Let's Talk About Book Covers!

Updated: Aug 31


I’ll spare you a hackneyed discussion of the old books-and-their-covers adage, and instead ask you to visualize something:

First think about how long the printing press has existed.

Now think about how many people have been writing since that invention.

Now, how many books each of those writers have written, not to mention multiple editions of each of those books, if they’re successful.

That’s the number of books yours will be competing against. Now that the internet allows access to virtually any book from anywhere, the field is… well if it were an actual field you wouldn’t be able to see the grass through the bajillions of books. Readers are inundated with choices, whether they’re scrolling through Amazon or wandering the aisles of their neighborhood book store.

But I’m sure none of this is news to you. If you’ve thought about book covers in relation to your own work at all, you know that they can make or break a book’s commercial success.

The job of a book cover is two-fold: to entice readers to pick up your book, and to do an accurate job of representing what’s inside. The best thing that a cover can do is elicit an emotional response, and if the job is done well, that response will be the same one you get from reading the book.

You have two chances to elicit these responses and to draw readers in: the title and the artwork. The trick is to use them effectively so that they enhance each other, rather than being redundant. If your novel is called The Flower, it seems a waste to just slap a picture of a flower on the cover and be done with it. (I’m not saying that’s wrong, just a missed opportunity.) Instead, consider a picture of rich black soil, or an empty vase, or a watering can, or a seed… depending on what nuance you want to convey.

There are many approaches to take when deciding on the style of cover that might work best for you. Here are a few of my favorite examples that I’ve observed over the years:



The Literal Approach

Works best with: non-fiction and memoir

When this is done right, it comes off as elegant rather than boring. Literal is an approach for when you don’t want to be cute or clever—when accuracy and clarity are your goal. My favorite part of reading biographies is flipping through that photo section they so often put in the center of the book. I like to visualize these real people and places as I read—quite the opposite from when I read fiction, preferring to picture the story in my own individual way. Pick a great photo of (or related to) your subject and use it tastefully.