Ten Hot-Selling Tips on How to Design a Book Cover

Readers judge books by their covers.

Covers sell books.

That’s the truth.

Just for the sake of an argument, let’s look at several mystery book covers. Tell me which ones look professional and which ones don’t. Which ones invite you in and tempt you to read their back cover?

Screen shot 2014-03-17 at 11.35.44 AM Screen shot 2014-03-17 at 11.35.32 AM Screen shot 2014-03-17 at 11.34.56 AM

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If you’re like me, the first three are more inviting. The bottom two are difficult to see and don’t really have a personality, do they? Can you read the author’s name? If you were going to choose one of these books to read which one would it be? Why?

What should you do when you’re designing a book cover? Where do you start?


Maybe you’re thinking–If I hire a professional I’m not going to get involved in the design work because she’ll know what to do.

Are you sure? Who knows your book better than you do?

I hired a designer for her expertise, but she hadn’t read my book and didn’t know its personality. I had to show her the story.

Even if you’re hiring a professional cover artist or designing your own cover, you’ll still have to do your homework.


1. Define your book’s specific genre. Is it romance? What’s the sub-genre. This is important. Is it romantic suspense? Erotica? If you don’t know your genre, the cover designer will have to guess. That’s not what you want.

2. Study other books in your genre. Readers connect and expect certain “looks” in the genres they like to read. Go to Amazon and Goodreads to find books in your genre. Study them. Which do you like? Why?

3. Where to find your genre at Goodreads – At the Goodreads website top right is the title EXPLORE. Click on the drop-down box and then click on GENRES. There’ll be a space bar at the top–type in the genre of your book. It will look like this:

Screen shot 2014-03-17 at 11.47.20 AM4. Study the font types in the genre and sub-genre you’re writing in. What do they have in common? Are they bold? Flowery? Romantic? Notice the different fonts in your specific genre. Which ones stand out more? Which books are best-sellers? Model your book after those. After all, they’re proven bestsellers.

5. Choose a font for your name. Your brand is your name. Study your favorite authors in your genre. What fonts do they use for their name? Notice how that font is different than the title font.

The font of your name should stay consistent with all your novels. Your name is your brand. Once you choose the font–stick with it.

(Note: There is an exception to this rule. Since my children’s chapter book series are different than my adult fiction, I use a different font style, but all my chapter books will have the same font and my adult novels will have the same font.)

Notice NY Times bestseller, Melissa Foster’s name on her covers below. The font hasn’t changed in all her books. Even though these books are in different genres, her name appears the same.

You want readers to remember your name and the best way to do this is to keep it consistent.

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7. Series books should look alike. Notice Melissa’s romance series below. See how they all resemble one another? This is good marketing. Not only does her name font stay the same–so do the title fonts.

Notice also how each of the photos resemble one another. The reader instantly knows that these novels will have some “hot” scenes.

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Here’s another example of a best-selling series. This is Young Adult:Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 9.25.33 AM

Notice how Veronica Roth’s name is smaller than the title of her novels. Many newbie authors will start out with their title larger than their name because readers don’t know who they are. The author wants readers to remember the title instead.

But once the author becomes well-known their name often appears larger and typically at that top like Sandra Brown’s book above. I’d bet money that Veronica’s name will appear larger in her next novel and will probably appear at the top. But her name will still have the same font.

Why? Because it’s her brand.

8. Match the design on the cover with others in your genre. Create the ambiance that fits your book.

For instance, a Harlequin Romance novel will have a totally different photo on the cover than Melissa’s covers above, yet they are both romance. The sub-genres are different. (Dare to guess which one has more sex?)

What genre do you think the following books have in common?Screen shot 2014-03-17 at 1.35.32 PM

If you guessed that these were all science fiction novels you’d be correct. Observe the colors and the bold fonts. Notice how different the fonts are in these compared to romance novel fonts.

Line up your favorite covers in your genre and decide what they all have in common. Are the photos scenes of spaceships or sunsets?

9. Talk to your local librarian. Ask her which books in your genre are checked out more than others. Study those book covers. What do they have in common? What makes them so popular. Share your book cover prototype with your librarian. She will be able to give you a professional opinion on whether she thinks your book will be checked out often.

I did this with my YA novel series that I’ll be publishing soon. I wanted to know how their covers differed from adult novel covers. The librarian told me YA novels are usually simple with bold colors like these bestsellers.

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Notice also how each of these is unique in their sub-genre too. The first three are different than the one to the right. I haven’t read The Prince and The Guard, but it’s distinctively different than the others. I’d say it leans more toward romance, maybe historical romance, based on the cover, but that’s a total guess.

As authors, it’s up to us to do our homework to find out which covers resemble the genre and ambiance we want to portray.

10. Make every single element important. Every color, word, and photo should be on the cover for a reason. This is where a designer gets to use her expertise. Trust her. If you don’t like the colors she’s created ask if she can balance them or create them differently. A good designer will work with you, but when she gives you her expert opinion-trust her. That’s why you hired her, and that’s why you’re paying her.

As you can see, covers differ enormously. That’s for a reason.

You’ve taken a long time to write your book, don’t short-change yourself when it comes to designing the cover. Spend the money you need to make the cover great because in the long run you’ll sell more books.

Without a doubt.

What’s your favorite book cover? Why? Please share it with us.

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  1. Great info. I never realized that author’s names remained the same on different books. Huh.
    And what’s up with Detergent in Veronica Roth’s books? Is this a spoof I don’t know about yet?

    • Hi Michelle! Thanks for the tweet too.
      Lol. I totally missed the DETERGENT book in that Veronica Roth book photo. Sheesh. I’m not sure how that got in there, but I switched photos. Thanks for commenting about it.
      Have a great day!

  2. You’ve got some really great content here. Fun, but important and sobering, too.

    • Hi Delores – Thanks for stopping by. I hope the info helps Indie authors stand out. Covers are so important and not everyone takes the time or money to make them exceptional. It matters. I hope your writing life is going well. We’re moving to a house on acreage so I might be asking you for some “farm” tips.

      Stay well.

  3. HI,
    This is a no-brainer, actually. Since writers can just publish their work anytime they want to, the market is now flooded with self-published books and it can be difficult to make your work get noticed. This can be a prejudice against you as well. There are people who think self-published books are inferior to those released by major publishing companies. Fortunately, a lot of self-published works are proving to be decent, which should be good for the business.

    • Hi Jennifer –
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. This is a crazy time for authors, for sure. It’s tough for the average reader to know just by looking at the cover if a book was self-published, or if it will be worth the money spent. I hope readers find my novels worthy of praise despite that they weren’t published by one of the big seven. I’m enjoying the freedom that this independently published biz has provided for me. Come back again soon!

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