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Three Big Mistakes to Avoid When Designing a Book Cover

Three Big Mistakes to Avoid When Designing a Book Cover

Three Big Mistakes to Avoid When Designing a Book Cover

Whether you like it or not, the cover is the most important marketing tool you have for your book. A good cover will make people pause, stop scrolling, and pick up your book (physically or virtually) to know more about it. 

When you go to your favorite bookstore and look at other books in your genre, which book covers are you drawn to? Why do some covers appear to “POP” and others don’t?

There are three main categories of problems we see when looking at covers designed by the authors.


Problem #1: Low Legibility

Readability is king. This is the first consideration when asking yourself if you have a successful cover design.

  • Font choice is everything. If your title font is too lightweight or overly decorative, it simply won’t show up on top of the background elements of your cover.
  • Type size is just as important when it comes to legibility. If your title includes long words, it may best be portrayed at its largest possible size by using a narrow/condensed width font, and/or breaking the title across multiple lines.
  • Type Hierarchy. When you first glance at a cover, what is the first block of text that you notice your eye gravitate to? For most authors, the title should be the most prominent, eye-catching text. The most common text hierarchy for book covers follows from the title to the author name, subtitle, and quotes.
  • Contrast sets your book apart, literally. Contrast is what helps your eye distinguish background from foreground, light from dark. Dark colors will tend to recede to the back while bright colors appear at the front. How your background image interacts with the text can strategically bolster or subvert its legibility and importance. Is your front cover text the right color to really stand out against your background elements? If your background elements are too cluttered or there are no open or low contrast spaces for cover text to appear, your cover text may get lost entirely. Light text over dark backgrounds, or dark text over light backgrounds. 


PRO TIP: Don’t forget to view your cover design at thumbnail size to make sure it would be readable even when viewed among a sea of other covers online, or across the room in a bookstore. 


Problem #2:  The Genre is Unclear

Readers ARE going to judge your book by its cover, so it’s important to convey the genre of the book through the cover design and connect with your target market. But how?

  • Image selection will be crucial here. When it comes to background imagery, sometimes less is more. A closeup of a knife, a splatter of blood on the floor, or a photo of a bullet hole through shattered glass would all communicate your genre. Stay on topic but don’t feel the need to give the whole plot away.
  • Color is crucial and the quickest way to communicate a vibe. We often talk about color in terms of how it makes us feel (soft vs. harsh, warm vs. cool, bright vs. murky). For example, for a thriller, you may want a dark, eerie cool blue/black imagery that makes the viewer feel a sense of fear and featuring the title text in a hot blood red for the title text color for an extra bit of contrast and sense of danger. 


Problem #3: Poor Quality Artwork

DO NOT steal artwork straight off the internet for use on your cover! Not only are web-based images very likely too small to reproduce in print, but they are very likely copyright protected!

  • Try professional stock photos. Start by searching for a reputable stock photo site such as, or These sites feature an extensive selection of professional photography and illustrations that you can license legally and affordably. Most stock sites charge $25-$100 for images, but most are in the $25 range. These sites also allow you to download a free low-resolution watermarked preview image so your designer can try it out in your cover layout before you commit to purchasing the high-resolution image.  
  • Support the arts! Do you know an illustrator or fine artist who created a piece of artwork you would like to use on your cover? Contact the artist and ask for permission to use their artwork for this purpose, whether they would charge a usage fee, and how they would wish to be credited. Maybe you have something special in mind that you could commission them to create just for you.
  • Is it high resolution? Even the highest quality original piece of artwork is only going to reproduce as well as its best digital scan or photograph. Make sure to have your images scanned or photographed professionally. Ask to have it scanned at a higher resolution and scale than you think you might ever need. Start with requesting at least 600dpi just to be on the safe side. Most printers require an output resolution of 300dpi, but what if you want to zoom in on a cropped portion of the imager? Bigger is better. 


The result of a self-designed cover is often an unprofessional one.

The difference between a professional-looking cover and one that appears amateurish comes down to the basic principles of design


Here are some essential elements for a successful book design:

  • Cohesive design. Do the elements on your cover look like they belong together? Or do they clash in an unintentional, confusing way? The colors, fonts, and imagery of your book cover should all contribute to the message you want to send to a potential reader.
  • Booooring? Is your cover visually interesting? Do you feel drawn to read the different areas of text? Striking the right balance between unity and variety in a cover design can make all the difference in catching a reader’s attention. A successful design will leverage all aspects of design to create interest and lead the eye to where you want the focus to be.
  • Don’t blend in the crowd. Using a pre-fabricated book cover template may seem like an easy solution that allows you to plop in a title and background image to quickly create a book cover without much customization. While that template may be well-designed, one size does not necessarily fit all if your title is longer or your artwork doesn’t work quite so well. Also, there is a good chance that there are ten other books published on Amazon that appear almost identical. Also, templates may be good for e-book covers, but they almost never work for printed books. So, if you want to publish a paperback edition, you should consider hiring a book designer.
  • Less is more. 
    • Is there room on your cover for the text and imagery to “breathe”? Or are all the elements crowded together in a way that’s hard to make out? Sometimes less is more. 
    • How many different fonts are used on your cover? Are the same font families used throughout the rest of the design?
      PRO TIP: A good rule of thumb is to stick to no more than two font families in your design. Try to choose a font with a large set of options (light, medium, semibold, bold, italic, extended, etc). This gives you plenty of options to mix and match while still maintaining a visual thread and a harmonious design.
    • Avoid collaging multiple images together. It can appear cluttered, messy, unclear, and compete with the readability of your front cover text.

We hope this article can help you judge your own cover before readers do and keep scrolling. If you are about to publish a new book or want to give new life to a published one that is not selling, getting a professionally designed cover is probably your best move.


About the Author

Claire Flint is the lead designer at Luminare Press, a small publishing company that specializes in book design. With more than twenty years of experience and hundreds of covers designed, Claire and the rest of the team can help any author create a professional book from cover to cover.

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One comment on “Three Big Mistakes to Avoid When Designing a Book Cover
  1. This is a great breakdown of the key elements in cover design hierarchy and contrast! As someone who’s considering self-publishing, it’s helpful to understand how to make the title the star of the show.

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