Book Covers – Getting them Right

No matter how the saying goes, the truth is that the cover of a book has a huge impact on our perception of what we’re going to find inside. That’s why it’s SO important to get a book cover RIGHT. It’s about more than just making something that looks pretty. A cover that’s done right will instantly tell the reader a lot about the book that they’re looking at.

Would you like an example?  Great! Let’s make one up.  Let’s pretend that you’re in a bookstore and you run across a bestselling book entitled “Poppies for Polly.” What is it about? What section of the bookstore does it belong in? Is it the type of thing that you’d like to read? That’s hard to say, isn’t it? I mean, with just the title to go by, your guess is just as good as mine.

That’s why the cover of a book plays such an important role. So let’s look at three different covers, for “Poppies for Polly” and see what we can deduce from them:

dark kids pink

Here we have three different “covers” for three distinctly different books. Now to be fair – these aren’t anything close to legitimate book covers. I threw them together in the middle of writing this post using a word processor, and the whole process took me less than 5 minutes. Actually, you may have noticed that the only differences between these three “covers” are the background color and the font that I chose. But don’t those two simple choices convey an incredible wealth of information? As ugly, unprofessional, and simple as these covers are – don’t they give you much more insight into the content of the books they represent than the title alone ever could?

Even without pictures or graphics it’s pretty obvious where each of these books belong in the spectrum of current literature. The first cover obviously tells a dark story – some sort of mystery or thriller. It feels modern and menacing. The second clearly belongs to a children’s book (or perhaps a book about children) – clearly either aimed at or discussing younger kids. The third cover would fit on a romance novel or a chick-lit story.

Like I said before, these covers aren’t great. They aren’t even good. But they are CLEAR. Just by looking at them you learn something about the books that they represent. And because they so clearly represent the genres into which they fall, they will manage to perform their most basic function – namely to draw the attention of the author’s intended audience.

So what lesson should you take from this exercise?

The answer is simple – make sure you get your cover right. Identify your genre, and then do your research. Look at the 10 or 20 best selling books in your category and see what their covers have in common. Figure out a formula of what your target audience expects to see and then STICK TO THAT FORMULA.

Your cover doesn’t have to be dull. It’s allowed to stand out. But it should never look out of place among the other books that your readers are reaching for. There is no quicker way to lose readers than to present them with a cover that fails to convey the information they’re looking for.



Designing Your Book’s Interior: Dos and Donts

OK, this is one of those topics that gets my inner uber-dork all happy and restless and eager to show off its arcane and useless knowledge. Normally she (I’m talking about my inner uber-dork here) is content to sit quietly and let me pretend that I’m a normal person with normal levels of interest in normal things. But then there are days like today, when a topic starts rolling around in my head, one that’s of specific interest to her … and then she quickly gets a little hard to contain 🙂

First let me say, if you’re serious about designing your own book layout you must MUST go and read everything you can from Joel at the Book Designer blog ( Everything I learned, all of those arcane rules that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I learned from him. If you have specific questions on things like copyright, front-matter, back matter, or really ANYTHING regarding the design process, you can probably find the answer in one of his many articles on the topic.

That being said, here are my favorite DOs and DON’Ts of designing your book’s interior:

DO include the appropriate front matter. What is the appropriate front matter? Well, you’ll want a title page (on the right-hand side) and a copyright page (this can be on the left, on the back of the title page) at minimum. Many books will also have a table of contents, an acknowledgements page, a dedication, a foreword, a preface, or something else in that vein before we see chapter one. You can decide for yourself what you need. But the important thing is that you need something.

DO make sure you credit everyone on your copyright page (better safe than sorry – especially when you’re using someone else’s art work on your cover, or quotes from the Bible in your text, for instance)

DON’T mis-number your pages. Page #1 is on your right hand side … always … no matter what.  Open a book right now – where is the first page? It’s on the right. It’s always on the right. If your right-hand pages are evenly numbered, it’s a sure sign that someone didn’t know what they were doing.  It’s ok to be a rookie, but that’s no reason to make rookie mistakes, right?

DO pick a readable font for your text. This is about more than being legible (although that’s important too). What you’re looking for here is a font that encourages the reader’s eyes to keep moving. It should be simple and “ordinary” enough that that you don’t notice it. It should be spaced nicely – you don’t want your book feeling cramped or stretched out because of a poor font choice. Many experts in the field suggest using a serif font like Garamond (as opposed to a san serif font like Ariel) because it draws the eyes ever forward. Many people who know a lot more about this than I do agree that Garamond is a decent starting point. But personally, I find it incredibly difficult to read when italicized, so if you’re like me, and likely to use serious volumes of italics in your text, that’s something you might want to take into consideration.

DON’T format your book like you would format your blog. Words read differently on the printed page than they do on your computer screen. When we write for blogs we are assuming that people are reading on their computers – where discreet chunks of text make scrolling and reading easier, and so we use block styling for our paragraphs (that’s a paragraph that has no indentation at the beginning of the first line, but has spacing between it and the paragraphs before and after it). Books don’t work this way though. People are used to reading books as one continuous piece of text. We’re used to seeing no spacing between paragraphs, and a simple indentation on the first line to indicate a new paragraph has begun. So unless you have a good reason (and I mean a GOOD reason) for using additional spacing between paragraphs, you’re better off sticking to simple indentation and leaving it at that.

**Regardless of whether you choose to use spacing or indentation, under absolutely NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you be using BOTH!

DO give your text room to breathe. This is not a contest to see how many words you can fit on a page. That doesn’t mean you should use 14 point font (normally 10 or 11 is fine). But it does mean that you should consider things like the sizes of your margins, and even your line spacing, when designing your layout. It’s amazing how much more “open” a page can feel when you give yourself a little extra spacing between lines. Remember, reading is supposed to be an enjoyable experience, and if your words are so crammed together that your reader can’t keep his or her place, or if your margins are so small that there’s no room for a reader to actually hold the book … well that gets really un-enjoyable really quickly.

DON’T forget to make this look like a book. You will need to design things like your running headers (that’s the info on the top of your page that tell the reader something useful – like the name of the book or the chapter that they’re in), page numbers, and chapter titles. Remember that they don’t have to be the same font, let alone the same size as the text in the book. This is where you can get creative and give your pages some character. Just make sure that whatever you do is legible, attractive, and fitting for your genre. And if you aren’t sure what’s fitting for your genre, go to the library or your local bookstore and head straight for the shelves you hope to see your book occupying. Open 10 or 20 books and flip through the pages. Look at the design elements used. It won’t be long before you can see patterns emerging.

DO pick a style and stick with it. There are rules you need to follow, but you are creating your own work of art here, so there are also stylistic choices that you will need to make along the way. Just make sure that you’re consistent in those choices throughout the book. Don’t switch fonts for your chapter titles half way through the book. Don’t change how you handle quotes or footnotes or whatever. It can be hard to keep track of these things when you’re formatting hundreds of pages of text, so take notes as you go. Create a cheat sheet, and update it whenever you make a change. It will keep you from making this mistake.

DON’T put anything on your blank pages (no running headers, no page numbers, and certainly no “this page is intentionally left blank” … have you ever seen that in a “real” book?  I don’t think so!) They’re blank for a reason. Leave them that way.

DO remember to make it look pretty. You’re designing this interior. It should look designed. Not overworked, not fussy, but intentional and beautiful.

Was this helpful? Do you have any dos or don’ts of your own that you’d like to share? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you.