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Quick Keys to Successful Cover Design

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Quick Keys to Successful Cover Design

by Michelle DeFilippo

One of the biggest mistakes that new publishers make when evaluating book-cover concepts is to focus on what they “like.”

“Huh?” you may ask. “I’m paying good money for this cover, and it’s my book. Are you suggesting I’m not entitled to like the design?

No, not exactly. What I am suggesting is that before you reject your designer’s concepts, it’s important to understand that a book cover has one job—to capture the attention of the buyer. Period. End of story.

There are a thousand ways to accomplish this, and they all have one thing in common: the book cover must be simple. Breaking this cardinal rule can hurt your sales, big-time.

Think of your book cover as a billboard. Just like vehicles on the freeway, your prospective buyers are speeding by. Statistics show that people look at a book cover for only seven seconds, on average, before making a decision to buy, or not. That’s not a lot of time to convince somebody your book is what they want.

Ask a busy prospective buyer to work too hard—by adding complex graphics to a cover design, for instance, or using too many words or too many messages on the cover—and the prospect will simply stop looking at your cover and buy somebody else’s book.

Focus is the key. The front cover must drill down to your core message. Save the details for the back cover and any flaps, so your front cover will be the effective sales tool it was meant to be.

The Four Basic Requirements

Staying focused is vital when you are evaluating concepts your cover designer presents. Chances are, if you show the concepts to your circle of colleagues and acquaintances, everyone will suggest changes—partly because they want to help, and partly because it’s just plain fun to participate.

To ensure that your cover design is not destroyed by tweaks or more significant alterations, check to see that it meets the four requirements listed below. Each of the covers shown here meets them all in a variety of ways.

1. The title should be large and easily readable.

2. The contrast between the title and the background should be effective. Simply put, this means use a light title against a dark background, and use a dark or colorful title against a light background.

3. The design should be simple; the simpler, the better. Covers that are too busy or that contain overly ornate fonts or too many elements will confuse the buyer. The cover must tell the story in one quick glance.

4. The title should be readable when the cover is used in very small sizes and/or in black and white, as it may appear online or in catalogs. Print out the cover about an inch tall in both color and black and white to test its effectiveness.

While these four “rules” aren’t the only considerations to keep in mind as you comment on designs, they are the basis upon which a successful cover design is built. And when your Aunt Matilda, who attended art school in 1930, insists that the background should be purple because it’s her favorite color, they’ll help you explain why this isn’t a good idea.


The Happy Mind by William Yoder (Alight Publications): The title color is a gradient, starting with the green from the foliage to a deep blue. The graphic connects the title and the author name and contains seven stones symbolizing the seven principles in the subtitle.

A Land Beyond Ravens by Kathleen Cunningham Guler (Bardsong Press): The title is a blue-black to match the raven below, and both are in stark contrast to the ominous brown sky. The title font was chosen to reflect this fourth book in a historical series on Arthurian Dark Age Britain with its mystical Celtic roots.

Your Yoga Experience by Sandi Greenberg (Tandu Publications): The title color was picked up from the floor mat in the photo. The font symbolizes the stretching and flexibility that can be achieved through the practice of yoga. The addition of the red flower pattern inside the letter O draws the eye to the title.

Sea Changes by Gail Graham (Jade Phoenix Publishing): The white title floating in a dark background is ever-so-slightly closer to the close-up photo below to draw the reader’s eye to the seascape within the white sunglasses.

Michele DeFilippo is the owner of 1106 Design. In addition to editorial services, cover design, and typesetting, 1106 Design offers comprehensive cover design evaluations at 1106design.com.

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