What makes a good book cover?

16/07/2016 Discussions, Reading 33

What makes a good book cover?

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.

What makes a good book cover?

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!

Plenty of negative space.What makes a good book cover?

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!).

Irrelevant images.

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!

What makes a good book cover?

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?

33 Responses to “What makes a good book cover?”

  1. Greg

    I totally am swayed by a book cover, and will likewise be turned off by a cover I don’t like. And I agree about self published- it is hard for them to compete with traditionally published stuff and that’s one of the reasons- quality of cover art. And I do like a cover to reflect what’s in the book- at least to some extent. I know some cover artists read the book before illustrating, and I would think that helps.

    I agree the Fangirl cover is a great example. I prefer illustration to photo type images also, and yes when a movie tie in cover (with the actor on front) replaces a book cover that I liked- it’s aggravating! 🙂

    • Laura

      It is so hard for self-published books to compete, and I kind of feel bad that I do judge a book solely off having an unprofessional looking cover, but it is the first thing you see. I definitely think it probably helps for cover artists to read the book they are making the cover for, but I bet in quite a lot of cases they don’t!
      I’m glad someone else prefers illustrations too. I’ve always thought that’s just a weird quirk of mine, as cover designers just keep designing those photographic designs! 🙂

  2. Simone

    I love simple covers as well, they just look professional to me and I think cover doesn’t have to have a lot on it to be beautiful. I’m a sucker for pretty dresses on the covers… or princesses. That’s why I love the backs of ToG books. 🙂

    • Laura

      The ToG books definitely have some of my favourite covers ever! They really are so beautiful, and I like how the colour theme changes with each book 🙂

  3. Cait @ Paper Fury

    I actually don’t know anyone who DOES like photographs on covers. So I don’t think you’er alone there! I really like minimalism covers like Fangirl and Mistborn too. <3 Buuuut I do love cluttered and wildly colourful ones too!! Which is why I think cover art is so FANTASTIC because there are so many styles and they'll appeal to different people! The Minnow by Diana Sweeney has the most absolutely gorgeous watercolour cluttered cover.? And I always love the intensity of the Percy Jackson covers! So much going on and it's exciting and colourful!

    • Laura

      I’m glad that’s not just me who doesn’t like the photograph covers! I assumed that someone did, seen as they keep making them! 🙂
      I just checked out the cover of The Minnow and I see what you mean! It is a really interesting and eye-catching cover! My personal preference is minimalist, but I can definitely make exceptions! Saying about watercolours just reminded me of how much I love the cover of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and that is very colourful and loud, and there’s a lot going on to say it’s just text on background.

  4. Kaja

    Ha, yeah, I remember being really confused by Jennifer L. Armentrout’s cover for Wicked (and now Torn) because characters are underwater on the cover and I thought it had to be a mermaid story or something – turns out it’s about the Fae in New Orleans. *sigh*

  5. Lola

    I think covers are so important from a marketing point of view and while a cover might not tell you if a story is good or not, it’s very important for attracting people their attention and I definitely admit I base a lot of decisions on what to read partly on the cover or what the cover tells me.

    I think having a professional looking cover and one in line for what is expected of the genre are two of the most important things when it comes to selling the book. I feel like most other points are more personal as everyone likes different things, but having the cover fit the genre makes sure people know which genre your book is from the cover only. And having your book cover looks professional makes sure people at least aren’t turned off because your cover looks unprofessional.

    I am actually not a big fan of the Throne of Glass covers, they are good, but just not my personal taste. They wouldn’t turn me away from the book, but also wouldn’t attract me to it. I do like it when covers have some tie in with the plot, story or characters. I don’t mind photographic images on the cover, but I prefer if it they are positioned a bit more original or turned away from the camera. And after having read the book I want to get why this cover has been sued and how it’s relevant to the book.

    • Laura

      I totally agree that covers are so important from a marketing point of view! In fact I think the cover is one of the most important pieces of marketing for a book, because it is literally attached to the book itself, so it has to tempt you to pick it up.
      It is definitely a matter of personal preference though to a large extent. Different people like different things, so as long as they cover is professional and in line with the genre there will be people who like it and people who don’t!

  6. Michelle @ The Writing Hufflepuff

    Oh yes, I’ve seen some self-published books with covers that look like they were made in paint! I’m sorry but that will not make me want to read your book :/ I agree with all the things you like in covers. I totally understand what you mean about photographic images of people, I usually cringe at them too. I do like the cover of The Unexpected Everything for example. Though that could mostly be related to the dogs 😛 The original Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door on the other hand… Thank God they got new covers (and oh my God please no shirtless guys on covers that really puts me off)

    • Laura

      I know what you mean! It really doesn’t make me want to read someone’s book when it looks like they spent about two seconds making the cover! I just checked out the cover for The Unexpected Everything, and I will actually have to make that one of my exceptions too. Anything with cute dogs on, and I’m sold on it! 🙂
      (Shirtless guys on the cover of books is the worst book cover sin in my opinion – it is just so, so cringey!)

  7. Tessa

    I have judged books by their covers many times in my life and I am not really ashamed. If covers were not meant to be used to judge a book, then wouldn’t all books have plain covers with only the title?
    I totally agree with you on the photographic pictures of people on covers. I am seen too many romance novels with the same shirtless guy on the cover to like this trend. Sometimes it is passable, but I prefer illustrations much more.
    I also am really picking about the color scheme and fonts of covers. If a cover has a nice cursive font, I am 75% more likely to buy it. That may make me shallow, but at least my bookshelves are pretty.

    • Laura

      That’s totally true! The cover is there to be judged! 🙂
      That is just the worst with the whole shirtless guy thing! And I’ve seen bloggers do blog posts about one guy who seems to be on the cover of all of them before, so I bet they must all just be stock images.
      And I totally get what you mean about colour scheme and font. I’m exactly the same. I want my books to look good on the shelf!

  8. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    I love looking at book covers! I think I am swayed more by the aesthetics than by how well the cover represents the book, but I should give that more consideration.

    I don’t mind photographs of people on books, but the obvious photoshopped collages from stock images are quite irritating. There was an interesting expose of the same image used on several different covers some time ago, but now I can’t find it.

    • Laura

      It is so interesting to see all the different covers there are out there! I’d say the aesthetics are more important to me too, it tends to be more after I’ve finished the book that I find myself a bit confused when the cover has no real relevance to the story.
      I get what you mean with those stock image collages! That’s the problem with using stock images on book covers really – there could be loads of other books out there with the exact same one on it.

  9. Lia Levina

    I used to stand by the “don’t judge the book by its cover” saying, but in the past couple of years I’ve kind of ditched it. Not completely though. And when the story itself turns out to be as great as the cover, it feels relieving 😀
    Photographs of people in book covers also remind me of those historical romance books, lol. The only exception for me is probably the Delirium series, because I was hooked on the story first that I didn’t mind the cover. It’s not that bad, actually. Perhaps it’s because the face is accompanied with those striking colors and what’s shown is just the face of the character, not all of her body.
    I love covers that have strong, bold colors like All the Light We Cannot See. New version of HP books has great covers too, that I once considered to have another collection of the series haha!

    • Laura

      It is so hard to stand by the whole ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ thing, so I can understand why you’ve ditched it. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with liking pretty covers! 🙂
      I just checked out the Delirium covers (I’ll have to read the series some time), and although I’m still not a fan of photograph covers, I quite like what they did with Pandemonium. Having just part of the face visible just makes it more interesting I think!
      And I have been so tempted by the new editions of Harry Potter! Although I love my old ones because I’ve had them since I was a kid (and queued up for them on the day they came out!) I really do want that new set.

  10. Kelsey

    I definitely agree with all the points you have made here, I’m also a massive fan for any sort of foiling on a book too!
    I’m primarily a kindle cover which I think has definitely cut down on me judging a book by its cover, but when I walk in a bookstore I am most draw to those with lovely covers.

    • Laura

      I’m definitely a fan of foiling too! I love anything shiny 🙂
      And I absolutely love looking at all the covers when I go in a bookstore!

  11. Got My Book

    I have a confession to make – even if I like a book, I won’t include it in my Sunday Summary or New Audiobook Releases posts if the cover is really bad. For me that generally means that it is very unprofessional looking (the ones that look like they had their brother draw it) or if they use a stock photo tons of other people have used and don’t customize it in anyway.

    This week’s new releases

    • Laura

      I can totally understand that! It’s your blog, and however good the book was it would suck to have to put up a picture of an unprofessional looking book cover. I feel exactly the same.

  12. Zoey @ Uncreatively Zoey

    Love the photo but have to admit I have never been a fan of any of the TOG series covers, haha. They just look too digital to me, I guess, and not in a cute way like Fangirl does. I do LOVE negative space, though, and I’m starting to really like the more colorful covers.

    • Laura

      I see what you mean with the digital thing and the ToG covers, but if there’s going to be an image of a person on a book I much prefer that to photos! I think it’s all personal preference though, as long as the cover looks professional.
      I like colourful covers too, and I really like when the whole cover has a really bright background colour and loads of negative space, so then it really pops. I like that with Fangirl, and i like the bright blue background of A Fault In Our Stars for that reason too 🙂

  13. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight

    I have meaning to write a post about this for months, but I never even got around to writing a draft so that’s probably never happening, haha.

    Anyway, I read mostly self-pub and indie books, so I like to think I’m fairly good at giving books a chance even when they have terrible covers because I do read a lot of books with terrible covers. Obviously I’m more drawn to the pretty ones, but I’m not someone who reads books that don’t seem like my kind of thing just because they’re pretty. It definitely helps to have a pretty cover to get my attention in the first place though. But I think the most important thing about covers is what you mentioned about portraying the genre. I don’t have time to read the blurb for every single book I come across, so I rely on the covers and titles to guide me. I look at not necessarily the books with the prettiest covers but the ones that look like my type of book.

    Like you I generally dislike photographs. And I’m always immediately turned off if I’ve seen the same person or image in numerous books. My favorite types of covers are painted/illustrated ones, but ones that still look realistic (not cartoony). Or photographs of people that are highly edited to look more illustrated, and a person who is NOT on any other covers. And I actually like when the character is shown on the cover because then I have something more clear to imagine in my head 🙂

    Great discussion topic!

    • Laura

      I have that too sometimes where I mean to write about something, but just never end up doing! It’s so weird when that happens, because I can never quite tell why I never seem to get to it.
      I do always feel pretty bad to be honest that I don’t give books with bad covers more of a chance, because I know the writing could be good and it may just be that case that the author couldn’t afford to hire a designer (I imagine they’re expensive!). I’m such a shallow bookworm!
      I definitely agree thought that one of the most important things is for the book to look like a book of its genre. You want the book to end up in the hands of fans of that genre, and I think the best way to do that is obviously to appeal to those people.
      I much prefer the illustrated covers too! I don’t even mind if they look really realistic, I just for some reason don’t like photographs! 🙂

  14. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    Oooh I love this topic! Quite thought provoking, because I have been sitting here trying to figure out what I like about book covers, and I haven’t really got a lot of consistency! A few things that generally work for me: A great font. Stars/space/sparkly stuff in general. Blue (I am always drawn to blues and greens on covers- especially if there’s a bold accent color to go with it!) A fun texture is always a win. Quirky usually works for me. Basically I don’t like boring stuff, and I don’t like the “same old”. I am with you in that I am mostly over the photograph covers, unless there’s a reason OR it is uniquely done. GREAT post, I love talking about covers 😀

    • Laura

      I’m definitely a fan of stars and space stuff on covers too! I like sparkles too, so that’s probably why (and I like sci-fi, and that has a lot of space-themed covers!).
      Quirky is definitely something I like in book covers too. Although I want covers to indicate what genre the book is, I won’t really notice a book much in a shop if the cover isn’t in some way distinctive or memorable. That’s probably what my problem is with the photograph covers – they are usually just the same kind of thing with people posed in the same kind of way, so they tend to either look cliched and cheesy or just plain boring.
      Talking about covers is definitely interesting though. People tend to like such different things! 🙂

  15. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    I have always admitted freely that I judge books by their covers – and I have no intention of stopping that practice! I actually like covers that have a lot going on more than overly simple covers, so I guess we’re different in that way. Vibrant colors usually capture my attention as well. I definitely don’t love self-pubbed books with cheesy looking covers – I basically can’t bring myself to pick them up, which is a shame since the books might be great!

    • Laura

      I’m really starting to think there’s no shame in judging a book by it’s cover. It seems like most people do! 🙂
      Different people do seem to have quite different tastes in covers, so to a certain extent book cover designers can’t please everyone. That’s why I think professionalism is the most important thing, because even if a cover isn’t to your taste, you can probably still bring yourself to pick it up as long as it isn’t cheesy or looks like it was designed in Paint! 🙂

  16. Michelle @ FaerieFits

    I don’t think I’d ever actually seen the BACK of the Throne of Glass book! That’s pretty clever, that they did that!

    I totally agree with most of these, especially the indication of genre. I found an infographic a LOONG time ago (4, 5 years ago, maybe?) that had a list of fantasy book cover tropes and did some pretty cool visual analysis on how trends had changed over the last couple years. It was awesome! They should do that for all genres 🙂

    • Laura

      I love the back of the Throne of Glass books so much! I just think the encapsulate the two sides of Celaena’s character so well 🙂
      That infographic sounds awesome! I’ll have to see if I can find something like that online to look at, just out of interest.

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