Dos and Don’ts of Book Cover Design

Ahead of our Book Design event next week, Leah McDowell, Design Manager at Floris Books, takes us through some dos and don’ts of book cover design…

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to create one image that has the ability to sum up thousands of much-loved words. Not only that, it must also compel as many people as possible to part with their hard-earned cash so that they can own the object that’s wrapped up within said image. It must mean something to everyone, and will certainly mean everything to a certain author. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to design a book cover.

Cover design is a tricky business. Here’s some of the big Do’s and Don’ts to help get you on your way.

BookDO think about the reader
A book cover is a call to action. The perfect cover screams ‘PICK ME UP! BUY ME! LOVE ME!’. You need to know your reader before you’re able to design the perfect cover that screams this message at their frequency. Look at the other books that your target market are reading and enjoying, look at trends and cultural movements that they’re involved in. Draw inspiration from all of these sources to make an image that appeals to them.

DON’T start thinking in digital
Begin by sketching initial cover concepts on paper/napkins/cigarette packets with your drawing implement of choice, as this is the most efficient way to fully explore your early ideas. Technology is brilliant for fully realising your concepts, but it just adds unnecessary steps into the getting-ideas-out-of-your-head process (e.g. how the heck do I use the pen tool in Photoshop?!). Don’t introduce a computer into the process until you’ve settled on three or four concepts that you really want to pursue.
TypeDO respect the power of typography
Typography has the ability to make a good cover totally awesome or, conversely, totally lame. Spend time picking the right font with the right character for your cover. Don’t sacrifice type legibility for cool points. Do an online search for ‘kerning’ and learn to embrace it and never, ever use Comic Sans or Papyrus.
NarrativeDON’T try to cram in all aspects of the narrative onto the cover
You don’t need to illustrate every theme, plot line, setting and character of a book to make a great cover. Instead, illustrate the feeling or tone of the book, picking out key symbols to pair with expressive type and a suitable colour palette to sum it all up in the small space you have to work with.
SpaceDO embrace white space
There’s no need to pack every square millimetre of your design with things; leaving empty space is a powerful tool that helps to draw the eye to the most important features of the design.

Think you’re ready to give it a shot? Go get ‘em tiger. Hear more tips from the Edinburgh cover design titans, Rafi Romaya of Canongate and Jim Hutcheson of Birlinn at SYP’s event Book Design: From Concept to Cover. Try out your skills by entering the Kelpies Design & Illustration Prize 2016 for a chance to win a cheque and the chance to be published.

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One thought on “Dos and Don’ts of Book Cover Design

  1. Pingback: #SYPBookDesign: Book Design: From Concept to Customer. | SYP Scotland

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