HomeBook DesignBook Cover Design: Judging a Book by its Cover – Part 3


Book Cover Design: Judging a Book by its Cover – Part 3 — 16 Comments

  1. Dave, thank you for this inspiring and informative series of articles on design. Last time I looked I think I saw your comments on Khaled Hosseini’s ‘And the Mountains Echoed’. I like immensely your redesign of the original. Interestingly, the edition I have, by Bloomsbury, has a better cover: three figures silhouetted against folds of purple mountains, a clear sky giving space for the title; feathers floating in the margins. Not sure I like the font chosen for the title. Love all your articles.

  2. Dave,
    Engaging and excellent series. I am self-publishing my first book and you’ve accomplished your goal: I hired a professional graphic designer and we’ve just finalized the cover design. I’m the writer and I know what I like in art, but your articles helped keep me focused on telling a part of the story through the cover. Things like using contemporary type for a contemporary story was very helpful. I’m a first time author, so you pointed out that it isn’t my name that is going to sell the book, and my name can be less obvious than when I become a well-known author. Thanks again for the series. I’ve shared with my writing group on Facebook: Authors Circle-Mid TN.

  3. I was late getting to the discussion on Linkedin… so just wanted to say ‘thank you’ and that this has been another fascinating and informative article on cover design. I would love to know more about what works and why so look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

  4. Did you hear about Elizabeth Gilbert’s crowdsourcing efforts to choose a cover? She and her publisher kept fighting over which of three designs was best, and they finally let the readers vote:


    The readers who voted agreed with Gilbert, and so do I. In a future post, you should review these three covers, say which one you like best, and explain why. 🙂

    • I think it’s a publicity stunt. I have my preference as does everyone else but none of the covers is an obvious loser or an obvious winner. Any of them would work on a bookstore table. But mostly, I’m going to sidestep assuming the role of official Internet cover curmudgeon. I could heave up a nasty dose of design academia all over those covers but I don’t think I’d offer any value in doing so. As shown in part one of the article, the standards for commercial covers are basically “pretty good” and Gilbert’s selections achieve that. Unless you’re a design junkie like me, every cover doesn’t have to aspire to hang in the MOMA as “art.” I’m going to pronounce them all “competent” and move on. I’m happy to be a design snob offline via email if you’re so inclined.

  5. As always great information Dave. I’m going to try to implement all the suggestions from this three part series. I definitely can see a lot of basic mistakes that are made by others on their book cover design. What do you think about surveys of possible book covers once your information has been used?

    • Happy to do it but I’d want a bunch of submissions. I have another idea that I’ll be sharing soon that will hopefully bring in some fun book cover graphics.

      • Actually, I wasn’t thinking about bothering you with it. I wouldn’t impose like that. I was just thinking of surveying the general public the book is intended for to see which they liked the most. I look forward to everything you post.

  6. Minimalistic designs have their place, [maybe even their time, since they all look like something out of the 70’s to me]. If a book store was full of only covers you like [and yes, there is a distinct theme going on] I’d never pick up a book again.

    • Sorry you disapprove so strongly. I picked the examples from a 3rd party site where they’d already been prejudged so the article wouldn’t be about “covers I like.” But to your point, graphic designers will naturally like things that many other people won’t. Many trained musicians dislike popular music for the same reason. Having a trained eye or ear doesn’t make your tastes any “better” but it does allow you to see your medium from a broader perspective. That doesn’t mean you need to like the same things or agree, but aesthetic decisions based on exposure, research and analysis might have something to offer. For example, I don’t see most of these designs as “minimalist.”

  7. Another tour de force Dave!
    I also like the use of ‘proper’ photography – much simpler in these digital times and much less fussy than faffing around in image editors to get the effect looking right when you can just press the button and scan…
    I think The Sardinian blindfolded mermaid motif works well as a metaphor for Justice – love the automatic instead of the traditional sword though the scales aspect is a little over-plugged perhaps?

    The Freud cover works best for me – so simple yet quirky – lol

  8. During the years I worked in publishing, covers are what mainly sold major-chain bookstore buyers in the spring and fall. Once we decided to publish a book, the first thing we did was to design a cover.

    • I designed a cover for the book I’m writing before I finished the first chapter. I did it because I had writer’s block and wanted to take my mind off the frustration. Now that the first cover draft is done, though, I’m not messing with it. If I change the working title, I may have to redo the whole thing anyway.

      (BTW, designing covers is something I do for a living. I don’t recommend designing your own unless other people have been paying you to design theirs for a while.)

  9. Marvelous series, Dave. I’d love to see this become a recurring feature: covers that work, and why. I’d lose interest in “here’s what’s broken” unless it had specific value, but I’ll never tire of a better understanding of what does work.

    Perhaps invite designers to choose covers they love (not, I would assume, their own) and discuss. (I’d love to see 10 rounds over a contested design.)

  10. “Too many self-published books are wrapped in failed covers; readers automatically assume the writing will fail, too.”

    It’s not a bad assumption. Every now and again, I’ll hit an Amazon page featuring a book with a bad cover. If the book has search inside, I’ll check it out. Yep, the writer skimped on editing too.