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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Everyone Judges a Book By Its Cover: How to Design Yours


Now that you have completed writing your book, you must capture the attention of the reader. One way to accomplish this is to design the perfect cover. The best book covers tell a story all their own. This story should complement and promote the actual storyline in the text. The book cover should draw the person in and give them a window to the story you're trying to tell with your book.

Ultimately, your cover should balance the familiar with the new and surprising. The best book covers communicate to the reader whether or not your book is worth their time. After all, there are often hundreds of books to choose from in the bookstore and thousands on the e-book market. Your title needs to stand out in the crowd. This guide will provide you with five steps to design a cover that will help you to do just that.

1. Answer important questions about your book

Before you even begin the design process, you should try to brainstorm how you want to promote yourself as an author, the format that you will use, and the budget that you are working with.

How does the book promote the "brand" the author is trying to sell?

Many established authors have a genre in mind. If you are a first-time author, you will want to make sure that your cover design goes along with the chosen genre. Again, the goal is to combine the familiar with something new and different.

Will it be sold as an e-book, real book or both?

The format you use and the planning process will be different. For example, a book sold on Amazon should have large print and look good as a thumbnail. A book sold in an actual store must look good from front to back because the consumer is actually going to pick it up and look through it.

How will you address format and budget?

The different formats include hardbacks, paperbacks, and casebound. There are different requirements for each. A size should be selected that makes sense. If a book has hundreds of pages, you will want to make sure that the book size is large enough. Consider the copy or written material in your layout that you want to include. This includes the copy on the front and back covers, author bios, etc. Also consider the placement of graphics such as barcodes and publishing logos. Plan your budget for any stock images, your ISBN identifier, barcodes and font licenses.

Consider placement of all elements, including stock images, when formatting your book cover design
Photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

2. Do some research to properly market the book

Consider whether to make the book a hardback, paperback or e-book. The genre will help you to determine this. Specific genres work better in paperback. More literary titles tend to sell better as hardbacks. If the book is going to be released as an e-book only, those considerations will not be necessary. E-books will have their own specific requirements. You should do some research in order to be familiar with them.

Look to see what works best for your genre

If you are writing a romance, horror, sci-fi or other specific genre, paperbacks tend to sell best. If you are writing something more literary that may span several genres, hardbacks work best.

Consider designs by other authors in your genre

Go to the bookstore and see what stands out the most to you. Pay attention to both fonts and graphics that really capture your attention. Get a feel for the sizes/thicknesses of the books and keep an ongoing list of your likes and dislikes. You might also consider making a vision board where you place appealing images and fonts for future reference.

Make sure that the design you pick makes sense for the selling price of a book

For example, you would not want to have an expensive hardback design for a genre book that will only sell for eighteen dollars at the most. You want to balance the price with a design that makes sense for your particular genre.

If you are going to publish as an e-book, know the specific requirements

For example, for Amazon, they recommend a file format that's a JPEG or TIFF. For the cover size, they recommend 2,560 x 1,600 pixels, an ideal ratio of 1:6:1. The requirements will be different depending on the platform.

3. Decide what story the cover should tell

The cover design is an extension of your overall promotional plan as an author. Keep this in mind as you focus in on the most important aspects of the story that you want to promote. If the book is part of a series, you will want to create a design that will have at least some of its elements repeated with the next book in the series. Once you know what the cover will depict, carefully select the medium you want to use.

The cover should focus in on the most important element of the story that you want to promote. If you aren't the author, make sure to get their input on what elements they want to emphasize. Figure out if the setting, the main character or the theme itself is what you want to feature. Once you have narrowed this down, it will help you to focus the content of your cover. Also consider if you want your book to resemble a popular title without copying elements of it directly.

Make certain design considerations if it is going to be a series. Series often share certain design elements such as font or color combinations. Look at other series in your genre to see how the different books in the series are similar and how they are different. If your book is not going to be a series, it must stand out on the bookshelf.

Consider the aesthetics and medium that you want to use. Most popular book covers only use a combination of two or three complementary colors. Stock photos can be obtained at little or no cost on sites such as Tumbler as long as proper credit is given to the artist. If you are hiring a visual artist to do a drawing or painting, try to communicate as clearly and specifically about what you want the picture to communicate. A rough sketch that shows the placement of the figures and background will be helpful for the artist.

Communicate clearly with a visual artist if you hire one for your book design
Photo by Matthew Hamilton on Unsplash

4. Get some feedback about your design.

The more opinions you get on your design, the more you will get a feel for its effectiveness. Although you may feel that you have a great design, you want to make sure it's the right one for this particular book. You want to communicate the right feeling for the genre and theme being expressed. If alterations need to be made to the initial design, allow time for them. Set aside some of the budget for these changes if they are necessary.

If you aren't the author of the book, communicate with them in order to make sure the design goes along with the author's vision that you discussed with them earlier in the process.

Allow a group of outsiders view your cover, but don't give them any background about the story. You want to see what responses they give you in order to gauge its effectiveness. Have them tell you what assumptions they have about your story. Ask them if there is an emotional response that they have to the cover. You want the emotion that you're trying to get across to come through. This emotion or feeling should come across without the respondent having any knowledge about the plot of the book.

If there are changes in the design to be made, allow time for this. If the image you used is a stock photo, it may only be a case of choosing another one that evokes the right response. A painting or drawing that must be modified or redone will take more time. Budget for these modifications when you first start to plan your book cover.

5. Make sure the final file is print ready

If you are printing covers for actual books, you will want one file with all of the important text and graphic information. This includes information about the front and back covers, book spine and flaps. This one file will be used to either fold or cut the design to fit the actual book.

The majority of printers will require a final file that is a PDF. The colors should be CMYK, which refers to four colors: cyan magenta, yellow, and key. These colors are used in a subtractive process to produce the colors you need in your design.

The file for the cover should be full bleed. This means all the pictures will leave no white margin and can extend beyond the edge of where the sheets will be trimmed.

Be sure that your file is set up for the particular printer you are using. If a company is handling this part for you, communicate with them directly about print requirements. The industry standard is .125-.25 inch per side. Calculations should be exact to avoid text being printed in the wrong place or off center.

With a little bit of planning, you will end up with the perfect cover for your book that will stand out in the crowd. Begin by answering some questions about the brand you're promoting, the format, and budget considerations. Take the time to do some research. The cover you create will be a marketing tool for your book, and it will vary according to genre and format. Decide carefully what story or emotion you want the cover to tell or convey. Choose a medium that will do the most justice to the story and take into account what similarities you would want this book to share with the next one if the book is part of a series.

Finally, and perhaps most important, get some feedback about your design and make any needed modifications. Make sure that you take into account the specific printer requirements. If you follow these guidelines, your book will be judged as a success by its cover.

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