The Seven Deadly Sins of Book Cover Design

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I’m a children’s illustrator, so I’m going to stick to what I know best. Fortunately, a lot of this will apply to book cover design in any genre.

Contrary to what you’ve heard, you absolutely CAN judge a book by its cover. This applies even more to a children’s book. A lack of care for the cover = a lack of care for the contents. Certainly, there are some exceptions; but by and large, this holds true.

Fortunately, there are some very simple things to avoid when you’re designing a book cover.

  1. Tiny Titles

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: make your title bigger. Your cover art should come second to your title. Remember, most people are going to see your title on screen as a thumbnail. Look at your cover at that small size (around 200px in height) and see if you can easily read the title. If not, MAKE YOUR TITLE BIGGER.

The same applies, by the way, to the author’s name.

2. Font Crimes

Do you have more than three fonts on your cover? Are your fonts complex and hard to read (even at full-size)? Have your fonts been stretched or squeezed to fit your cover? You’ve just committed a font crime.

It might be tempting to use a “fun” font, but if it’s not easy to read, it’s useless. Stick with one or two good fonts that compliment each other, and NEVER stretch, squeeze, or otherwise violate your fonts.

3. “Art-in-a-Box”

This is a surprisingly prevalent sin. Perhaps because Amazon makes it so easy to commit this one with their stock cover design. Do not, under any circumstances, put your art in a box. It’s generic, it’s unattractive, and it’s lazy. It’s the easiest way to get your book ignored.

4. Clip Art

Do not EVER use clip art – even if you purchase it. If you found it online (or, God forbid, in Microsoft Word), then others have found it as well. Your book is unique and it deserves custom treatment.

5. Generic Stock Photography

Similar to the previous sin: do not use a generic stock image that you find online. This doesn’t mean you can’t use stock photography at all. Stock has its place, and images can be combined or treated to create an effective, attractive cover. But a generic stock image? That’s a sin.

6. Crowding

You do not need to tell the full story on the cover. The simpler your cover, the more impactful it’s bound to be. Remember the point about the thumbnail? Same applies here. Don’t crowd your cover with endless detail. Less is (almost always) more.

7. DIY Design

If you are not a professional designer, do not design your own book cover. Even if you are a professional designer, you may want to consider this carefully. You might save a few bucks now by trying to DIY, but you’re doing so at the cost of your book’s ultimate success.