Day 3 Challenge: What Makes a Great Book Cover?

When you look at book covers, what do you oftentimes see? Almost always, it’s the dominant elements – the title, author’s name and image.

This applies mostly with fiction books. With non-fiction, you’d see more.

These are the obvious or apparent elements – elements that are easily recognizable.

However, book covers are more complicated than that and graphic artists would tell you that there is more in there than meets the eye.

Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.  ~ Antoine de Saint Exupéry, The Little Prince (1943)

If you look much further, there are other elements in there, too.

They are just not as obvious or as visible.

They work at the background, are subtle and can, at times, be subliminal.

They play with viewers’ minds and influence how they feel, think, decide or act in ways like

  • turn their head around or grab their attention;
  • make them curious or excited about what’s inside;
  • create a strong desire to explore your book some more;
  • compel them to browse your book’s table of content;
  • pique their interest to read sections of your book;
  • push them to search for customer reviews about your book;
  • nag them into buying your book even when already reviewing another one;
  • compel them to buy your book.

All those, just from viewing your book cover.

Insane, right? But that’s possible. And it always happens.

At both the conscious and subconscious planes.

What is in your book cover that creates these kinds of behavior?

Let’s take a peek into what make book covers stand out.

Attributes of Great Book Covers

What do great book covers have that set it apart from the rest? You’ll get a ton of responses on this and here’s my take.

A standout book cover has four attributes:

First, appeal. It grabs attention almost instantaneously. I can use an endless stream of powerful words to describe it: dazzling, captivating, charming, attractive, handsome, beautiful, stunning, striking, entrancing, professional, wow, dynamite, lovable, cute, delicious, delightful, pleasing, magnetizing, elegant, hypnotic, inviting, great, awesome, wonderful, engaging. And on and on

How the book cover elements were used or put together effectively contributes to engendering a positive feeling of excitement, curiosity and/or desire in your target reader. They may not even know it. They simply feel it.

Second, simplicity. It is simple, uncomplicated and spot on. It is devoid of clutter that may repel, mislead or confuse readers and take them away from the real message, theme or content of your book.

Third, uniqueness. It is different, uncommon and special. Its spot is all its own. No other book cover has that “X” factor or quality. In an ocean of romance novels,  for instance, or time management themed non-fiction books, yours is undoubtedly a cut above the rest.

Fourth, clarity. It is crystal clear what your book is all about simply by looking at its cover. It mirrors and/or hints at your book’s content, theme, genre or topic. At thumbnail size, your book cover is easily recognizable; its text – title and author, most especially – is highly readable.

Elements of Great Book Covers

The apparent or obvious elements of book covers are mostly these three:

  • Title and subtitle. The title is the name of your book. It is usually the dominant element of your book cover (although in many instances, the author’s name is). Many titles, most especially non-fiction, are straightforward. You get what the book is all about as soon as you read its title. It may be one, two, three or more words whose meaning may have to be deciphered.

Book titles are important and necessary. Your book has to have one. The subtitle, however, is not compulsory but optional. You may or may not have one.

What’s the value of having a subtitle? Your subtitle puts more meat on your title. It defines the slant of your book, explains its content further and provides more details. This is especially most helpful if you have a book title containing a word or two.

For instance, how would target readers know what your book “Hurry” is all about? If it’s fiction, your choice of image would most probably reveal more about it. For non-fiction, it may be more daunting and can be confusing. Attaching a subtitle that says “How to Do Things More Quickly in Your Own Terms and Succeed at What You Do” would most probably help clarify your book’s content.

  • Author’s name. This is the name of the book writer or, in some instances, the publisher. As author, you may use your real name or choose a literary pen name, fictitious name or pseudonym. (You’ll know more on this in the section: “The Power of Pen Names: Why Hide Behind an Alias?”)
  • Image. This may be a picture, image or symbol that would depict your book’s content or provide a clue or hint. It may be a single image or symbol, a collection or collage of images, or a composite image.

A composite image is what you get after combining various visual elements from separate sources to get a desired effect or picture. Graphic artists achieve this through compositing (using photo editing softwares like Adobe Photoshop) to create the illusion that all those elements belong to or are parts of the same scene.

So we’re done with the obvious elements.

Now, make a guess on the subtle elements of book covers. They are those that you may not even know or suspect exist but are positioned or placed there for some reasons. The impact that they create are more psychological or at the level of the unconscious or subconscious.

I can think of four:

  • Color
  • Typography
  • Space
  • Composition

In the next post, we will explore about these four in more detail.

For now, please let me know what you think so far.


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