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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

What Makes a Cover Stand Out?

By Laura Wallace, Abbie Wright and Tessa Thejas Thomas 

The adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover”, is one we are all familiar with, but does this actually apply in reality? In the world of books, the cover design is hugely important for drawing the reader’s attention and determining its sales. In this issue, we will be looking at the different features of a book cover, discussing what is so essential about these features and discerning how these features combine to create a cover that we all end up falling in love with. 


The typeface in the cover design is one of the most critical features as it can suggest the book's content in one glance. It may seem obvious, but the title and the author’s name need to be displayed appropriately to match the essence of the book. Because there are so many different lettering styles, this decision is an exciting and interesting element of the book cover that can lend itself to so much meaning. 

Fonts can be used to enhance the meaning behind the words and offer the reader insight into the tone and style of the book. For example, a serif font, such as that used fittingly on the cover of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, can be seen as traditional, classic and comforting. In contrast, a sans serif font can be exemplified in more modern, minimal works. A great example is the cover of Yellowface by Rebecca F Kuang. The title here is bold, capitalised and eye-catching, demonstrating the effectiveness of having two different typefaces. This choice cleverly draws attention to both the book's title and the author’s name by contrasting the shape and form of the lettering. 


The use of colour in book cover design is paramount, as it is arguably the feature that first grabs the attention of buyers during their initial scan of a bookshop or library. Cover designers must be sure that the colours they use correlate with the story's themes and that these colours work well with the book’s central image and typeface. Additionally, cover designs must be simple, as too much colour or contrast could over-clutter the cover and lead to an overwhelming result – unless, of course, this is the intention! 

An example of a strong use of colour can be seen in this particular edition of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. The simple use of green and blue creates an image that effectively reflects the characters in the novel. Green on the top half of the cover highlights the attributes of Marienne’s character, as green conveys logical, analytical and perfectionist tendencies. The blue on Connell’s side may represent peace but also sadness and depression. The ability of colour to communicate these ideas from a brief glance at the book’s cover highlights just how influential colour can be. Not only does this feature help a book to stand out, but it is also an incredible tool for conveying the themes, characters and emotions that will be present in the novel. 


The central image or illustration is crucial to any cover design. This feature can be used in various creative methods to guide attention and stand out on the shelf. This can be especially important for marketing during the book’s promotional cycle. The central image can also be a helpful tool to depict multiple aspects of the story, such as the characters and settings. Likewise, a central image can be used to represent abstract ideas or themes explored within the book visually. A strong image or illustration can even become iconic; an example of this would be the image of the fictional bird, a “Mockingjay”, which is used across The Hunger Games trilogy, effectively transforming a seemingly simple image into a literary brand. 

The Pisces by Melissa Broder has a cover designed by Rachel Willey and Tim O’Brien and is another excellent example of a significantly important central image. A young woman is depicted embracing a silhouette of a fish – a bizarre but great talking point for potential readers. The placement of her body reflects that of the astrological Pisces sign, and the image is large, covering the majority of the front cover. Not only does the central image attract and intrigue readers, but it is cleverly used to tie into the title and content of the story. 

Evidently, the typeface, colour, and image can be crucial to the attractiveness and cohesiveness of a book cover. When cleverly collaborated, these elements can convey multiple meanings and emotions and, when done well, can become an instant and memorable favourite.



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