How to Evoke Emotions with Book Cover Design

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From Writers Helping Writers:

Do you remember being a child in a bookstore? 

With shelves upon shelves of books around, you felt positively overwhelmed and full of anticipation. Hundreds of stories waited for you to take a peek behind their covers. And then, you stumbled upon a book that grabbed your attention. Your eyes were glued to its shiny surface. The colors, the art, the beautiful font — they were impossible to ignore. Without even opening the book, you already wanted to experience the world hidden inside. 

That’s the cover every book deserves; it should evoke emotion, whatever the readers’ age. 

. . . .

How Do People Decide which Book to Buy? 

A few years ago, aspiring writer Gigi Griffis decided to conduct a little survey to figure out how avid readers pick new books. Here are her results: 

  • 85% said that they buy books of the authors they already loved
  • A friend’s recommendation was the second most popular reason (77%)
  • 47% and 48% respectively cited book sales and gorgeous cover art

These numbers confirm what we’ve already suspected: people stick with the familiar and they let their eyes guide them. Fortunately, a professional book cover can help us create that sense of familiarity while also attracting readers.

. . . .

Know Your Target Audience 

Most of the time, readers already know what kind of a book they want. More specifically, they know the emotion they want to experience

  • I want to be scared
  • I want to be thrilled
  • I want to explore strange and captivating worlds
  • I want to feel in love

For a cover to “hit” the target audience in just the right way, it’s primary purpose should communicate: This book has the feeling/vibe you’re looking for! 

The first way we can accomplish this is through color.


People have strong, well-defined associations with color and temperature, smell, and emotions. A color can be warm, cool, wet, or dry. It can signal danger or imply coziness. An effective book cover should use associations like these to achieve the desired emotional result.

. . . .


Chip Kidd—a well-known and delightfully eccentric book cover designer—has said that his job in designing a cover is to ask: “What does the story look like?”

The imagery of your cover should answer this question while also communicating the book’s genre (which helps achieve that sense of familiarity). So don’t hesitate to follow the established canons of the genre. If the idea is common, masterful execution and a unique take can still make the visuals fresh

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

8 thoughts on “How to Evoke Emotions with Book Cover Design”

  1. The full OP is worth taking a look at if you’re interested in book covers, especially for DIY/Indie folks. He even has some side-by-side examples and some font choices for different genres.

    • Whoops! Thanks Harald. I skimmed the article and your comment hit home. Prepping for a couple of releases and am in the process of landing on cover concepts. This is going to help. I’ll go thru the article now b/c of your suggestion. Again, thanks.

  2. For many years, I would walk into B&N and stand back fifteen feet from the big face-out fiction rack. My eye picked certain covers without being able to read the cover print. In a few minutes I had 2-3 purchases. I don’t know how it worked, but it worked very well.

    Ebooks ruined a great system.

  3. Following genre-specific cover cues and conventions is usually useful…
    …up to a point. Where the shopper has to choose your book from the other books in the same genre. Too often what you get is a melange of nearly identical covers that screams “generic xxx story!”.

    Examples abound like the infamous acacia tree gracing most any tradpub book about or set in Africa or the trenchcoat silhouette in the mist for thrillers, the buff young bodies on romances, etc.

    In SF, for ages, every single book featured a stylized rocket ship on the cover, even when the story had absolutely nothing to do with space, under the theory that genre identification was all the book needed to sell. (Treating the books as fungible within the grenre. :D)Which was actually true in the 50’s and 60’s when SF readers could reasonably aspire to read most everything published in the field but hasn’t been true since the 70’s yet it continues to this day. The most common covers these days are a flying car over a megapolis, a colorful starfield, or a weirdly shaped giant starship.

    Pitfalls abound, as demonstrated by the various bad cover web sight highlighting the cringiest designs. Lots of tradpub authors gripe over the covers their books get saddled with. Yet it is possible to get a cover exactly right yet still get blowback.

    The most recent example I’ve seen is the (original) cover for Lois Bujold’s CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE:
    Which cover not only presents an actual scene from the book but also correctly represents the plot and themes of the book. Any Bujold fan would instantly know what the book was (and we are legion) and react by instantly buying. With no regrets after finishing.
    Yet the cover was criticized for being sexist, explotatively, not fit for the genre and worse. (What, a blue woman isn’t cue enough?)

    It was promptly replaced by a generic flying car cover.

    Cover design is a thankless task.
    Be prepared, folks.

    • It all leads back to the old Hollywood trope: “Give me the same, but different.”

      That’s the challenge and beauty of cover design. And I readily accept that challenge.

      (BTW: are you, Felix, also Desmond?)

      • Desmond will doubtlessly be offended.
        Entirely different countries.

        When it comes to covers, the two most compelling features are, to me, the title and the author’s name. In that order. I don’t trust cover imagery and neither Frazetta nor Whelan nor the other great cover artists ever sold me on a book that didn’t hook me with one or the other.

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