The Top 10 Ways to Ruin a Book Cover Design

Design July 11, 2014

Every book jacket must accentuate the core message to succeed in its mission of selling the book it covers. Designers aim for this by incorporating typefaces, imagery, and the perfect color palette to make a book appeal to its intended market.

One bump that comes along the way, however, is changes and requests regarding this work. While feedback is important and helpful for a designer, those based on personal likes and interests may diminish the appeal the designer worked to create.


Wondering what specific requests start the downward turn? Keep this list of common “to be avoided” design requests handy to ensure professionalism and marketability is maintained (along with your designer’s sanity).

1. Make the subtitle stand out more.

This request is by far the most common. It stems from a desire to make sure the subtitle doesn’t get missed. The problem is that a subtitle should never “stand out.” Its purpose is to provide a little extra information about the book as someone scans the cover. The job of attention-getting should lie solely in the hands of the title. Emphasis on the word “sub.”

2. Make the author name smaller.

Many an author, especially the first-timer, feel because he is not a bestseller, his name should remain an afterthought and never stand out on a book cover design. If you study non-professionally designed book jackets, you will notice this trend. More often than not, an author’s name is hardly noticeable—and if you happen to spot the name, it’s in a thin typeface bottom-center.

Authors shouldn’t be afraid to allow their name to be reasonably sized. Many times the size of an author’s name is chosen for a balanced design, more than for brand prominence.

3. Include a rainbow, sunset, butterfly, or a ray of light breaking through the clouds.

Just as a book’s message is not like every other’s, a cover should reflect each unique story. By incorporating overused, symbolic photos such as “a sunset to convey peace,” or “a rainbow to portray hope,” think of what makes your story stand out from the crowd. From this, a designer works to capture that theme in a way that’s visually appealing to your market.

4. My mailman, hairdresser, friends, and family voted on my Facebook poll regarding the design. Please follow their revisions exactly.

As mentioned, feedback is important. Taking the time to find what others think of your work provides the constructive criticism needed to encourage a stronger end result. However, it’s just as important from whom the feedback comes.

If you’re working with a publisher or others who work in the publishing industry, favor those thoughts first. If you have reservations about say, the typeface used on your cover, ask the designer why they selected that particular type treatment. Do this long before attempting to say “change the font to [insert your favorite font here].”

5. My Web designer says . . .

These types of changes are by far the most dangerous.

Web design is to cover design as dentistry is to physical therapy. Both dentistry and physical therapy require medical expertise, but a dentist is usually not qualified to to help someone relearn to walk.

The same applies to design. Web design requires a unique set of principles that do not apply to a book jacket. If anything, billboard and advertising design applies more closely to book design because of the simplicity required to be effective. The web on the other hand, has the potential to hit a viewer with multiple topics at one time while still allowing a visitor to browse.

6. I love the color aquamarine; please incorporate it into the design.

As with any tool in a designer’s palette, each is chosen for a specific purpose. Any one element has the ability to completely sway the mood and marketability of a design, for better or for worse. It’s vital that personal tastes and interests are set aside in favor of  selecting a color palette that fits the genre and target market.

A useful tool for finding colors that work well together:

7. Can we change the fonts to Times New Roman, Comic Sans, and Papyrus?

Since everyone has a favorite font, this one is particularly difficult. But type (or text) must work together with other design elements to create an effective overall composition.

Fonts such as Papyrus, Comic Sans, and Times New Roman have been deemed (industry wide) unprofessional and overused. If you want your work to be taken seriously, avoid requesting a designer to use them. See also:

8. Please make my book cover look like [insert name here]’s.

Originality and relevance to a book’s core message is vital for any book design. For this reason, attempting to make a design match another author’s is a mistake—a costly one at that. Good designers aim for the unexpected with every design to ensure it’s noticed amongst the multitude of others in today’s growing book market.

9. This photograph is important to me. Please include it somewhere within the design.

Original photography is excellent for a book design. But just like any design element, photos can make or break a layout. When proposing ideas for imagery for the book jacket, remain open and flexible to professional alternatives. There are times when a childhood photo for a biography may work best even though it wasn’t taken by a professional photographer. Nevertheless, always be open to what a designer or photographer can create as an acceptable alternative.

10. Let’s include a blonde, 8-year-old girl wearing a red scarf near a lamp post casting a shadow in the shape of a cross near a shimmering cobble road.

Writers thrive on interesting specifics. Picking out and emphasizing the obscure details is part of what makes an interesting piece. Design, on the other hand, works best with less. Because a book jacket has to grab one’s attention instantly, we must trade fine details for a quick, clear message. Anything more than this will confuse readers and send mixed messages about the book’s appeal and purpose.

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