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Book Covers That Sell Hit These 5 Goals

Over the last seven years, I’ve been running a monthly design competition on my blog at TheBookDesigner.com. During that time I’ve examined and critiqued thousands of book covers designed both by amateur and professional cover designers. From these covers, I’ve extracted these five goals your book cover should aim to achieve. Each is accompanied by… [Read More]

Book covers that sell hit 5 key goals by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.com

Over the last seven years, I’ve been running a monthly design competition on my blog at TheBookDesigner.com. During that time I’ve examined and critiqued thousands of book covers designed both by amateur and professional cover designers.

From these covers, I’ve extracted these five goals your book cover should aim to achieve. Each is accompanied by covers that either reach these goals or, alas, fall short:

1:  Announce Its Genre—This is very important for genre fiction, but it’s equally important for any book to clearly announce exactly what kind of book it is. This is the first concern of the cover designer, to let readers know “What kind of book is this?”

2: Telegraph Its Tone—Particularly important for fiction and literary fiction, where the whole effect of the book rests on the skill of the writer. A cover can give you an idea of the writer’s voice in many subtle ways.

3: Explain Its Scope—Mostly for nonfiction. Understanding the extent of the book’s subject helps to define its target market.

4: Generate Excitement (the “hook”)—Let’s face it, book covers are a subspecies of advertising design, and they can be powerful sales tools. But if nothing about the cover stops people, or evokes instant interest, fascination or curiosity, it can’t accomplish its aims.

5: Establish a Market Position—This is almost the sum of all the other goals listed here. Taken together, they establish the exact space we see the book occupying amongst all the other books that address the same topic or which are in the same genre.

Book Covers from Real Life

These tasks really come home when you see how some designers have met the challenge with their book cover designs, while others have missed the mark.

Let’s take a look at examples in each category:

Announce Its Genre

Everything about this cover, including the type treatment and color selections, tells us it’s an action-packed thriller, and just to leave no room for doubt, it’s identified right there as “A Thriller.”Book covers that sell hit 5 key goals by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.com

On the other hand, this book looks at a glance like a legal guide of some kind, but it’s actually a sci-fi title. Do you think sci-fi fans will recognize this book? I think not.Book covers that sell hit 5 key goals by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.com

Telegraph Its Tone (Mostly for Fiction)

This current bestseller gives a good indication of the kind of romantic story you’ll find inside.Book covers that sell hit 5 key goals by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.com

This cover, on the other hand, gives us virtually no information about the book or its story, and nothing of visual interest to entice us into the book.Book covers that sell hit 5 key goals by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.com

Explain Its Scope (Mostly for Nonfiction)

Many nonfiction book covers carry lots of copy, and this can be helpful to a reader looking for information in a specific area.Book covers that sell hit 5 key goals by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.com

This book lets you know instantly what’s in it and it’s intended audience. This really helps browsers to make a buy/no buy decision.Book covers that sell hit 5 key goals by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.com

Here, a common phrase and generic image don’t give us much information about this book, until you get into the tiny type of the subtitle. Notice how some books make sure to give you critical information, while others skip this requirement.

Generate Excitement

Particularly for novels, having a “hook” into the action in the book can exert a powerful pull on readers. Here, the woman is about to spring into action, and the designer has captured that pregnant moment to heighten our interest in the story.Book covers that sell hit 5 key goals by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.comThis cover ignores its genre (vampire romance), but it also has absolutely nothing exciting about it. There’s no trace of the story, no characters, no incipient moment, nothing but some flowers in a natural setting, more than likely the author’s backyard.Book covers that sell hit 5 key goals by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.com

[Note: The author of the above example wisely corrected this in the redesign you'll see if you click the image.]

Establish a Market Position

These two book covers show us something about using your cover to help “position” your book in the marketplace. They are both excellent, and both books are romances. Clearly, one is signaling that it is a historical romance, with period settings and other cues, while the other is a contemporary, urban romance, quite a different spot on the romance shelf.Book covers that sell hit 5 key goals by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.com

Positioning can also involve how books are “branded” graphically, and by showing their similarity to other books the reader is likely to be familiar with.Book covers that sell hit 5 key goals by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.com

How about your cover? Does it clearly announce its genre or category? Tell you about its tone or scope? Is it exciting? Book covers that can answer “Yes!” to these questions put themselves in the best position to be successful.


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2 thoughts on “Book Covers That Sell Hit These 5 Goals”

  1. That’s a good list. I’d add one more. Make the cover one that readers will want to place front-cover-out. That hints that they’re proud of reading it and will make others aware of it.

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