Tips to Create Professionally Looking Fiction and Non-Fiction Book Cover Designs

If you are a self-publishing author and are starting out on a very small budget, a homemade, DIY book cover is a practical solution. However, the worst thing you can do is consider your cover design like a blank canvas and add all elements randomly without a deeper understanding of what role they are playing. Have you noticed that all book cover designs generally can be divided into those that sell and those that don’t?

Tips to Create Professionally Looking Fiction and Non-Fiction Book Cover Designs
Tips to Create Professionally Looking Fiction and Non-Fiction Book Cover Designs. Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Do you know why? Because creators of the designs that look well designed have used some basic principles that every professional designer knows, but others don’t.

Now let’s look at some book cover design examples to understand the main principles that make them look professional.

1. You need to use appropriate images and fonts to communicate the genre and pique your readers’ interest. If your book cover fails to communicate the genre, your target audience won’t even notice it. For example, if your reader is looking for a vampire romance, but your cover doesn’t look like one, he will never click on it and read the description. The same applies to non-fiction books. If you want to have a bestselling book in your category, your book cover needs to look like a bestselling book in that category.

2. Analyze what images, colours and fonts your competitors use. And then create a similar design. It needs to look professional and similar to the bestsellers in the genre without looking exactly the same.

3. Try to find a symbolic way of showing what your book is about. Use a symbol that anyone would understand upon the first sight (for example, dinosaurs Jurassic Park, mockingbird Hunger Games). Use them as your book’s cover focal point. If many other books have used these symbols already, present them in a different way.

4. Follow the current book design trends in your niche so that your book doesn’t look outdated even before launch. Search the newest bestsellers in your niche and see what designs are trending.

5. Make sure your book cover looks good as a thumbnail. Pair contrasting colours to make them attractive and grab the reader’s attention. It is ok if some of the texts are small and unreadable. Because people usually read the title and description on the book’s landing page.

6. Leave empty space to emphasize the main design elements. Don’t crowd it with too many distracting objects. It’s better to create a simple and readable cover than a cluttered and unreadable one.

7. Play with the spacing between the letters. The more spacing, the more epic the title is going to look. And it will be easier to align your texts so that they form a composition.

8. When you are choosing an image for your book cover, scroll through few pages of bestsellers in your genre to make sure that nobody is using it already. Or use Google Image Search to check out where your chosen image is being used already.

9. The size of your author name doesn’t depend on how famous you are. Look at the bestsellers in your category, whether the author’s names are big. If they are, make your name big, too. It doesn’t matter if you are not famous yet. Your readers don’t know that.

10. Try to fill the text together in a balanced way. Usually, small words like “the, in, of, and, by…” can be italicized, lower case and made small to fit between larger text.

Fiction book cover designs differ from non-fiction book cover designs. Follow the best practices of each category.

Now let’s look at some tips that are important for fiction book cover design.

11. The image used on your cover must arise emotions and fantasies, for example, romantic feelings, passion, fear, suspense, lust and other strong emotions. Because if your book cover doesn’t attract the attention of your readers, they will leave for another book.

12. You can achieve that by using a beautiful landscape, objects that symbolize your story or a human’s face with the right emotions on it.

13. Adding a human’s face, a silhouette or even just a part of a human’s body usually improves the overall design. Humans are attracted by other humans because we are social beings. Take a look at these book examples. If they used only landscape and graphical elements without any humanizing element, they wouldn’t look so attractive.

14. Use contrasts and the central object or character to really “pop” out to create a focal point. Don’t try to put all your characters on your book cover. You will create clutter and confuse your audience. Rather, use a nice background and add a simple character that is appealing to your target audience.

15. Don’t show too much of your main character. Let readers use their own imagination. Consider showing them a silhouette, from behind or only a small part of it. Don’t think about a scene from the book or a specific moment from your story. It will be too complicated to design and most probably won’t work anyway.

16. Again, similarly like with fiction books, you need to communicate also your non-fiction book genre by creating an appropriate book cover design. It must be immediately clear if this book is about marketing, technologies, politics or recipes. Find out what the design tendencies of the bestselling books in your genre are and follow them.

17. One of the simplest ways to create a good quality non-fiction book cover design is by using bright colours, well-aligned and formatted texts and a simple central image that illustrates the concept. The image should catch the audience’s attention and convey the topic immediately.

18. Use images with elements that usually are not used together and are unexpected. Combining one to two obvious symbols or objects will embody the main idea of the book. Be simple. Put as little as possible on your book cover.

19. Use graphic elements, texts and formatting only. You don’t always need an image.

Now let’s look at some most common mistakes that DIY authors usually make and you should avoid making.

20. Don’t make your text drop shadow or bevel. It will make your book cover look amateurish. I know, there are bestseller books with drop shadow or bevel titles. The difference is that they are designed by highly professional designers and usually are sold in print. If you are not a professional and want to sell your book online, then by using drop shadow or bevel titles, you are risking to be perceived amateurish and outdated.

21. Don’t just add pictures and leave them in their original colour. Add effect, change the tonality, use layers so that there are only one or two main colours in the cover.

22. Don’t worry that your tagline, which usually is in a rather small font, won’t be seen on a thumbnail. It doesn’t matter. The tagline will help your book cover look more professional because it will give your reader one more reason to buy your book. Many mainstream books use taglines. And you want to look professional. Make the tagline small.

23. Don’t make all the text on your cover in the same size. It will look confusing. Use contrasts and hierarchy to emphasize the most important elements. Usually, the hierarchy of the text looks like this:

  • Book Title
  • Author Name
  • Subtitle or Tagline

24. Don’t use more than 3 fonts on your cover and only one of these fonts can be fancy or decorative. The others must be clean and simple. The fonts must be appropriate to communicate the emotions you want your book to arise. Research what kind of fonts your genre bestsellers use and find similar ones.

25. Do not use cheap clip art on your book cover. I’m talking about the clip arts that come free with Microsoft Word and similar programs. However, it doesn’t mean that you always need to pay for images. Check out this list of more than 60 free stock images websites. There are thousands of images you can use without paying a dime. However, not always you can find what you need for free. In this case, my most favourite resources are dreamstime and freepik. They offer good quality photography and vector images much cheaper than other similar websites.

26. Don’t be afraid of following clichés. Bestselling movie posters and bestselling book covers look very similar. Even the top songs sound similar. I have heard that when radio stations are trying to promote a new song, they put it between few other already popular songs in the same genre, in order to make the new song sound familiar and popular. The same works with book covers, if your book cover looks similar to bestsellers in your chosen genre, there is a higher probability that your readers will subconsciously perceive it as more valuable. You don’t need to create something very unique or different, simply follow the clichés of your genre.

So, you have come to the end. Either you design your book cover yourself or hire a professional designer, I hope these guidelines have given you some insight into the best practices of book cover design.

Published by Jeannette Scott

, a wellness coach specializing in stress management and quality of life. She’s covered topics from nutrition to psychology, from sexuality to autoimmune diseases and cancer.