Book Cover Design Primer

Presenting your book – a book cover primer

A Suitcase of Dried Fish - cover design example
Autumn in the Park - cover design example
Only Son... Only Child - cover design example

First impressions are important in life and for your book. Each aspect of a skillful book cover design builds anticipation and communicates your content. The front cover calls the reader and gets the book noticed and picked up. The back cover’s job is to get the book opened.

First considerations

Dimensions need to be nailed before commissioning artwork as the aspect ratio of the art needs to match that of the cover. Book size should reflect expectations in the genre and work with the content for maximum impact. A 6x9 book handles interior graphs and photos better than a 5.25x8, a 7x10 is not as efficient to print and feels like a textbook. Consider available book sizes and production costs before choosing art and cover design.

Illustrated books sampling

Illustrated book examples showing various sizes and orientations. 

Choose your title. The best titles are short and evocative. Many of the classics, such as Jane Austen’s First Impressions, known to us as Pride and Prejudice, underwent title modification before printing.Your choice of title will bear on the subsequent images and cover design choices. Search your desired title on Amazon to check for conflicts. Copyright does not apply to titles but some series are trademarked.

Identify key ideas from the book. Identify the theme and plot points that communicate promise to the reader. What are the symbols? Is there a motif? Use these points to spark ideas and guide your cover design. 

Clarify the look and feel for the book. Does it fit a tailored suit or is your prose best suited to beachwear? A skilled designer will build with fonts, illustrations and treatments to strengthen your books appeal. Research what is selling in your genre and look for inspiration and what not to do.
Providing a description and samples will guide the design team.

Front cover – visual

Present as pro. Putting form to the books content gives the purchaser a visceral promise. Is the imagery trite? Is the clip-art cheap or recognizable? Is the typographical hierarchy clear? Done well, each element will build connection and draw your readers — the ones whom the message is for.

Africa It's Time front cover design sample

Clarity and contrast are critical in today’s on-line shopping world. Is the type legible? Will a potential reader viewing a thumbnail image know the type of book at a glance?

Design to fit genre expectations. Do the colour choices, fonts, and style welcome the potential reader with the familiar as well as the unique?

The front cover puts form to the content. Apply “Show, don’t tell” and “less is more” principles by hinting, rather than explicit imagery. You want to build intrigue, yet promise.

Back cover – authority

The question for the back cover content is, “does the reader understand the promise of the book and are they confident that it will deliver?” The back cover expands the promise, shares your key message and builds authority. Similar to a log-line for a movie, a single sentence can carry the gist of the book.

Back cover with reviews, author info and promise

Reviews bolster confidence in the book. The best reviews show how a problem was solved or how the content applies to someone in the same circumstance. Endorsements from influencers the reader recognizes also build authority. You may not have reviews for your first printing, but ask for them. Then update your cover and then add more to the front on the book, and ask readers to add reviews to your on-line outlets. Having no reviews is a bit like looking for a restaurant in an unfamiliar location. We go where the parking lot is full and avoid places that appear desolate.

A short author blurb and photo also build connection and authority. Have a full author blurb on the last page or flyleaf of your hardcover book and use the back cover for reviews and endorsements if possible.

Include your website, a barcode, and main genre. The price can be included in an EAN barcode as well as humanly readable. If you wish to sell at a lower price for direct sales you can put the book on sale, but increasing the price is sticky.

Design tech

Spine: The type on the spine should be right-reading when the front cover of the book is face up. There is some variation in the printing process, and life without margins is hard. If the background image or colour wraps the spine your books will still look pro with a bit of variation in the manufacturing process. Minimum safely for spine type is 1 mm. Adjusting for spine thickness is one of the last steps as it is determined by the page count and thickness of paper. For more on spine design considerations see

Margins for live type should be at least 1/8” although 1/2” feels a lot better. Also avoid type on the crease which is about 6mm from the spine.

Bleed allowance refers to the image or background colour printed past the trim. POD printers want 1/8”, many like 1/4”. 

Remember only the printer binder and printer see the front and back cover of the book at the same. They should flow and relate, but need to stand on their own.

The cover is printed as a single sheet with the front cover on the right. The formula is book width x 2 + spine = document width. Document height is the book height. A cover template is available as a PDF and InDesign file to help you with the tech.

book spines
Book cover template

Get our InDesign and PDF book cover design template


By following these book cover design tips, you will increase visibility and engagement with your potential readers. Do you have a favourite cover transformation story? Chime off in the comments below and tell us what stood out to you. If you are working on a book, PageMaster Publishing is here to support you. Contact PageMaster Publishing today and let us help you make your publishing dream a reality.