Book Cover Design: Don’t Take My Word For It

by Cathi Stevenson I've been a book cover designer for more than 15 years and I've created over 2,000 book covers for traditional and indie publishers. If there's one thing I've learned along the way, it's that book cover design is subjective — very subjective. I can share my experiences with clients. I can tell them what worked in the past. I can explain what I’ve learned through hours and hours and hours of research, and looking at best sellers’ lists and losing myself for entire mornings in bookstores. But, at the end of the day, determining what cover style or trend is the best, is still subjective. The client likes what the client likes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it might be a bit narrow-minded. A book cover shouldn't simply reflect the tastes of the author. Its purpose is not to be the prettiest picture on the market — a book cover is supposed to sell books. While a beautiful cover is a great thing, an effective cover is more important. Many successful books don't even have images levenson_onlinethumnail2on the cover. A skillful use of typography and layout has taken many books to the best sellers' lists: There's Bill Bulford's Heat, and Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl, which I wrote about in a previous post. Since I love designing nonfiction, I've created many text-only covers; one, The Essential Fundraising Guide for K-12 Schools, is getting rave reviews (and a book cover design award). Fortunately, the industry does have experts willing to share their knowledge. Chip Kidd is one such book cover designer. For 25 years or so he’s been creating memorable designs  that you've probably seen, like the dinosaur silhouette on Jurassic Park, and the “water smudged” look of Augusten Burroughs’ Dry. Kidd has several very informative videos on YouTube. If you’re designing a book cover, hiring a cover designer or managing a publishing project, this video is well worth the 17 minutes of your time.  I think the information at 2:50 is really important and exemplifies a common issue with many self-published covers. Random House also has material about the process of book cover design on YouTube  (Chip Kidd shows up in this one, too). Another well-known designer who generously shares his design process is Henry Sene Yee. I thought his cover for Smut was brilliant. His use of Comic Sans on Sam Lipsyte’s book was a great marketing idea. There's lots of good information out there. Take my word for it.

2 Replies to “Book Cover Design: Don’t Take My Word For It”

  1. I agree with you on your comment “but it might be a bit narrow-minded”, as authors, we have the talent, obviously, to fill the books, but not neccessarily the talent to also be a book cover designer. I know I have my faults, but one of them isn’t to say “I want what I want”….if I’m paying someone to do the design for my books, then I trust them to do the right thing….I mean, yes, we are indie authors, but if you want to make any money, you can’t just take a picture or design and slap it on the the cover. I’ve seen some that are just… trust the professionals to do what you pay them to do, that’s just my humble opinion.

  2. Great post! I love how you say, “While a beautiful cover is a great thing, an effective cover is more important.” This is so true and such a good thing to remember when thinking about what you want on your book cover.

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