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Last updated on Jun 23, 2022

Book Cover Design: How to Make a World-Class Cover

When designing a book cover, you want it to be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any other title in your genre. Hiring experienced designers will help you do just that, giving you the best chance of creating an outstanding cover that will draw readers’ eyes, sell more copies, and strengthen your author’s brand.

Ready to give your project the professional treatment? Here’s how to design your book cover:

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To create a cover that sells, you need to know what visual cues your potential readers best respond to — so take inspiration from successful book designs in your genre. The first step is to don your bookstore detective hat, and get the lowdown on what readers are buying right now.

Pay attention to what’s on the shelves

Check out the best-selling titles in your category and see if you spot any common visual styles and motifs. Do certain images crop up again and again? For example, right now it’s common for paranormal fantasy novels to feature a character on the cover — this is something we call a genre indicator. Illustrated designs are common in literary fiction and cozy mystery, while it’s common for thriller novels to rely heavily on images of back-lit characters. 

A sample of Amazon's bestselling paranormal fantasy novels
A sample of Amazon's bestselling paranormal fantasy novels

Any designer worth their salt will be aware of these industry trends: they will ensure that your cover meets readers’ expectations while making it unique enough to stand out in a crowded market. However, the direction of your cover design is ultimately your decision — so it’s important that you can spot overused clichés and nudge the design towards something that matches your own taste

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Analyze your favorite cover designs

Generally speaking, designers appreciate it when a client gives them a creative direction (unless it’s so specific that they have no room to work with it), and they’ll be happy to hear your ideas. So, keep a note of the types of covers that capture your attention in bookstores or on social media, and save photos and illustrations that you think may fit your title nicely. 

Cover of Deadly Keyholes by Julie Morton
Designed by Matt Davies      

Now that you have a strong idea of what works in your genre (as well as what design style you like), it’s time to find a designer who can take your ideas and run with them.

2. Find a talented book cover designer

It's easier than ever to find freelance professionals to work on just about anything, like college essays, hand-made gifts, and even personalized cakes! You can hire designers on talent marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork 一 but let’s be honest, that rarely leads to world-class book covers

If you want professional results, you should hire someone with experience and a proven track record in the industry. For example, the rigorous vetting processes on Reedsy’s marketplace ensure that only the best get accepted, many of whom have decades-long careers and have worked for major publishing houses. 

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Wherever you decide to look for your designers, focus on finding someone who is both experienced in your genre and whose art you love.

Someone who knows your audience

Look specifically for someone who knows how best to speak to your intended audience. For example, a professional who designed stunning jackets for numerous bestselling nonfiction titles might not be the perfect fit for your cozy mystery 一 no matter their talent.

On Reedsy, you can find designers based on their genre specialization and previous experiences. Filter and check the designer’s previous experience, including the presses and authors they’ve worked with. 

Filtering for Cover Designers on Reedsy's marketplace
Refining the search for cover designers specialized in “Fiction” and “Epic Fantasy”
A designer's curriculum on Reedsy's marketplace
Andrew Davis’s portfolio

While credentials are useful to quantify a designer’s experience, there’s still an intangible quality to consider — personal chemistry that no CV can capture.  

Someone whose aesthetic you love

Check out different designers’ portfolios to gauge their visual styles. If you don’t like their previous products, then there’s no point in working together. Narrow down your options to those whose artwork you’d be proud to feature on your book! 

David Provolo’s portfolio
David Provolo’s portfolio

Once you’ve found a designer (or made a shortlist of suitable candidates), it’s time to make a connection.

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3. Create a design brief with your ideas and requirements

Reach out to your designer of choice and share your research and preferences in terms of cover elements and design. This is also the right time to share the book title, a short synopsis, and provide context about your target audience.

Top tip: On Reedsy’s marketplace, you can save time and get a range of quotes by submitting a single brief to up to five designers at a time.

To help prospective designers fully understand what you need from them, it always helps to outline any ideas that you’ve picked up in your research.

Show them a mood board with comp titles and designs you love

A mood board is a collection of images and notes about the type of design you love. While not all authors will prepare one of these, it’s a very useful tool for sharing comp titles and designs from other books, as well as photos you might want to use on the cover. With the help of a mood board (or something similar), the designer will be able to steer their concepts towards something that you’re likely to love.

You may also provide a set of illustrations you particularly liked to inspire the designer's work. Not all cover designers are illustrators — but many are and can either pen new designs or combine licensed illustrations from image libraries.

hea Magerand's portfolio
Thea Magerand’s portfolio puts her skills as a designer and illustrator on show

On top of supplying prospective designers with visual inspiration, it’s also important to let them know what type of files you’ll need at the end.

Get the right dimensions from your retailer

Depending on the type of book format you decide to print your book in, you’ll have to calculate your book cover dimensions (also referred to as trim size). You can use an online tool like the Kindle Print Cover Calculator which, based on your preferences, generates the ideal template for your cover design.

For e-books, the standard size on KDP is a 2560 x 1600px front cover, but with printed formats, you will also need to consider the spine, back cover, and even the flaps (if you’re publishing a hardcover edition). Here the dimensions will depend on your chosen trim size, paper stock, and page count.

Besides KDP, IngramSpark and other major print-on-demand suppliers will provide templates for your specific project, which you can then supply to your designer to ensure everything is pixel-perfect.

Full cover of How to market a book by Ricardo Fayet
Dissecting the cover of How to market a book by Ricardo Fayet 

Make sure to include this information in your design brief, before the designer starts drafting any concepts.

4. Experiment with concepts, branding, font, and color 

The design process happens in different stages in which you’ll have the opportunity to request small adjustments or changes. This includes feedback on the first concepts as well as more specific choices like the color palette, typography, and more.

Reviewing early concepts

Most designers will provide a few initial concepts to choose between and give feedback on. While your agreement will usually include a number of design rounds, you won't have the luxury of endless tweaks and redesigns, so it’s important to be clear about what you like and dislike. 

Perhaps you prefer the graphics in one version but the typography in another: this is useful feedback that can guide the next iterations of the design. Moreover, consider that while the designer will try their best to bring your idea to life, it’s worth keeping an open mind to their ideas and letting them bring their talents to the table too.

An early concept for Niyati Tamaskar’s book vs the final cover
An early concept for Niyati Tamaskar’s book vs the final cover

Test out the concepts with real readers

If you don't want to leave things to chance, you can test which concept readers like best by creating basic Facebook or Instagram ads. It will cost you a few extra bucks, but it can make a big difference in how many copies you end up selling. 

If you’re familiar with the basics of Facebook ads, set up two campaigns with the exact same copy and CTA but with different cover designs, and check and compare their click-through rate once they accumulate enough impressions. 

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For example, a few years ago we ran an experiment with two concurrent ad campaigns on Facebook. By tracking how many people viewed and clicked on each ad, we could tell which concept was objectively better at doing its job — which is to sell the book.

Test of two cover design concepts
The cover on the right, designed by Caroline Teagle Johnson, received 48% more interest from readers of Romance fiction than the version on the left.

Keep in mind that you're only looking at the click-through rate, not the conversion rate, so this isn't proof of future sales, but it should be enough to determine which cover attracts the most readers.

Now that you’ve settled upon the final concept, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty.

Refining the design

As the designer continues to hone the final design, you’ll still be able to feedback on things like the color palette or typography, ensuring that they align with the book’s theme and your overall branding. 

For example, when finalizing his cover for Life in the Loop, Reedsy designer Jason Anscomb presented the author with a number of suitable color options to choose from.

Color palette options for the cover of Life In The Loop
Designs by Jason Anscomb

Similar choices, such as choosing a font family or refining exact text placement, aren’t uncommon at this stage. Once you’ve expressed your preferences and narrowed down the final concepts, it’s time to run one last test with your audience to see which performs better.

5. Finalize any changes to your design

Once you’ve approved the final design, it’s just a matter of polishing the details. The designer will now finalize each element of the book cover, such as the front and back cover, spine, and eventual flaps, to make sure it fits the format you intend to publish your book in.  

Add subtitles, logos and any other required graphics

If you’re writing non-fiction you may choose to include a subtitle on the front cover that explains, in a nutshell, the content of the book, whereas in other genres you may want to hop on the trend of using “A Novel” or “A Memoir” as a content signpost. 

Cover of Runaways by Rachel Sawden
Designed by Caroline Teagle Johnson

If you have a one-liner review from a successful author in your niche, you can include that on the front or back cover. On the latter, you may also add a blurb, your author bio, logo, and the ISBN barcode.

Double-check your spine width

The spine is the middle part of the cover which, usually, displays the book’s title, your name, and your own (or the publisher’s) logo. The width of the spine is different for paperbacks and hardcovers: since the latter are thicker, double-check with your designer that the spine margin setting are correct and will allow the book to fold and avoid text distortion.  

Cover design with spine for Katie Watson and the Painter's Plot
Cover by designer Patrick Knowles

6. Export your book cover files

Once you’re delighted with the final version, your designer will deliver files in a format to fit the templates you secured from online retailers and print-on-demand vendors (usually JPEGs for e-books and print-ready PDFs for prints). 

Depending on what you’ve agreed on, they might send you a variety of design formats to be used on digital ads, social media updates, or on your author website. Even if you’re not printing physical copies of your book, your designer can create appealing mockups that you can use to promote your book!

Mockup of the book Daughters of Men by J. Martain
Mockup of Daughters of Men, design by Nada Backovic

And there you have it: your very own professionally designed book cover. It’s ready to hit the shelves and attract readers with its undeniable good looks and all-important genre indicators!


For more help using your cover to attract new readers, make sure you download our free ebook How to Market a Book: Overperform in a Crowded Market.

– Originally published on Oct 26, 2018

27 responses

Krystal Proffitt says:

09/02/2017 – 15:29

I used a Reedsy designer for my book cover and I was overwhelmingly satisfied with the results! I'm on a strict budget because this is my first self-published book. I was completely happy to pay around $500 for a cover that not only made me happy but has already created buzz among my Facebook followers before it's release date (2/28)! I will be using Reedsy again for collaborations in the future for sure!

↪️ Reedsy replied:

09/02/2017 – 15:45

That's fantastic, Krystal! We're always delighted to hear back from happy authors :) Best of luck with your big release!

↪️ Olga GOA replied:

02/04/2018 – 14:55

Did it help to your sales? The main question.

Michael Dunne says:

09/02/2017 – 15:49

A great place for illustrations on a budget is DeviantArt. I have worked with several illustrators to customize artwork for my eBook covers. Rather than buying an image outright, I pay the artist a "right-to-use" fee of $25-$35 that allows me full rights to use the image as a cover illustration, as well as for social media, marketing, on my website, etc. I've attached an example for an upcoming novelette. The image could've been drawn directly from the story (although it wasn't) and fit my vision for the cover exactly. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2755a42f13a515e2008cdd6341e2146fd7455dcb6b6d45db77eab4a906e21941.png

↪️ Reedsy replied:

09/02/2017 – 16:15

I'd agree with you to a certain extent, Michael. That is a really lovely illustration — and on its own, I think it captures a strong atmosphere. However, designers would likely argue that the typography and layout would be a lot stronger if handled by a professional. Their particular set of skills (to paraphrase Liam Neeson) is to create covers that will allow your book to compete alongside similar titles released by large publishers. As suggested in the post, it could be worth getting in contact with a few of professionals and seeing what they can do with the illustration you already have — I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by what they can offer in terms of quality and price :)

↪️ Michael Dunne replied:

09/02/2017 – 16:44

I understand and agree. I suppose at this stage I'm where Mr. Penny was in some respects. I like the cover and believe it's good, but know it can be better. I think it captures the essence of the story. However, I may take your advice as budget allows. It's not published yet, so there is still time :-) Thanks! MD

Jane Davis says:

09/02/2017 – 16:53

My cover for An Unknown Woman cost me £120 including the photo licences and has won two prizes of approximately £500 each, so it has paid for itself many times over. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/978cd61580ddf1767627395fb0345975a4972ce43415a2e6aba3440f105a0c73.jpg

↪️ Ruthie Urman Gronli replied:

09/02/2017 – 19:57

Cool cover, Jane!

↪️ Jane Davis replied:

09/02/2017 – 20:07

Thanks, Ruthie. I think it's my most commercial so far.

↪️ Don Karp replied:

04/10/2017 – 00:46

This is way less expensive than what's discussed in this article. How did you manage that? Who was your cover designer? And the cover won the prizes you mention, or the book itself?

↪️ Jane Davis replied:

08/10/2017 – 16:48

The cover has won two separate awards, and the book itself won Writing Magazine's Self-Published Book of the Year Award, which took every aspect of the book's production ( quality of writing, edit, proofread, typesetting, cover, etc.) My designer was Andrew Candy of Tentacle Design, which is based at Mine Art Gallery, Carshalton. Surrey, UK. I always come up with the concept and source the photos (obviously cuts down on time/ expense) and he charges a straight hourly rate, plus the photo licences. He mainly designs covers for academic books so he likes to go to town with fiction. I am not sure that he would be good for writers who don't have a clear idea of how they want their books to look. I have also used Jessica Bell for one cover and use her for all of my social media ads - her rates are also very reasonable.

↪️ Olga GOA replied:

02/04/2018 – 14:54

Your cover helps you in sales?

Rebekah Haskell says:

09/02/2017 – 17:26

"Royalty free" does not mean "free". In most instances, you will still have to license the image.

Mandi Konesni says:

09/02/2017 – 20:40

I'd never pay $300 and up for a cover. For indie authors that are self-publishing, that's an exorbitant amount that could be better spent elsewhere. Of course, that's just my opinion. My cover was $90, including print wrap and marketing photos, and it's the first thing many people comment on. I'm happy with my purchase, and will be going to the same cover artist for any future work. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8ed8f9fe842b2421d74b807b0c2633ed9bc57cef56e01806e185069ed044c2dc.jpg

dcw says:

11/02/2017 – 19:07

Good article. Thanks. Please tell your writers/proofreaders to correct any instances of "hone in on" to "home in on" in future articles.

↪️ Reedsy replied:

13/02/2017 – 09:16

Good spot. Thanks!

Nancy Yetter Schultz says:

14/02/2017 – 00:39

Actually, the cover in your first case study that would have most gotten me to click through was the original cover of the second book (Breaker of Bones). The new covers I find rather bland, and don't spark my curiosity the same way. And I like Historical Mysteries. But I'm willing to admit I'm an odd duck who finds *most* covers these days bland and uninteresting.

↪️ Jon Stubbington replied:

07/04/2017 – 09:08

It's tricky isn't it? I agree with you that I find the original Breaker of Bones cover to be the most eye-catching of the four. But, it does scream "thriller" at me and I would not necessarily expect a historical mystery (based on the font in particular). The redesigned covers work better (I think) for the chosen genre, even though I don't find them quite as visually appealing.

↪️ Gary Val Tenuta replied:

16/09/2017 – 12:25

As a cover designer, my main criticisms of Penny's revised covers are (1) the overall tone seems rather "muddy" and (2) the title and author fonts are difficult to read especially when the covers end up as small thumbnails in a facebook ad or on the book's amazon page. But hey, that's just me. ;-)

Kristen Steele says:

09/03/2017 – 16:38

Ha! I loved the Paul McCartney analogy. So true! If you're going to invest in a designer, in the long run, it probably makes sense to hire the best. After all, books are most certainly judged by their covers.

Don Karp says:

06/10/2017 – 22:37

What do you think of hiring a Fiver for cover art? Then, when the crowd-sourced funding gains some traction, switching over to a more costly designer?

Hannah says:

18/02/2018 – 05:42

I keep getting an error message when I try to go to your portfolio.

marieseltenrych says:

20/09/2018 – 00:59

Thank you for a great post that I read through with gusto. There are definitely good recommendations here and information worth far more than money can buy. As an Indie author and a graphic artist, I am very reluctant to allow another to make my cover scheme for me. To avoid costs I try to reinvent the covers regularly. If there was one easy formula to create the most impacting cover I would definitely use it. One of the earliest covers I created possibly was the reason why 32,000 of that title were downloaded in 2011. However, I changed the cover to improve performance, and it did not work. It is a puzzle worth pursuing. I shall not stop trying to give my 'potential' readers a better experience.

Mandee Kulp says:

29/11/2018 – 04:50

As someone who has been dealing with the use of stock images for years, telling people to use pixabay is a bad idea. A lot of images on pixabay are posted by users who have stolen their images from other photographers. That is not a good site for legitimate stock. I’d hate for someone to find out the hard way later on which happened to one of my friends. Otherwise this article is very helpful. I’ve learned quite a bit. Thanks!

Jamie says:

01/08/2019 – 19:04

Does anyone know or tust fiverr.com ? as I am getting confused about whether or not I should use Fiverr. I recently read this review: https://www.danielshustle.com/fiverr-reviews/ that revealed 22 people who were talking about their experiences on the Fiverr platform. Some were good and some were bad and that fact left me confused... I want to hear from an expert like you. Do you think fiverr is any good?

Colette says:

07/10/2019 – 04:41

I just asked a rock star book designer for a quote and she said 2500-3500$. Wonder if royalties would be an option.

↪️ Martin Cavannagh replied:

07/10/2019 – 15:37

That is definitely on the upper side, though it may be down to the specific requirements of the project as well. Does it involve a lot of illustration? Also, freelance designers rarely (almost never) work for royalties. Even with traditional publishers, they'd usually rather take the steady paycheck.

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