Wouldn’t you agree that a lot of book covers look the same? Yes, it is the responsibility of the designer to come up with a unique looking cover, but there are other elements which contribute to this generic-looking ‘style’…

One reason is, stock photo imagery. The other is, inexperienced individuals using design tools to put a cover together of stock imagery.

The Sales and market contribute their fair share toward this problem. They hold a strong influence on how a cover is designed in publishing. Perhaps not for all, but certainly for most. In many cases, it’s not about getting an abstract visual across, but more about what will sell. Not a bad thing! I just feel we should challenge this way of thinking a bit more with better looking cover concepts.

Let the designer explore the visual concept with you. If you work closely with your writer, editor, designer and marketer, you can produce a cover for the market, and true to the story.

There’s a quote from an American artist, Gregory Manchess, which says,

it’s the artists’ or designers’ job to get the buyer to pick up the book. Once it’s in their hands, the writer takes over.

So very true, and you can find ways to capture attention. To draw the viewer in and grab the heart of the book’s story.

Research, research, and more research! Looking at other cover artist’s work opens up new ideas. New ways of thinking or experimenting. Save examples of work you like and dislike. Create your own ‘creative file’, and continuously build on it. When you brainstorming a cover concept, try to look at other sources for inspiration. Anything from comic book art, movie posters, film, fine art, or even street art. History of Art talks about the different art movements such as Futurism, Art Nouveau, Dadaism, and Constructivism. Inspiration is unique to each person. Try to keep an open mind when you developing cover concepts.


The cover is not a short film”,

another quote by Gregory Manchess.

Draw the viewer in by creating simple, focused concepts. The mistake a lot of publishers or authors make is trying to show an entire scene on the cover. An example of this is the very common scene of the city scape horizon in the far background, with title text in the middle, and a scene of characters posing in the foreground. Every cover should have a good foreground, middle ground and background mojo going. But this doesn’t mean you need to have 10 different things trying to tell a story at the same time.

Covers trying to tell too much

Phil Lit cover

Where do you look first? Looks like this is trying to illustrate all the stories inside the book on the cover.


Colour, typography, placement – just about everything here is fighting for attention.


Everything about this cover is bad. Is that the Olympics logo on the left? Even the title itself is badly written!

I’m no stranger to bad cover design. I think we all have bad designs we’d like to hide in some dark closet. As long as we learn, and can see when something is bad. See improvement, and move forward – always improving.

Sadly, these badly designed covers may be getting more exposure for exactly that than the really good ones. They are used as bad examples across a few blogs. Nonetheless, I hope you understand why I had to use examples to show. Covers are always better visually explained, than written in words.

Covers with a single concept…

Here, the title and image doesn’t overpower the book’s message. The title and image work together. One message. One thought. The use of colour can be a powerful tool, as well as using white space very cleverly…


Jeffrey Alan Love is the designer of this cover. SO intriguing!


Stephen King’s covers usually speak for itself. They say what they need to say, in the most interesting, and powerful way, that stays in your head long after you’ve put the book down. If you know who the designer of this cover is, please do share it in the comments below.


Barbara deWilde, is the designer of this cover. It’s quite a literal approach, and works really well. There are many approaches you can take as long as its visually pleasing, attention grabbing and brings through the true essence of the book.

There are many more brilliant covers I could show. The important lesson is not to describe the entire story on the cover. Nor to give the whole story away. You need to awaken curiosity. The designer should interpret the story you are telling into a pleasing and appropriate visual. Let the designer do what they do best. This is also where providing a good brief to the designer comes in, along with trust.

If you take a look on Amazon, you’ll find loads of really bad cover designs. There are many reasons for this. Some would like to say its because of self-publishing. Others like me, prefer to blame those using photoshop when they really shouldn’t. Those who don’t see the value in hiring a good cover designer. And those who simply don’t have the budget to hire a good designer. Whatever the reason, and there are many, the main thing is… taking a bunch of photograph’s and merging them in Photoshop, does not make you a designer …

… okay, that’s not actually the main thing! BUT, it is sad that good cover designs are few and far beyond. Part of the reason for starting this blog is to better our industry. So educate yourself and others. Just reading this blog is educating in itself, not just for you, but for me too 😉

As much hard work and time it takes to write a book, so too, the same respect should apply to your book cover. Educate yourself, do your research, and you’ll reap the benefits of a professional-looking book. Something you can look back on with pride.

Stay tuned.

My next post, PART 2, will be on typography… there’s never enough you can say about typefaces!

Chat soon 🙂


One thought on “COVER DESIGN TIPS: Part 1 of 4

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