualize how people will look at it in a bookstore, online, in an exhibition, etc. Is it clear? Is the text legible? Is the image crisp? Does it look good when you reduce it to a thumbnail size?
If you check all the boxes, then you’ve made an enchanting design.
Functional and informative
Not only should your book cover stand out, but it should also capture the essence of the book, at a glance.
“a book cover is a distillation of the content, almost like what your book would look like as a haiku.” – Chip Kidd
Your cover should highlight the general genre of your books, the subject matter, theme, tone, and concept in the book. You may want to be creative with the cover of a poetry book in a way that encrypts the message of the book, but you cannot afford to be cryptic with your nonfiction book design.
Although your book cover would not divulge all the content of your book, it’ll tell just enough from the book’s title to the author’s name, central image, and color of the design.
It has a focal focus
Your cover must have one principal focus. That is the element that matters most. This principal element could be the title, image, or illustration – anything that reflects the one idea of your book.
Avoid using overwhelming your entire book cover design with too many elements. You don’t need to fill every inch of space on your cover with elements. Instead of being informative, an overwhelming cover will end up confusing your audience.
A good cover design uses white space to make the texts readable. It also uses design elements sparingly to make the design breathe.
While you want to create a cover that stands out, you don’t want to fall into the trap of overwhelming your audience in search of a perfect design.
You don’t need a perfect book cover design; you need a functional design. So instead of revising your design repeatedly, check if you’ve captured the essence of your book. Also, ask a designer if they think your design is complete.
Remember, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
A good book cover isn’t just beautiful but also unique. A unique book cover makes a novel or controversial statement that might make you feel a little uncomfortable.
A unique design captures and speaks out everyone’s thoughts. It exceeds the mediocre designs in its boldness to dare commenters.
If you’re the type who likes to stir up a bit of controversy, you can use a social media poll to ascertain the uniqueness of the design. Bare in mind that you’re not choosing the design that appeals to a mob mentality; you’re choosing the underdog or the one that feels less noticed.
If you’re not the type for controversy, you can still shy away from the brave choice. Instead, you can choose something that is already working in your genre.
Following the uniqueness of your book cover is its memorability. A unique design does not follow the crowd. Instead, it deviates from the norm.
Check if your book cover passes the eight seconds test. This means that book buyers can remember your book cover if they look at it for only 8 seconds. So even if they don’t buy it immediately, they can still remember how it made them feel.
In trying to be unique and memorable, avoid using deceitful representations of your book on the cover. For example, if your book isn’t an intriguing, steamy romance novel with bare people as your characters, don’t use thirst traps on your cover.
While your book may be rushed in the first months of its release, it won’t be long before you start receiving loads of negative book reviews. Not only will that particular book be affected, but other books you publish may also be welcomed with disdain.
12 Steps to design a book cover
Now, you’re stepping to the drawing board with the qualities of the book cover in your mind, except that you don’t know the steps to take to achieve the desired cover design.
Here’s how to design a book cover:
1. Identify the essence of your book
2. Look for book cover ideas
3. Find a talented book cover designer
4. Or choose the best book design software
5. Select your cover formats and dimensions
6. Find images for the book cover
7. Choose your colors
8. Understand typography
9. Send your designer a brief
10. Test your book cover with real readers
11. Refine and finalize your design
12. Create a mockup
Identify the essence of your book
Before you begin to design your book cover, you have to identify the why, what, and who of your book.
- Why did I write this book?
- What is the one key idea that the book is trying to communicate?
- What genre does it belong to (fiction or nonfiction)?
- Who is the target audience for my book?
Identifying this key information will help you decide on the ideal elements you use in your book cover.
Look for book cover ideas
Once you get an idea of what you want to represent on your book cover, it’s time to look for book cover inspiration. Check out these 25 book cover ideas.
Gathering ideas will give you a better sense of direction whether you’re designing by yourself or contacting a designer. It’ll also make your communication with a designer more smooth and more effective.
You want to know what other authors within and outside your genre are already doing. You can walk into your local bookstore to get a feel of book cover textures or check out websites like Pinterest and Amazon for ideas. On Pinterest, you’ll find boards and pins of book covers that can spark an idea. You can conduct genre-specific searches on Amazon.
Look out for genre indicators in your search. That is design tropes for different genres. For example, paranormal fantasy novels often feature a character on the cover while illustrated designs are common in cozy mystery and literary fiction. Identifying the tropes in your genre and other genres can give you an idea of what to do and what not to do in your own book cover design.
You can also draw inspiration from your favorite books. Analyze the elements that draw you close to the books and what you love about them.
Note down all that you’ve gathered as your creative brief. While a seasoned designer would already have an idea of the best directions to go with each genre, having a detailed creative brief makes the designer more interested in your work.
Find a talented book cover designer
Now that you know what you want to create, seek out seasoned designers who are ready to take up your book cover design. Search for designers whose art you love or those who understand your genre.
Where can I hire a book cover designer?
The first place you want to turn to in search of a book cover designer is freelance websites like Upwork or Fiverr. Post a job ad or reach out to designers with high ratings. It may take to find quality designers on these platforms. And honestly, they’re the least favorite options when it comes to book cover designs. However, if you’re patient enough to screen as many as possible freelance designers, check through their portfolios in comparison to the high-quality book covers you’ve seen in your search. You’ll be spending between 5-500$ if you choose a designer from these platforms.
Reedsy is a marketplace for rigorously vetted book cover designers, many of whom have donkey years of experience in major publishing houses. You can search for designers based on their genre specialization and previous experiences. You can also find designers based on the presses and authors they’ve worked with. These sorts of filters can help you narrow down your search to a designer that you’ll instantly get along with.
99 Designs is a platform where you can get multiple cover design options by hosting a design contest. First, you’ll have to post a detailed brief with all the specifications and visual inspiration you’ve gathered. Then, several designers jostle to create the best design based on your brief. Finally, choose the winning designer, and the designer will transfer all rights to you. If none of the designs appeal to you, you can get a full refund with no trouble.
All Time Design
All Time Design is the best graphic design agency out there today. They have a team of professional book cover designers who will run with your idea and deliver high-quality covers within 24-28 hours. Their creative process and wealth of experience allow them to create designs that capture the essence of your book and captivate your audience, therefore increasing your sales. Interestingly, you can handle all other design requesters you may have for a monthly rate that’s as low as $499. With this fee, you have access to unlimited revisions at no extra charge.
Check out why businesses choose ATD over hiring freelancers
Local or Independent designers
The most favorable and risk-free option is to ask for recommendations from colleagues who have created quality covers in the past. They know an independent cover designer who can deliver the quality you’re looking for.
Also, you can also check sited like Behance and Dribble for book designers with eye-catching portfolios and reach out to them with your brief. Or look inside your favorite books for the cover designer, then search for their contact address or website.
OR choose the best book design software
We’ve mentioned earlier that you can design your cover yourself if you have the design skills or you’re on a budget and can’t afford a professional designer.
Here are some tools that can help you create your book cover.
If you know the design world like you know your way around words, then you can use either Adobe Spark ($9.99/ month) or Adobe InDesign ($19.99/month). Both are paid software that allows you to create professional-looking covers. They also include templates that give you a headstart with your design.
Book Brush (Free ad design options, $99 – $246/year for covers)
With over 500 pre-designed templated, Book Brush is the graphic design software made specifically for authors. Unlike Adobe, it is an easy-to-use paid design tool with 3D capabilities.
Canva is arguably the #1 free book cover design software in the business. It is easy to use and ideal for authors with minimal design skills. The web-based app offers tons of free book cover templates and stock photos that can be applied easily to your design.
Also free to use, Blurb BookWright is aesthetically pleasing and easy to work on. The app allows you to design both the interior as well as the cover of your book. This tool is especially great if your book’s genre requires many images as it can provide you with easily editable templates for your book layout.
Totally free to use, GIMP gives you access to high-quality book cover design tools that offers you design flexibility. Although it requires some learning to get a grasp of the tool, you can still create fun designs when you understand your way with the tool. Also, the tool doesn’t come with templates to choose from.
Did you know you could use the classic Microsoft Word tool to create book covers for free? It’s pretty easy even if you have zero design experience. The processor offers easy-to-edit templates to give you a headstart.
While other sites are great for strictly book covers, Placeit is ideal for professional mockups to use in marketing and promoting your book.
Another user-friendly tool, Visme offers you the creative freedom to create unique book covers. With its book cover maker, you can experiment with tons of free templates and available shapes to create unique illustrations and icons. You can also import your own fonts and photos.
Remember, you run the risk of losing potential readers to a run-on-the-mill designer because of your subpar design skills.
Select your cover formats and dimensions
Before you reach out to your book cover designer, you need to decide on the formats and dimensions for your book cover. We highly recommend that you publish your book in different formats – ebook, paperback, and hardcover – to maximize profit. Studies have already established that majority of avid readers purchase books in both ebook and print formats. So, they might choose to purchase your ebook for use while traveling with limited luggage space and a physical paperback for relaxing at home.
Moreso, if a reader exclusively searches for books to read on online platforms, they won’t find your book if there’s no ebook version. Also, if your prospective reader is the type that exclusively shops for books in their local bookstore, they won’t find your book if you don’t have a print book.
However, if you’re on a budget and trying to maximize impact, you might want to stick to a single format first while you prepare for the next. So which format should you go for?
Ebooks vs. Print Books
It would be ideal to opt for an ebook when you’re on a budget as ebook covers can be easier to execute. You can use your ebook for free digital giveaways to build awareness for your book before the print copies.
Dimension requirements for ebook cover design
Paperback or Hardcover edition
If you think you can afford to print now, but can’t print your book cover in both paperback and hardcover book editions, you may be stuck in another dilemma. So, let’s talk about print books.
Hardcover vs Paperback
Traditional publishers favor hardcover books as debut print editions before the paperback version is released. This allows the publishing company to capitalize on high-end readers who are willing to pay more.
It may intrigue you to find out that a lot of readers love their books with a dust jacket. For instance, Libraries prefer hardcovers to paperbacks
However, in the world of self-publishing, the paperback is the more popular option. And this doesn’t make your target reader love your book any less. Those who can wait for the paperback edition would still love it anyway.
So, we strongly advise that you publish your book in all available formats to maximize book sales potential.
Find images for the book cover
Imagery is an indispensable part of your book cover, especially the front cover. Depending on your genre, you may choose a custom photograph or represent your ideas with illustrated graphics. Either way, you want to trigger an emotional response from your prospective readers.
Illustrations vs Photographs
Illustrations are the most common imagery for professional book cover design. They are graphics created by graphic designers and graphic illustrators by maneuvering different design elements. This is ideal for any genre of book and can evoke striking emotions when well executed. With illustrations. you stand a better chance of having an original cover. You may, however, be spending up to $500-$2500 alone to get your illustration aside from the cost of the book cover typesetting, layout, mockup, etc.
Photographs, on the other hand, are less expensive and can be photos taken by you or by professional photographers. It can also be stock images available on the internet. However, you would need to obtain the rights to use such images and credit the owner in your book. Check out websites like Pexels, Pixabay, Shutterstock, Unsplash, and Flickr for free and paid stock images.
Photographs are ideal for nonfiction books, for example, biography. Images can help you convey more personal emotions and give your readers a face to remember.
To get the best of your photographs, your book cover designer can digitally manipulate the photo to create more striking images at an affordable cost.
Choose your colors
Colors also play important role in the mood and message of your cover design. This is because colors carry meaning and evoke emotions. For example:
- Blue evokes calm, trust, and intelligence
- Red represents passion, love, and anger.
- Orange stands for creativity, youth, and energy.
- Brown is associated with honesty, resilience, and isolation.
- Green symbolized nature, growth, and stability.
These meanings might differ in cultures, but understanding the basics can nudge you in the right direction. For example, while bright colors would be ideal for covers of children’s books, if you’ve written a book that takes your intended audience on an emotional rollercoaster, you would want to refrain from bright colors to avoid sending the wrong message.
Images, colors, and fonts all work together to create meanings. You are a person of words, you’ll understand that the manner you place your words plays a critical role in how your audience understands them. Bold words are read more emphatically than normal ones. A similar thing applies when designers are working on a project.
Fonts add meaning to your book cover. You want to treat your book cover like a logo. In a logo, you’ll choose fonts that stand out and reinforces your brand personality. In your book cover, you’ll use a font that fits your book’s genre. For example, while eccentric display or script fonts would be ideal for a sci-fi or fantasy book, serif or sans serif would be perfect for an academic book.
Send your designer a brief
(This may not apply if your book cover is to be self-designed and self-published)
So far, you’ve been gathering branding elements to help you communicate clearly with your book designer. Now that you’ve gotten a grasp of all the elements you need, you can create a detailed designed brief with your ideas, dimensions, requirements (size and file types), short synopsis, and target audience.
This brief will help your designer in the design process to create the perfect book cover design for your book. For a start, ask your designer to send you at least three options to choose from.
Test your book cover with real readers
Now that you have an array of options to choose from, does anyone jump at you? Not sure if your audience will like it? Then, ask them.
You can ask family, friends, a local librarian or bookstore clerk, and colleagues which of the book covers they prefer. You can also conduct a poll on social media if you already have a wide following. Note down specific points and feedback for your designer.
Better still, you can create split tests with social media ads or a tool like PickFu. For example, set up two campaigns on Facebook or Instagram with two different covers but with the same copy and call to action. Be on the lookout for which cover your prospects click on the most. This will help you make the final decision on your book cover
Refine and finalize your design
Once you’ve figured out your preferred book cover design, it’s time to polish the details with your designer.
Check the front and back cover, spine design and width, color, font, subtitle, review, bio, ISBN barcode, and every other necessary detail.
When you’re delighted with the final version, your designer will send files in different formats to fit the requirements you’ve secured from online retailers and print-on-demand services. Ideally, they would send JPEgs for ebooks and PDFs for print copies.
Create a mockup
Depending on your agreement, your designer might send your several other formats for digital ads, social media updates, and website displays. These formats would be perfect if they came in 3D mock-up formats.
You need an appealing mockup to promote your book. While there are online mockup creator tools, using a professional designer still remains your gateway to high-quality arresting designs.
There you have it, all you need to create your own book cover. Let’s check out some ideas you can try out for your own cover.
Book cover design ideas
Minimalism is a trending approach to cover design. It gives your cover a clean and straightforward design.
If you have multiple themes in your book and want to represent them on your cover, using a collage would be the perfect option.
Playing with typography is a great way to create effective ad appealing book covers.
Double-exposure covers allow you to convey a frightful or surreal message to the audience. It s also great for representing multiple, yet connected themes.
Although you’ll still need to add edits and texts, photos help to induce a more personal feel to book cover designs.
Hire a professional book cover designer at All Time Design
Our design team is well-equipped and ready to create a book cover design that increases your book’s popularity and sales.
Request a demo now!