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25 Tips for Book Cover Images and Layout

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(Blog Post)

Photo of David Horowitz IBPA Member

David Horowitz, Rose Alley Press

Below, IBPA member David Horowitz from Rose Alley Press shares tips on making book cover images and layouts stand out and attract readers. Look for more tips from fellow IBPA members in an upcoming issue of IBPA Independent magazine.

As always, IBPA welcomes your feedback in the comments section of this post. Let us know if you found these tips helpful, or if you have any of your own!

  1. Decide on your title before you select cover art. You do not want to waste time or money on art you will not need because it no longer fits a changed title.
  2. When first looking for a suitable front cover image, type your title into the Google “Image” search field. You’re likely to find some images you could use — or that at least stimulate creative thinking.
  3. Always contact the artist, gallery, and/or company responsible for renting use of an image you want. Pay all required fees and sign all required contracts. Don’t cheat anyone out of money and honor legitimate contractual terms. Significant cropping or overlaying another image onto the original can prove particularly thorny. Read the contract terms carefully, and negotiate, if necessary.
  4. If your book is or is close to being 8.5″ by 5.5″–and the text is printed in a standard vertical manner — you’re likely to want a front cover image that emphasizes vertically. This will give you a fuller, more vivid image.
  5. A good front cover image should be immediately and profoundly engaging, while also accurately reflecting core elements of your book’s text.
  6. Select a typeface that suits the cover art. Then, consider using a sample swatch of color(s) from your image as the basis for the color(s) of your cover text. For example, if your front cover image features dark green leaves, (some of) your text might be the dark green of the image.
  7. Cover text should complement, not compete with, your cover image.
  8. Two to three back cover blurbs of five to ten lines each are usually sufficient. If you want to feature more, then limit each comment to one or two sentences. Don’t cram and jam paragraph after paragraph of verbose blurbs onto a back cover. This is a common mistake and often diminishes interest in your book’s contents.
  9. Select blurb writers with potentially broad appeal to your buying audience, which should include librarians and book store owners.
  10. Send the writer a preview of the blurb and be sure he or she approves of any changes you make to their text.
  11. Always list the book’s genre in the upper left-hand corner of the back cover, and typically list the US, Canadian, and UK prices in the lower left-hand corner. Insert the bar code scanning symbol in the lower right-hand corner. If your book’s back cover is dark, be sure to insert the bar code scanning symbol into a small white rectangular “knock-out,” or else scanners will not be able to read the symbol.
  12. For paperbacks, be sure to have your printer protect the cover with a special plastic laminate. You don’t want scuffed covers.
  13. Always select acid-free paper to help avoid yellowing and fraying.
  14. Print your company’s logo near the bottom of the spine and on the back cover.
  15. Print the author’s name and book title on the spine. And don’t be shy! Generally, bright colors and at least some large text help attract a potential reader’s glance.
  16. Make sure the dollar signs and decimal points of the US, Canadian, and UK prices line up exactly.
  17. Include the book’s title on the back cover as well as the front cover.
  18. Consider bordering your front cover image with a thin colored line to separate it from a white background.
  19. Hire a typesetter if you are unfamiliar with InDesign or a similar page layout program. Work line by line to avoid generic right-justified lines of text that feature bunched-together text while the next line features two or three words stretched out over an entire line. Nothing looks more amateurish than this, yet it is a common flaw.
  20. Keep the text comfortable to read yet sufficiently compact to fit your page dimensions. This is especially important for poetry with long lines. Try testing a variety of : Cheltenham, Sabon, Minion, Janson, Tahoma, and Garamond, and several others are worth a look. Page layout programs often offer a “narrow” version of a typeface, too, so test and see what works best for you. Remember also that serif typefaces tend to be more aesthetically pleasing than sans serif typefaces, so Arial might work for announcements and flyers, but your actual book text might work best in, say, Garamond Narrow or Minion or a similar typeface.
  21. As a test, print the same page of text using ten or twelve different typefaces with diverse font sizes. And don’t hesitate to work with fractional sizes. Minion in 11.7 might work for your book, whereas Minion 11.3 might be a tad small. Test, test, test by printing pages of text.
  22. For the main text of your book, consider using a slightly smaller text size for page numbers than for text. Overly large page numbers might distract attention from the text.
  23. Make especially sure you proofread your “Contents” page(s). During the long editing process, content might be moved and titles might change, so be careful and proofread repeatedly!
  24. Avoid “see-through” pages. Print text on 70-pound and possibly 80-pound paper. Recycled paper these days is typically just as strong and attractive as never-before-used paper. Try at least using a 30%-recycled grade of paper for the sake of environmental sustainability.
  25. Consider having your paperback’s spine “Smythe-Sewn,” not merely perfect bound. This makes your book sturdier.

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