A book cover is more than a picture and a title. The sole objective of a book cover is to attract readers to buy the book. That means a book cover serves to sell your book. While the cover, ‘covers’ and protects the book from damage, when designing it, the main focus should be to attract readers and generate substantial sales.

What makes a great book cover?

1. Attraction

Attraction should be at the centre of the book cover. First impressions count. What is it that will make people stop and take a second look at your book? But does this mean that because people may somewhat be attracted to food then every book cover design should include a picture of an appetising meal? Or should it be a naked body to simply draw people’s attention?

The book cover needs to draw the viewer into the story. There is always a story in each book hence the cover needs to bring out what the book is about, without dishing out everything. The book cover communicates the genre, target audience, tone and what the book is about.

The book cover serves as a bait to trap the reader into opening your book and not put it down before reading it to the end.

The book cover needs to play on the human emotions of intrigue and curiosity. 

Hence, your book cover should;

  • represent your story
  • elicit intrigue
  • stand out from other books in your category

Always answer the why me question. Why should readers be attracted to your book?

2.  Intriguing focal point

While focussing on attracting readers to your book, developing a clear and intriguing focal point is of paramount importance. Your book is competing against thousands of other covers in an overcrowded marketplace and only has seconds to capture a potential reader’s attention before they have moved on to another title.

Your book cover needs a centre of attraction. Where do the eyes of the viewer fall first? Your focal point is what grabs the attention and catches one’s eye first.

This is where the skill of composition kicks in. Composition is one of the most fundamental skills required in anyone working with visuals. As with all professional skills, book design takes a lifetime to master.

This is why it is strongly advised to hire a book cover designer instead of creating the cover yourself. As an independent publisher publishing independent authors, I always have problems getting my authors to understand that I always mean well when I recommend some design input.

However, the easiest way to find your focal point is to ask yourself (or someone) where your eye goes first on this piece. When they see that first, what will they do next? Does it answer your objectives in attraction above? For instance, if it is the title that they see first or your author byline, the artwork, or some specific abstract object, does your focal point represent your story while eliciting intrigue in your reader? Does your book then stand out? Are they drawn to it?

A strong composition that creates a well thought out focal point makes for a good cover design.

Shakaib Feroz says that there’s a whole science behind this elusive art called composition. It is this magic skill that dictates where a viewer is going to look, and in what order. 

Whatever you decide to do, your focal point depends on what story you want to plant in your readers’ mind. That is what will make them open your book and decide to buy it. 

You can have multiple focal points but they should not compete with each other. They should grab your viewer’s attention in the order you have designed them – primary, secondary, and tertiary. Try not to have more than three focal points on a cover to avoid it becoming too busy and cluttered. A good book cover should stand out from the other books in its category.

3. Clear title

As you strive to come up with a focal point, do not forget the title of your book. While you may choose to let your readers focus on something else on your cover, for example, your picture as this has become trendy lately, your book title is equally important, especially if the readers are not going to buy the book because of your face on the cover.

When coming up with a book title, ask yourself this; will it pull your reader from across the store? If someone had not gone into the store to specifically buy your book, will they stop what they are doing and take a look at your book? While browsing through social media, will they stop and look at your title?

Your book title should be compelling. It should be visible and readable. The subtitle and your name will complement the presentation of the title on the book. Make sure they are all placed well, in the focal point order which makes sense and serves the sole purpose of selling the book.

4. Simplicity

Book cover design ideas and composition must be simple, clear and to the point. Covers may end up looking complex because of the design details but the origin should be simple.

Simply make your viewers focus on the key selling points of your book while harmoniously marrying all the book cover components.

How to make the best cover

1. Choose a perfect, elegant and outstanding typeface. As a general rule, serif and sans serif typefaces are used for either body copy or headlines (including titles, logos, etc.), while script and display typefaces are only used for headlines. Use a font size that is large enough to be readable from a metre away. The font colour should stand out while blending well with the cover elements.

2. Choose a striking image that invokes the desired reaction from your readers. Do you want to intrigue them or invoke their curiosity?

3. Your colours need to match and relate to your story. I would not pick a pink farming book.

4. Your book size also impacts your cover design.  What maybe suitable for an A5 size book may not work on a dummy size.


Do not spoil great content with a shoddy book cover design. Let your cover market and sell your book by getting it right. If you are stuck, find an editor to help you with great ideas and composition. Always work with a professional book cover designer.

With technology on the rise and a lot of design applications coming up to make life easier, there is a huge temptation to do it yourself. Do it only if your design skills are impressive, otherwise get a book editor to help you.





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1 thought on “What makes a great book cover?”

  1. Pingback: What makes the best book design? – Raincemba

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