The Three Rules of Book Cover Design & Marketing

The Three Rules of Book Cover Design & Marketing

Let’s talk about covers. No matter what the saying says, books are judged by them. It’s instinctual and immediate, a snap judgement on first impression that decides whether the jacket copy is even read. This is why graphic design is crucially important. If you want your book to stand out on the shelf in a store, library, or online marketplace, you have to know who you are designing for and what to do to attract their attention. Your book jacket and cover are marketing pieces. Mess them up, and your book won’t sell.

Every marketplace has its own variations to keep in mind. Think about where your work will primarily be sold. For example, when you design for Amazon, your book cover will be judged as a small thumbnail. Few readers will bother to open and zoom in on the image. However, when your book is on display at Barnes and Noble, it will be viewed primarily from the spine unless you’re lucky enough to get a display stand. Then the cover will be visible, but it still has to call to readers from across the room. It must demand attention.

Here, we’ll list the three basic rules of book jacket design and marketing, then we’ll expand on each in detail:

1. Know your target audience.

2. Design for scalability.

3. Make your cover stand out.

Let’s start with rule number one: Know your target audience.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Basically, you need to know who it is that’s going to read your book in order to market to that persona. If you’re writing in genre, check out the established cover and jacket design trends for similar books. What does the art of the most popular books look like? It’s up to you if you want to design with or against them. You can make your book jacket so different from everything else in the genre that it will pop out immediately as something new, or you could let it blend in a little more and share the popularity of an already successful style.

For example, paperback romance novels all tend to have similar design elements: large, embossed author names and titles, photos of shirtless male models… If that’s the kind of book you’re trying to sell, you might want to do something similar. But I’ll warn you that each genre has its own clichés and connotations. If you make your book look like a pulp paperback, it will sell like one. People will see the cover and expect that’s all it is—even if what’s inside is new and different.

Rule number two: Design for scalability.

Here’s the deal. Book covers, much like album art for music, have had to adjust and grow into the digital age. Where before books were primarily sold in physical stores, now many are sold in online marketplaces such as on Amazon or through e-book platforms. Your cover may only ever be seen as a small thumbnail image. But it will also be seen full-size if you’re selling a physical book. This is why it’s crucial to design for scalability. The imagery must be eye-catching and the text readable at any viewing level.

Think of your book title graphic as a logo. Logos, like book covers, must be scalable and memorable. Usually, they are designed in thicker lettering than standard text so that they can be easily read at all sizes and from far away. Your title doesn’t have to be as original as the Harry Potter logo, where the typeface was altered to look like a lightning bolt, but needs to be able to represent the story on its own. If you make your title text versatile and scalable, you’ll be able to use it across multiple books in a series, or brand your stand-alone novel from ads to posters to social media accounts and more. This will allow you to develop a cohesive brand system as the need arises.

Rule three: Make your cover stand out.

If you want your cover to catch the readers’ eye, use contrast to your advantage. Strong negative space gives the eye a place to rest and provides separation between elements of text, images, and the margins of the page. Use fonts that contrast or provide harmony, and only two different typefaces, tops. Different type sizes should be used intentionally and carefully to create visual hierarchy. This will help keep your cover simple, uncluttered, and easy to look at.

For examples of book covers that work well and others that don’t, check out our Pinterest boards for inspiration. @TheNovelPlan

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