Covers design 101: how to make your books stand out

With only 8 seconds to convince readers that your book is worth the chance, relying on the cover is the way. But how? Check out our tips and trick.

It’s true. Like falling in love at the first sight, it takes about eight seconds to impress your prospective readerssimply because our grey cells work that way. Our brain processes images 60,000 times faster than words, and furthermore, 90% of information transmitted to our brain is visual. In a nutshell: we’re visual beings by nature.

Now imagine walking into a bookstore. All you see is hundreds of books lined up and neatly displayed on bookshelves, waiting for you to buy. Unless you know exactly what you want to read, choosing which one to buy is a big deal. Here is where your brain comes into play.

You’ll look for books that pique your interest. You stumble upon one with unique concept and beautifully coordinated colors. You feel like there’s something entrancing about it. You decide to give it a chance and read the summary. If it ticks off every box, you go to the cashier. See? All happens in seconds.

What you need to keep in mind is that people will only pick the covers that are eye-catching enoughIn online shopping cases, the chance is that people would just scroll past your books if they don’t find it interesting. So having a good cover is a great chance to make your books noticeable. With our brain gets bombarded with so much information every second, furthermore, good book covers work like magic to weed out competitors a.k.a other books in the same genres. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.

But the problem is, can your cover do it exactly like you want to in less than ten seconds? Many of book covers out there are either blah or typicalthey just don’t cut. We’ve compiled some of the best tips from our team of illustrators on how to design a cover that looks great both in paperbacks and thumbnail-sized images.

01. Draw ideas from small things

First thing first, a cover that uses striking colors and bold images sound like a great idea to attract readers, but note it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, developing the concept from small ideas is brilliant. Keeping your cover simple with the right color scheme is advantageous on small screen—you can still grasp the concept of the book and read the title and author name clearly.

Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar; design by Allison Warner (via Casual Optimist)

Spaceman of Bohemia tells the story of Jakub Procházka, the first Czech to travel to space. Notice that the designer associates the protagonist’s fondness of silence and solitude with a cup of coffee to picture the lonely-spacemen chronicle.

Grey Sunflower by Ruth Priscilia Angelina; design by Orkha

There’s nothing wrong with using lots of colors. But when Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said “less is more”, he wasn’t joking. If you can work it out using fewer colors, then you should do it. Take a look at how the designer created a clever representation of the bittersweet love stories between the characters only by using grey and yellow.

02. Give hints, not spoiler

You shouldn’t be giving spoilers about movies you watchthat’s a common sense. However, you can always give some hints to have them wonder: what is it all about?

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy; design by Aurora Parlagreco; illustration by Daniel Stolle (via Casual Optimist)

The cover makes a reference to the character’s fondness of swimming, which also reflects her process of discovery—about home, love, and life. It’s beautiful and serene in its simplicity.

The Violence of Austerity edited by David Whyte and Vickie Cooper; design by James Paul Jones

Designer James Paul Jones did a great job adding a sense of urgency to the already focal point typography.

03. Set tone and mood

Your book cover should connect with the reader’s emotions. A romance cover should sweep off our feet. A horror should be able to make us stay up all night, scared of what’s under the bed. And a self-motivation cover should be able to motivate us to, well, at the very least, wake up early in the morning. You get the point.

After Dark, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami; design by Noma Bar

The full set of Murakami’s books, consisting of 15 books, was redesigned by Noma Bar. Murakami’s remarkable for writing surrealistic novels, and the designer makes it stand out even more by cleverly utilizing negative space that conceals secondary images and illusions. It’s peculiar and eerily beautiful.

04. Think about the typography

Typography is the unsung hero of a cover. Now’s the time to give the credit where credit is due. You can make the typography the star or use the typography to complete the overall look—either way is fine depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot; design by Orkha

Do not be afraid to take up the whole space for typography. This new cover of Royal Wedding was made by custom typography, meticulously designed by yours truly.

Black Skins, White Masks by Frantz Fanon; design by David Pearson (via Casual Optimist)

For a book that studies something extremely serious and important (go look it up in Google), the new cover of Black Skins, White Masks is so appealing that we can’t hold the urge to add it into the cart.

Forever Monday by Ruth Priscilia Angelina; design by Orkha

The cover doesn’t tell much about the story, but it does give away an idea that you need to be ready for a devastatingly sad love story—something that may resonate with many. In short, Forever Monday is an ode to the brokenhearted.

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