Thursday, 25 August 2011

Novel Cover Design Tips

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Sure – but we all do, anyway. We don’t have a choice. Aside from the hundred-or-so words on the back and the occasional review (if you’re lucky enough be reviewed), the front cover of a book is pretty much all a perspective buyer has to go on. So as the main tool that you use to market your magnum opus – the work into which you have poured your heart and soul, and countless lonely hours hunched over a keyboard – you had better make sure that it is the very best it can be.

So what makes a great cover? Hmmm… that’s a hard one to answer, as there is no one thing that makes any work of art great. And that’s just what your cover needs to be – art. It needs to be good enough to represent the potential Pulitzer prize winner it contains. Why spend all that time slaving over sentence structure and character arc, only to shoot yourself in the foot at the last hurdle by settling for anything less than a brilliant cover?

I’d like to share with you a few tips that I find useful when creating covers, and a few pitfalls to try to avoid, too.

  • Don’t settle. I mentioned it above, but it’s such an important rule that so many self published authors over look, I felt that it needed to be reiterated. Never settle for any thing less than the perfect cover for your magnum opus.
  • This one is really a personal thing – don’t put a clear image of your main character’s face on the front cover. I feel that this encroaches on the reader’s imagination and doesn’t permit them to build an image of the character through descriptions woven into the prose. If you feel you have to put a character on the front cover, I find that simply the suggestion of a character is much more effective. Think shadows and silhouettes, or even just a view where the face is obscured. From the back, perhaps?

  • Perhaps the most important one of all, keep it SIMPLE. Bold, striking designs tend to catch the eye better than over complicated pieces. Many amateur-looking book covers fall into the trap of being overcrowded to the point of being undecipherable. In many cases, if it’s done right, you don’t even need to use an image at all. If the text is bold and impressive enough, it alone can make for a great cover. For good examples of this, see the covers of ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ by Phillip Pullman, or ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy.
  • Make your title clear. It sounds obvious, I know, but all too often I see covers, and not just by self-published authors, where the title is crammed in to the very top of the cover in a tiny font, or placed haphazardly on top of a busy image that obscures it. Stay away from unreadable fonts, too. Within a split second of picking up your book, the customer shout know the title.
  • For most self published authors, and indeed most traditionally published authors too; their main source of customers will be on the internet, though sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, so it is incredibly important that your cover looks good at a smaller size, as nine times out of ten on these sites it will be displayed as a thumbnail. This is where making it bold and simple becomes really important, as it will still stand out when reduced in size.
One of my favorite book covers of all time illustrates all of the above beautifully – the original Penguin cover for Anthony Burgess’ ‘A Clockwork Orange’, designed by David Pelham. It is Bold and eye-catching; it uses a character, but it is only the suggestion of a character, and with out a face to distract, and the title is clear and bold. I also love the way that the bright, almost comic-like effect contrasts so much with the dark themes of the book. But above all, this design works so well because it is simple and memorable. Follow these tips and you should be a lot closer to designing that perfect cover!

If you have any tips etc to add, I'd love to hear them!

- Kit


  1. Love your covers! I'm going to link to you from my blog so, if I ever have money to pay an artist, I'll be able to find you again. :) Cheers!

  2. Hi Karen - many thanks, glad you like my work! Feel free to contact me anytime at

    Take care.

    - Kit


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