Judge a Book by Its Cover

One of the best things about browsing in a bookstore is letting my eyes roam the different covers. Some make me want to read the back cover, while others leave me cold. For those of us who hope to see our books in print, book covers are something to start thinking about, even if publication seems a long way off. And if self-publishing is in your future, you definitely want to make sure your cover looks as professional as possible.

Besides strolling the aisles of your local bookstore (which I hope you do, but it's becoming harder as more stores close), I found a site that will let your fingers walk you through thousands of book covers--without having to pull them off the shelf. It's called The Book Cover Archive.

This site allows readers to peruse book covers randomly, or by designers, titles, authors, art directors, photographers, illustrators, genres, publication date, publishers, and even typefaces. It's an easy way to get ideas, or to narrow down the type of covers that appeal to you or turn you off. If you end up traditionally published, you may not have a lot of control of your cover decisions, but the publisher might ask for your ideas. Here's how to collect some:

  1. Use the 'screen capture' feature on your computer. When you see book covers online that strike you, take a shot of them and keep them in a folder on your hard drive. If you saw a cover in a bookstore, note the title (or buy the book!) and search for it once you get home.
  2. Collect photos of people and places and objects that relate to your story. This is something writers should do anyway, as visuals help in the writing process, but they can also jumpstart cover ideas. Remember, you won't be able to use these actual photos on your cover unless you purchased them, or took them yourself. But when it's time for your cover, you can show them to a photographer or cover artist to give them an idea of what you want.
  3. Likewise, collect examples of fonts that seem like a good fit for your genre. You can snag them with a screen capture, or cut words from magazines.
  4. Play with color schemes that match your manuscript's mood. If you're computer-savvy, you can try a graphic design software. For the less technical, try scrapbooking websites, or the good old-fashioned cut and paste method.
Any more ideas on building your own book cover? 

Note: C. Hope Clark has an excellent post about When a Cover Misrepresents. She includes some excellent ideas for authors seeking cover artists. 


  1. I think it's so funny that with the ebook revolution people are "seriously" judging a book by its cover. With fewer bookstores, we definitely need an electronic source for book covers.

  2. A question about Royalty-Free licenses from websites that stock photos... we can use those, can't we?

  3. Stacy: You're right. It's funny, but I think they will always influence readers.

    S.M.: I'm not absolutely sure about free stock photos. I may have to ask someone I know about that.


  4. Thanks for posting this info~ it's definitely a few steps ahead of where I am, but nice to know :)

  5. Book covers are, still, incredibly important in book sales. These are great suggestions, Debbie.

    I have two books with small, indie presses and was amazed at how much influence I had. With my first book, the publisher had me go to istock and pick out a few images I liked--he chose the one at the top of my list and designed the cover from there. With my second book, stories, I emailed my editor a picture of my mother (the picture pertained to the subject of the stories) which she sent to an artist she'd found online and that artist constructed a cover I was really, really happy with from there. Might be the best thing about the book--the cover!

    Now, I'm with a big house, St. Martin's, and while my opinion about the cover has been asked, the art department is doing the whole thing--which I'm glad about since they are the experts. I just finished copy edits and my editor tells me the cover is coming soon...can't wait to see it!!

    Anyway, great post!!

  6. Jess: it's ahead of where I am too, but reading Susan's comment makes me realize it's not to soon to start thinking about it.

    Susan: Thank you so much for sharing your experiences! What a big difference between an indie and bigger publisher. I hadn't really thought about that. I think I'll keep a file of ideas just in case.




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