Self-publishing involves far more than just writing. The process of creating and releasing a book offers the opportunity to indulge in many creative skill sets, such as cover design, marketing, building a fanbase and many more.

One of the best ways to learn about a new aspect of self-publishing is to seek lessons from success stories. By seeing what works well for others, we can apply the same ideas and principles to our own work.

This is especially important when it comes to book covers. A book’s cover is one of the main determinants of its success. Knowing what makes a cover work, or not as the case may be, is crucial before choosing your own.

The following three book covers showcase important lessons about design which can inspire and inform your own book cover ideas.

Book Covers Lesson 1: Less Is Often More

John Sandford, Golden Prey


One of the key purposes of a book cover is to catch a reader’s eye, arouse their interest and cause them to consider buying your book.

When browsing a bookstore, either online or off, readers encounter a large number of books. For yours to stand a chance, it needs to stand out.

Often, less is more. A simple but striking cover is one of the most eye-catching design choices possible.

Golden Prey’s cover is a prime example. It consists of little but a simple background featuring patterned colour, the book title, author name, and declaration that it’s a novel. That’s it.

This cover proves the point that you don’t necessarily need to show what your book is about by featuring images on the cover. If the book is visually striking, as is the case here, readers will often decide to find out more about on the basis of the cover alone.

The reverse is also true. A busy cover with too many images is unlikely to make a reader want to spend time finding out what a book is about. They will simply move on to something else.

Book Covers Lesson 2: Pair Images And Text Carefully

Kathryn Hughes, The Letter


The choice of image for a cover, along with how it works alongside the text and color scheme, is one of the most important design choices a self-publisher has to make.

The cover of The Letter is a great example of a cover image which not only works with the title but also helps to convey the feel and tone of the book itself.

The bundle of letters featured on the cover not only manifests the title visually, but also creates a sense of mood and intrigue. The colours used are sombre and work well with the assertion that the book will “break your heart”.

The cover also poses unanswered questions to encourage the reader to read the book description or blurb. Who exactly are the letters from? Does the flower connote a funeral?

The Letter is proof that a well-chosen image has many benefits for your book cover.

Book Covers Lesson 3: Colours Are Powerful

James Patterson, The Black Book


Pairing colours in an effective way can be daunting for someone inexperienced in doing so.

The way that colours work together, and the impression they create, is an important element of book cover design.

James Patterson’s ‘The Black Book’ is a prime example of the power of colour combination. It primarily uses black, white and red to create a simple and striking impression. The mood created is serious and dramatic, which fits with the tone of the work.

When choosing colours for a book cover, it’s important to convey the mood of the text. If a book is lighthearted and fun, its colours should suggest that. Particular genres have colour conventions which should be respected. Going against the grain is often tempting, but can leave readers confused as to the genre or mood of your book, based on its cover alone. If you’re unsure of the right colours for your book, check out this guide to colour selection along with other book cover ideas.

What We Can Learn From Book Covers

Readers do in fact judge books by their covers. That’s something to embrace rather than resent. Just remember that –

  • Simple covers can be very effective. Don’t crowd your cover.
  • Choose an image that sets the tone of your work and captures a reader’s interest
  • Choose and combine colours carefully, considering genre conventions

Whether or not you choose to design your cover yourself, or hire someone to take care of it, understanding the principles of what works helps you to choose the right cover for your book.

After all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Guest post by Dave Chesson

Twitter: @DaveChesson

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