A Look at Recent Book Cover Design Trends

Design April 29, 2015

I was asked a series of questions recently by an individual who was working up a thesis on contemporary book cover design trends. As I thought it might be a useful resource for others looking to publish or are involved in the book industry, I listed the Q&A below:

1. Why do you think that ‘a book cover design is arguably the most important piece of an author’s marketing efforts’? (as stated on the front page)

A book cover design can make or break a book’s marketability. Without a clean, compelling, accurate, and well-targeted design, even the most eloquently written prose won’t see the light of day. With a culture that’s saturated not only with more books than ever, but more entertainment, in general, this is truer than ever.

2. In 2013, Tim Kreider (in an article in the New Yorker) wrote that ‘covers of most contemporary books all look disturbingly the same, as if inbred’. Have you noticed the merging of book covers in a particular genre? If so, why do you think this is?

Yes, absolutely. In today’s publishing market, far too much emphasis is placed on “familiarity.” In other words, there are far too few who are willing to break the mold, branch out, and create something that not only accurately depicts the book’s message, but delivers an aspect of “unexpectedness.”

One imprint that’s known for breaking the traditions of middle-of-the-road designs is Penguin. While they have a number of titles that appeal to the general populous, many others strangely defy the mainstream styles seen among so many bestsellers.

In my experience, these trends go in waves. A few years back, in the Christian market, it seemed that every other released book had something to do with the Amish. During the trend’s prominence, some could speculate publishers felt book design success or failure was dependent solely upon the use of a bonnet.

3. What effect do you think that E-books have, or have had, on cover design of printed books? Have E-books influenced the style or marketing in any way?

Ebooks are forcing design in the direction of big and bold. Typographical, or text-heavy designs, have begun to replace intricate imagery and illustration. The “less is more” mantra all-too-accurately describes the direction of modern book cover design. The billboard approach has continued its take over.

I’ve worked with a number of clients who’ve expressed to me the necessity for the final design to be “well recognizable” on the Amazon at thumbnail size. While this would apply to the print version available on the online distributor as well as the digital, many of these authors sell Ebook-only versions.

As it would seem, the days of walking through a bookstore to pick up and study a book’s jacket is slowly fading into the noise of digital culture and ever-shortening attention spans.

4. Are there any particular (new?) trends that are apparent in cover design today?

Typography has been a popular focal point in book cover design for a while now, but the most recent trend is handwriting typefaces—especially in the YA genre.

I touched on this in a brief article that highlighted some of the designs that capture this trend. The Fault in Our Stars and Diaries of a Wimpy Kid are just a couple of the titles that have seemed to kick off this wave of “handwritten” covers.

What Book Design Trends Have You Seen?

Have you noticed differing trends in today’s book market? Feel free to leave a comment below!

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