What Makes a Book Cover Great

Thoughts and analysis on what makes an appealing and beautiful book cover.

Collage of book covers pt 1 (1Q84, Uprooted, Morte, The Setting Sun, No Longer Human)

As I work on the book cover designs for my own books, I keep asking myself, What makes a book cover great? Over the last few months, I have been saving my favorites to try to answer that question. Here’s what I have come up with.

  • Abstraction — I enjoy more abstract cover images that represent something in the book but can be interpreted in a number of ways. It gives me space to think about what it means, and that meaning may change as I read the book and as time passes.
  • Setting the mood — The Uprooted cover does a really good job of communicating the atmosphere of the book. The golden colors, typography, and imagery screams fantasy, and it is done so well.
  • Simple & clean — I dislike covers that are cluttered with text and images. In general, the less there is on the cover the better.
  • Contrast — Looking at all of these covers together makes it clear to me why contrast matters. The eye focuses on the typography or the imagery first, and then it flips to the other. It there’s no contrast, it’s difficult to comprehend both the imagery and the text. When they both blur together, nothing is distinctive.
  • Clear title typography — I want the title to be parseable and understandable from a distance. I love it when a book shouts, “Here’s my name!”
  • Tasteful typography — Picking the right typeface goes a long way. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy or stylized. It needs to fit the theme, be clear, and not clash with the rest of the design.

The difference between a great cover and a middling-to-bad cover is huge. What one sees when they pick up the book every time they go to read it is important. Plus, if the book is forward facing at the store, it’ll catch people’s eyes. On digital bookshelves, the cover is what sets a book apart among a sea of others. Cover design shouldn’t be an afterthought.

Here are some more of my favorites:

Collage of book covers pt 2 (The Face of Another, Factotum, The Castle, Reflections, Men Without Women, A Wizard of Earthsea, Spring Snow, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Hobbit, The Silent Cry, Kafka on the Shore, Ico)

I also created a Pinterest board where I’ll be adding new ones as I come across them.

Author: Brett Chalupa

day: software developer, night: comic artist

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