Book covers matter. Each potential reader forms their opinion of a book based in part on their impression of the book’s cover, and that opinion helps the potential reader answer the following questions:

  • Is the author credible?
  • Is the book high quality or low budget?
  • Was the book professionally produced or created by amateurs?
  • Does the value of the book justify the price?
  • Should I buy this book?

In my various roles at Thomas Nelson over the past 20+ years, I have seen thousands of book covers. If you are an author then one of your responsibilities is to make sure you avoid making some common errors that involve neglecting to communicate any of several important pieces of information that a potential reader is looking to obtain from the cover:

Topic/Category/Genre: Fiction books tend to have covers that shout their genre—and why not when you have just a few seconds to communicate whether or not your book is exactly what the reader is searching for. Self-help and many other nonfiction books tend to have a picture of the author looking like an expert on the cover. Every book cover should quickly establish the subject matter covered between the covers.

Tone: Again, fiction books seem to have covers that communicate the author’s style and voice. Literary fiction covers tend to have more stylized, smaller fonts and softer colors than more commercial fiction. With hundreds if not thousands of competitive books in just about every subcategory available, establishing what is slightly different about your book can make the difference between getting purchased and gathering dust.

Scope: Where fiction books differ in tone, one of the ways nonfiction books tend to differ is in terms of scope or how much information the author is attempting to provide. Is the book a superficial review of several related topics or an in-depth study of a particular subject in a narrow subcategory? The cover (including the title and subtitle) should help the reader understand what they can expect.

Interest: While we’ve all heard that we “can’t judge a book by its cover,” we still do. We tend to overlook any book that does not catch our eye and immediately pique our interest. The principles of advertising design must be used to grab the readers’ attention—or at least grab it just as much as the leading books on the topic.

Prominence: The cover establishes the book’s position relative to the other books on the topic. Is it the bestseller, the newest information, the most extensive?

The objective is to position your book as being just as strong as the other books it is competing with so that the potential reader considers it an option and investigates further after just a glance.

With this in mind, each book that is intended to compete with other professionally produced books should have a cover designed by a professional. If you are a graphic design professional then you may be able to design a cover that puts your book on an equal footing with other books. If not then you need to collaborate with an experienced cover designer.

How important do you believe it is to have a great cover design? What is an example of a great book cover and why?