7 Best Book Cover Trends to Stay Current in 2018

by | Feb 5, 2018

By Calvin Emerson

If you publish in a genre or category where readers expect fresh and new book cover designs, it pays to know what the design trends are at any time. Like other forms of fashion, styles in illustration, typography, and visual approach change from time to time, and just by looking at recent covers you can see that the designs tend to replicate across the genre, with many similar covers every season.

Over at 99designs.com they have a good feel for where the fashion in cover designs is moving, since they get to see so many cover design projects. In this post, Calvin Emerson talks about trends to look for in 2018. Enjoy.


Sales studies have proven what book lovers have known for years: nothing can replace the experience of reading a print book. The smell, the paper feel, and even the book cover design all contribute that little something extra that ebooks — despite their best intentions — fall short on.

According to the Wall Street Journal, ebook sales in the U.S. were down about 17% in 2016, with print book sales up 4.5%, with the sales pattern expected to continue through 2018. That’s cause for celebration among book designers even more than authors.

But rather than rest on their laurels, the print book industry is doubling their efforts to cement their relevance in an increasingly digital world. Book design competition is shaping up to be fierce in 2018, especially for cover designs, as book cover design can increase buyer interest by 51% or more.

So to help you attract the love of bibliophiles everywhere, we’ve compiled a list of the 7 best book cover trends for 2018. Your average customers can recognize these trends without even thinking, so if a book cover isn’t up to date, shoppers will notice. And if your books don’t look new… they just look old.

1. Photo Collage

Billy Liar cover

The Smallest Thing cover

What’s better than powerful photography on a book cover? Two powerful photographs on a book cover! More and more covers experiment with deconstructing or combining photos into one in a collage format.

It’s not just for the aesthetic either. The role of a book cover is to convey the emotions, themes, and styles of the book itself. If you’re limiting your cover design to a single photograph, you’re limiting it to only the ideas in that photograph. Drawing from multiple photos gives designers more options to accurately show what the book’s about, no matter how complex or far reaching it is.

Not only is it a trendy design decision, but it can also prove a thrifty one. Constructing an image using parts of various photos allows for more customization at a lesser cost than commissioning original photography.

In practice, this is most often done with photo manipulation; image editing allows for transparent overlays and blending — viewers might not even realize the final product draws from different photos. Conversely, intentionally cutting and pasting like a kid with scissors is an aesthetic that’s growing in popularity. It all depends on the style of the book and the desired look and feel.

2. Muted Pinks

The Idiot book cover

White Lies book cover

Sometimes design trends are interpretive. Other times, they’re very, very specific. The latter is the case with a specific shade of pink we’re seeing on covers over and over again; a muted, desaturated, dusty pink known semi-affectionately as “Millennial pink.”

Somewhere between quartz and rose, this pink seems to encompass the dichotomous essence of a new generation, rebellious but subtle. This seems to resonate with readers who want playful and serious at the same time — a characteristic of Millennials, hence the name.

As the new generation begins putting pen to paper, a distinct culture is emerging, and branding trends like muted pink signal are a part of that. This is a trend that transcends book covers and extends to all visual mediums. Advertisements, websites, social media posts — just keep your eyes peeled and you’ll see it everywhere.

3. Big and Bold

Here I Am book cover

Wir Im Wandel Book Cover

Big, bold typography has been a gaining popularity over the last few years and is giving no sign of slowing down.

This trend is epitomized by oversized text unapologetically taking up large portions of the space. Drawing attention to the title and author just makes sense for book cover design, but we’re starting to see new and interesting styles, like elegant serif-style fonts or borderline ridiculous chunky typefaces.

The trend itself has evolved over the years. 2018 is seeing more experimental typography, such as:

  • brushstrokes
  • feathered edges
  • partial obscurity
  • opacity and creative blending with raster content
  • handwriting (another trend on our list)

Another advantage is that, by making the title stand out, more design can be allocated to the background imagery, or other elements. The alternative risks the imagery distracting from the text, and the shopper should never have to look too closely to find the title or author.

4. Fancy Finishes

Gods in Winter book cover

On Trails book cover

Yes, you can read ebooks in the dark and, yes, they’re easier to carry around… but when was the last time you saw an ebook cover with gold foil stamping?

Capitalizing on the physical capabilities of their form, print books are bringing back classic treatments like foil stamping, embossing, and gloss lamination. These fancy finishes can certainly be attention-grabbing, but they can also add artistic accents that bring a book cover design together.

This trend works particularly well with another on our list, minimalism. For minimalism to be most effective as a cover style, it has to subtly compensate for its scarcity of design elements by making those few visuals really stand out. Finishes take care of this naturally, plus you want to use them sparingly anyway — we’re not selling disco balls here.

5. 70s and 80s Retro

The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories Book Cover

Sex and Rage book cover

It wouldn’t feel like 2018 if it didn’t feel like the 80s. Nostalgia is (ironically) the most prominent style of recent years, with all the remakes, reboots, and throwbacks in current film and TV. Book covers are not immune from the retro style, and we’re expecting to see a resurgence of 70s and 80s visuals.

To be perfectly clear, the retro revival trend is manifesting itself in not one but two major ways:

  • A revival of retro elements like typography, patterns, color schemes, and imagery
  • Directly mimicking book covers of the 70s and 80s

That opens up a lot of doors for book cover designers. They can go full retro and design a cover in the same fonts and styles as the 70s and 80s, matching it to books from the period. Or, designers can pull individual elements from that era — a pastel color scheme, a psychedelic font — and mix them with more contemporary elements for a distinctly original feel.

6. Hand-drawn covers

The Man Who Watched the World End Book Cover

In the Eyes of Grace book cover

Harkening to the popularity of DIY, many book covers are foregoing a more polished and manufactured look for something a little more homespun. This means more designs featuring either hand-drawn illustrations or script-style fonts.

Interestingly, the hand-drawn trend lends itself best to two opposing genres. On one end of the spectrum, you have the edgy and gritty New Pulp style; on the other, a warm and almost childlike style, but both the trend paradoxically works for both. Much of the interpretation depends on the words and accompanying imagery, but in general this style fits nicely with a true crime novel or a quirky cookbook, rather than a political biography.

7. Less is More

All We Saw book cover

Fat book cover

Can’t find the perfect background? How about no background at all? Minimalism is the perfect alternative to the more ostentatious trends on this list, going back to design basics to communicate more by showing less.

The idea behind minimalism is to emphasize the most important visual elements by removing as much as possible. If the only thing on a book cover is the title, the title gets all the attention. A designer can even influence how the shopper interprets the title with selective typography like stylistically broken fonts or contrasting serif and sans-serif typefaces. Conversely, if the book cover has the title, a bold font, and a hodgepodge of distracting images in the background, the message can be muddled. In short, the more elements in the design, the more difficult it is to control how these elements are digested.

The important thing is to make sure it’s not boring. Reducing the visual elements is just step one; you must also make sure the remaining elements are stimulating enough. As mentioned above, textural treatments like gloss or foil can help, but you also want to make sure to accentuate individual elements and to play with nuance.

Takeaway

Even if you’re relying on a designer to craft your cover, it’s still important to keep your finger on the pulse of current trends. It helps the design process to have an idea of what you want; otherwise, the designer is just shooting in the dark. Understanding the look and feel you’re aiming for — even if you have trouble putting it into words — is a crucial first step when working with a designer or design platform like 99designs.

It also helps to understand why the designer made some of their choices. If you don’t follow what’s in vogue, book covers that are completely in line with the times may seem strange. Staying informed about the latest trends is just good business; all you have to do is pay attention to use them to your advantage.

Calvin EmersonCalvin Emerson works as a Marketing Coordinator out of 99designs’ office in Berlin, Germany. Originally from sunny California, he moved to Berlin in 2015 with degrees in Rhetoric and German from U.C. Berkeley. When not immersed in the world of design, interests include world cuisine, techno, street style, and historical documentaries.

 

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

26 Comments

  1. Zoe Asher

    Thank you for a thought-provoking article. My takeaway are not the literal book covers, but the trends behind them—although, I admit to really liking Trails. Like Fashion, it is not what is literally shown on the runway, but the ability to interpret the trends to sell to the mass market. As an author, I am always interested in others’ perspective and insights into the trends affecting my genre. Any further thoughts on Erotic Fiction?

    Reply
    • Calvin

      Hi Zoe!

      Thanks so much for reading. You’re 100% correct to think about the trends rather than these particular examples (which are in fact just examples). We’ve done a bit of writing on 99designs about different design tropes by book genres, including erotic fiction, if you’d like to have a read here:
      https://99designs.co.uk/blog/uncategorized-en-gb/book-cover-design-by-genre/

      I hope that’s helpful! :)

      Calvin
      99designs

      Reply
  2. SuzieQ

    I found them all incredibly blah.

    Reply
  3. DLKirkwood

    Eight of these covers I wouldn’t even pick up. Only a couple would I lift to read the jacket, and that is no guarantee I would open the book to read the first page or two.

    Reply
    • Liam Fitzgerald

      Interesting.

      There’s only 2 here that I wouldn’t pick up for further investigation. The two hand drawn ones – as they look unprofessional. My thought process goes – unprofessional cover means unprofessional writer. That may be unfair but the old adage “never judge a book by its cover” was never more untrue.

      The other thing is that the primary art direction for the cover should be dictated by the target audience and not entirely by the author or even the designer.

      Reply
    • Kathi Pearson Dunn

      You may not be in the target audience. Excellent, hard-working, bestselling cover designs target a specific market and demographic—done so only after in-depth research.

      Reply
      • Kathi Pearson Dunn

        (My comment above was intended to be a reply to the first few criticisms.)

        Reply
  4. Josephine-Anne Griffiths

    The only one I liked a little was the second muted pink cover for ‘White Lies’, but overall … nup, not my taste.

    Cheerio,
    Josephine Griffiths

    Reply
  5. Marlene Morphew/Rusty A. Lang

    Trends are just that trends and these are clearly VERY NOW and appeal to specific markets. . Old fashioned as it may sound but I choose/design my own so they will be palatable in years to come and appealing to various markets.

    Reply
    • Calvin

      Hey Marlene!

      You’re absolutely correct — these are trends we’ve noticed over the course of 2017 and expect to see more of in 2018. Over the course of the last year we had 2,500+ book cover contests held on our design platform, and this is more of a trend roundup than a design suggestion! :)

      It’s always a good idea to stick to your vision and aesthetic when it comes to your projects!

      Calvin

      Reply
  6. Hazel Barker

    None of them were crash hot but No. 1 and 6 were tolerable!

    Reply
  7. Liam Fitzgerald

    Interesting to read the reactions here.

    Personally I think there are some strong designs here, apart from the hand drawn ones which have really poor typography.

    Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder but cover design has to achieve many objectives. Communication, aesthetics and something that’s becoming hugely important in a crowded marketplace – differentiation.

    Sometimes in order to make a cover stand out the designer will choose a bold composition, font or colour scheme in order to differentiate from other similar looking designs in the same genre.

    It’s also important to note that no single person decides or controls a “trend” it’s simply the commonalities that can be found in any broad group of creative work from film, to fashion to book cover design. Those trends can be amplified by in-house designers at major publishers as the same designers will be working on multiple titles and those “house-styles” can be very prevalent on the book shelves.

    Self-published books are not subject to the same house-style syndrome but sadly in many cases have defined themselves by poor, unprofessional design. Recently thought, this has been changing as the more astute authors have realised they can compete with traditionally published books by investing in professional cover design.

    Reply
    • Calvin

      Hi Liam!

      Thanks for reading, and for the thoughtful reply. You’re right, no one person dictates these trends, and nor is this article meant to be prescriptive. From January 1st 2017 to January 1st 2018 we had just over 2,500 book cover contests launched on our design platform and these are some of the trends that we’ve seen cropping up more and more, hence the prediction!

      Calvin

      Reply
  8. Nancy O'Neill

    Wow! I have to agree with a couple of the other people who have commented. If these trends are supposed to sell books, I’m speechless. I would compare this to the fashion industry runway styles: designers create crazy, over-the-top clothing yet the average (or even daring) person would never wear those styles.

    The same goes (in my opinion) for these book cover trends. Most are not eye-catching nor interesting and many don’t even give you a hint at what the book is about. And haven’t we always been told that the cover needs to convey at least something about the story.

    People DO just a book by its cover and none of these pass the test for the average buyer.

    When I got to the last book, “FAT,” I immediately thought of how often we hear Joel say things like “have an edge to the book” or “don’t have a plain white background” because while it may have a bold look with just text (even though the letters hit the edge), a white book blends into the background on Amazon. Now, interestingly enough, I checked on Amazon to see how it looked. Surprisingly, the plain black lettering had been changed to a completely different design for the title. The background is still white, which I think is a mistake for the reasons I’ve mentioned but at least now, the title has a little more interest.

    And now I have to ask the million-dollar question. Who decided that these are this year’s trends? I think there are thousands of books that are not following these unusual designs and will probably sell just as well as books with these covers.

    My advice to other authors is, “It’s not necessarily the right choice to follow any trend because just like clothes or any other product, once this trend is past, your book will look very outdated and no one wants that.”

    Reply
    • Calvin

      Hello Nancy!

      Thanks for reading — you’re right, trends have a way of being rather over the top. It’s important to be aware of them, but not necessarily to emulate them. This article is definitely not meant to be prescriptive, as many genres won’t benefit from something that’s really breaking down traditional book cover formatting. Rather, when working with graphic designers, it’s good to be aware of what’s cropping up in certain sectors. As always, designing a book cover or having a book cover designed should always start with your own vision for the composition and aesthetic.

      Calvin

      Reply
  9. Sharon K. Connell

    My question is, who decides this stuff? None of those covers appeal to me and I’m both a writer/author and reader. I wouldn’t pick up any of those, despite the genre/title. I run a group forum for writers and readers and what I’m hearing from our membership of over 1,000 is quite different from this article.

    Just thought I’d let you all know.

    Reply
    • Calvin

      Hey Sharon,

      These are trends that have been growing in popularity through 2017 and we predict will continue to grow in 2018, but taste in design is unique to everyone. Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  10. Frances Caballo

    I found this article fascinating. Great book covers are an essential element of book sales so I enjoyed seeing what types of covers are selling books these days. Of all the book covers you listed, On Trails was the one I liked best. I found the “less is more” examples troubling, and therefore they caught my attention. The Sex and Rage cover is definitely a throwback to an earlier era and therefore I think it would intrigue potential writers. Anyway, thank you, Calvin, for this intriguing post.

    Reply
    • Calvin

      Thanks so much for reading, Frances!

      Calvin

      Reply
  11. Leah McClellan

    Thanks for this! I have a novel that has worn five different covers, and I’ve never been happy. These are the kinds of covers I’ve envisioned–creative, unique. And I’m seeing them in bookstores and, to an extent, on Amazon (takes forever to find comps so I usually browse shelves). Appreciate the inspiration.

    Reply
    • Calvin

      Hello Leah!

      I’m so glad you found value out of the article. There are many outstanding roundups of cover designs out there – these are more so to indicate trends rather than highlight “the best covers,” so let me know if you want any resources for inspiration.

      Calvin
      99designs

      Reply
      • Leah McClellan

        Calvin, Yes, I do understand the trend idea and that these are representative. The thing is, my novel is romance/domestic-psychological suspense, but pretty heavy on the romance or more like love interest/relationship. And the advice I’m getting for the cover is that it should feature what readers of the romance genre expect–you know, Mr. Hunk and Ms. Gorgeous aka Fabian and the like (not my thing and doesn’t reflect the story). Plus the characters are millennials (36 and 26) and hip, cool, trendy, etc. Minimalists. And it’s not a typical romance.

        I’m more used to literary fiction covers, that’s probably why I like these though mine is more commercial. Would love some inspirational resources! Also I looked up a book that was my mom’s and the original cover–link below–I think that’s the retro look you’re talking about. And retro is totally a thing and has been for awhile.

        https://www.npr.org/2011/07/27/105264540/the-peak-of-lusty-lit-valley-of-the-dolls

        Reply
        • Calvin

          Yes, absolutely! Valley of the Dolls is an unmistakable classic (the film as well). We actually wrote an article at 99designs called “How to design book covers for any genre” which has some insight into the Romance genre as well: https://99designs.co.uk/blog/uncategorized-en-gb/book-cover-design-by-genre/

          When it comes to inspirational resources, I usually bounce between Pinterest, Discover, and Behance. Behance is a great design site where designers can upload their work, you can search through it and find inspiration. Discover, on our site, allows people to browse work from all levels of designers, categories, and the like (you can just flip through for some inspiration: https://99designs.co.uk/discover?category=book-cover-design&top-level=true), and of course Pinterest is a huge image based search engine.

          I hope this is somewhat helpful, there’s a huge world of design out there on the internet.

          Calvin

          Reply
          • Leah McClellan

            Thanks! I usually just browse bookstores, online book retailers, or designer sites, but I’ll check these out. And I might just hire someone; I’m pretty good with Photoshop but I’m not a pro, and I’d rather write. Of course I’ve known about 99designs for years, so I’ll start there.

            I love the illustrations for the NYT column Modern Love–check them out if you don’t know them. https://www.nytimes.com/column/modern-love

            Also my favorite book cover on my own shelf–it’s perfect and I think it fits in with your article. Fabulous story, too. https://hawthornebooks.com/catalogue/clown-girl

            Thanks for your help!

  12. Michael W. Perry

    Amazing. Almost a clean sweep in fact. With the exception of On Trails and perhaps The Man Who Watched the World End, those covers are uniformly ugly, tasteless and tacky. If those are the “best covers” of last year, then a pile of dog poop is an elegant dining experience.

    I sometimes remind myself that there a two kinds of artists:

    Those with genuine talent in varying degrees. They may or may not be great, but they struggle to play their role in humanities long effort to portray the good, the true and the beautiful.
    Those either lacking in talent or whose talents fall far well short of their conceits. They compensate by creating ugly or outrageous art distinguished only by being different from good art. They will often go out of their way to offend a carefully selected “out” group, such as Catholics and “Piss Christ.”

    Actually, there is a third group. That’s those with enough sense of humor to play the game that those in #2 play, knowing that alongside such faux artists are the fake connoisseurs, who will gush with excitement over any trend, however dreadful. Create trash and the fake connoisseurs will fall for it.

    The sad thing is that faux artists with their horrid creations, aided and assisted by the fake connoisseurs, often block the creation of good art with their worthless efforts. That is where the real tragedy lies. The bad displaces the good.

    I saw that with the legally mandated art attached to a new fire station in my Greenwood Seattle neighborhood. It was, I kid you not, several chopped up rocks piled on top of one another. The gimmick to sell it was a layer of plexiglass that was supposed to light up blue when the fire truck was out. “What was the sense of that?,” I thought. Ten feet away is the glass door of the station’s garage. You can look there to see if the fire truck is out. Ugly, stupid and pointless, it is a perfect illustration of what constituted bad art.

    What would have been good art? I knew that too. Have a park bench and on it place bronze true-to-life replicas of one of the local firefighters selected at random and in full gear. And on each side of him place a small girl and boy from the community, also selected at random. And place his arm protectively around each. That’s not just good art. That’s great art. It expresses the good, the true and the beautiful.

    And the local people know that. No one goes to see the piled rocks. It is a eyesore, although thankfully small. The blue light doesn’t work, probably because the firefighters see no reason to make it work. In contrast, if bronze children with firefighter had been created, parents and kids from miles around would come to have their picture taken sitting on the bench with that fire fighter and those two children. It might have joined the troll under the bridge as one of NW Seattle’s must-see art.

    Offended? Good, maybe that’ll motivate you to change.

    –Michael W. Perry, medical writer and occasional cover designer

    Reply
  13. Calvin Emerson

    It was a pleasure working on this article with you guys, thank you for putting it out! We’re super excited to see how these design trends develop over the course of the year.

    Calvin
    99designs

    Reply

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