10 Tips for Effective Book Covers

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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.

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