I know we like to say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, but let’s be honest: we all do it. Book covers are basically our first impression of a book, and just like when you dress smartly to go to a job interview, a book should be dressed to impress. However much we like to think we don’t discriminate based on covers, I think most people wouldn’t get as far as reading a book’s blurb if they weren’t first attracted by its outer packaging.
So I thought I’d do a post all about what makes a good book cover, and the kind of thing that encourages us to pick up the books that we do. What makes a good book cover is fairly subjective, and different people will have different preferences, but I think there are also some pretty universal traits that make a book cover successful. So here are the things I like in a book cover, and I’d love for you to share yours in the comments!
It looks professional.
One thing that I think is a universal sign of a good book cover is professionalism. Of course, most of the books you see on bookshelves in shops have professional looking covers – they were created by professionals after all! I’m more thinking here of some of the covers you see on self-published books that perhaps aren’t quite as good as they could be, and I think this can be a little off-putting, as it could lead you to believe the content will be the same.
It’s in keeping with the genre.
As much as I like unique and eye-catching covers, I do also like for them to give me some indication of the genre the book belongs too. Certain genres do have typical features of their book covers, and whilst this can risk making them all look a bit too samey, it does make it easier for readers to locate the books they’re most likely to enjoy when in a book shop.
Crime books, for example, tend to use a lot of dark, moody colours and distressed fonts, whilst romance tends towards softer, more pastel colours. Similarly, historical fiction books often look quite textured with parchment-style backgrounds and YA covers tend to be bolder and brighter in a lot of cases.
References either the main character or the plot in some way.
Personally, I like when a book cover gives me some sort of clue as to the nature of the main character, or at least about the plot as soon as I pick the book up. The Throne of Glass series, for example, does this well: we are instantly given an idea of Celaena as a character, because there is an image of her on the front looking pretty bad-ass with swords, but when you turn the book over to read the blurb the back cover shows the back of her, but there she is wearing a really feminine dress. I think this really shows the ‘tough and girly’ aspect of Celaena’s character that I really like, and certainly intrigues you!
I also like that if there is a specific item that has some importance to the plot if there’s maybe an image of that on the front or something that maybe means a lot to the main character. I feel like that gets you interested as you want to find out the relevance of that item.
Oh, and if there are dragons in the book, I want to see them on the cover! Unless they’re surprise dragons of course!
One thing I like on a book cover is lots of negative space. I don’t want information overload when I look at a cover, so I like if things aren’t too busy, and there are just one or two key focal points. I also just think it looks so much better!
Two covers that do this well I feel are The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (in fact all of his latest book covers are in the same vein, so pretty much all of them!) and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Both are pretty simple, and this draws your eye to the title and central image and doesn’t distract you. Plus I love the whole two-tone thing The Final Empire has going on, and that pastel green on Fangirl is so cute!
Not overly cluttered.
I’m basically repeating a lot of what I said in the last point here, but I don’t like cluttered book covers unless they’re cluttered for a good reason (for example, the main character is a hoarder!)!
And here’s just a couple of things that I don’t like in book covers. These two are definitely a matter of personal preference!
Photographic images of people.
This is kind of a weird one, and I think most people would disagree with me on this one. I just for some reason don’t really like photographs of people on books, and I think that might be down to my association of it with cheesiness. When I think photos on books I tend to think, cheesy YA book with two best friends on it, or cringe-inducing romance with a muscly guy on the front. They also tend to look a bit stock photo-y in a lot of cases, which kind of puts me off, as I like book covers to look really unique and eye-catching. I don’t mind there being images of people on books, I’d just prefer for them to be illustrations (and I’m pretty sure this is why I hate movie tie-in editions of books too – they usually have images of the actors on them!).
This doesn’t happen often, but has anyone ever read a book and then looked back at the cover and thought: in what way was that relevant to the book? Maybe it gives you a good indication of the genre and has lots of negative space, etc., it just looks like it should have been for another book!
So what do you think makes a good book cover? What are some of your favourites? Is there anything you don’t like in a book cover?