Book cover design tips

You’ve written the book that’s been in your head since who knows when. Now you want it to go out there and be read by as many people as possible. But it’s naked. What is going on the cover?

Whether you hire a designer, have a talented friend or have a go yourself, here are a few pointers to help you towards a well-dressed work.

The title

The name of your book should be the most prominent feature on your cover. As a self published author, you are unlikely to have a name that is recognised by the reader, so that shouldn’t be the headline. You are not Stephen King (yet).

You will have a title already set in stone, but the fewer words in the title, the bigger individual words will be, so brief is best. If you simply must have a long title, it will need to occupy almost all of the real estate on the cover.

And remember that most people will not be looking at a “cover” – they will be seeing a digital thumbnail on a webpage among hundreds of others. So it has to be legible and cannot be crowded with too many elements.


There is an infinite range of typefaces out there, but they generally fall into four groups: Serif (with little feet on the letters); Sans Serif (without the little feet); Script (looks like handwriting); Display (encompassing gothic lettering, embossed, stencil etc).

If you’re writing a thriller, you probably want a big bold condensed font. A romance might be in an elegant serif font or a script face. A self-help book might have a bold font but with wide spacing between the letters (tracking/kerning). A horror or sci-fi book might need a face that is dripping with blood or looks futuristic.

Obviously, one can subvert or play with these rules but generally readers will be drawn to the books that use fonts they associate with that genre.

Images and Photos

You don’t have to use an image on your cover. After all, the best selling book in history has no picture on the front (the Bible). But it certainly helps to have an arresting, intriguing or humorous illustration to attract the reader to your work.

This can be expensive. If you simply must have a picture of the Empire State Building on the front, a photographer or stock image library could charge you hundreds of dollars for the right to reproduce it. And if you steal a picture from the internet that doesn’t belong to you, agencies are very vigilant and will go after you for breach of copyright. Also, an image “sourced” from the web will be at a low resolution and look pixelated, particularly if it is printed on a full-size book jacket.

Using an image you own or originated avoids the expense, but you have to ask yourself if that photo or drawing is really good enough. Maybe your three year-old’s drawing of a cat that looks cute on your fridge won’t cut the mustard on the front of your life’s work.

If you’re publishing a memoir or family history, you may want to use an old photograph from an archive or family photo album. This can be very effective if handled well by your designer using Photoshop or other software to enhance the image.

A bespoke illustration is great but, again, unless you can do it yourself or have a talented friend, it can be expensive. Another option is to explore the world of AI. Apps such as Dall E and MidJourney can generate extraordinary images from simply inputting a description of what is required. So if you want an image of a flying cow in the style of Pablo Picasso, that might be the way to go.


Colours can convey moods and feelings as effectively as fonts and pictures. So it’s important to choose colours that will best match the genre of your work.

Some common traits associated with colours are:

  • Red: passion, energy, love, excitement, danger, urgency.
  • Orange: warmth, creativity, enthusiasm, playfulness, optimism.
  • Yellow: happiness, joy, optimism, intellect.
  • Green: nature, growth, harmony, calmness, balance, stability.
  • Blue: trust, loyalty, wisdom, serenity, professionalism, intelligence.
  • Purple: royalty, luxury, creativity, spirituality, mystery.
  • Pink: femininity, romance, tenderness, calmness, nurture.
  • Brown: earthiness, simplicity, reliability, comfort, stability.
  • Grey: neutrality, professionalism, formality, sophistication, practicality.
  • Black: power, elegance, sophistication, mystery, strength, authority.
  • White: purity, cleanliness, simplicity, innocence, peace.

So you may not want to put a predominantly black cover on a book about achieving inner peace, or a pink cover on a book about military history.

Colours can complement each other but can also clash badly, so avoid certain combinations that will be jarring to the eye. Particularly crucial is the relationship between the colour of the title font and the background. You don’t want a green title over a blue sky, for instance, their tone is too similar. And don’t use too many colours or your design will look too busy.

Having said all that, a good designer can subvert these rules if the desired effect is to unsettle the reader or really catch the eye.

If, at the end of the day, the reader knows what your book is called, who wrote it and what it’s about, then you have a great cover

John Henderson set up Sea Level Graphic Design and Communication after 30 years as a designer, illustrator and infographics artist in the print publishing business, principally with newspapers and magazines in the UK and Western Australia. He has also designed for businesses as diverse as a gin bar in Barcelona, Spain, to a knife sharpener in Perth, Australia. He is keen to work with self published authors to get them bespoke, well-designed covers at a reasonable cost.

Email: [email protected]