How to Design a Book Cover
Admit it, you’ve walked through the aisles of your local bookstore and picked up the most interesting-looking book based only on its cover design.
When you think about it, bookstores work a lot like groceries: Products with the best packaging sell.
This article will take you through the how’s, why’s, and what’s of book cover design to make sure that it’s your book people pick up when they’re browsing the shelves.
Why Is A Good Cover Design Important?
Most bookstores, whether physical or online, don’t make the distinction between traditionally published books and self-published books.
This means that if you’re a fledgling author on your first debut in the market, your book is immediately stacked up against the Big 5 publishing houses of the world.
In a highly consumerist world, a book cover doesn’t just serve its original purpose of protecting and binding pages anymore- it’s what will sell your content to a wide audience of readers.
How To Design A Book Cover Yourself
Publishing a book yourself doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t create a great book cover. Going the DIY route will not only save you a lot of money but give you free reign over the concept art.
A top tip to keep in mind before you dive into the deep end of cover designing is to take note of your book’s genre.
Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction books, comparing cover styles like font, imagery, and composition will give you a good starting point to take inspiration from.
#1 Choose a Clean and Compelling Fon
After you’ve discovered whether or not your book genre uses serif or sans serif type fonts, it gets easier to source interesting typography from several sites that offer fonts for free.
This would avoid adding extra costs to your budget and also help you steer clear of fonts with a bad rap (Hello, Comic Sans and Papyrus).
Choose a maximum of 2-3 fonts for the title, subtitle, and author name. Using a variety of font styles and sizes helps draw the reader’s eye to the most important elements of the front cover.
Top tip: Unless you’re a bestselling author, your name should not be bigger than the title!
#2 Decide On Your Art Style Or Rather, Bring Out Your Uniqueness
Your cover design will only be one of 3 things: plain, illustrated or photographed.
In deciding which art style to go with, consider your book’s genre again. Some genres typically use lurid backgrounds, while others usually use pop-art illustrations.
If it’s a Nicholas Sparks-esque romance novel, maybe it’s better to consider photographic images to relay that nostalgic feeling. If it’s a self-help book, maybe using a lot of white space is ideal.
Ever wonder why Starbucks uses green, white, and khaki tones with their packaging? Combining these three earth tones signals relaxation and reminds you of a much needed coffee-break.
We often overlook the importance of color choice when it comes to product packaging, but understanding color theory is part and parcel to choosing which palette works best in evoking an emotional response.
Remember that even if you’re selling a book and not toothpaste, the color of your book cover will unconsciously tap into your readers’ feelings and make them want to buy your book.
The emotions typically associated with certain colors are as follows:
- Red – Energy, enthusiasm, emotion, power
- Orange – Optimism, dynamic, confident
- Yellow – Ambition, motivation, creativity, cutting edge
- Green – Nature, vitality, environment, health
- Blue – Dependability, trust, thoughtfulness, calmness
- Purple – Depth, wealth, mystery, fantasy
- Grey – Sophistication, knowledge, prestige, wisdom
- Pink – Youth, playfulness, emotion, innocence
- White – Clean, straightforward, self-sufficient, simple
- Black – Authority, power, control, mystery, suspense
Top tip: Do not use more than 3 dominant colors for your book unless you’re going for a rainbow or technicolor style to match a certain genre.
Nowadays, most books use actual photographs on their book covers.
If you’re planning to use an image as the focal point of your front cover, it’s important to remember that most are protected by copyright laws, so you don’t end up in disputes over the rights to your books.
When it comes to using images in a book’s cover design, there are two ways to legitimately source the images.
Free Stock Photos
The most cost-effective option would be to source images from stock photo websites that offer hundreds of thousands of free, high-quality images, such as Pexels, Unsplash, and Pixabay.
In case you can’t find anything to your liking, a little stock image manipulation can help you create an entirely new photo that best captures the cover design vision you have for your book’s cover.
Paid Stock Photos
Using a paid stock photo as opposed to a free one means higher quality images that are available for download. You’re also more likely to find an image that’s a better fit for your identity and not something cookie-cutter.
Paid images also come in a number of sizes and are usable for any project type, while most free stock image sites only provide web-sized options.
There are several stock photo agencies that sell eye-catching images for an affordable price of around $5-$10.
Standard vs. Extended Royalty Free License
Most online stock photo agencies selling inexpensive images have Royalty Free licenses, which means you only pay once for unlimited usage of image rights.
However, Standard Royalty-Free licenses come with certain restrictions. The most important one to keep in mind when browsing for stock photographs is knowing an image’s print run limit.
A print run limit is the maximum number of times the purchaser can distribute physical or digital copies of an image. This restriction is something to consider especially if you’re selling eBooks.
Typical print run limits are usually wide enough for publishers. The StockPhotoSecrets Shop, for example, offers all images under a Standard license that allows up to 300,000 books.
But if you want to invest early on to have unlimited use, consider the Extended Royalty-Free license.
Not only will you have the rights assured in case your book sales and distribution rise, but you can use the photo to create merchandise related to your book. Voila, another business revenue stream!
Top tip: Subscribing to a subscription plan will significantly lower the cost per image since you buy a number of image downloads per month or year.
While using original prints is a pricey option, it’s a must when it comes to image-dependent books like cookbooks.
To have an idea of the expense of a photoshoot done by professionals, you’ll need to foot the bill for the following:
- Studio use
- Licensing fees
- Models’ hair and makeup
You can significantly lower this cost by looking for a photographer that already owns some lighting equipment and can set it up in their office or studio, or even use friends as models to save on costs.
As a general rule of thumb, you can expect to shell out as much as $1,200 for a simple photoshoot. However, this amount could easily triple by three or four times, depending on your photography needs.
Another widely-used book cover design strategy is using high-definition illustrations.
Thankfully, there are several online libraries for stock illustrations that can be accessed either for free or for a subscription plan.
Subscription plans can cost anywhere from $40/month to $170/month, depending on how many illustration assets you’re allowed to download.
Subscription plans are significantly cheaper than hiring a graphic illustrator for your book cover design, but hiring an actual designer may be needed if your genre calls for more specific elements.
Hourly rates for illustrators range from $25 to $100 and can be higher depending on the artist’s reputation and complexity of the project.
#3 Take Advantage of Book Cover Design Apps
When you’re trying to make a book cover look professional, don’t just whip out the Paint app and call it a day.
There are several applications you can use to piece together images and illustrations for the book cover you had in mind.
These apps may require a subscription plan or come for free, so consider your budget and desired cover design when you’re deciding which app to use.
Adobe InDesign ($20.99/month)
If you’re going for top-tier, intricately designed book covers, Adobe InDesign is the tool you’re looking for. However, this is an app professionals use, so the learning curve can be pretty steep.
If you’re planning to spend some time learning how to create book covers, Adobe offers several tutorials on the subject. YouTube also remains a popular source for in-depth walkthroughs as well.
Adobe InDesign is great for individuals who want to create other digital and print media, as well as dive into the art of interior page formatting.
Adobe Spark ($9.99/month)
Adobe Spark is a cheaper and easier software to use for book publishers who aren’t necessarily looking for seriously complex cover designs.
The software is great for publishers who have to create promotional materials for their book to post on social media and other platforms because of the app’s easy-to-use templates.
Just like with InDesign, Adobe offers plenty of Spark tutorials on their website on creating custom-branded graphics, web pages, and even video stories.
Book Brush ($8.25-$20.50/month)
Unlike the other two Adobe apps, BookBrush was created specifically with self-publishing authors in mind and has an easier learning curve.
This app is great for authors who want to create everything from a book cover design to professional-looking ads and other social media assets.
With Book Brush, authors can also create 3D covers and box sets on top of book covers. The app also has more than 500 pre-made layouts and comes with several font styles, free images, and stamps.
Top-tip: While many paid apps have free trials, you may end up with the developer’s watermark on your final file.
Free trials also usually have less artistic freedom with regards to how many tools are available for you to use.
If you’re looking for an extremely easy software to use, Canva will be your best bet. From invitations to resumes, Canva now also covers authors’ book design needs.
The web-based app is self-explanatory with several template options, stock images, fonts, and illustrations. Designing a book cover can be as easy as dragging and dropping elements into place.
Canva is also in tune with the latest style trends and art styles, so authors will be sure to come up with something contemporary and unique.
Blurb Bookwright does not only produce aesthetically pleasing covers, but the app’s interface is also easy to use- especially if you need to do a little interior page templating.
Targeted at self-publishing authors, Blurb has a variety of customizable pre-made layouts for use. Authors can also create their own if they want a little more freedom with the art style.
Blurb also has a Quick Design auto-flow feature that makes it easier to digitally fill in your book’s pages with photographs, which makes the app the easiest to use for books that are image-heavy.
Visme’s cover-maker tools were also built with the non-designer in mind.
Similar to Canva and Blurb, Visme offers easy-to-customize graphics and illustrations so you can come up with the vision you had in mind for your book cover design.
Upload your own photos or choose from a variety of free stock images. There are an infinite number of styles to come up with alongside Visme’s roster of modern fonts and design assets.
One of the app’s most useful widgets is pulling colors from an image to create a color palette, so you can ensure your cover art stays clean and harmonized.
Important Things You Can’t Forget When Designing A Book Cover
1. Get the Right Book Dimensions
Before you sit down and start designing, you need to take into account how you’ll be publishing your book.
If you’re only going to be selling eBooks, getting your dimensions right is pretty straightforward.
For instance, Amazon’s ideal size for eBooks is 2,560 x 1,600 pixels which are similar to the dimensions other online retailers require.
However, if you’re going to be designing a cover for a printed book, take note of the standard sizes of books with your genre. You also need to consider page count and paper density to know how thick the spine will be.
Top tip: If you’re bent on selling printed versions of your book, it might be better to leave designing to the professionals in the business instead.
2. Export Designs in the Right Formats
File formats will differ depending on whether you’re publishing an eBook or a printed book.
eBooks typically use high-definition JPEG files, while printed books use PDF files for their covers.
However, if you’re using the services of a POD (Print on Demand) publisher to sell your book copies, there are specific requirements about using the right resolution and color system.
3. Your Book’s Back Cover
You might be so focused on designing front covers that you completely forgot about the back of your book! Coming up with good back book cover designs is just as critical in the salability of books.
The blurb, synopsis, and other information that you put on the back of your book are what interested readers will look at next after picking up your book from the shelf.
When designing the back cover, be careful not to overcrowd the space with too many elements.
Continue the visual story by incorporating the same style elements from the front cover to give the book a sense of atmosphere that will pull the reader in.
Hiring A Professional Book Cover Designer
If you’re unsure of your artistic skills and overall vision for your book’s cover, it’s probably best to hire the services of a professional book cover designer.
Professional designers’ area of expertise covers more than just software use – they understand how images, text, and font should all be balanced to best sell your book.
Designers also have a better handle on how certain layout and formatting styles will affect the message you are trying to project with your target readers in a specific genre.
Professionals are also the most up-to-date when it comes to the current style trends in the market, which will help in giving insight into how your book will compete against others in your genre.
What to Expect
1. Be Ready to Give a Creative Brief
Whether you set-up an initial consultation call in person or over the phone, it’s ideal to be ready with a written brief.
A good brief doesn’t just tell the designer about what they’re working with, but more importantly, who they’re working for.
Artists will be more enthusiastic to work with a publisher who has a clear vision for their design versus one that doesn’t.
The creative brief will also help the designer manage your expectations about how much time is needed to come up with concept art and how much they’re going to quote you for the entire project cost.
Top tip: Feel free to include sample cover mock-ups in your brief to give the designer a better understanding of the creative direction you’re heading toward.
2. Pricing Negotiations
After you’ve laid out your desired vision for your book cover design, the designer will issue you a quote.
Some artists also have packages that provide a range of prices depending on the project’s required level of detail, and the artist can finalize the quote based on your needs.
Don’t be afraid to be upfront with your designer if you’re working on a tighter budget.
It’s better to clarify this from the start so your designer can adjust their output accordingly, saving you both time and effort in the back-and-forth discussions during conceptualization.
3. Several Concept Rounds
Once you and your designer have decided to collaborate together, they will send you a couple of book cover design mock-ups to choose from.
These concepts will likely still be unpolished as the designer would want to get your feedback before pursuing the artistic direction on a particular concept.
Having several mock-ups to choose from is great for publishers who want to test more than one cover design with an existing audience before they give the go-ahead to the designer to finalize a design.
Note that not every book designer offers first-concept sneak peeks, so it’s better to ask your artist about this first before you decide to work with them.
4. Final Concept Round
After deciding to move forward with a particular concept, the designer will deliver the final prototype for your book cover and any other components you agreed on, like the back cover and spine.
Make sure you’re completely satisfied with the final result of your cover design since you are paying for it!
Why else wouldn’t you be, right?
Some designers may set a limit on the number of revisions you go through, so it’s best to be clear with your artist about every element of the concept art you want to improve.
Important Questions to Ask Your Book Cover Designer
1. Artist’s Portfolio and Client References
You want to hire a cover designer who has experience in designing books in the same genre as yours.
Browsing through their portfolio first will give you a sense of their art style and level of expertise.
Speaking directly to past clients about their experience will also give you more realistic feedback on what to expect from the designer’s work ethic.
2. If the Designer Offers A No-Risk Money-Back Guarantee
Most professional designers are confident enough in their work quality to offer clients a 100% money-back guarantee in case you’re not happy with the final product.
Not all artists will offer this, but it doesn’t hurt to ask before choosing a designer to work with.
3. If They Can Do Other Book Design Projects
In case you’re looking for more than just cover design services (such as 3D covers for box sets, online display ads, and website logos), you want to ensure all your design elements are consistent.
Not only does this make all the elements in your marketing strategy more consistent, but your designer might be more open to giving a little discount if they’re working on an entire suite of projects.
4. How They Communicate
This question might sound a little silly to you, but communication is key when it comes to collaborating with someone!
Laying down simple ground rules of what time is best to call your designer or when to expect (or not expect) a response will make the design process flow much more smoothly.
Letting each other know if you’ll be unavailable for an extended period of time for vacation or work will also help in avoiding panicked moments or unnecessary miscommunication issues along the way.
5. How They’ll Deliver The Final Product
After making sure that your designer got your cover dimensions right, another important detail you need to ask your designer is the kind of file format they’ll be using.
Most designers will simply send you high-resolution JPEG and PDF files to your email address; however, ask for the raw file (ex. Photoshop or InDesign) if you want to be able to make some adjustments to the cover art.
Some artists may not be comfortable providing their raw files, so this is a good question to ask ahead of time.
Where to Find One
Okay! So you’re ready to commit to hiring a professional book cover designer. Now, where to find one?
If you don’t have a referral and are not sure where to look first, there are plenty of online platforms that will help connect you to a team of designers.
You can also opt to look for freelancers where you have a little more leeway to name your price.
Freelance artists are usually much more affordable since they’re mostly small-name or part-time artists just starting a portfolio.
Here are some of the most popular online sites to source book cover designers.
99Designs (From $279)
99Designs has over a hundred professional designers in over 90 artistic skill sets.
The fun thing with the platform is that you can launch a “contest” to have a variety of designers send in their take on your book’s concept art. You can then pick a favorite artist to work with.
Reedsy (From $300)
Reedsy is a platform catering to publishers and authors alike, with professional teams of editors, publicists, and marketers aside from just cover designers.
You can browse through 500+ profiles of designers who will offer free quotes for your book cover design project. Reedsy’s platform also allows you to compare quotes, share files, and collaborate online with your artist.
Payments are also managed through Reedsy’s system, so you know it’s legitimate!
AuthorPackages (From $525 for Print & eBook Covers)
Author Packages offers a more straightforward approach to book cover designing with their set-rate service plans.
Each plan comes with certain inclusions, such as a book cover design for the front, back, and spine covers, a Dropbox with all the final images, and no stock image fees.
Author Packages’ plans will help you stay within your means if you’re working with a strict budget since you know upfront what you’re paying for.
eBook Launch (From $449)
Whether you’re publishing eBooks or printed books, eBook Launch is a great resource to search for premade or bespoke cover designs.
eBook Launch has design plans which include everything from the front, back, and spine covers. Unlimited changes, as well as 100% money-back guarantees, also form part of the packages offered.
If going with a design agency is out of your budget, there are several freelance platforms like Fiverr, Upwork, and DeviantArt where you can reach several designers in your area for as low as $10/hour.
These platforms have a handy filter and drop-down sections that will help narrow your search depending on what design service you need, when you need it, and budget limitations.
While these sites have testimonial sections and artist ratings, it may be best to manage your expectations, especially if you get more affordable artists with less experience.
Examples Of Before And After Redesigns
Whether it’s a new author trying to improve their initial DIY cover, or a publisher attempting to reinvigorate old book sales, cover redesigns can be effective in pushing book sales further.
In his interview with BuildBookBuzz, cover designer Alexander Von Ness shares some examples of book covers he redesigned.
Hearts Set Free by Jess Lederman
- The author wanted to convey 2 opposite elements: A desert (loss and helplessness) and a sky (hope and new beginnings)
- The new image used placed more focus on the “beauty” of the sky
The Career Game Plan by Nyaka NiiLampti and Shaun Tyrance
- Artist changed title placement and font, making it more visible to the reader
- Clutter around the title (subtitle, blurbs) was removed
- Artist replaced the image of a man in a suit with an illustration of men and women in suits, in order to appeal to the female audience as well
Windborne by Wanda DeHaven Pyle
- Artist added a visual representation of a “heroine” as the story centers around a female character; not a church or tree in a prairie
- Artist kept elements of the windmill and windswept trees in the background to keep the original small-town atmosphere
- The tone and warmth of cover were deepened to give the image an “old-fashioned” impression
- The lettering was created by the artist himself to give a “handmade” paper-feel
Ways to Test Different Designs
The most cost-effective (and free) way to see if your design is appealing to everyone is to gather thoughts from friends and family.
However, the results can be a little biased since these people are also your biggest fans.
Our loved ones have a tendency to leave feedback at “both look great!” and “it’s really up to you” when trying to decide between different concept art.
If you really want to test the effectiveness of your designs in the market, you can do so in two simple ways:
Use A Display Advertising Platform
For a little extra money, you can use an advertising platform like BookBub Ads or Facebook Ads to run two ads for your different concept art simultaneously.
The platform will then compare the CTR (click-through rate) for each, and the cover with the highest CTR will be the winner.
BookBub Ads gives you complete control over your target market, ad design, spend, and timing so you can tailor-fit a campaign to your marketing goals.
If you have an existing mailing list of subscribers who have signed up to receive updates from you, you can also use an e-mail marketing platform like Mailchimp to measure CTR.
Just be sure to include the links to the different designs to capture the responses from each email address.
Use a Polling Software
A polling software like PickFu makes it incredibly easy to test the responses of people to different book covers.
Simply upload two different cover versions, and respondents will select which version they prefer.
The advantage of PickFu is that:
- The software has an established testing audience which means faster responses
- Respondents need to share their thoughts on why one choice is better
- You’ll be able to view people’s comments to improve your book’s cover
If you’re a publisher with a blog or website, you can run a poll for free there as well.
The upside to this is that respondents are most likely to purchase your book; however, you might not get as high a volume of responses unless you already have a widely established audience of people.
Maybe You Should Judge A Book By Its Cover
You could have written the world’s greatest novel, but no one is going to know if they don’t read it.
At the same time, there are also plenty of so-so books that have made millions of sales simply because of a pretty cover.
Ultimately, the decision between making a cover yourself or hiring a professional comes down to how complex your design needs are and what works with your budget.
Just remember that having a stellar cover design is what will get people to pick up your book in the first place.