How to design a book cover

You know the saying: don’t judge a book by its cover. Well, readers do. Both the design and the Blurb!


Before social media platforms, I remember going to a book shop to look for my next read. I browsed through book covers and the Blurb. If one stood out, I read a few pages and if I liked what I read, I bought the book. The Book cover and Blurb were the hook.So Book cover design matters, and authors need to get it right to ensure their book will attract as many readers (buyers) as possible. 


There are two options when it comes to book cover design: hire a professional or work alone.

Before deciding on this one, there are some things you should know

It doesn't matter at this stage if you are still pondering whether or not to work with an illustrator or designer for your book cover or DIY. You will need to know certain aspects regardless of your final decision. 

Here's what we need to do: 

1. Create a mood board

During your research, you have read and searched for books in your writing genre. You have seen specific covers that stood out in moments you were not even browsing titles to read. Perhaps you were on the internet, emailing your your growing fan base.

Regardless, if particular things make you stop and admire a cover, you should be screenshotting or taking notes. 

Turn these notes and pictures into a mood board, and see if there are ideas that you can use or that make sense for your book. Perhaps it’s the font, or it may be the colors, the layering, the Blurb or the vibe.  

2. Consider your book category

Once your mood board is up, you can identify some patterns. Some will become more viable than others, and things will begin to stand out. 

Book cover art is nothing new, and finding that perfect blend between what you hope for and what your readers expect can sometimes be challenging to achieve; it takes research, practice, and patience. 

We have all seen book covers that make an immediate impact with us as a reader. Perhaps a book friend recommended,or we've seen it on the bestseller list,  As an author, you’ll want to also leave readers with a lasting visual impression.  

3. Search for book covers in your genre

When looking for inspiration, a thing to do is to check the best-selling book covers of your genre. Check out the Amazon top 100 list for your genre to see what the trends are. 

4. Assess your book niche

Book category and genre are not always everything. Go deeper and assess how your book adjusts to your writing niche. Your cover should hint at the book content without being overly descriptive. It should entice the reader and also stand out on a screen.  

 5. Decide on your budget 

Once you know your goal, the time is right to consider your budget. As an indie, especially on a tight budget, you'll need to decide how much money you can invest further into publishing your book before royalties start coming in. 


Tips for a stand-out Book Cover Design

1. Be mindful of the visual hierarchy When your considering what to put on the front cover, the focus should be primarily on the book title, then the author’s name. If the author’s name is well-known and expected to drive up sales, then flip this  and make the author’s name more prominent than the title. If you you have a short endorsement from a well-known author in the genre, add it to the front or back cover. 

Keep in mind that less is more. You want your graphics to shine. 

2. Do not clutter 

Carefully consider your focal point when designing the cover. You may think of the overall product, but most of us shop online and can only see thumbnail-reduced images. If there is clutter, the buyer may miss the essentials and simply carry on browsing. The focus should fall on the title, written in a strong, bold, and easy-to-read typeface or a strong image that gives a reader an idea of what to expect in the book.  

3. Get thumbnail savvy 

Avoiding clutter is one thing, but keeping your cover appealing while looking sharp at less than 200px is an art. Look for a prominent title font, but also keep the distance between letters in mind. It should be clear at a glance.  The image needs to be recognisable too.

Consumer marketing tells us, readers need to see a cover six to seven times before deciding to click on it. Is your cover memorable enough for a reader to make that decision? Is your cover striking in such a small size?  Check your answer by thumbnail standards before finalising a cover design.  

4. Consider spines and back covers

Spines work for bookstores for shelving, but indies can consider print-on-demand without spines.  

5. Test different typefaces & color palettes 

there are some golden rules you do not want to miss. 

  • The bolder, the better, as long as you shine within the genre.
  • Choose readability over looks; your title may look fabulous, but it is best when it’s legible.
  • If you feel you are losing the serif vs. sans serif game, look for fonts that keep a timeless feel to them. 

As for color palettes, they can make or break the cover design game. They should set the tone and mood of the book. 

  • Darker tones work extremely well for a thriller, suspense, or mystery. 
  • Pink and red if romance is in the air.
  • Dark purple if we talk about fantasy.
  • Young adult titles are always very playful in color scheme and layout.

The science tells us that contrast and feelings are usually associated with specific colors and have a lot of say.  


Know Your Copyright 

You must be aware there is a difference between using a free image for personal versus commercial purposes when it comes to your book cover designs.   


Adequate understanding of intellectual property and licensing 

There is some consideration to regard when using images for cover art. Say you have a picture in mind for the cover image. There are several possibilities to take from idea to product:

  • You hire a professional photographer to take that picture for you. 
  • You can do the work yourself, as you know best what you want.
  • You can use a stock photo that comes for a small fee or free of charge. 

 Stock photography comes with various types of licensing. Also, remember that the same image could have been used in circumstances that you may not approve of and could be used in the future as such, so make sure you do your research.

Suppose you are considering using an image filed under a creative commons license, then also check if you are entitled to use it for commercial purposes. Selling a book and generating revenue differs from using it for a personal or educational project. 


If you have decided to go with a professional team, ensure your contract grants you all the licensing of publication and marketing that you need. 

The creator of the work owns the copyright for it and grants a license of usage for publication (you should discuss ebooks and print separately). Your cover description should reflect copyright and intellectual property ownership. 

If the creator you are working with used stock photography in his original work of design, then it becomes a more complex issue. Because you have signed a contract, the artist or designer is giving you the license to use their work as agreed, but you still need to ensure that the third-party licensing is correctly used and that you are not infringing upon their copyright. In the contract, you should stipulate that the work provided to you is either original or appropriately licensed. 


Amazon have a very useful Cover design tool, takes some getting used to, but works.