Ten Questions to Ask About Your Book Cover

In traditional publishing, authors are barely involved in the cover design process. Book covers are designed by the marketing and art departments, and often a writer will be shown their cover late in the publishing process. If they don’t like it, they may not feel free to say so. The people who designed the cover have rarely read the book. Instead, they have been given a blurb or short synopsis, but without a full read it is easy for mistakes to show up on the cover (like a character with the wrong color hair etc.).

In this age of Indie and self-publishing, many authors find themselves hiring someone to design a book cover for them, or they design their own. In this case, it pays to ask these ten questions to help you discover what makes a good cover and what doesn’t.

1.    What is the overall mood, tone and theme of your book? A good front cover will elicit a specific emotion or a mood form those who pick it up or see it on a shelf. Think about how your story makes you feel? What is the general mood of your main character? The cover should match that. Tone is more about attitude than emotion. Is your book youthful or wise? Playful or serious? Subtle or bold? Dark or hopeful? The cover should reflect the tone. Finally, what is the theme of your story? Is it death, or survival, hope or despair? Is it coming of age, or growing old? Whatever the theme, including hints to it can be the crucial to a great cover.

2.     What is the genre of your book? Is your book fiction or non-fiction? Is it contemporary or historical? Is it speculative or literary fiction? Is it romance or western? Each genre has specific indicators or cover “clues” that let the reader know what kind of book they’ve just picked up. For example, romances usually have cleavage or handsome bare-chested men. Sci-fi usually has planets, or space, or spaceships with rivets. Fantasy has horses and swords and swirling magic. Be sure to use the right kind of visual cues to clue your audience into your book’s genre.

 3.    Will the book be a series? Is the book intended to be a stand-alone book, or part of a larger series? If there are already books in the series, the new cover should match the others. If it is the first book in a series, be sure to think ahead to what those other covers might look like and how they will coordinate with the one you are designing now.

 4.    Who is your audience? Who is the book targeted toward? Is it written for young adults or a mature audience? Would it appeal to one gender more than the other? Is it a specific genre like sci-fi, or romance, or a western? Your target audience should influence the look of your cover.

5.      How literal do you want your cover to be? Many books depict a picture of the main character or characters on the front cover, or some specific element from the plot. These covers are very literal, but that can sometimes be a detriment for the reader. Readers often imagine the internal workings of the book quite differently than the author. They bring their own experiences and imagination to the story and it can be frustrating if the cover clashes with their personal interpretation. They think, “That’s not how I imagined that character or setting or plot element,” and it can put them off

6.    What type of font do you want? Font for the title and author by-line is an important decision. Fonts convey mood and tone just as color and style do. Try writing out your title and by-line with various fonts and take notes on which work best and which don’t. It is a good idea never to use more than three different fonts on a book cover, maximum. Less is better.

7.   Is your cover in keeping with your author brand or platform? Maybe you are a brand new author, which means this first book may very well help define your brand. What is a brand? It is your personal mark or unique approach to writing. It is what sets you apart from other writers. It is the stamp of your personality. Maybe you view yourself as whimsical or gothic, hard-edged or a big softy. It is a good idea to establish your flavor or brand and keep is across the various venues of your author platform such as your blog and website. And if you can match your book cover to your brand it will be that much easier for your readers to identify it with you.

8.    What will the main sale point of your book be? Will you be selling your book mostly as an e-book on Amazon and other e-book venues, or in print in book stores? An e-book needs to show well in thumbnail size, where a print book can often have more detail. If you are going to sell both print and e-books, you need a cover that does both well. Once you have a basic design, try your book cover image in various sizes to see if it becomes muddled when smaller or larger.

9.   What is the trend in covers at the moment? Using your genre and target audience, do a search on Amazon or Goodreads or Google for books like yours. What trends do you see in the covers? What has been overdone? What draws your eye and makes you want to look at the details of the book? Make sure your cover will stand out in the crowd, but not for the wrong reasons.

10.    What do you like in a cover? What do you hate? Now, do a search of popular books in your genre and market. Look carefully at the covers and choose six that you love, and six that you don’t like at all. Take notes on what appeals to you and what doesn’t. Is there a pattern to what you like and what you don’t? Us those patterns to help design a book cover you will be happy with.

Armed with all this information, you should now be able to make a very good start on designing that cover or communicating what you really want to the person you are hiring to do it.

Thanks to Kura Carpenter, book cover designer extraordinaire, for letting me pick her brains for this post.

 Now go make or commission a great cover and stay tuned for my “Covers I Love and Hate” post.

2 Responses to “Ten Questions to Ask About Your Book Cover”

  • Cat:

    About the number of fonts on a book cover, I’d say to use one only would be ideal (use a mix of bold, regular, italics, all caps and sentence case to differentiate text lines). Use two fonts if you have a good reason to. But I think three would be excessive. This is something I learnt in a book design unit on a publishing course, so there’s some basis to it.

  • Ripley:

    Cat, I agree. You make a good point about being able to use the same font in different forms. I think that would be much better than three diff fonts for anything. I found that 3 font maximum mentioned somewhere and it seemed excessive. Thanks for your input.


Ripley Patton lives in a 22-foot camper in the woods of Southern Illinois with a cat named Lemmy. Her two young adult children, a daughter and a son, are her favorite people. When Ripley's not out exploring nature and getting her hands dirty, she's usually reading or writing a book.

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