We live in an entertainment universe where we are constantly over-stimulated with hi-def images and sound. As a freelance art director and book cover designer for the past 15 years, I’ve had to remind clients—and sometimes myself—that books are the opposite of that. A book cover is not a video or an animated GIF. It cannot move or make noise. We can’t try to force it to sing and dance. Books sit there patiently waiting for us to discover them. The cover is your vehicle to pull someone in, to give the potential reader a little sneak peak inside the book and to set the tone for what’s inside. You don’t have to tell the whole story—actually, as I’ll explain later, you shouldn’t even try.
When I first started designing covers I spent a lot of time in bookstores simply looking at books—15 years later I still make time to visit my local bookshops to see what other designers are doing, and to find inspiration. Outside of the broad categories of fiction and nonfiction there are myriad kinds of books and they all have a general feel and style—self-help, memoir, biography, cookbook, how-to, etc. Just like shoes and clothes, book cover designs have popular styles that come and go and evolve over time. You can feel an older design the same way you can feel an older model of car. This is part of the reason why publishers will repackage books after they start to look dated. Head down to your local bookseller (or, not as good, but still effective: browse online) and see what books in your particular category look like. They won’t all be the same, but you’ll start to get an idea of what publishers have found to be successful and, more importantly, what readers currently expect to see on a cover. Here I should state that you are not there looking to rip-off someone else’s design (although it goes on quite a bit, I’m sure you’re better than that). Inspiration good; stealing bad.
Whenever I design a cover—no matter what the subject—I ultimately want it to say one simple thing: “pick me.” I want to compel someone browsing online to click the cover and give the book a chance. You can’t always pinpoint what it is, but some books you just want to see what’s inside. Many times in print this is accomplished with fancy production effects like embossing, glossy varnish, or an unusual paper stock. But it can also be accomplished with a great typeface and just the right image. Maybe it’s a unique color combination, a contrast in type styles, an enticing title or subtitle.
A Few Book Cover Design Tips:
Keep your type simple and readable. Unless you have a real flair for type design you should just stick to basic, strong, readable fonts. A really cool font that is tough to read does more harm than good. Think carefully about colors and composition. Light type on a light background is tough to read. Small type placed on an image can disappear. Continue reading