Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dissecting a Book Cover

Some books from my Goodreads shelf
Picture yourself in the bookstore of your choice, the smell of coffee and paper wafting through the air, a light buzz of background noise filling your ears as you scan shelf after shelf. At last--there--you see it! The most beautiful book you've ever laid eyes on! And you knew, without a doubt, that that book must be yours.

Ever had a reaction like that? Probably not. Still, we've all felt that irresistible attraction to a beautiful book cover that makes us want to pick up the book and see what it's all about. More importantly, almost all of us have had some experience with a horribly designed, amateurish book cover that makes us want to run away as fast as possible.

As these reactions reveal, it's not just what's in the books, it's what's on them that counts. Therefore, in today's post, we'll be exploring the most basic and crucial elements of any successful book cover. You may not be designing your own book cover--for sanity's sake, I hope you aren't!--but you can still use the tips below to evaluate book covers and, when the time comes, to guide your own designer as you create your book cover. (Stay tuned for an announcement about my own book cover at the end of today's post!)

1. Readability

This is the absolute single factor that will make or break a cover. The title, the author's name, the all needs to be legible! You all know how frustrating it is to try to squint and puzzle out, "Is that an 'i' or an 'l'? Is that curlicue a word or decoration? What does 'lmfori' spell, anyway?" The last thing you want is for your readers to be frustrated with your book before they even reach the first page!

So, in a nutshell: make it legible.

2. The Human Element

It's a psychologically proven fact that the human eye is drawn first to any human element in an image before looking at other items in the image. Don't believe me? Try it out on this image below:

Your eye was drawn to the person, right? The point here is that people are drawn to other people, and we can take advantage of that fact when creating and evaluating book cover designs. To put this fact into more tangible terms: potential readers will pick up your book or click on the link to the book and then read the book more often if your book cover has a human element on it. Don't ignore the power of the human factor.

3. A Sense of Genre

What are covers there for? Have you ever thought about why books have covers (other than to keep the dust and coffeestains off)? Here's your answer: book covers are a form of communication.

Your book covers exist to alert readers at a glance to the book's contents. If it's a scifi thriller, you might see a lot of steel surfaces but you won't see a girl in a ballgown on the cover. If it's a mystery, you might see a magnifying glass but you probably won't be seeing a Ranger, hooded and cloaked.

On the reading end, of course, we already know this fact subconsciously. What makes us pick up some books in the library and pass on others? A lot of times, it's because the covers have already alerted us to the material inside.

But as writers or designers, we need to realize that the cover of our book sets up expectations about what the readers will find inside. We need to utilize the cover as a first-glance tool, not just for catching a reader's attention, but to let them know what to expect inside.

And those are the most crucial considerations of cover design! I hope this post has increased your interested in the fascinating world of cover design. Let me know about any experiences you've had with covers in the comments--best, worst, or your own cover design process.

I mentioned above that I have an announcement to make. My cover designer, Scarlett Rugers, has completed a beautiful cover for my novel, Red Sun Blue Earth! I highly recommend Scarlett's work for anyone looking for a cover designer. And for those of you who don't know, my novel is the story of a teen girl who survives Japan's 2011 tsunami, and her search for her family in the aftermath. The book will be available on March 11, 2013, the two-year anniversary of Japan's tsunami.


  1. Great post! Loved it. As for your cover, that's so exciting! I didn't even realized it would be released on the two year anniversary of the tsunami, but I think the way you arranged that is really cool.
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    1. Thanks very much, Sarah! I'm very excited about the cover, too :) . Yes, having it published on the two-year anniversary seemed like a good thing to me; thanks!

  2. :D Nice post, Sienna! I hadn't ever thought of 'The Human Element' before, and will keep it in mind. :D

    Your new cover is so pretty! The contrast between the red and blue is very nice, and I really like the style of the font for the title.

    1. Thanks very much! I'm so glad you like the cover :) . The human element -- it's definitely underrated but a very valuable thing to remember!

  3. I found your blog through Lilly J's. I like this post, thanks!


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