Book Cover Trends: A Critical Look at 2023

POSTED ON Dec 20, 2023

Althea Storm

Written by Althea Storm

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2023 is almost at an end. This year saw the release of thousands of books across a myriad of genres. 

Book covers are the first glimpse a reader has into a book. So authors and book cover designers alike take great care to ensure that a book cover conveys the right message and evokes the right emotions in the minds of readers.

Before we step into 2024, we saw it fit to highlight some book cover trends we observed this past year.

Here are the book cover trends we saw in 2023: 

1. Headshots

Genre: Nonfiction memoirs, historical fiction

Nonfiction books from recognizable names hit the market this year and a common trend with the book covers is that they feature the headshots of the authors. 

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The explosive recounting of his experiences as a British royal, Spare, features a candid headshot of Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. The shot, which takes up most of the cover space is set against a beige backdrop that blends well with his skin tone and dusty brown beard. The typography itself is pretty bland and regular, which is fitting considering the name and the fact that Prince Harry’s face is the attention-grabber. 

Another example is Worthy by Jada Pinkett Smith. Instead of a candid, front-facing picture, Pinkett Smith opted to have a shot of her side profile on the cover. The cover itself has a radial gradient with the edges being a dark grey color and slowly lightening toward the cover’s center. The typography has more flourish than Prince Harry’s Spare, but that’s also intentional given the message of the book. 

On the fiction front, we have Lisa See’s Lady Tan’s Circle of Women and Isabel Allende’s The Wind Knows My Name. The former features the headshot of the main character (presumably Lady Tan) and readers can clearly see, from her attire and adornments, that she’s a woman of means and substance. 

The latter, however, features the headshot woman whose back is turned to the reader. The concealment of her face, the distant gaze, the sparse greenery, and the vague title promptly quickens readers’ curiosities. 

2. Colorful Vector Illustrations 

Genre: Romance, young adult

Colorful vector illustrations were the hallmark design of book covers in the romance and young adult genres this year. These illustrations were arguably made popular in recent years by Ali Hazelwood’s 2021 romance novel, The Love Hypothesis

In 2023, however, we have Tessa Bailey’s Secretly Yours,  which features vivid vector images of a formally dressed man and a not-so-formally dressed woman holding a vibrant bouquet of flowers against a soft pink backdrop. 

Other romance novels featuring a pink background and vector illustrations of the main characters are Practice Makes Perfect by Sarah Adams and Wildfire by Hannah Grace. These vivid drawings set the mood and evoke positive (and oft romantic) emotions in the minds of readers that propel them to buy.

3. Water and River Symbolism

Genre: Romance, mystery

In 2023, book cover designers used water/river as a symbol that depicts the content of books, often in the romance genre. Some of these books have titles that refer to water, such as Meet Me At The Lake by Carley Fortune, which features a couple sitting on what looks like a lighthouse and looking over a large river as the sun sets. 

On the mystery side of things, All The Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham does a great job at using a shallow lake to depict danger. The plants and rushes that frame the ripples in the dark lake convey a sense of threatening uncertainty. It helps that the title itself obscures to fit in with the ripples. 

Speaking of danger, A Wager: The Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder by David Grann uses a image of water at its most violent and dangerous, which when combined with the precise title, gives readers a broad idea of what the book is about. 

The great thing about water/river symbolism is that it is versatile. Fortune used water to depict romance and love, Willingham used it to depict quiet danger, and Grann used it to portray boisterous, in-your-face danger. Water imagery can be whatever you want it to be.

4. House Symbolism

Genre: Mystery, thriller, psychological fiction

Similar to the water/river symbolism, many book covers of 2023 featured houses, mostly abandoned and/or mysterious. An example is The Only Survivors by Megan Miranda, which shows a moderately-sized house in the middle of a field in sunset. The imagery is a dead giveaway of the genre as readers can quickly guess that the book has themes of mystery and suspense. 

Another example is Clemence Michallon’s The Quiet Tenant, which unlike The Only Survivors, features more muted colors, but dark colors that depict nighttime.

While the house on this cover looks more like a small shed, its no less terrifying than the sprawling mansion located atop a huge, dark cliff on the cover of Riley Sager’s The Only One Left

The house symbolism is a great way for mystery/crime/thriller writers to attract (and keep) the attention of fans of the genre.   

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5. Busy Backgrounds with Bold Typography 

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, historical fiction 

Many fantasy novels that were published in 2023 featured a rave of book covers that show you how seriously designers took the slogan, “Go big or go home”.  The backgrounds often feature elaborate images of animals, plants, and symbols. Most of the time, the background obscures some of the cover text, providing an air of mystery.  

A prominent example is Samantha Shannon’s A Day of Fallen Night, which features a mighty green dragon with orange and gold highlights. The title/author name font is pretty simple and overshadowed by the dragon, but this is intentional—the dragon is the message. 

The Brothers Hawthorne by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is another example of this book cover trend—but in the mystery genre this time. The intense dark theme combined with the spooky imagery and bold typography captivates readers’ curiosity and gets them anticipating a wild journey. 

Weyward by Emilia Hart goes in the opposite direction. Instead of the “wild” vibe of A Day of Fallen Night or the “spooky” vibe of The Brothers Hawthorne, Weyward’s theme is peaceful and serene. It features two birds against a backdrop of plants and insects, typical of an undisturbed forest. 

Covers like these demand attention and let readers know that the world located within the book’s pages is one that they can escape into for a while—which can be exciting or soothing (or both), depending on the reader.

6. No Text Hierarchy

Genre: Crime thriller, historical fiction

Most book covers have hierarchy in their texts, with the title font being big and bold to draw attention and the writer’s name being written in smaller, less conspicuous font. In 2023, however, some authors ditched this unwritten rule and decided to have less text hierarchy in their covers, with the title and author name being the same size. 

For example, Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor features both the title and the writer’s name in the same font and size, filled in with the same bright yellow color.

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride did the same with the unique, somewhat crooked, black font. 

In Ruth Ware’s Zero Days, the bold grey letters cover the entirety of the cover page, even to the edges. The designer, however, used a gradient-like method for the book’s title to make it easier for readers to see. 

While these covers make it harder to tell which text is the title and which is the writer’s name, popular authors don’t suffer because they have recognizable names. Less well-known authors who take the same approach might need readers to put a bit of effort into distinguishing between the two, but their books also get attention because they meld well with similar covers on the shelf.

7. Minimalistic Imagery

Genre: Coming-of-age stories, mystery, thriller, self-help nonfiction

Despite the use of vibrant colors, burly imagery, and bold typography, some books did get a lot of attention with minimalistic covers. Books like Adelaide by Genevieve Wheeler include minimalist imagery that almost borders on abstract.

The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin features a monocolored book cover with minimal imagery that is subtle enough to helps reinforce what the contents of the book may be. 

Some minimalistic covers like the one on The Mystery Guest by Nita Prose did feature more suggestive imagery, but the bright blue color that occupies over 80% of the page helps it fit well into this category.

Meanwhile, Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond takes a bold approach by using a pitch-black cover, with the only color being the white and multi-colored font (which is, in itself, simplistic).

And there you have it! The book cover trends of 2023 featured everything from busy backgrounds to minimalistic backgrounds, headshots, illustrations, symbolisms, and a buck against the norms with no text hierarchy. 

Hopefully, these book cover trends can inspire you, if you plan to publish your book in 2024. 

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Althea Storm

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Althea Storm

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