Editor’s note: this summer, we were fortunate enough to have Sarah as an intern at Written Word Media. Sarah studies behavioral psychology and blended her love of books, experience working with Written Word Media, and knowledge of psychology to put together the below recommendation – all backed by research.
As a psychology major at Tufts University, my true passion lies in applying psychological research and principles to everyday conundrums in order to make life better. Here I’ve pulled together some relevant research on aesthetics and color in marketing and how that research applies to book cover design.
Your book cover is arguably your most important brand asset. A book cover informs the reader of genre, tone, content, and (for better or for worse) relative quality. We know that different genres follow vastly different trends in book cover design – but we can also turn to psychology to understand why certain design elements impact a book’s appeal to readers (and therefore sales).
Here are 4 science-backed tips to help your cover shine:
Though aesthetic preferences are bound to vary from person to person, one factor that is valued across groups is symmetry. A cover with symmetrically arranged elements such as a title, imagery, and subtitle should appeal to a broader audience because symmetry is an objective element of beauty that can outweigh personal preferences.
A long known principle of physical beauty, research has found that symmetry applies to more than just faces. A study conducted by the University of Basel found that websites with highly symmetrical layouts were rated as most attractive by participants.
While this study in particular dealt with website layouts, you can extract this same principle and apply it to your book cover. Some easy ways to construct a more symmetrical book cover are being sure to center align your title (along with any other writing on your cover), choosing images with content that mirrors itself, and centering any images on your cover.
There’s something to be said for keeping it simple. By focusing on a few key
elements on your cover, you can avoid overwhelming potential readers. A chaotic cover
could indicate to readers that the contents of your book are poorly organized as well.
The same study conducted at the University of Basel found that simplicity was
another important factor in websites receiving high ratings of aesthetic attractiveness.
You can apply this idea of simplicity to by sticking to one central image rather than multiple images, avoiding too much description on the cover, and sticking with one cohesive color scheme are all easy ways to keep your cover simple and universally appealing.
Speaking of color schemes, yours is important! The color scheme you select for your cover can tell potential readers a lot about your cover very quickly, particularly the mood of your piece.
An important caveat: Though in recent years there has been significant interest in the psychology of color, research has been inconclusive when it comes to assigning universal personalities to specific colors, according to Greg Ciotti, marketing strategist and contributor for Entrepreneur. Ciotti writes that “predicting consumer reaction to color appropriateness in relation to the product is far more important than the individual color itself”. In other words, when designing your cover, it’s important to consider how you want your audience to react to your book and what personality you want to express (see Exciting red and competent blue).
When selecting a color scheme, pick one that will align with your subject matter and themes. For example, if your book is in the romance genre, you might want to pick colors that broadly reflect romantic themes, such as reds or pinks. Or if you’re writing a dark thriller, choose darker hues to reflect the macabre nature of your novel. Not sure what colors to pick? According to this study, blue hues are generally a good choice.
When picking your book cover color scheme, it’s also important to have a hue or two that contrast highly with their surroundings. By intentionally highlighting certain areas of your cover, you can influence what aspects are most salient to your potential readers.
Studies such as this one emphasize the Isolation effect, which theorizes that items that stand out from their surroundings are better remembered. This contrast can also be constructed using different fonts and font sizes. This study found that the most enticing contrast utilized both a difference in color and font size.
Take this into consideration when you are formatting a cover; do you want the book to promote you as an author? Contrast your name with a larger font in a different color. Do you want to place emphasis on the fact that it’s part of a series? Contrast the series title using an exciting font in a different color. Want to highlight that your book is a standalone? Contrast the title from its surroundings with a bold font and attention-grabbing color. These exact methods are just suggestions, so you should feel free to experiment with font, size, and color to best suite your novel.
Want some more information on how to best use different colors? This Kissmetrics article is a great guide to understanding how colors relate to each other, which will be helpful when selecting appropriate accents.
To get a better idea of how these four principles interact, let’s look at two book covers that employ them successfully.
First, we have Pulitzer Prize winner, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
The title, imagery, and the author’s name are all centered on the cover, and if we were to draw a line through the center, they would be near perfectly divided.
There is one central image on the cover, as well as, a single color scheme. The fonts, while engaging, are not difficult to read nor are they distracting.
The cover is mostly blue, which as we noted in the color section, is a color that is generally appealing to a lot of people. The blue hues in this case also seem to evoke a pensive, somewhat somber aura. This novel is categorized as literary fiction and tells the story of two children during WWII, so this aura seems to align with the brand and contents of the book well.
The most highlighted text on the cover is the title, which is larger than the other text. The title is also written in white in a bold, clear font that contrasts nicely with the darker blue background and grabs our attention. The author’s name is cleverly written in yellow which contrasts nicely with the blue behind it. Because more emphasis is placed on the title than the author’s name, we can infer that the author’s goal is to market their book first then themselves.
Let’s compare this cover to the buzzy NYT bestseller, The Martian by Andy Weir.
Again, here the author’s name, the book title, and cover imagery are centered. If we were to draw a line down the center, it create two almost perfectly symmetrical halves.
The only image on the cover is the person in the astronaut suit. They rest of the background is in the red/orange color family, which adds dimension and intrigue without overwhelming. The title and author’s name are written in a clean, easy-to-read font.
The reddish and orange shades on the cover directly call to mind the novel’s subject matter (being stuck on Mars), as Mars is commonly known as “the Red Planet”. The color choice aligns nicely with the content and the science fiction genre as a whole (see our trends in cover design post).
The method of contrast here is notably different from the first cover we examined. Here we see that while the title is slightly larger than the author’s name, both are in the same font and color. They are also placed closely together. From this we can infer that the book and author are being marketed as a pair, rather than one being prioritized over the other.
Taking these principles into consideration when designing your cover can help to add allure and sophistication to your novel’s brand regardless of genre. And while the content of a book is ultimately what matters most, your cover is what literally and figuratively binds your book together as a full package. Think of your novel as a gift; even though the present is most important, the wrapping adds polish and intrigues your recipient to uncover what’s inside.
So whether you’re working on publishing a new book or have an older one you’ve been wanting to refresh for promotion, these 4 tips can help give your book cover the extra “oomph” that will send the right message to the right audience.