On cover design. Because it matters.

Time to read:

4 minutes

I love covers.

I really love covers.

I’m not talking about musical covers. (As an aside, if we were talking about musical covers then I’d point you in the direction of Tori Amos’s Strange Little Girls album. Just covers. Just bloody awesome.)

I’m talking about book covers.

And if you turn around and tell me you don’t judge a book by its cover, then that’s damn great. But a little badger in the back of my mind doesn’t believe you. The cover is what makes a book stand out on the shelf, or on the screen. It’s the glint that catches your eye and won’t let go.

Of course, some covers are bad. They might be misleading. They might be hard to read. They might be photoshoppery disasters. If you want to lose a few hours enjoying the wide variety of bad covers out there, then head on over to Lousy Book Covers. Much fun and entertainment to be had.

And making a cover is hard.

But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not important. These days, we’re not just talking about browsing through shelves at the local bookshop. No, now we’re talking about miniature thumbnail covers that have to stand out in the vast sea of books competing for your attention. Which means it’s time to get all LOOK-AT-ME-LOOK-AT-ME, but in the right way. Because if you ain’t getting looked at in ten seconds then you ain’t getting clicked on and you ain’t getting browsed through and the words you put so much effort into are sitting all on their lonesome and crying into a bottle of whisky. *Possibly*

Double-Vision-SMALLNow, I ain’t no expert at the designing of the perfect cover. I’m honoured enough to have had some nice comments about covers I’ve done for FlashDogs, and my small collection of stories Double Vision (of which thebookdesigner.com kindly said “Energetic artwork makes this cover for a collection of dystopian stories.”) But over the years of working on posters and covers, making mistakes, and generally pissing around in Photoshop, I’ve picked up a few (breakable) nuggets on the way.


  • Stay simple. Clutter the cover too much, especially on the online thumbnail, and you ain’t gonna have a clue what it’s supposed to be.
  • Use an easy to read font. That font that looks so pretty when you’re zoomed in on screen could be illegible when shrunken down. Don’t make people work too hard to know what your book’s called.
  • Stay on trend. Written a horror book? What do the bestsellers look like? Are they pink and fluffy with pictures of high heels? Are they pastel images of someone running through fields of dandelions? Know what your market likes, and play to it.
  • Get striking. Go vibrant, go bright, go graphical. Make it pop.
  • Get help. Designing covers takes time. That time eats into your writing hours. That time eats into your story making. That time eats into your soul. Also, learning graphics programmes can be a long, hard road, so give yourself a break – if it’s not your bag, find someone to help you out.
  • Break all the damn rules because why the hell not. That pink, fluffy horror cover? Does that make sense for your novel? Then just do it. Because sometimes you’ve got to break the mould. Just make sure you break it in style.


  • Finish without sleeping on it. This rule applies to everything. But then, I do really like sleeping. Also, there’s a lot to be said for letting fresh eyes have a peek.
  • Settle for something you hate. You’re going to have to market this book. This is your word-baby, so make sure you like the packaging.
  • Damn well listen to me. It’s your vision goddamnit, so own it and tell me to munch on my own hat. Hats don’t suit me anyway.

Favourite cover?

For me this changes depending on what time of day it is, what mood I’m in, and whether I’ve had enough cheese. Today, right now, I’m going with Lauren Beukes’s Moxyland. Bold, quirky, it punches through and begs me to grab it, to dig into the words inside. Just bloody cool (which can also be said of the book itself).

Your turn

So what’s your favourite cover? Have you self published before? Are you a cover designer? Any tips, tricks or mistakes you’ve stumbled across? Share on Twitter, or in the comments.

Until next time, fiends.


Back to blog

Related posts

3 responses to “On cover design. Because it matters.”

  1. Have to agree, sometimes a bad cover can put me off a book. Sometimes a great cover will make me pick up a book and at least have a look at it, even if i end up not buying it, so it will have done it’s job of making it stand out on the shelf.

    Same can be applied to tv, movies or even an album cover. If it catches my eye and makes me want to at least have a look or learn more, then it may lead to a purchase. A good example recently is the Stranger Things poster or the one for the movie The Devil’s Candy. Music wise, the Kate Boy album One.

    And obviously all the Star Wars movie posters as well. 🙂


  2. Agreed, but with added comments: I always read the blurb — and with an author new to me, I’ll look at the reviews. Then I might buy the book…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: