The Key Elements of Eye-Catching Book Cover Design

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From Jane Friedman:

The very first thing I’d like to mention is…

S p a c e

Not the book cover cluttered with galaxies of planets, stars and moons, but the one where you can walk into a room and not trip over the dog. A book cover with space allows the imagery and text to breathe. Utilizing space wisely draws attention to the elements that you want potential readers to focus on.

Here is a nonfiction example.

Here is an example of fiction.

And here is an example of poetry in which I’ve taken an extreme perspective. Be sure to take a close look!

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG isn’t totally converted to this cover style.

He wonders how it would look at thumbnail size on a small laptop. Or a tablet?

Or in a thumbnail size along with a lot of other books with colorful covers?

He suggests that anyone designing a book cover needs to understand that good levels of sales on Amazon are almost requirements for success.

7 thoughts on “The Key Elements of Eye-Catching Book Cover Design”

  1. Rule of thumb from the bad old days of the 1990s: Set the book upright about 1m above the floor. Have someone come to about 2m away with their eyes closed, open their eyes for two seconds, then turn away. If they can’t state either the title or author of the book…

    …the book has failed the “six-foot test.” Which is very much like the “thumbnail clarity” test PG suggests above.

    My point is that this isn’t a new consideration or problem. It’s an underappreciated one, but that’s for another time.

    • On the last one, you can’t even tell what genre the book is. On my Fire 10 – at less than ONE foot – just a slightly dirty piece of white paper. (The three “related” thumbnails are about 2/3 the size of the image on the book page – and are perfectly readable.)

      Not something that I would look at any further. Especially after seeing that it is $10.32 for 74 pages – which I could read far better than the cover text.

  2. As I pointed out in the comments to the OP, the writer confuses “color and clutter” with Contrast, and specifically Brightness Contrast. And her covers fail the thumbnail test, as PG says.

  3. Counterpoint. What happens to me when browsing books online is that almost anything that doesn’t look like everything else catches my attention. It doesn’t matter if the author or title are easy to see – book covers in some genres look so much alike and so much of their content try to hit a specific target stated in advance in the listing title that something “different” gets me to click. It’s not enough to look at your cover, you have to look at what it looks like in a sea of covers.

  4. This is very genre-specific.

    IMHO, the primary purpose of a cover is to signify genre — if the genre interests the potential shopper, they may read further. A gorgeously designed cover in a genre not-of-interest is useless.

    After that, clarity of Title/Author, followed by branding for Series/Author (which is part of it).

    If Non-Fiction, then Subject.

    Then (and only then) special design catchiness.

    It’s a screening process, and you want the target viewer to make it all the way down. Beginning with the end (catchy design) is the wrong priority. You can tell the vanity & ego of people who want to start with catchy design — they think they can convert the general crowd into targets. That’s not how it works.

    It’s sort of a leftover of physical bookshelves — if you’re already standing in the SciFi aisle, maybe signaling genre is less critical.

  5. A lot of the “catchy design cover” articles are from people who provide “catchy covers”.

    Just like years ago there a bunch of articles promoting how essential “proper” typographical formating was to ebooks, listing all sorts of “musts”… at a time when no ereader provided advanced typography features.

    And even today, few ebooks bother with any such because:
    1- few ereaders support them
    2- user adjustable settings break most of them
    3- few users care

    Not only is catchy design low in the hierarchy of proper cover design, it is even lower in customers reasons to buy. In reviews, nowhere do you ever see somebody say “I clicked buy the moment I saw the cover, even though the blurb was murky, the genre unknown, and the title meaningless. Oh, and the book sucks but I’m happy anyway: that cover!”

    Covers serve many a purpose but driving sales via dazzling design isn’t one.
    As pointed out, book genre, tone, and series linking all come first. And in many cases Author name or title is all that is really needed. (A whole different article could/should be written somewhere about great book titles.)

    A classic example of that pecking order is BAEN’S first cover for Bujold’s CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE:

    100% story accurate it presented a scene straight from the narrative in photorealistic style. It even hinted at tbe SF ROMCOM tone of the book.

    Yet it got immediate pushback for a bunch of reasons, mostly from non-fans.
    (Fans of the series didn’t care about the cover: the title alone sold the book.)

    BAEN (or S&S) replaced the cover with a generic futuristic flying car pic. Outcry ended.
    A second variation had an all black background divided in three: author name high, title low both in the largest font size that would fit, and a small version of the flying car pic in the middle.

    Nothing catchy about it, 100% functional, and effective.

    Piers Anthony’s XANTH book covers work similarly: they feature a whimsical scene of fantasy characters with his name high, the (usual pun) title low, and most importantly, a blurb proclaiming “New XANTH book”. The blurb alone sells 90% of the books. His fans are legion. For non-fans, the scene and pun-ish title get the message through: “kid friendly fantasy”.

    For established writers, the author name and series branding (if applicable) are overwhelmingly more important than anything else. The power of the “thousand true fans”. Catching those is job one, not being cover clever.

    • Speaking of great covers, here is the original cover for A SPELL FOR CHAMELEON:

      It hits all the right beats, from the clean, representative image (Michael Whelan, so of course) to the short snappy blurb, to the well chosen title. (Who is Chamelon? Why do they need/want a spell? And what does it have to do with this Bink who has no magic?)
      And the image: who is the guy chatting with the manticore? Fantasy minus swords?

      The BALLENTINE folks got everything right and the cover does justice to the book. The XANTH series is an industry all on its own these days but this one was first and the cover helped by sticking to basics.

      (And it looks fine as a thumbnail at Amazon, decades later.)

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