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Last updated on Feb 29, 2024

How to Design a Book Cover: 7 Steps for Professional Results

A book’s cover is one of the most important marketing assets that authors have at their disposal. A great cover design will communicate the book’s content and tone in the blink of an eye, attracting new readers wandering through a bookstore or browsing Amazon, and potentially doubling your sales

So, what does it take to create an outstanding cover design? In this post, we’ve teamed up with Reedsy’s designer, Raúl Gil, to show you how publishing professionals create their world-class cover designs.

How to design a book cover:

1. Take inspiration from other covers

Research and planning should be an essential step in all design projects. With book covers, that research should be focused on two of the design’s main goals, which are how to:

  • Attract the attention of the book’s target reader and
  • Communicate genre, tone, and content.

Thankfully, publishing is a trend-driven industry, and the creative choices of top publishers are reflected in the books you find on your local high street.

Snoop around bookshops, libraries, or online retailers

Mainstream bookshops are especially useful places to start since they will stock books that are selling right now and will only carry the latest editions (so you won’t be misled by 30-year-old cover designs).

When looking at books in your genre, you’ll want to note any common uses of color, imagery, and general approach to design. 

Here’s an (edited) snapshot of top-selling psychological thrillers on Amazon at the start of 2024:

A grid of 6 bestselling thrillers on Amazon. Book Cover Design example
Can you spot the similarities?

At a glance, you might see that many of these covers:  

  • Use a font similar to Helvetica, a sans serif typeface that feels quite contemporary. 
  • Employ a certain amount of yellow, red, and blue in some of the designs.
  • Feature a character who’s obscured in some way.

All genres have their trends and tropes, and a good designer should be aware of them before working up their concepts. Once you’ve gathered this intel, use it in your design to communicate what your book is about.

But before diving into the design process, deciding on the tools you’ll use is crucial.

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2. Pick the right design tools

A poor craftsperson blames their tools — however, Leonardo didn’t compose the Mona Lisa with crayons. So before you get too far into the design process, you need to know two things:

  • What software are you using to design your cover?
  • Will you be proficient enough in that software to bring your ideas to life?

If you’re not 100% certain of your digital design skills, look into collaborating with a professional cover designer for your project. You can still remain in creative control of how the book looks, but with their market knowledge and ability to execute a design, a pro will give you the best chance of giving your book the design it deserves.

If you’re confident in your abilities, look at some of the most popular book cover design apps and see which one you’d be best suited to.

Professional-grade software

Tool Pros and cons
Adobe Suite Encompassing InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop, Adobe Suite is a cornerstone for graphic designers and illustrators. It offers a comprehensive and flexible array of editorial layout, design, and image editing tools. It’s the gold standard for creative design across print and digital platforms. On the downside, they have a steep learning curve and a recurring subscription model.
QuarkXPress Although it’s no longer the industry’s leading application for editorial design work, Quark has a long history as a professional product with a community of loyal users. Unlike Adobe, you can buy a lifetime license instead of paying a monthly fee.
Affinity Suite The most professional and powerful alternative to the Adobe Suite. It offers most of the tools necessary for professional performance and, importantly, an accessible business model. They are closed-price applications that do not require subscriptions.
Procreate & Adobe Fresco Two of the most popular and powerful tools for illustrators. While Procreate is an iOS-exclusive tool, Fresco also works on Windows. In recent years, they have replaced Photoshop as the standard app for professional illustrators.

Consumer software

Tool Pros and cons
Canva A popular online design tool that’s remarkably simple and well-priced. The templates are easy to use but can result in very generic results.
Adobe Spark A consumer-level design tool from the makers of Photoshop and InDesign. One of its major benefits includes easy access to Adobe’s stock image library.
GIMP A free PhotoShop-style app that’s powerful but can be daunting for first-time users.

Now that you know the tools at your disposal to bring your cover to life, let’s get creative. In the next few sections, we’re going to show you what goes on in a professional designer’s mind when they’re working on a new project. You’ll get an insight into their process and hopefully be able to apply this methodology to your own design.

Rocket Bride: A Case Study 

Rocket Bride's manuscript
We’re gonna need a better cover.

For the rest of this guide, we will demonstrate the cover design process with the help of Reedsy’s in-house designer, Raúl Gil, who will design a cover for a hypothetical novel that we will call... Rocket Bride. This book doesn’t exist, but if it did, this is what it would be about:

Rocket Bride is a space opera targeted mainly at a romance-reading audience. It centers on a princess who’s engaged to an evil land developer and the roguish intergalactic smuggler who helps the princess escape on her wedding day. Like oil and water, chalk and cheese, these two heroes are unlikely accomplices — and maybe even unlikelier lovers. 

But before we start throwing around any ideas, we first need to decide on the concept and style that our cover will take.

3. Choose a genre-fitting concept

The only way to find a suitable concept is to first come up with a bunch of ideas that are off the mark, kinda good, or wrong but headed in the right direction. Even professional designers who know what they’re doing start by throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks.

As a starting point, ask yourself: What emotions do you want your cover to evoke?

Capture the book’s tone at a glance

In today’s publishing landscape, more readers are buying their books from online retailers like Amazon. The average shopper will only see a small thumbnail of a book’s cover — and perhaps only for a fraction of a second. Bearing that in mind, your design needs to be clear, fairly simple, and communicate your book’s emotional tone.

From your research, you should have a good idea of how covers in your niche communicate the tone of the book. If it’s a thriller novel, it may be dark and mysterious, like the design for A Flicker in the Dark. If it’s a humorous nonfiction book, it’ll use lighter colors and feature an image that conveys the concept and tone of the book, like the cover of Jenette McCurdy’s funny, gallowsy memoir.

Two book covers: A flicker in the dark, and I'm Glad My Mom Died
A quick glance would tell you which book is a funny memoir and which one is a thriller.

But beyond that, what else can draw readers to a book?

Characters (with or without eyes)

Fiction readers, broadly speaking, can be enticed by a character they’d want to spend 300-odd pages with. To that end, you will see covers that feature a character from the book. 

In certain genres, you’ll notice that character faces are often concealed in some way. You’ll rarely see a character’s full face on literary fiction and mystery novels. They might be backlit (as is common in thrillers) or obscured by some design feature. There are many reasons why this might be the case, but we think it boils down to the fact that readers want to put themselves in a protagonist’s shoes — and if they see a model’s face on the front cover, it makes it hard for them to recast themselves as the hero of the story.

Two cover designs with obscured eyes
Just like the word “team,” there’s no “eye” in these designs.

Though, of course, there are exceptions. Books adapted to film will often have tie-in covers featuring the poster art – after all, who’d say no to having Leo DiCaprio’s face on your book? Romance is another example of where you’d see a character’s face — the old cliché of handsome shirtless cover models remains as true today as it was in the Fabio era.  

Photographic book covers. Book design analysis
These days, even Leo’s forehead has a six-pack. So hot.

If your genre’s design trends call for a character to feature on the cover, think about how much of their face you want to show. 

In the case of Rocket Bride, we’re taking a lead from popular books in the women’s fiction and cozy romance spaces and depicting our main characters in illustrated form. In line with the trends, we will show full-body images of our lead characters — though it’s worth noting that having stylized, hand-drawn depictions of these characters does leave some wiggle room for readers to imagine themselves as the leads in the story in a way that a photo of an Abercrombie & Fitch model doesn’t.

Location and period

Readers also like knowing where a book is set and are often attracted to books that promise to take them off to a certain time and place. Take a look at these examples:

Location and setting based cover designs
Books that promise to take you somewhere new.

The cover for Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, while foregrounding a character, uses costume to tell readers that they’re in for a dose of Old Hollywood glamor. (Note how you don’t see her eyes!)

The jacket for Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time instantly says that we’re going to a retro-futuristic world where people travel the galaxy in broken-down hunks of junk. 

For books that offer readers a sliver of escapist entertainment, a focus on location can oftentimes be a winner.


Going back to what we said about covers only having a split second of a browser’s attention, you’ll see more covers these days leaning towards very simple and iconographic — something that is either recognizable or evokes instant meaning. 

In the past twenty-odd years, you’re likely to see this approach with literary novels, but with an increasingly digitally minded approach, it’s also become commonplace in genre fiction.

Yellowface, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, Thursday Murder Club: Book Covers
Staying simple is often the best tactic.

Take a look at the three examples and see how they use simple, iconic images to make an impression:

  • RF Kuang’s Yellowface has a striking design that says all it needs to say with its recognizable depiction of East Asian eyes on a solid yellow background.
  • The cover for Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow recontextualizes Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa.
  • Every entry in Richard Osman’s bestselling Thursday Murder Club series can be recognized by its type-led design and simple fox motif.

Rocket Bride: An illustrated approach with character, tone, and location

With all this in mind, we shared some comp titles from the world of contemporary romance and women’s fiction. In line with the classic B-Movie tone of the story, we also sent him some examples of Jet Age imagery that we thought would be suitable for Rocket Bride’s cover.

The princess bride and The African Queen
images: 20th Century Studios [The Princess Bride], United Artists [The African Queen]

In our discussion with Raúl, we talked about the humor of the story, but also the bristling romance of Classic Hollywood. The relationship between our two heroes is like Hepburn and Bogart in The African Queen; like Han and Leia in Star Wars. We wanted the cover to convey the fact that this book is feisty, fun, and far from the hard sci-fi books that many casual romance readers would normally avoid. It’s more Princess Bride than Dune.

After sending him our design idea, Raúl soon returned with a concept that showed our lead characters and science fiction setting, rendered with a sense of excitement and romance.

How to design a book cover. First sketch
(Illustration: Raúl Gil)

With a basic concept in place, you’ll want to make sure you know how you’re going to bring this idea to life.

4. Select a design style

Broadly speaking, there are four ways that you can approach your cover — each led by the type of imagery that will dominate the design. Pretty much every title you’ll see in a bookshop will fall into one of these four categories:

Four different styles of cover design: stock image-led, type-led, illustration-led, photography-led
Covers by Reedsy designers Sarah Lahay, Liam Relph, Taylor Barron, and Danna Mathias

Stock image-led

The vast majority of book covers released by major publishers will feature stock images that are then cropped, manipulated, or edited into the design. You see a lot of these covers in most romance subgenres, as well as crime/thrillers and self-help.

Type-led designs

You’ll see this approach in a lot of nonfiction and literary fiction these days, where the focus of the design is a creative manipulation of the title text.

Illustrated covers

These range from intricate, life-like illustrations of the book’s world (which you’d see on the cover of a lot of Fantasy and Science Fiction), to evocative works of abstract art that you might find on the front of a literary fiction novel.


This is where new photography is commissioned for the cover design. These days, you only see this style of cover on celebrity memoir covers, where the big selling point is the author.

😁 Check more covers made by Reedsy designers!

If you were looking to hire a professional to make your cover, you would first decide which style is best for your book, then seek out designers who specialize in that style.

Our market research shows that cozy illustrations are fairly common in women’s fiction and certain (non-historical) romance subgenres. With this in mind, we committed to an illustrated design for Rocket Bride.

5. Adapt and develop your concept

Raúl soon returned with various versions of his original concept, presenting a few different executions of the same idea: our space princess being whisked away by our roguish space pirate.

Six variations on a cover design concept
A single concept, presented in six ways. (illustration: Raúl Gil)

Of these concepts, we ultimately decided to move forward with version #3. It captures the sense of adventure and romance at the core of Rocket Bride: the pose of its main characters reminded us of classic romance covers with a hint of fun and a healthy dose of mid-century sci-fi imagery. 

📏 Before you go much further with the design, make sure you’re working to the right dimensions. For ebooks, the standard front cover size on KDP is 2560 x 1600 pixels. We’ll dive into the specifics of print editions later on in this guide.  

Once you’ve landed on your final concept, you can treat it as a jumping-off point and start to play around with the small details that’ll impact how your reader engages with the cover.

Focus on the details that matter

In the course of refining the concept, you shouldn’t get carried away with cramming in too many details. There’s a temptation to add extra elements into your design, like a full moon, an abandoned house, or an extra character. A professional designer will be able to pull off those things — but if you’re doing it yourself, remember that less is almost always more.

From Raul’s original concept for Rocket Bride, we were able to request a few changes. We loved the fun tone of the illustration, but felt like some of the details were a bit too close to The Jetsons for our liking. We also wanted the background to resemble the American Southwest a bit more. With this feedback, Raúl tweaked the design by changing out our hero’s weapon, removing the rocketship, and adding in some stunning Monument Valley-style buttes.

Refining a cover design concept
(Illustration: Raúl Gil)

Note: If you’re working with a professional designer, you may have agreed in your contract how many rounds of redesigns you’re entitled to as part of your fee. Try to include as much feedback at once and have a discussion with your designer about what is practical.

In our case, Raúl was happy to make extra changes while in the sketching phase, so we had him refine the character design. He gave Captain Perseus some rugged battle scars and added a third eye to Princess Andromeda (an essential part of her character backstory).

(Illustration: Raúl Gil)

With the details locked in, it’s time to put a lick of paint on it.

See what color schemes pop out (and fit in)

Your design style will determine how much color-tweaking can be done at this stage: for example, the sky’s the limit for illustrators, while those working with stock images may be limited by the original photo (or their Photoshop skills). 

However, even a small change in color temperature or a slight hint of color can transform how the design will impact the reader. 

Comparing stock imagery with its final use on a book cover
A Shutterstock image adapted for the cover of Sing Me to Sleep

In the example above, the designer of Angela Morrison’s Sing Me to Sleep used a licensed stock image from Shutterstock then recolored the character’s sleeve and added ‘atmosphere’ in the form of digital snowflakes.

Note: make sure you pay for image licenses. If your cover design includes licensed images, it’s at this stage that you’ll have to purchase the rights to use them. Professional designers will typically use watermarked and low-resolution images in their initial concepts until you approve the final (truly final) version. If you’re hiring a pro to create your design, they will usually handle the licensing for you.

Returning to your research, you might have an idea of the color schemes trending in your genre. Again, we’re not saying that you need to adhere to tropes — but if you’re stuck for ideas, it can’t hurt to try out a color palate that instantly communicates the genre of your book.

For Rocket Bride, Raúl took our preferred concept and applied a few different color schemes that were inspired by science fiction imagery, retrofuturist design, and pulp cover art from the mid-20th century.

A cover designed re-colored in six different ways
Andy Warhol’s Rocket Bride? (illustration: Raúl Gil)

Each version lends the design a slightly different vibe and emotional quality — some more nostalgic, some more menacing. There are also some genre implications: the version with the blood red dust could have a superhero comic book feel, while versions E and F remind us of spaghetti westerns.

After mulling these options over, we decided to go with Version C, with pastel shades that you’d see in contemporary rom-com novels — offsetting the sci-fi setting and letting the readers know that this isn’t just a straightforward shoot ’em up in space.

6. Balance the title and author name

If you haven’t already, this is the point where you’ll start adding all the elements that make a book cover more than just a piece of art. In this section, we’ll show you how to avoid some of the most common mistakes we’ve seen on self-made book covers.

Make the important bits easy to read

Once again, quick communication is key to your success. You want the reader to glean the most important bits of text in the half-second that they might look at it — which means that there’s no room for error. Contrast is one of the most important things to consider for text placement. There needs to be enough of a color difference between the text and the background so that your title and author name are easy to read (see below: Aya’s Blood).

Aya’s Blood and The Cowboy’s Last Song

In the second example, The Cowboy’s Last Song, you can see that the designer has created contrast by laying the title over a shadow in the middle of the page. While this does greatly help with legibility, it adds a bit of unintentional muddiness to the final design.

Use two to three fonts

For the sake of minimizing your cover’s busyness, don’t use too many typefaces. If you check out the books on your shelves, you’ll probably notice that there aren’t more than two or three fonts at play. Between the title, the author’s name, and any other text you want to include on the cover, you can find a way to make two fonts stretch.

Give your author name the right size

The general rule of thumb is that the more famous you are, the bigger your name will be on the cover. After all, STEPHEN KING is more enticing to readers than the words FAIRY TALE. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably not Stephen King, so make sure that your name doesn’t take up too much real estate. For a good example, look at Stacy Willingham’s A Flicker in the Dark, which nicely balances the title and the author’s name, favoring the former over the latter.

Two books with different sized author nameYou also want to avoid the common first-time-author mistake of being overly modest and making it too small. While your name might not be recognizable (yet!), people will want to know who wrote the book.

Loglines, reviews, and testimonials

Another common element you’ll see on almost every cover is either a short logline or testimonial (usually from an established print outlet, author, or authority on the subject matter of your book). Let’s look at two examples:

Loglines and reviews

Readers are so used to seeing thousands of book covers every year, and almost every one of them will have some sort of logline or testimonial (or even just a line that says “from the author of X book”) — so if your design is missing this element, your cover is in danger of feeling a bit naked.

So, putting all of these into practice, let’s add some copy to Rocket Bride.

Rocket Bride: Bespoke title treatment

In the case of Rocket Bride, we were clear that the title had to be more prominent than the author’s name, so the relationship between texts was clear. We stuck to a single font for all the text, varying their weight, size, and color. 

From the first sketches, we reserved a safe area at the base of the illustration on which to accommodate the title without contrast problems.

Cover with text added

Visually, we wanted a dynamic treatment of the text that could provide expressiveness to the composition and enhance the “light science fiction” component of the novel. So, we used a condensed and thick typeface to form a solid typographic mass, and then we skewed it, adapting it to the forms and counterforms of the base illustration. 

Finally, we added a small graphic treatment in which a small rocket moves in the direction of the text — a typographic treatment that’s more than just expository text. The title “Rocket Bride” almost becomes the book’s logo, a brand that we can read and recognize even in small thumbnails on online platforms.

And with that... we now have a fantastic front cover we love!How to design a book cover — three steps

But wait! We’re not done just yet.

7. Adapt the design to other book formats

Now that the front cover has been completed, all that’s left is to use the design to fit your various book formats. 

Export ebook covers with the correct dimensions

Ebooks are the simplest format to deal with, simply because they only require a front cover. Amazon states a preferred size of 2,560 pixels x 1,600 pixels. To ensure you’re exporting them in the correct size and format, check with your retailer’s website:

If you’re looking to publish in print formats, whether you’re printing in bulk or on demand, there are additional elements you’ll need to consider. If the following steps are more complicated than you’re happy with, you can always hire a professional to adapt your design into a full set of mechanicals (as it’s called in the industry).

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Mind the typographic hierarchy on the back cover

The design of your book’s back cover can play an essential role in selling the book. You can incorporate elements like reviews, endorsements, the book’s blurb, your personal byline as an author, and social media handles to tell potential readers a bit more about yourself.

back cover design for books

In deciding how big all the elements should be, try to think about the experience of an average reader. What information do you want to know when you hold a book in your hands and turn it over? A descending hierarchy — where the most important details are the largest in size — will guide the reader appropriately. 

In order, you might be looking at:

  • Hook or logline (largest)
  • Reviews and awards
  • Blurb
  • Social media and contact (smallest)

Once you figure out where all these blocks will go on the back cover, you can assign them a spot in your type hierarchy to lead readers through a little journey. 

Play around with the spine

One of the challenges of making a full cover is to get the spine right, since it depends on the book format, binding type, paper stock, and page count you choose.

Not all books are so long as to have a large spine, so in most cases, they are usually resolved with the most essential information: title and author. But a spine is an interesting area of action in terms of design.

Imagine people looking for a book on the shelves of a bookstore or library: an original spine can attract a reader’s eye more effectively.

In the case of Rocket Bride, we not only made sure to display the typographic information at an appropriate size and contrast, but we also introduced the faces of the main protagonists and a rocket logo.

How to design a book spineRemember that in print-on-demand services (and in any printing company in general), perfection is difficult to achieve. Occasionally, small displacements may occur that slightly move the spine elements out of their area. This is especially problematic for short books with very narrow spines (e.g. publications of around 100 pages). Therefore, try to ensure that the information on the spine has enough breathing room above and below it. 

Be careful with bleeding and margins

When arranging the different design elements on the cover, remember to maintain sufficient margins and an extra area for bleeding, which is necessary for the printing and cutting process. 

Most print services will usually offer templates to help you get your proportions right. KDP, for example, has a cover calculator and template generator that will turn out a PDF that you can import into your image editing software and lay over your design.

Book design: full cover bleeds and marginsAs a general rule, do not bring any element too close to the margins of the available area. In addition to cutting off parts of the information, you run the risk of drowning out the composition, which may negatively impact its reading, as well as give it an amateurish look.

And don’t forget to leave some space for the ISBN barcode, which usually goes at the bottom left or right. And if you choose to get an ASIN barcode from Amazon, simply keep that area clean, and Amazon will add the code to it.

With that, you can export your print cover files as a PDF, ready to upload to your print service.

Create a cover for the audiobook version 

As the audiobook market continues to grow, you might want to create one yourself, which requires a different cover design format. 

Adapting your cover design to a square format may mean needing a larger image to cover the entire area and fit properly with the specific composition of that context. Keep this in mind when hiring a photographer, illustrator, or designer.

(Note how the square format requires a larger illustrated area.)

And other promotional material

You finally have it: a shiny, brand-new book cover you can use to represent your book on the shelves and across all marketing channels! You might want to create a variety of 3D mockup images to use on digital ads, social media cover photos, or on your website

You can use sites like Canva or Placeit to do it yourself, or if you’re collaborating with a professional, make sure to discuss this additional service before starting the project.

Book ad bannerAnd this is how you design a cover from start to finish, going from a rough idea to an artwork that will help you sell copies and establish your brand as an author. 

As you’ve probably realized by now, this process involves thorough industry research, creative brainstorming, and technical expertise, which is why we encourage indie authors to work with professionals in the field.  

While the fate of our princess and intergalactic smuggler remains a mystery, one thing is certain: their story boasts an outstanding cover, and your book deserves the same!

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