September 23


How to Prepare Your Book Cover Design Brief

By Boni Wagner-Stafford

September 23, 2021

#authors, #books, #indieauthors, #nonfiction, bookcoverdesign, bookcovers, podcast

It’s a common saying in publishing circles: you can judge a book by its cover. In fact, we DO judge your book cover design. Every book cover. Every. Time. Your book cover design can make or break how the reading public sees your book and whether they will buy it. Which means how you prepare and what you include in your book cover design brief is critical to your books’ success—or not.

Jessica Bell

Why is the book cover design so important? As writer, author, publisher, and book cover designer, Jessica Bell says:

“It is the first thing readers are going to see before they even read the blurb of a book.”

If you can hook your potential reader with the cover design, they’ll be more likely to read the blurb. And once they’ve read the blurb, they may decide to buy the book. They may even post the cover on social media: which is free exposure for you.

None of these things happen if your book cover design doesn’t hook your potential reader. So, it’s a first impression that counts.

We spoke with Jessica recently on The Empowered Author Podcast. Listen to the episode here, or find it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, or wherever you find your podcasts.

Book cover design is about marketing

Your book cover design is about marketing rather than content. It’s not about you, and unless you are exactly in the bullseye of your target reader audience, you might not even like your book cover design. It’s not there to tell a story: the story is supposed to be in the book. The purpose of the cover is to evoke an emotional response in your potential reader.

What your book cover design needs

There is some information that every book cover needs:

  • On the front cover: The front cover needs to contain the author’s name, the book title and, if there is one, the subtitle. You can also add an image and a short quote or a tagline: “From the bestselling author of …,” for instance. If the book is part of a series, you should mention that on the cover too.
  • On the spine: The spine shows the book title and author name. This is the part of the book that the reader will see on the bookshelf among all the other books, so the text should be clear and stand out. Some cover designs also add the publisher’s logo on the spine.
  • On the back cover: The back cover isn’t typically the part that draws in the potential reader, since they don’t usually see it until they’ve picked up the book. So, you can have more information on here than on the front cover and spine: enough to pique the reader’s interest without giving away the whole story. This is where you’ll normally add your blurb, a short author biography and maybe some quotes from reviews. The barcode and ISBN also goes on the back cover. Sometimes the price of the book, but not always.

What affects the book cover design?

There are several factors that affect the cover design and that you should keep in mind when briefing your cover designer. These include:


Over the years, certain genres became associated with certain cover design styles. If the cover image shows a couple embracing or a beautiful woman’s face, along with an elaborate, script-style font, the book is likely to be a romance. A dark, stark cover often indicates horror or a thriller. A simple, no-nonsense design is common with business and self-help books.

Symbols, themes and setting

These usually help the designer choose the imagery that goes onto the cover. A memoir of someone’s experience as a pilot during World War II, for example, may combine historical images of war-ravaged cities, fighter planes and personal photographs of the person in uniform.

Target audience

Certain target audiences respond to certain design elements. A more classic design tends to speak to the more serious reader while someone who just wants a quick and easy beach read may be attracted to bright colours and bold lettering.

The author brand

Just because you’re not a Stephen King or a Bill Bryson yet doesn’t mean that you don’t need to think about your brand in your cover designs. Author brand is about more than just how big your name should be in comparison to the book title. If you’ve published multiple books in the same genre, you can help build your brand by using similar design elements throughout: the same font or colours, for example.

The book format

For a print book, the tactile is important because how a book feels can affect the potential reader’s emotional response. For an ebook, the cover needs to be eye-catching as a thumbnail among hundreds of thumbnails the potential reader will scroll through.


The difference between a book cover designed by a skilled designer with good design software and one designed by an amateur will be instantly visible. Your budget not only affects whether or not you can afford to commission a cover designer but also your choice of paper, black and white versus full colour and whether you will be using stock images or have photographs or illustrations specially created.

Book covers, like everything else, follow fashion. Current cover design trends include the use of illustrations rather than photographs, creative title graphics, minimalism, the illusion of depth, blurring and eye-catching patterns.

What goes in your book cover design brief?

When you brief a book cover designer, you need to give them an idea of the genre, your target audience, a short description, the themes and symbols in your book, your preferences in a book cover – you can include examples of covers you’ve seen – and, in nonfiction, the message you’re trying to convey. You also need to include your budget and all the text that needs to appear on the cover, in electronic format so the designer can simply copy and paste it.

When you brief the designer, you should have a clear idea of what you want and not be too vague in your description: “The protagonist is beautiful and sensitive” doesn’t tell the designer what you envision the person to look like. However, being too specific is not a good thing either: it will make it harder for the designer to find the right images. It can also stifle the designer’s creativity.

Jessica suggests that you develop a collaborative relationship with your designer. As she says, “I also need to enjoy the process and feel like I’m creating something wonderful that I’m proud of.”

See Jessica’s book cover designs

The vast majority of the book cover designs on the books we publish at Ingenium Books have been designed by Jessica Bell.

What do you think?

  • I think that this advice is so very basic in its nature that every successful author has already followed it without having to think too much. The forceful inspiration that drives a good author includes how he or she is aiming to advertize the book from its cover illustration.

    • David you are right — “every successful author has already followed” this advice. We’re aiming to help more authors be successful! And the business about how to “advertise” the book from its cover is also a big, big area related to PR and marketing. So much to learn, and do! Thanks for your comment.

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