Publish date:

10 Tips for Effective Book Covers

Image placeholder title

As more authors opt for independent publishing routes, I'm getting more questions about secrets to good book design, production, and layout.

While at F+W, I spent hundreds of hours in cover design/review meetings. Sometimes I forget about the education it's given me. Here are the 10 biggest things I learned about book cover design during those conversations (and also from seeing the sales outcomes).

Remember: Most people in book publishing believe that a cover is a book's No. 1 marketing tool.

  1. The title should be big and easy to read. This is more important than ever. (Many people will first encounter your cover on a screen, not on a shelf.) This is such a well-worn cliche of cover design that I have a designer friend with a Facebook photo album called "Make the Title Bigger."
  2. Don't forget to review a thumbnail image of the cover. Is the cover compelling at a small size? More people are buying books on a Kindle or mobile device, so you want the cover to read clearly no matter where it appears. You should also anticipate what the cover looks like in grayscale.
  3. Do not use any of the following fonts (anywhere!): Comic Sans or Papyrus. These fonts are only acceptable if you are writing a humor book, or intentionally attempting to create a design that publishing professionals will laugh at.
  4. No font explosions! (And avoid special styling.) Usually a cover should not use more than 2 fonts. Avoid the temptation to put words in caps, italics caps, outlined caps, etc. Do not "shape" the type either.
  5. Do not use your own artwork, or your children's artwork, on the cover. There are a few rare exceptions to this, but let's assume you are NOT one of them. It's almost always a terrible idea.
  6. Do not use cheap clip art on your cover. I'm talking about the stuff that comes free with Microsoft Word or other cheap layout programs. Quality stock photography is OK. (iStockPhoto is one reliable source for quality images.) 
  7. Do not stick an image inside a box on the cover. I call this the "T-shirt" design. It looks extremely amateurish.
  8. Avoid gradients. It's especially game-over if you have a cover with a rainbow gradient.
  9. Avoid garish color combinations. Sometimes such covers are meant to catch people's attention. Usually, it just makes your book look freakish.
  10. Finally: Don't design your own cover. The only people who should consider designing their own covers are professional graphic designers—and even then, it's not advisable.

Bonus tip: No sunrise photos, no sunset photos, no ocean photos, no fluffy clouds.

Here are some covers that do not follow these 10 tips.

Image placeholder title

Want more on this topic? Check out The Book Designer by Joel Friedlander.

Why We Should Read Middle Grade Fiction as Adults

Why We Should Read Middle Grade Fiction as Adults

Young Adult fiction has surpassed its own demographic by being acceptable to read at any age. Why have we left middle grade fiction out of that equation? Here’s why we should be reading middle grade fiction as adults and as writers.

What Are the 6 Different Types of Editing?

What Are the 6 Different Types of Editing?

When you reach the editing phase of your manuscript, it's important to know what kind of editing you're looking for in particular. Author Tiffany Yates breaks down the 6 different types of editing.

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Imayo Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the imayo.

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Print or Online Article First Place Winner: "Surfacing an Aquatic Diaspora"

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Print or Online Article First Place Winner: "Surfacing an Aquatic Diaspora"

Congratulations to Elaine Howley, first place winner in the Print or Online Article category of the 90th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's her winning article, "Surfacing an Aquatic Diaspora."

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Script (Stage Play or TV/Movie) First Place Winner: "Jaguar Woman"

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Script (Stage Play or TV/Movie) First Place Winner: "Jaguar Woman"

Congratulations to Olga El, first place winner in the Script (Stage Play or TV/Movie) category of the 90th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's her winning TV Pilot script, "Jaguar Woman."

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Non-Rhyming Poetry First Place Winner: "won't you celebrate with me"

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Non-Rhyming Poetry First Place Winner: "won't you celebrate with me"

Congratulations to Nicole Adabunu, first place winner in the Non-Rhyming Poetry category of the 90th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's her winning poem, "won't you celebrate with me."

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Rhyming Poetry First Place Winner: "She Lives in Underbridge World"

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Rhyming Poetry First Place Winner: "She Lives in Underbridge World"

Congratulations to MF Slattery, first place winner in the Rhyming Poetry category of the 90th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's the winning poem, "She Lives in Underbridge World"

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Mainstream/Literary Short Story First Place Winner: "Tracks"

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Mainstream/Literary Short Story First Place Winner: "Tracks"

Congratulations to Elizabeth Rosen, first place winner in the Mainstream/Literary Short Story category of the 90th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's her winning story, "Tracks."

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Genre Short Story First Place Winner: "A Brief Cameo"

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Genre Short Story First Place Winner: "A Brief Cameo"

Congratulations to D. M. Ullrich, first place winner in the Genre Short Story category of the 89th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's his winning story, "A Brief Cameo."