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Book Cover Design: The Art of Capturing Readers' Attention

~ Dishari Ghosh

'Don't judge a book by its cover!' Why not, though? Designers and the rest of the team go through meticulous planning, hours of research and designing, rejections and a constant flow of creative juices to produce what catches one's eyes. The covers play a crucial role in delivering the final product. It’s not entirely wrong that many book collectors would like to have eye-pleasing books on their shelves.

What goes behind getting these covers ready for hitting those bookshelves? We've encapsulated a gist of the same; read ahead!

Requirements from the Author & their Team:

Creating Mood boards and Finding Inspiration

Many authors like to have an existing idea about kind of a cover they wish for their book to have. Combing through different samples, researching on ideas already out there, acquiring a sense of what fits the genre is a good step, in case the author would like to convey something specific through the cover. Creating mood boards, pins, collages etc illustrates in-depth research done on their part. Although, this is not necessary as the designer might themselves have unique ideas to enhance the beauty of the book, some might prefer having an idea based on which they can progress. This could include colours, fonts, drawn or written elements on the book.

Designers work in close collaboration with the author & their team, constantly bouncing off ideas and creating drafts, inching closer to the final book cover. Although, all designers prefer to work differently while forming a book cover, couple of the required steps to reach there include:

1. Detailed Brief

A detailed brief regarding the book usually will be the first point of grasping an idea regarding the direction the design will take. This includes a summary about the said book, making sure the crucial elements are covered. The genre for the book will be clear with this summary and make way for a distinct path to be followed. The general tone and mood of the book is conveyed too, for the cover to be in accordance with that. A horror genre book would sell more copies if the cover itself has spooky elements on it. A melancholic book would perhaps not have too vibrant colours, though there's always space for experimentation. If you have a mood board ready, you can attach the same here.

2. Target Audience and Format

The format in which the book is being printed as well as who it is being written for impacts the cover design and components are chosen accordingly. The cover is tailor-made for that particular audience, trying to form a connect with them. This can be achieved through various ways, including illustrations of characters, colour schemes, fonts, adding reviews from fellow authors/media houses; the potential is never-ending!

Even the format of the book might impact design changes, both small and big. Many books printed originally in hardcover might change a thing or two in the paperback, or vice-versa. Several, though, follow the same designs for both the formats. After careful consideration, it is decided if the designs require a do-over or would the same work for a different format as well.

Typical Elements of an Eye-Catching Cover:

Even though, a detailed brief is provided to the designers, they take up research work as per their style and preference. Some can create wonders with just the brief provided, others might read the first few chapters while several others would end up reading the entire book to understand everything and dig out interesting aspects. Though, the process differs for everyone, a few of the crucial components to work around are:

1. Typography

Different fonts, along with their colours and sizes, have the power of conveying different things. Keeping in mind the genre, tone and theme of the book while deciding the font is important. This holds true not just for the front cover, but also the back, the spine and any French flaps, if present especially in the case of a hardcover. The font chosen should not only be legible but also attractive enough for the reader to pick up the book. A unique style would also make a book stand apart from others of the same genre.

Different combinations can be experimented with, on a single cover, especially when there are a few tick marks that one needs to make - title, author name, blurb, reviews from fellow authors/media, publisher identity among others. Typography, thus, complements other visuals present on the book and works alongside them.

Many books have no other visual elements except for words on the cover. Even then, the size, colour, font all contribute to the final look and feel of the book. This can be seen in various novels like Dark Matter (Blake Crouch), 1984 (George Orwell), White Teeth (Zadie Smith), Sapiens (Yuval Noah Harari), Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.

(Joyce Carol Oates) amongst hundreds of others. [Although, some of these books can be found with other editions, having other visual elements like illustrations or images]. The entire collection of the Word Cloud Classics (by Simon & Schuster) is based on this framework.

2. Colours

The usage of the right colours can elevate the entire aesthetic of the novel. Different colours can evoke different emotions and striking ideas for the novels. While some genres rely on some set colours, one can always think out of the box and set their novel apart.

To state an example, crime & thriller novels can be seen using darker shades of blue, red, green, black, in many cases like Lisa Jewell's The Family Upstairs, Riley Sager's The House Across the Lake, Lucy Foley's The Guest List, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. Although, and especially those not relying solely on the mystery element, use colours and other elements boldly, like How to Kill Your Family (Bella Mackie), Dial A for Aunties (Jesse Q Sutanto), Finlay Donovan is Killing It (Elle Cosimano), amongst others.

Many self-help books, biographies etc have traditionally stuck to more 'sombre, elegant' colours like black, grey, blue, red, yellow. Though, this has been changing and several are employing varied colours and shades - the look might not even be traditionally that of non-fiction, but is still well recognised.

3. Images and Illustrations

Most of the books have images and/or illustrations adorning its covers. This might vary depending on the genre and theme requirements, but they certainly are eye-catching! From swirls or simple shapes to complex designs, books see it all. These elements convey various aspects about the book and are not limited to just one kind. From images of a building to cars to people, each have the power to communicate so much.

A cookbook might have an image of a perfectly cooked dish, a craft book with various activities one can try, an auto/biography with the image of the person. Of course, this is not limited to just non-fiction, and plenty fiction books make use of images as well, as per their necessities.

Illustrations have become quite common too, regardless of the genre. A donut if the character loves eating those, a camera if that's the character's profession, an inside joke pertaining to an umbrella - small details on the cover are a representation of what one can expect from the novel. Many sport illustrations of the characters, showcasing a version of how they are described in the books - their ethnicity, their build, dressing style, expressions, or them indulging in some activity. Yet others, have elaborate illustrations covering every inch of the cover, in accordance with the theme.

With illustrations and images, the designer has the power to choose between going minimalistic or all out. See Shoe Dog (Phil Knight), It (Stephen King), Yellowface (R.F. Kuang), The Illuminated (Anindita Ghose), My Evil Mother (Margaret Atwood) for its artistic minimalism and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (Gabrielle Zevin), Hotel Magnifique (Emily J. Taylor), The Hatmakers (Tamzin Merchant), Kingdom of the Wicked (Kerri Maniscalco), The Gilded Cage (Lynette Noni) for some heavily illustrated goodness! Regardless of which direction is taken, the main motive is always to be representative of the book, its genre and the 'vibe' that one can expect from it. Feel free to think out of the box when designing your own!

Specific Highlights

All novels are a handiwork. That being said, some stand apart by going an extra mile, either or both with their first prints or reprints. Some of the ways in which you could be inspired for your next are highlighted below:

1. Hardcovers

While the process of designing any hardcover - front, back and spine, is similar to that of any paperback, there might be a few added components in some, which might need special attention to detail. Many of the hardcovers have an added dust jacket - the removable cover, which is essentially where the original design proceeds to go. If the same novel is getting printed in both paperback and hardcover, some designers might end up tweaking the designs a bit for the latter - it could be minute changes like the shade or the colour of the cover or a completely different look altogether, urging readers to choose what they would prefer to have or collect them all!

The dust jacket would also have the French Flaps, which would not be present in case of a paperback, and thus, would need different features catered for it. Typically, blurbs or a segment on the author find space here. Once the dust jacket is removed, the naked hardcovers might or might not bear designs on it. Even these designs can be minimalist like The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), Caraval (Stephanie Garber) or more intricate ones like The Court of Miracles (Kester Grant), The Primrose Railway Children (Jacqueline Wilson). Designs like these feel like hidden gems which are uncovered once the dust jackets are removed! Many let go of the designs, and choose to have plain colour/s instead. With hardcovers, there is also an added element of the endpapers (which help glue the covers to the pages inside) which can really enchant readers. Many prefer to have plain colours, while others choose designs to go here as well, like in The House of Sky and Breath (Sarah J Maas). Exploring this form too can really elevate the experience and make a novel memorable!

2. Reprints & Special Editions

Readers play the most crucial role in creating demand for particular books. Some of the books go in for reprints, within weeks of going for the first print, while some make a comeback after years. Some might be celebrating a year or ten, or more, of their release. Collectors need no reason to hoard books, and they'd buy every single one if they could! For this, designers have to work extra hard, and make sure there is significant variety and the covers are vastly differing from any previous versions.

Many of these reprints and special editions can be seen in the various classics that publishers print in different shapes and sizes, dedicating entire series to them, in JK Rowling's Harry Potter series or the many assorted editions of Agatha Christie books. These are just a couple of the popular ones which garner much attention, across age groups and all-round the year. Numerous others have also had their own special editions, with different covers and designs. This also translates to the author's popularity and notability amongst the readers and critics alike.

It is also important to note that many books originally come in two different covers, catering to different nations/markets - right from the first print. A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara), The Starless Sea (Erin Morgenstern), The Flatshare (Beth O'Leary) The Midnight Library (Matt Haig), They Both Die at the End (Adam Silvera) are some of the recent ones.

3. Sprayed or Stencilled Edges

Stencilled or sprayed edged books are the ones which have coloured or designed page ends. Since they prove to be increasing the price point, not many books go with this choice. Although, when added, it can add an oomph! Some paperback editions like that of Felix Ever After (Kacen Callender) or You'll Be the Death of Me (Karen M. McManus) and hardcovers like The Atlas Six (Olivie Blake) or Under the Whispering Door (TJ Klune) originally sport special edges.

More commonly, these additions can be seen in several of the special edition books that are released as the book creates more demand and has an increased fandom. This is usually undertaken by the publishers themselves, or in some cases, even independent bookstores, book boxes or designers. Some of the sprayed or stencilled edged books are included on the special edition hardcovers of Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom (Leigh Bardugo), The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (VE Schwab), Lord of The Rings (JRR Tolkien), Happy Place (Emily Henry) and the likes.

Regardless of the genre, tone, format, audience, author or just about any other factor, designing a book cover and all its related aspects is a true art. Immense thought and creativity goes in to produce what fits the book best. So, go ahead and do judge the book by its cover – it will spill its secrets! Add those pretty books to your shelves, much has gone behind it.


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