Design the perfect book cover


The Dos and Don’ts of Designing a Cover That Will Bring Attention to Your Book and Create More Sales

by Tabby Stirling


Anyone can design a book cover. But not everyone can design a GOOD cover.

What do I mean by GOOD?

Well, of course, it is very subjective, but I always try to design a cover that would sit well on the shelf of a major bookshop. A design where font and graphics work together to demonstrate the themes of the book, while also saying something about the author. Where color balances with everything and a few risks are taken in the spirit of artistic endeavor.

I don’t believe that you must have been to Art School to get it right, but an “eye” is very useful. Much like finding your “voice” in writing, having an “eye” for covers cannot be taught (in my opinion).

So how can you design a cover that will be the envy of your friends and appear professional and creative? Here are a few tips that I’ve discovered during my time as a designer.



There are a rich variety of free fonts that are accessible to the designer, so be bold and don’t just stick to the fonts that come with Word. Here are two of suggestions for places to find free fonts to start you off:

Fonts can make or break a cover. Just because you love the swirling, medieval capitals sprawling across the cover of your historical romance, it doesn’t mean it works. Don’t ignore the importance of a font!


Font Matters a lot


Design Principles

A good idea for cover design is to remember an old adage about women’s fashion. You can show off your legs or cleavage, but never both at the same time after a certain age.

This is also true of design. If you want a 1000-volt cover, you can achieve it by using graphics that pop with a plain font and colors that balance. But don’t try to do all of it at once.

Experiment with graphic placement. Sometimes a slightly off-center graphic can distribute menace much better than those Horror Fonts that are great on a 40’s film posters but not much else.

Less is more.

Go with your instincts. Being bold doesn’t mean that you must have outrageous fonts, color and graphics simultaneously. Experiment with color and font. Always back away from something you are not quite sure of. And don’t ever feel that something isn’t quite bright enough without the hot pink graphics, (especially if it’s a book on chemical engineering).

Here’s two graphics programs to consider to get you started:


Probably the trickiest cover item to handle is color. I love color and often find myself cavorting with highly inappropriate Pantone colors for long periods of times. It’s good to experiment, this is how we achieve the final result, but don’t let your experiments get the better of you.

One of the easiest ways to spot an amateur cover is the color scheme used (or not used).

Great roaring oceans of color spewing like a Finnish volcano is not always a positive thing. Think about how it will be perceived by others. Try to become less self-indulgent about what you like and what you think will sell, and focus instead on what your readers will like.



Lastly, Cover Revisions

Be prepared to put time and effort into your design. A full book-cover may take me 12 hours just for the initial mock-up before it goes back to the client. Then there’s the inevitable to and fro where ideas are discussed and the design begins to come to life. This is one of my favourite bits—being creative with the client.

What I start with is invariably nothing like the final, approved design and it can be frustrating at times.

I think it is important to treat the author with great respect because writing a book is no easy thing and their “baby” deserves attention. However, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t gently point out an idea that I don’t think would work. I will always try it, if the client insists, because book cover design is a collaboration and a journey. A quite magical thing really.


An Example

So, let’s take this book cover design advice out of the theoretical and into the actual. Consider the following two covers. I chose these two because they both have “bird” in the title and yet they are at completely different ends of the spectrum. Take them in as a reader. What do you think about them?





First of all, look at the bestselling All the Birds in The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. Everything about it screams an angry, magical, fragile beauty. The book is about all those things and is a cross-genre masterpiece. Look at the way the birds are placed—random, but balanced. Look at the font used. The color and placement of the text behind the images make the cover resemble glass shattering. As one of the themes of the book is about the earth dying, it is very effective.

Now consider the second cover—Bird of Prey by Steven Ryan. The cover is a disaster. A kitten in black and white, with a cheap font, badly spaced and horribly placed. I have no idea what this book is about because the cover is so amateur. (Editor’s note: The book is apparently about a serial killer seagull that is killing cats.)  The cover is so creatively limiting that I wouldn’t buy it even it was reduced. Harsh words, I know, but your cover is all about getting your book noticed and making that sale.


The first cover does this perfectly.


The second cover does not.


Find more writing and publishing tips at Nothing Any Good.



Tabby Stirling photo


About the Author


Tabby Stirling is a published writer, poet and designer living in Edinburgh, Scotland with her family.  Her publishing credits include Mslexia, Feminine Collective, Twisted Sister, Literary Orphans and Camroc Fiction Press. In July 2016, she signed with Unbound, the literary crowdfunding platform with her novel, Blood On The Banana Leaf, about maid abuse in Singapore. Funding currently stands at a healthy 55%. Pledges are very welcome for some great rewards.  Thank you!

You can follow Tabby on Twitter @Volequeen.