Book Cover Design Tips & Ideas for Beginners

Learn how to design eye-catching book covers that will grab readers' attention and increase book sales. Tips and tricks from industry professionals.

Note: This post was first published on the 14th October, 2013.

Let’s be honest, we all judge a book by its cover most of the time (and there are legions of blogs dedicated to the pastime). Books with good graphics, eye-catching font and good quality covers sell more copies than those without – simple fact. Despite what some people say, book covers are not in decline.

Book cover design is booming and has its own awards. Design Observer promotes an annual award for book cover design with a 35-person judging panel! The traditional process of getting a book cover design can be extremely time-consuming, which is often disappointing for the author. This is all changing with the digital age ushering in an era of author-led ebook publishing and with a little help from crowdsourcing.

New way to design book covers

The Internet has also enabled fast and effective circulation and exchange of documents, ideas, and feedback. Now that people can ‘Pin’, ‘Like’, or ‘Share’ graphics (in other words, help advertise your book!), communities of book lovers (and design lovers) are sharing their favorite book covers across the Web.

The same activity is becoming commonplace among designers and authors, sharing book covers for feedback before they go to publishing. We’re going to take a look at how book cover designs come to be.

For easy reference, take the shortcut:

Designing a concept

Before you get started on creating a brief for a cover design, or before starting to design one yourself, you need to decide on the message you want to send.

Ask yourself: What is the book’s single-minded value proposition? What is the target audience of readers looking for – Inspiration and Aspiration, Success and Achievement, Knowledge and Power, Romance and Passion, Murder and Revenge?

Boiling it down to the motivation, incentive, and emotion will help you generate tons of ideas or visual metaphors that determine the imagery, choice of color palette, typography, and layout that help you capture what the book is all about.

If you want to design your own book cover or if you’ve just had yours crowdsourced, here’s a list of useful tips and tricks to consider for the design, tutorials, and graphic inspiration for your project. Good luck!

Book cover design tips

Generate excitement. Grab attention. The main goal of every book cover is to generate excitement. The cover is one of the best tools in your marketing arsenal. You should create something that will stop people in their tracks and evoke interest. The book cover is the hook that will help you to promote your book.

The book’s genre is important

The book cover should show what genre the book is. Look at these two book covers. It is an easy task to understand what kind of books are in front of you, right? A really good book cover “talks” to its readers through the choice of typography, imagery and metaphor.

If your book is non-fiction, its cover should communicate the book’s tone. Pay attention to its scope. It is really cool when the book cover explains the scope of the book allowing the reader to manage her time.

Minimalism: Less is more!

Minimal style is timeless. It helps to focus on the book’s title and authors name.

Clown Girl, A Novel by Monica Drake, Hawthorn Press

Oil: A Concise Guide to the Most Important Product on Earth by Matthew Yeomans

An Ethics of Interrogation by Michael Skerker

Ugly Man: Stories (P.S.) by Dennis Cooper

Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates by Adrian Johns

How to do it wrong

It is good practice to look at bad design examples too. In fact crap, trashy book covers has become a meme in itself, whether it’s the romance genre or the aptly titled ‘funny as shit book covers’ board on Pinterest. Unfortunately, there are so many bad cover designs.

Over-wrought and over-thought typography is the main offender but using stock imagery can also destroy a book’s visual credibility. Be careful with fonts and stock images.

Stop! Fighter jets? Maybe, I haven’t read this book carefully…

It’s erm… erm… I got no comments.

Book cover design tutorials

How To Create a Retro Style Superman Book Cover

Visit this Photoshop tutorial to get some basic skills in book cover design.

How to Design a Book Cover in Photoshop

YouTube is full of different Photoshop tutorials. This one of the simplest but still useful.

Designing Book Covers Tutorial (Advanced)

This is advanced level video tutorial, but why not have a try?

Create Character Driven Book Cover Art Using Illustrator and Photoshop – Part 1

Learn how to create the “Let’s Go To Monster School!” book cover.

Dirty Design: Create a Grungy Thriller Book Cover

Design a dirty grunge book cover design complete with bleeds.

Sources for more ideas

Think you’ve learned enough to create a stunning book cover design? Slow down! To get inspired, you need to immerse yourself amongst book cover design lovers. Look no further than Pinterest to find minimalist, bold, graphic-driven book cover boards that will make you swoon.

But it doesn’t stop there. Head to Flickr and the Book Cover Archive for more visual treats!

Minimalist book cover design curated by Design Quixotic

Cool Vintage Bright Book Covers by Lily Jack / Britt Mitchell

Abstract book cover design collection by Motion Silence / Grace Nikoari

Bold, graphic driven print covers by Peter Emmerich

Retro book cover designs of the past by Kate Siegel

Minimalist, vintage book cover designs by Web Design Org

Flickr: Bbook Covers

The Book Cover Archive

Humans are visual creatures, so give careful consideration to the book’s imagery. I hope this round-up has inspired you to explore and play with various graphic design elements. The cover is an important marketing tool. Do not leave the design to the last minute!

Be bold! The design should draw people in, providing just enough intrigue that they just have to buy it… now!