What you need to know about book cover design

A book cover is one of the most important and least important aspects of self-publishing. The primary role of the book cover is to attract the reader and identify the genre. Don’t blow it by ignoring book cover design fundamentals.

In this blog, I’m going to discuss identifying genre, where to find artists, and polling for feedback. I will be using my book cover for The Silver Ninja: Narco Hotel to explain the do’s and don’ts.

(Oh yeah. Narco Hotel book cover reveal!)

What genre is your book cover?

The genre of your book needs to be immediately apparent as soon as the reader looks at it. If you have a soldier shooting an alien, the reader expects a sci-fi of some sort.

Armored futuristic soldier shooting an alien bug

If a woman is holding a sword with a magical aura around her in an urban environment, expect it to be urban fantasy.

Blonde woman holding sword over her shoulder in a city environment, magic blooming in her left hand.

Pretty straightforward, right?

However, there have been instances (even in traditionally published novels) where a book cover designer completely misunderstood the assignment.

This is the scenario you don’t want to be in. Below you will see examples of book covers where the genre doesn’t match the artwork. They’re not necessarily bad covers, some are quite cool. They are, however, completely wrong for the genre.

What genre is Frankenstein based on this cover?

Frankenstein book cover with a medieval knight holding a sword in front of a mountain.

If you didn’t know Frankenstein was about a man creating a monster, you would think this book was a medieval fantasy about a boy embarking on an epic journey. Nowhere does this read horror fiction.

What genre is The Shining in this Brazilian edition?

Magazine style photo of a woman with 80s style hair. It's supposed to be the book cover for Stephen King's The Shining in Brazil.

Last time I checked, The Shining was a story about a haunted hotel driving its caretaker to murder his family. The Shining was not a book about five ways to make your man blush.

And finally, you’ll get a kick out of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.

A space ship flying around a Mars like surface with a planet looming in the horizon. Book cover for Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.

I don’t know if this cover is real, and it doesn’t matter. This cover, regardless of its authenticity, illustrates my point. No matter how cool your cover, it has to match your genre.

*Images sourced from this article on bustle.

Go to a library, bookstore, digital storefront and see if your cover aligns with other authors in your genre. If you confuse your potential readers, you may lose a sale. Ironically, and I know this may sound contradictory, a book cover won’t generate a sale. A book cover will prevent someone from ignoring your book in favor of another one. The job of the book cover is to attract the reader and interest them into reading the blurb. The bait on your fishing hook.

The blurb makes the sale, i.e., the hook.

I’ve written about marketing blurbs before. If you want to learn the basics of writing a blurb, check out my links below:

Where to find artists

You’ve written the book now you need to find designers/artists. There are a few different ways you can go about doing this and they’re all dependent on your skill level with image editing programs. Since I have a background in motion graphics and intermediate graphic design, I tend to work with artists who are not necessarily book designers. They’re illustrators and painters who provide the foundation for me to work from.

If you want to find someone who creates artwork but is not necessarily a book cover specialist, check out:

You will find a range of high-end artists and artists who are talented but still learning the ropes. This will give you the most flexibility with your budget. However, keep in mind that you will be responsible for font selection, placement, and any additional graphics.

Need a premade book cover instead?

Check out:

Need an artist who can do it all?

Go here:

Or here:

Or find an artist on Behance:
Whichever route you take, the most important thing you need to keep in mind is your font. The main title must be legible from thumbnail size to paperback size. If you can’t read your author’s name or book title when it’s thumbnail size, you will need to choose a different font or font style.

I actually made this mistake with my book cover for A Bitter Winter.

A Bitter Winter. Artwork by: Jade Law
Artwork by: Jade Law

At thumbnail size, it is almost impossible to read “A Bitter Winter” below The Silver Ninja. Even my name is difficult to read due to font size, color, and lack of contrast. The Silver Ninja is also difficult to read but still more legible than the other elements.

This is what people are going to see browsing on digital bookstores. Although this isn’t a blog on designing elements for your book cover, I can share with you this one key fundamental lesson. Contrast will make objects and elements easier to see. If your font color is too similar to your background (like in my A Bitter Winter cover) change it.

Polling for Feedback

Here’s a hard lesson I learned recently. Once you have a sketch or overall design for the book cover, poll your readers as soon as you have it, not later. When I worked with my artist to create the cover for Narco Hotel, I assumed my readers would be super excited for the cover. Unfortunately, the opposite happened.

I’m not going to share the specifics of why they didn’t like the cover because I don’t want to influence your own opinions, but I will give you a clue. Most men loved the cover and most women hated it.

Therefore, before you make a big announcement on the brand-new cover, make sure to poll your readers while you still have an open contract with your artist. The mockup most closely resembling the final product should be sent out to readers. These people can either be members of your newsletter, a part of a writing group, in-person at a bookstore, or whatever forum gives you access to readers of your genre. Once I found out my readers didn’t like the cover, it was too late to ask the artist for changes.

Be careful asking friends and family. Only ask those who are hardcore bibliophiles. Otherwise, you may not get the critical feedback you need.

You really need to cater to those who love to read stories in your genre. Get the feedback before you send your final paycheck to your artist and close out the contract. In my situation, the contract with my artist had been closed for almost an entire year.

Although the cover for Narco Hotel ended up becoming more divisive than I had intended, it’s still a cover -I- personally love and I think the genre feels clear. If I wasn’t happy with the cover, I would have gone in a different direction or hired someone else.

Well, if you’ve made it this far, I guess you want to see the cover for yourself.

I’m proud to introduce the official cover for The Silver Ninja: Narco Hotel, scheduled for release sometime in Q2 2022.

Narco Hotel digital cover

Want to share your opinions on my cover? Feel free to send me an email or reach out on social media. Thank you for reading and I hope you will pick up a copy of Narco Hotel when it comes out hopefully in the summer!

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Wilmar Luna
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