Book cover design has long been an important part of getting readers to pick up a text. Today readers are shopping for both physical and eBooks online. Book Cover Design is more important than ever.
Readers click through countless options and offers. A good cover can be the difference between a reader stopping to check out your description, or clicking on to the next page without stopping. Getting a reader’s attention with your cover is one of the first steps in getting someone to read your book.
Think about your book cover as an advertisement. It’s the most widely used piece of advertising creative you will have. And it’s important to invest in.
In this post, we’ll outline the five most common mistakes in book cover design and how to avoid them. These tips can help you whether you are creating you own cover with a program like Canva, or working with a designer. When you work with a cover designer, keep these tips in mind and make sure you give them creative direction that won’t force them to make the mistakes below.
1. Too many elements on the cover
This is an all too common mistake, particularly with inexperienced designers. It’s common to feel the need to fit multiple elements of your plot on the cover to give it a more descriptive feel. It’s also common to see covers with all main characters depicted to give readers a better idea of what they look like.
Here are the big problems with overloading a cover with story elements:
- It’s confusing, the reader isn’t going to know which element is most important.
- Book covers are shown as rows of tiny thumbnail images on most retail sites like Amazon. There simply isn’t enough space on that tiny thumbnail to communicate much.
- As a rule of thumb, one beautiful element that tells part of the story is almost always better than lots of small elements.
The desire to have a cover describe a book comes from a good place of care for the reader. But, unfortunately, such book covers will likely only be appreciated by readers after they have read the work. Without context, a mish-mash of elements can seem overwhelming and can turn a reader off.
Take a look at the example cover below. The style is in the Cozy Mystery vein, but it has tried to put every aspect of the plot on the cover. Yes, it’s interesting to imagine how the author will weave all of these objects together, but that requires a lot of thought.
A reader is making split second decisions about which book to buy. At first thought, this cover is confusing and overwhelming. A well-designed cover will draw a reader’s interest right away, not after studying it like a famous painting.
This cover also doesn’t utilize blank space, which is an extremely powerful design concept. Inexperienced designers will often shy away from leaving any space unused on a cover. But, in reality, having well placed blank space draws attention even more to key elements. If you notice your cover designer has left blank space on your cover, resist the urge to tell them to fill the space with stuff.
A great example of picking few elements and using blank space is Joanne Fluke’s cover for “Banana Cream Pie Murder.”
This cover leaves some room to breath in the middle, which draws the eye to the few main visual elements. It is easy for a reader to see and understand everything on this cover with a quick glance.
Many book cover designers will ask you to fill out a form with information about what you the author want on the cover, make sure to give them the feedback that you don’t want too many elements.
2. Not a genre fit
This is a big one. Different genres have developed distinct differences in how book covers are designed. If your book cover does not share these stylistic similarities, readers interested in that genre will pass because it doesn’t look like other books they have enjoyed.
This book cover is confusing. It has a lot of futuristic science fiction style colors in the background, but the overlay, while it does a good job of creating focus on a single element, doesn’t fulfill what we expect. Is this a science fiction book? Is it a romance? Is it both? The fact that we can’t instantly say for sure is a problem. If this book is a romance novel set in a city, this cover isn’t what readers of urban contemporary romance have come to expect.
Holly Rayner has a much better cover on this book. We have a lot of similar elements, but the color scheme of the background is more in-line with the romance genre. Deep purples and no neon tell the reader “this is a romance book.”
Remember, you only have a split second to make an impression with your cover. Most readers know their favorite genres and what those covers look like. If your cover does not look like your genre, you can miss out on readers who would love what you have written. Or, get readers who expected something else based on your cover.
3. Poor or wrong font choices
Once again, it’s all about signaling to readers what your book offers. Your font should be similar to other covers in your genre. Take a look at the fantasy book cover example below.
We’ve got a classic fantasy style image, but the font? Not so much. It’s cheerfully handwritten with flourishes that would be much more at home on a chick lit or teen romance novel. This font makes this cover feel a lot lighter. You almost wonder if it’s a goofy tale about a spunky goblin navigating a difficult world of classic fantasy tropes.
Here, Stuart Thaman’s book cover design uses a much more appropriate font.
Serif fonts are often used for fantasy covers, and the medieval look fits perfectly with the genre. The font used here looks like it could have been pulled from the detailed handwriting of an ancient monk who transcribed this tale.
Take a look at bestsellers in your genre when choosing a font. You don’t have to use the exact font others are, but use something that is similar enough that readers won’t be thrown by it. Generally a decent cover designer will use appropriate fonts, but be careful not to ask for a specific font if it’s off-genre.
4. Poor image quality
This is an easy mistake to make if you are new to book cover design, and it’s important to be able to spot it in case you work with an inexperienced designer.
When you use an image on a cover, be careful if you find you need to enlarge it at any point. Small images will decrease in quality as they are stretched to fill space. Looking at the cover below on the left, you can tell that the text is fuzzy, and the detail of the image is blurred.
Additionally, be careful if you want to change the dimensions of an image. If you are using Amazon’s recommended cover dimensions (2,560 by 1,600 pixels), and your background image is much wider at 2,560 by 2,600 pixels, you should crop the image to get rid of the extra width.
Some programs will allow you to simply drag the image smaller, and create a smushed version of the original. See the example below.
As you can see, the image on the left was squished in order to fit the required width. The image on right was simply cropped, and avoids having to smush a wide image into a narrow cover.
This is a pretty drastic example. It’s easy for this to happen in a more minor way without it being obvious. We recommend checking your final cover against the original background image to make sure things look they way they should. As the author you will likely get a cover image that is the correct aspect ratio, but be careful when you upload it to your website or use it for other purposes.
5. Poor readability
Today, book covers are displayed by vendors in a number of sizes and formats. Almost always, readers will see your cover at a size much smaller than a physical book cover.
This means that it’s vitally important that your cover be legible when it is shrunk down and put in a list of books.
In the examples below, Barry Eisler and Scott Pratt both have designs with massive text dominating their covers. Compare the three covers below. The text on the book cover to the left is still legible, but you have to really strain to see it. Readers will be drawn to a cover they can easily understand when scrolling through a list of books. A good practice is to look at your book cover as a thumbnail. Often when a designer sends you a book cover, you look at it in large format on your computer. Shrink it down to thumbnail size to make sure it’s going to look good on retail sites.
Another aspect to consider is that not everyone’s eyesight is the same. If you use a cover like the one on the left, it may end up looking like the example below to some readers.
Book cover design is critical to a book’s success, and there is a lot more to consider than you might expect. Keep in mind these mistakes when working on your next cover, and you’ll be more likely to produce an attractive cover that drives sales.
Also, remember that you can always change the cover on your eBooks. Have a cover you think might be hurting your sales? Swap it out for a new one and compare your numbers,
Do you have any cover design tips or stories? Let us know in the comments.