Book Cover Design Symposium in Your Inbox

POSTED ON Mar 8, 2011

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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Every month I get an email from Goodreads. Do you have an account there? Goodreads is a very popular and successful social network for book lovers who like to read and share their reading with their friends. Here’s what they have to say:

Goodreads is a free website for book lovers. Imagine it as a large library that you can wander through and see everyone’s bookshelves, their reviews, and their ratings. You can also post your own reviews and catalog what you have read, are currently reading, and plan to read in the future. Don’t stop there – join a discussion group, start a book club, contact an author, and even post your own writing.

Here’s what’s interesting: The monthly email, which highlights new releases, consists of 60 book cover images arranged by genre.

This is a goldmine each month. If you’re interested in what’s going on in cover design trends, but you don’t have a lot of time to cruise categories on Amazon or other online retailers, you can get a pretty good idea right in your inbox.

Some Assembly Required

Take a look and you’ll see what I mean. Here is the young adult category:

Goodreads young adult cover design

Now it seems to me that if 3 of the top releases for the month in any genre are showing similar design elements, you can consider that a strong trend. It’s clear here that if you publish in this genre, and you want your book to be one of the top releases, you are going to have a single female character very much alone on your cover. Right?

Here’s the children’s selection:

Goodreads children book cover design

Obviously, if your book is for small children, you want animals. How about romance?

book cover design

One thing that’s interesting about these covers is that they highlight one part of the body, often in close up. Also note that four of the five have two-word titles. Must be a trend. Next is historical fiction:

book cover design

You can see it’s an iron law: historical fiction will require a full-cover illustration, preferably of a woman in period clothing. Nothing else will do. How about history?

book cover design

When you see the genre look, it also makes it obvious when a book breaks with that look, like the Sarah Vowell cover on the left.

Here is the mystery and thriller selection:

book cover design

What’s most striking here is the typography. Apparently you can only use sans serif typefaces, they are allowed to completely take over the cover, and it’s fine to run the author’s name—assuming they have fans who will buy anything they write—much larger than the title.

Last, here are the nonfiction books:
book cover design

One thing four of these covers have in common is making sure you can easily read the title. This wasn’t the case with any of the other genres, and that’s interesting in itself.

Lessons Learned

It looks like all of these books are from major publishers, although I haven’t checked every one. It’s unlikely that your book or mine will be on the shelf of a bookstore next to them.

But online, we are all pretty much equal. Conventions in book cover design, like those apparent on the Goodread’s list, are important to know about. There’s no reason a book can’t be a success without following conventions. But readers, whether they are aware of these conventions or not, are likely to be influenced by them.

This gives you an important piece of information. If you want your book to look “right” and fit in, make sure you know what the conventions are in your genre. Whether you choose to follow them, adapt them, or flaunt them, at least you’ll be making an informed decision.

Photo by K David Clark

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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