We all grew up hearing the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” That makes perfect sense when that “cover” is a person you know nothing about. But in the book publishing world, this piece of advice couldn’t be farther from reality.
When you’re in the bookstore, real or virtual, what initially draws you to learn more about a book? The cover, of course. But to create a compelling cover, you must first know what pieces make up the cover's anatomy. Don’t worry, this is a lot less bloody than health class . . . well, unless you're designing covers for Stephen King.
The front cover is where you want to capture your reader. This can be done by choosing fonts and imagery that best represents your book. Your book cover will need to include the title, subtitle (if there is one), and bylines. You can also add an endorsement blurb if you have space.
I can’t express enough how important typography is in cover design! When choosing a font, take into consideration what genre your book is categorized under. For instance, you don’t want to design a children’s book using fonts that would be found on the cover of a legal drama. And you want a font that is legible at a glance.
Just as importantly as font choice, you want to pick imagery that will attract your reader while conveying what your book is about. You’ll want to choose imagery that leaves space for your title to be seen clearly. Especially since your cover will be seen in all sizes from a thumbnail on a website to poster size at your meet and greets.
Your book has attracted a reader and they have picked it up and flipped it over. Great! On the back cover, you want to have a book description that doesn’t give away the entire story but draws the potential reader to want to purchase it and begin reading.
You have options on what else you would like to include, depending on space remaining. For instance, you can include a short author bio and author photo OR you can add an endorsement. You will also find the barcode and publisher imprint (if applicable), usually in the bottom quarter of the cover.
The spine should never be considered an afterthought. I have been told in the past that some bookstores pick books based on how compelling the spine looks, because they shelf their books spine out. Here you want to have the author’s name and the title of the book. If there is a publisher, you will also want the publisher’s imprint (logo) in this space. Traditionally, spines are designed with the author’s name at the top, title in the center, and imprint at the bottom.
These three elements will be found on paperbacks and casebound hardcovers. Books with dust jackets will have a similar anatomy, but they will also have jacket flaps (the folded part of the dust jacket that wraps around the hardcover). With dust jackets, you have more space to spread out the descriptive text of your book. You can move your endorsements to the back cover and reserve the jacket flaps for the book description and/or a lengthier author bio.
So there you have it! The basic anatomy of a book cover. When designed correctly, the cover becomes an invaluable tool for promoting and selling your book! It is the branding of you and your story. The more professional your book cover is, the more seriously you are taken by readers. Just remember, in this case, the reader does judge a book by its cover!
written by Michael Hardison
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