How I design a book cover


When I told my author friends that I was a little stuck on how to start this blog they recommended I start from the beginning . . .

Ian Irvine


Designing a cover:

I won't go into exact detail, because every title is different and you may find this post rather dull, but here is a brief outline of how I design a cover!

If possible, I always start by reading the whole book, and if that isn’t possible, then I always ask if I can read a detailed synopsis. That way I can ensure I give an honest and true representation of the book itself.

Once I have read the book and brief, I research and gather together my thoughts regarding the direction I feel would work best. The research I do is varied but can and often includes; target audience, relevant imagery, possible artists, typefaces that may work, the subject matter, author brand and successful covers in that genre.

Examining what is on trend and the direction it may take is essential. What may be fashionable at the moment could be obsolete when the book is released.

If this is the author’s first book, it is at this stage that I would typically start thinking about author brand and identity.

Research gathered, I discuss my initial ideas with the publisher/author and start on my first cover drafts. If an artist is illustrating the cover, I would present several artists for the author/publisher to choose from and then draw up an illustration brief.

If I am using stock photography on the book cover, I would at this stage start researching possible cover stock imagery or photographers.

There are several pros and cons to consider when using stock imagery:


  • Stock images can be cheaper and quicker than a shoot
  • Most stock imagery (depending on the library) is royalty-free which means you only pay for the licence once and then can reuse multiple times with no additional fee
  • In most cases the image can be easily manipulated in Photoshop without having to contact the photographer for permission first
  • If you know which library to go to, you can often find exactly what you are looking for


  • When purchasing a stock photo you need to be aware of any licensing restrictions. Always check if the image is rights-managed or royalty free. Also ensure you know exactly how long (time-wise) your license is for, as each library varies.
  • The image is often not exclusive. Which means there is a danger that the image you are using, could be on another book cover. Eeeek! You can avoid this by purchasing exclusive rights, but this can be a lot more expensive.
  • When using stock imagery, I try to avoid using just one single image and instead blend several to create something new. That way I can avoid the heartache of discovering my perfect image has already been used many times before.

If you would like more advice about stock imagery, let me know in the comments, and I could perhaps do a post about it next time.

Often there are several stages where together with the publisher/author I will evaluate whether the current direction is the right one. Testing covers on an unbiased group of the target audience are very helpful in establishing if everything is on track.

With a route decided, I then purchase any necessary imagery/illustrate the cover, and if I am working with an artist, I will commission the final artwork.

Once I have all the ingredients I then build the cover in Photoshop and InDesign.

Choosing the perfect typography can be tricky if you do not know what the artwork or photography direction is, so I tend to design the type throughout the process rather than just at the beginning. The key I have found is to find the perfect balance, where the imagery and the type work well together. The typography should add to the excitement or the drama of the cover rather than fight it.

The cover title and copy must always be legible. A useful trick when determining whether the title will stand out on Amazon is to drop the file onto your desktop, if you can still read the title when it is an icon then success!

Once the cover artwork is in place, and everything has been checked and approved; I then finalise my files and send them off!

Software and hardware wise I use:

  • Apple Mac
  • Wacom tablet
  • Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Bridge, Muse, Acrobat
  • Microsoft Office

My top tips if you want to design a book cover:

  • Research and visit lots of bookshops. See what is working and what you can achieve
  • Keep it simple. There are a lot of stunning covers out there; often they are the most unadorned
  • Explore fonts as well as imagery
  • Test your book cover on your target audience
  • Have fun!