How to design a book cover?

Designing a book cover is a complex task, but it must be undertaken if you want to self-publish a book. Mainly because the cover is the first thing your readers will see, and it defines your book more to potential buyers than the synopsis or summary. A cover shows the book’s style, genre, theme, and even the author’s attitude.

However, we know that designing your book cover can be complicated, especially if you do not have experience with design programs or the elements that a cover should have. You can also write to us so we can offer you the services of a professional designer or use our online cover editor to make your life easier. In this blog we want to focus, more than on the design itself, on how to consider the cover of your book and what elements it should have. So if you want to learn how to design your book cover forever, keep reading! 

  1. Why the cover is so important
  2. Create your book cover according to your audience
  3. Define the message of your cover
  4. Get inspired before creating your cover
  5. Find concrete ideas for your cover
  6. What are the best tools to design your book cover?
    1. Cover vs. deck
    2. Elements that your cover should have
  7. Advanced programs to design your cover

1. Why the cover is so important

Jazz berry Blue Cover

The first impression counts, in love and on book covers. The first thing the reader will see is your cover and, based on it, they will judge whether or not to open the book or read its synopsis. A good cover is an extremely useful marketing tool of extreme importance, especially in the era of social networks – we recommend you consult our article on using social networks to promote your book -. Now that anyone can ‘like’, ‘share’ and ‘tweet’ images, the visual part of a book also spreads across the web. A well-designed book cover can significantly boost book promotion, and what’s even more crucial is that, due to the growing trend of self-publishing, an increasing number of books are entering the market.

Designing the cover is a key element for a self-published author who assumes responsibility for the promotion and sale of his books. An attractive cover that represents your story can make the difference between success and failure.

With that in mind, we asked purchasing managers at large European distributors for their opinion on book covers. Without exception, everyone indicated that the book cover is probably the most relevant feature in terms of appeal and sales potential. If a cover doesn’t look professional or relevant enough, the book will almost never make it to bookstore shelves.

Let’s see what to do to create your perfect cover:

2. Create your book cover according to your audience

The most successful book covers let you know the genre of the book without explicitly mentioning it. Is your book a thriller or a romance novel? Your cover should provide some guidance. The goal is to captivate the target audience in a couple of seconds. If it is a detective novel, the colors should be darker. On the other hand, if your book is a young adult novel, it should have brighter colors… Although there are always exceptions.

Do you need help defining your gender? Literary genres have been debated for a long time. They are usually defined by narrative technique, tone, and sometimes length. But often, genres are defined by content. Some common genres are: fantasy, thriller, mystery, crime, romance, magical realism and science fiction. Some genres are specifically aimed at adults, others at young people, however some genres can target both. You should know the age range of your target audience and adapt your cover design accordingly. Or maybe your book is non-fiction. Is it informative? Is it a biography? Your audience should be able to tell just by looking at the cover.

3. Define the message of your cover

Another way to think of your cover is as a puzzle piece. Writing a book children book editors is like solving a giant puzzle, your cover only represents one piece of it. An intelligently crafted cover should engage the reader’s interest without revealing too many details about the plot. You should provide enough information about the story to capture readers’ attention without revealing too many details.

Exercise! Let’s go back to the illustration above. We all know the story of Little Red Riding Hood: Do you think the cover represents the story well? Does it give you the whole story? What story elements does it include?

The images and colors on your cover should represent your key message or the story of your book. Keep in mind that humans are not just passive observers; we also experience emotions.  You know the saying people remember how you made them feel, not what you said”? In that case, you want your cover to be memorable and impactful, and this can be achieved through emotions. Evoke emotions in your reader through your cover design. The emotion you represent through your cover design should reflect the key message or essence of your story.

Some ideas to think about:

  • Illustrate the central threat or problem of the story
  • Shows the main characters
  • Think of symbols that represent your story or the message behind your story
  • When the title holds strong impact independently, keep the visual elements of the cover to a minimum and ensure the title takes center stage (minimalism remains timeless!).

4. Get inspired before creating your cover

After thinking about what you want to portray, it’s time to look for ideas. Get inspired. Start by looking at the covers of other books: how have your favorite authors illustrated their stories? Sometimes the same book comes in several editions with different covers. It can be interesting to see how the same story is represented in different ways.

You can also compare book covers from different genres and the different styles: minimalist versus vibrant styles, focus on images instead of words, etc. You can use platforms like Pinterest or Flickr as a source of inspiration: you can search for ‘book covers’ in general, or very specific elements, such as font types.

5. Find concrete ideas for your cover

After you have searched for inspiration, you can find concrete ideas for your own book cover.  You can even use Pinterest to create your own mood board! Use the images, colors, or fonts you like. When searching for images, you can go beyond the social networks we’ve already discussed. Some sites that offer free photos are Unlash and Pixels. In our article on how to design your cover with Canvas, you will find how to do it on its free platform. We use it to make the occasional image for social networks and it works wonderfully. It has many interesting free images and an editor which at Writers of USA we call ‘mini Photoshop’.

Remember: several things must come together to form your deck. Don’t put too many items on your deck, but consider the following:

  • Illustration
  • Colors and style
  • Typography
  • Gender
  • Main message/story

You can find tips on typography by literary genre here.

If you design your cover yourself, you can make your more or less detailed sketches or prototypes.

An idea: You can present some options to your online community and ask your followers’ opinions. This will also generate excitement about the possibility of contributing to your project. You can also send us your cover and we will tell you how it is: do it through the email or through our Instagram

6. What are the best tools to design your book cover?

Nowadays you can find free tools and programs online that will help you with your cover design. However, there are more professional options, such as the aforementioned Canvas. You can find a useful tutorial for using Canvas here or go to our blog on how to create a cover with Canvas.

Canvas is more aimed at those who don’t want to have complex tools like those offered by Photoshop or InDesign. Although Canvas is simpler, it is quite good for authors with little editing practice. It offers pre-designed models that you can use directly or modify according to your needs. There are even pre-formatted book covers! However, the best way to create a book cover in Canvas is to use the ‘custom dimensions’ functionality after you have obtained the measurements of your cover, we also explain this in our article.

Cover vs. deck

Elements that your cover should have

The format of your cover will depend on the printer and publisher: some parts require only the cover while others require both the back cover, the front cover, and the spine in a single document. For many Non Fiction Ghostwriter platforms such as Writers of USA, the document you upload for your cover must contain: cover, back cover and spine. The width of the spine depends on the number of pages you have and the type of paper you use.

As you can see in the figure below, Writers of USA calculates these measurements for you depending on the size of your book, type of paper and number of pages you have, in addition to a 3 mm line spacing around the outer edges of your cover. Leading is important so that there is no blank space on the cover after the printer makes the necessary cuts. Therefore, the leading should be a continuation of your cover, and not a blank space. Please note that the line spacing should be greater for hardcover books – for example, Writers of USA requires a line spacing of 17 mm.

Example of a standard format book (155 mm x 235 mm) with 144 pages

Our advice: if you want to design your book cover in standard format using Canvas, create a cover that is 327 mm x 241 mm (not pixels). As seen in the figure above, you should leave a placemat for the spine of your book in the center of the rectangular space (11 mm in the example above). 

7. Advanced programs to design your cover

Of course, you can use more advanced programs to design your cover, such as Adobe InDesign and Photoshop or Microsoft Publisher. Below, we offer you some tutorials for each of them:

  • InDesign
  • Photoshop
  • Publisher

Please keep in mind that these software programs can be quite expensive. To design the cover for your book we recommend the free alternative GIMP, an open source graphic editor with many specialized functionalities. Here you will find some useful tutorials on how to use it, but in English.

For some people, the best option might be to hire a designer. A widely used platform to design the cover for your book is 99designs, but you can also connect with designers through social media. Today, most designers have an online presence and you can view their work before you contact them. The good thing is that hiring a designer doesn’t have to be expensive.

In this article, our aim was to convey our own thoughts as well as insights from experts on the importance of knowing how to design the cover of a book. Remember: people will judge your book at first glance! Therefore, you need to capture the attention of your audience and get people excited about your cover.


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