How to Create an Attractive and Professional Cover Design for Your Book

Potential buyers will look at your front cover for only a few moments. If they’re interested, they may flip the book over or scroll down online to read the book’s description. If they are not hooked in 20 seconds, you don’t have a sale.

This post will show how I process cover design with authors I work with and some of the issues to consider. To do this I’m going to review the process I went through personally to create the cover for my upcoming book Anyone Can Write.

I believe you should hire a professional to create your book’s cover. The graphic below shows the six covers that Yvonne Parks designed for me.

samples2

I walked into the process considering the following—and these are the same five areas you should consider:

  1. ŸThe specific audience for the book. Although many, many people want to write a book, I was seeking to appeal mostly to mature, experienced leaders—male and female. The cover had to appeal to men, even though women buy way more books than men. I was OK with having it appeal to men more than women, but it couldn’t alienate either audience. Who is your specific audience?
  2. ŸThe feel. The feelings I wanted the cover to evoke included professionalism, excellence, creativity, and empowerment to write and publish a book. What is the feel you want to give to potential readers?
  3. The message. The message of the book that had to come through: you CAN write a book and I’ll make it as easy as possible for you to get your book done. What is the one message you want to say?
  4. Personal taste. I wanted the cover to feel good to me personally. It’s my book. It represents me and I had to like it. Your cover does not have to reflect all of who you are, but you should feel good about it.
  5. Marketability. The cover had to clearly stand out in a thumbnail image since my “store” is Amazon.com. The design also had to look great for both paperback and e-book format. Is your cover easy to spot from across the room or among a bunch of thumbnails online?

The winner was sample 2. Let’s look at each of the designs briefly and I’ll share the thought process behind each one.

Sample 4: I’m starting with Sample 4 because this was my initial concept. The title of my book was inspired by Chef Gusteau’s book Anyone Can Cook in the movie Ratatouille. Since a writing rat wasn’t going to work, I sent Yvonne a link to onetwothree cavemen, but she didn’t feel it would appeal to women and she didn’t think anyone wanted to be compared to a monosyllabic grunting hairy dumb guy.

Ok…so I work with people on their book covers all the time and my first idea is a bad one. At least I got the ball rolling and checked off something that wouldn’t work.

Then I found the dog image in Sample 4. (You’ll notice that there is a watermark for Shutterstock across the image, which goes away once you buy the image.) Personally I like Sample 4 better than the cover that won and some friends I polled liked it too. But the cover wasn’t going to accomplish my most important goals, so it didn’t win. Sigh.

Sample 1: Since we were on the dog theme, Yvonne saw this dog image and threw it in as a different dog option.

Sample 2B: Yvonne liked the font treatment in Sample 1’s design, so she also created 2B with Sample 2’s graphic but with Sample 1’s font treatment.

Sample 5: Yvonne pitched this one to me. I loved the simplicity. For whatever reason I didn’t like the short, computer-generated-looking pencil. As I look at it now, I like it more. I liked the font treatment a lot and this design got a bunch of votes from people I polled.

Sample 4: This was the second concept that came to mind after the dog. I love the red (it’s my company brand’s theme color) and the exploding pencil—like creativity is coming out as you write or all of the many things you could say are being channeled into one clear message through the pencil. I received other feedback that the image was too cluttered and created feelings of confusion.

If I had chosen this cover, I would have made the red bar across the middle that contains the title a little thicker. There is a lot going on behind the title and it would be very hard to see the title immediately and clearly in a thumbnail image. I still really like this cover, but my feedback said it wasn’t going to evoke the feelings I was shooting for.

Sample 2: This design by far received the most and best feedback. Both men and women liked it. Most of the male and female leaders I polled (the audience I work with most and the primary audience I’m trying to appeal to) preferred this image. This is probably one of the main reasons I didn’t go with Sample 4. Sample 4’s image also emphasized that ANYONE can write, even a dog, but my primary audience wasn’t just anyone. I was shooting for male and female leaders who have expertise and experience that a book can capture effectively.

The title of Sample 2 emphasizes that anyone CAN write, which is the message I’m trying to send. Samples 1, 2B, and 4 emphasize that anyone can WRITE. Samples 3 and 5 weigh all the words equally.

The font choice for Sample 2 is a classic, timeless font that will not be going out of style next year.

I also wanted to show the end product of an author’s hard work—a completed book—versus the instrument to complete the product—a pencil or computer. The combination of the image and the font treatment for the title seemed to evoke the emotion I was shooting for.

After sorting through the feedback I received, it would have been unwise to go with any other cover. I ended up darkening the title font and making the subtitle bigger, but Sample 2 is what ended up as the cover design.

While there are many strategies for cover design, these seven principles were behind my final cover decision:

  1. Your title and subtitle working together should clearly and creatively state what your book is about.
  2. Choose one primary image or background that shows visually what your book is about or what the end result will be for someone who reads your book. The primary image needs to be big enough and clear enough to be able to see in a thumbnail image online.
  3. Choose an image that is fresh—not dated or overused.
  4. Keep the design simple. Avoid clutter or layering too many images together.
  5. Find and use a great font. There are many, many available. A few fonts to avoid completely include Papyrus, Impact, and Comic Sans.
  6. Avoid using too many fonts or a font that is difficult to read. Usually a good cover has one distinctive font and a secondary subfont. The secondary font should be simple or it will only create clutter.
  7. Use your fonts effectively. The placement and size of the title and other written elements on the front cover (subtitle, author name, foreword name, etc.) can take your cover from boring with a home-made look to interesting, unique, and professional. You can from the examples above different ways Yvonne used fonts effectively.
An awesome cover will not automatically sell your book. But a bad cover will for sure keep it from selling. People will judge your book by its cover, so make it a good one.
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