When designing your book cover, you have to decide if you’re going to be on-trend or outside the box. The choice is up to you, but there are pros and cons to both.
The best strategy is to create a cover that represents your story, you as the author, and also meets reader expectations. That’s a tall order to fill, so weighing all the moving pieces of book cover design carefully before you settle on a final design will keep any later regrets from knocking on your door.
We’re going to take a look at some of the coolest book covers out this year. Some are mildly rebellious when it comes to current trends, while others are completely over the top, but one thing is for sure—they stand out and command attention.
Let’s start here with some of the coolest book covers in recent memory:
The Bones of Great Book Cover Design
Some of the best advice I ever received as a writer is to know the rules before you break them. This sound wisdom works whether you’re starting a business, writing your first novel, or something in between. This includes creative arts like book design. Sure we can stick with what we want (or what we like) and that’s fine if you live in a vacuum and aren’t trying to sell anything. You can create nice, fluffy book covers that make you happy and let that satisfaction be enough.
On the other hand, if you are serious about selling your books, then at the minimum you should know the rules of the design game, so you can decide, how much of it you’re willing to play.
Strong book covers feature these basics:
- Visually engaging elements (artwork, typography, colors)
- A clear concept or theme
- Genre specific focus
- Age appropriateness
- Captivating title (and subtitle – optional)
- Professional design
Once you have a good grasp of these basics, you can let these rules guide you in your design or push the boundaries to create something unique. If you get it right, you’ll get noticed for the right reasons. If you get it wrong…well, try not to get it wrong.
2023 Book Cover Trends
Before looking at some of the most unique book designs on the market today, we’ll consider this year’s (2023) trends. While different sites will have their own idea of what’s trending, many of the top design sites like 99Designs, MIBLART, and DesignHill agreed on the following top 3 trends:
- Bold typography
- Flowers everywhere
- Retro motifs
2023 Coolest Book Covers
Now that we’re coming to the close of 2023, it’s fun to take a look back at the year’s book covers to see who followed the trends and who went against the norm to make a bold statement.
Below each book, I’ve provided the book’s description (pulled from Amazon.com), so you can judge for yourself whether the cover creates a convincing promise of the story within its pages or not. I’ve also mentioned the specific genres (also pulled from Amazon.com) and why each cover works.
1. Yellowface by R. F. Kuang
Description (snippet): White lies. Dark humor. Deadly consequences… Bestselling sensation Juniper Song is not who she says she is, she didn’t write the book she claims she wrote, and she is most certainly not Asian American—in this chilling and hilariously cutting novel from R.F. Kuang, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Babel. White lies. Dark humor.
Genre: cultural heritage fiction, women’s contemporary fiction, literary fiction
What it does right: Most of this year’s trendy book covers have busy background images that take up most of the book’s canvas, but Yellowface does the opposite. Instead of using graphics, to tell the story, it focuses on the book’s title Yellowface and unapologetically blasts the color yellow through a megaphone. Since the book’s theme centers around racism and cultural appropriation, the intentional color play makes an especially bold statement.
2. Sword Catcher by Cassandra Clare
Description (snippet): In the vibrant city-state of Castellane, the richest of nobles and the most debauched of criminals have one thing in common: the constant search for wealth, power, and the next hedonistic thrill.
Kel is an orphan, stolen from the life he knew to become the Sword Catcher—the body double of a royal heir, Prince Conor Aurelian. He has been raised alongside the prince, trained in every aspect of combat and statecraft. He and Conor are as close as brothers, but Kel knows that his destiny is to die for Conor. No other future is possible.
Genre: action and adventure, coming of age, sword and sorcery fiction
What it does right: In color psychology, the color red can represent everything from love to anger. It is a bold color that most designers will use as a secondary accent color. Taking this approach is safe because it’s hard not to have a visceral response to such a strong color; however, in the case of Sword Catcher, the designer threw caution to the wind and created a bold cover that’s hard to ignore.
3. Promise Boys by Nick Brooks
Description (snippet): The prestigious Urban Promise Prep school might look pristine on the outside, but deadly secrets lurk within. When the principal ends up murdered on school premises and the cops come sniffing around, a trio of students—J.B., Ramón, and Trey—emerge as the prime suspects. They had the means, they had the motive . . . and they may have had the murder weapon. But with all three maintaining their innocence, they must band together to track down the real killer before they are arrested. Or is the true culprit hiding among them?
Genre: (teen and young adult) boys and men’s issues, prejudice, school and education
What it does right: Similar to the Sword Catcher, The Promise Boys cover is one that can’t be ignored. Love it or hate it, the bold, red color choice seeps into your pores and demands a response. Another standout feature is the cutout eyes that create a mask, almost superhero-esque, yet, what we see underneath is just another layer of color—one that invites the reader to explore a deeper meaning.
When a book cover is done right, it presents a question that only reading the story can answer.
4. The Magician’s Daughter by H.G. Parry
Description (snippet): Off the coast of Ireland sits a legendary island hidden by magic. A place of ruins and ancient trees, sea salt air, and fairy lore, Hy-Brasil is the only home Biddy has ever known. Washed up on its shore as a baby, Biddy lives a quiet life with her guardian, the mercurial magician Rowan. A life she finds increasingly stifling.
One night, Rowan fails to return from his mysterious travels. To find him, Biddy must venture into the outside world for the first time. But Rowan has powerful enemies—forces who have hoarded the world’s magic and have set their sights on the magician’s many secrets.
Biddy may be the key to stopping them. Yet the closer she gets to answers, the more she questions everything she’s ever believed about Rowan, her past, and the nature of magic itself.
Genre: historical fantasy, fairy tale fantasy, coming-of-age fiction
What it does right: In this cover, I see a nod to the art of paper cutting, scrapbooking, and collages all rolled into one—and not the homemade, Elmer’s glue variety. There’s real artistry in the way the designer chose to organize the images on this cover. The longer you look at the cover, the more you see. It’s like a beautiful puzzle begging to be put together.
The typography is inspired—particularly the placement of the author’s name at the neckline, framed by a bird, bunny, and what appears to be the Tower Bridge in London (not sure about that one). This cover is beautiful in its intricate weaving of story elements, and a lovely example of taking the familiar elements of a genre (fairy tale and fantasy) and creating something new.
5. I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai
Description (snippet): In I Have Some Questions for You, award-winning author Rebecca Makkai has crafted her most irresistible novel yet: a stirring investigation into collective memory and a deeply felt examination of one woman’s reckoning with her past, with a transﬁxing mystery at its heart. Timely, hypnotic, and populated with a cast of unforgettable characters, I Have Some Questions for You is at once a compulsive page-turner and a literary triumph.
Genre: thriller, women’s literary fiction
What it does right: There’s something unsettling about this cover. Do you feel it? Maybe it’s the clash of the red and blue colors that don’t quite get along or the warped edges of the font. Or perhaps it’s the shadows cast by the title and author name that look like black ink dripping off the page. Whatever it is, the combination is unnerving, and that’s without imagery. Rather than seeing something familiar and responding to it, this cover design forces elements together that create friction, and for books in the thriller category, creating friction is a good place to start.
6. Einstein in Time and Space: A Life in 99 Particles by Samuel Graydon
Description (snippet): In Einstein in Time and Space, talented young science journalist Samuel Graydon answers that question with an illuminating mosaic—99 intriguingly different particles that cumulatively reveal Einstein’s contradictory and multitudinous nature. Glimpsed among these shards: a slacker who failed every subject but math, a job seeker who couldn’t get hired, a lothario who courted many women, and a charmer who was the life of the party.
As brilliant as he was inconsistent, Einstein was simultaneously an avid supporter of the NAACP and the fight for civil rights and someone capable of great prejudice. He was loved by many, known by few, and inspirational to a generation of young physicists. Graydon reveals every corner of Einstein’s world: the false reporting that rocketed Einstein to fame nearly overnight, his effect on people he met merely in passing, even the remarkable posthumous journey of the famed physicist’s brain.
Genre: relativity physics, scientist biographies, world history
What it does right: Have you ever stood in front of a mirror, then taken a smaller mirror and turned it until you could see your image? It’s a visual trip into eternity. The deeper you look into the rabbit hole of the smaller mirror, the more you multiply. The book cover design for Einstein in Time and Space reminds me of this exercise and how appropriate, when talking about one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. The design points to the multiple layers of a man that still remain a mystery to many.
7. State of Silence by Sam Lebovic
Description (snippet): In State of Silence, political historian Sam Lebovic uncovers the troubling history of the Espionage Act. First passed in 1917, it was initially used to punish critics of World War I. Yet as Americans began to balk at the act’s restrictions on political dissidents and the press, the government turned its focus toward keeping its secrets under wraps. The resulting system for classifying information is absurdly cautious, staggeringly costly, and shrouded in secrecy, preventing ordinary Americans from learning what their country is doing in their name, both at home and abroad.
Shedding new light on the bloated governmental security apparatus that’s weighing our democracy down, State of Silence offers the definitive history of America’s turn toward secrecy—and its staggering human costs.
Genre: national & international security, civil rights & liberties, and political intelligence
What it does right: What a clever play on a redacted document. When it comes to nonfiction books, there’s not a lot of wiggle room for creativity, but in the case of State of Silence, the designer plays up the “secrecy” part of the book’s theme by using black marks that look like strikethroughs on the cover. At first glance, it looks like something is missing, but then you realize everything is there. Or is it?
8. The Lost Book Shop by Evie Woods
Description (snippet): On a quiet street in Dublin, a lost bookshop is waiting to be found…
For too long, Opaline, Martha and Henry have been the side characters in their own lives.
But when a vanishing bookshop casts its spell, these three unsuspecting strangers will discover that their own stories are every bit as extraordinary as the ones found in the pages of their beloved books. And by unlocking the secrets of the shelves, they find themselves transported to a world of wonder… where nothing is as it seems.
Genre: women’s historical fiction, women and children’s fiction, women’s romance fiction
What it does right: Typically, the tagline (also called a shout line or logline) is found on the back cover of a book that leads into the book description; however, with The Lost Book Shop, it’s the front cover that introduces a provocative question: “How far will you go to find your story?”. This smart placement pulls the reader in immediately by making the question personal. This is the same question that the book’s main characters must face and is the book’s theme.
The climbing vines that open to reveal a bookshelf, which highlights a hidden miniature bookshop with just the right amount of lighting offers an invitation to go deeper into the book and search for the answers.
9. The Vegan by Andrew Lipstein
Description (snippet): Herschel Caine is a soon-to-be master of the universe. His hedge fund, built on the miracle of machine learning, is inches away from systematically extracting obscene profits from the market. His SoHo offices (shoes optional, therapy required) have been fine-tuned to reel in curious investors.
But on the night of May 12, at his elegant Cobble Hill townhouse, he has something else on his mind—the dinner party he and his wife have devised to woo their new A-list neighbors. When the evening fizzles, Herschel indulges in a devilish prank that goes horrifically awry, plunging him into a tailspin of guilt and regret. As Herschel’s tightly constructed world starts to unravel, he clings to the moral clarity he finds in the last place he’d expect: a sudden connection with a neighborhood dog.
Genre: contemporary American, contemporary literary, and humorous literary fiction
What it does right: The cover is stark, and with a black background, your eyes are immediately drawn to the green lizard. Then you realize that the lizard has another lizard in its mouth. What could this book possibly be about? A vegan? Really?
After reading the book description, the book cover imagery doesn’t appear literal, yet it is still SO very intriguing. Remember, great book covers always pose a question that only reading the story can answer. This book cover definitely fits the bill.
10. Obsession by Stuart Woods and Brett Battles
Description (snippet): Teddy Fay must put all his skills to the test in this electrifying new adventure in the New York Times bestselling series.
While filming on location in scenic Santa Barbara, California, Peter Barrington and Ben Bacchetti look to expand Centurion Studios’ business by making a deal with a young Croatian tech billionaire. But when the magnate’s wife is kidnapped, Teddy Fay is brought in to assess the threat and recover the young woman.
As Teddy unravels the threads of her disappearance, he quickly comes to find an old vendetta seethes at the center, one that puts them all at risk. And danger is lurking even nearer to home as an obsessive fan with perilous intentions weasels his way onto the film set. It’s only Teddy who can stop him from getting too close for comfort.
Genre: mystery action and adventure, thriller and suspense action, suspense thrillers
What it does right: How many car chases have you seen on the front cover of a book? Not many I’m sure, but Obsession by Stewart Woods and Brett Battles does just that—and a great job.
The front perspective of the vehicles racing around the steep curves of a narrow road reminds me of the car chase scene in the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock film, To Catch a Thief with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant. I don’t know if this was done intentionally, but it’s a nice play on the familiar and draws you into the action immediately. Whether you’re an old movie buff or not, there’s something alluring about a chase scene that sets you right in the middle of the action.
This cover demonstrates another quality of effective book covers— creating a connection between the reader and the story. Although there’s no question that this cover fits into the thriller genre, it does an excellent job of getting the reader engaged and asking more questions than on a standard thriller cover. Who’s driving the car? Why are they being chased? Will they survive the winding curve that’s approaching?
As mentioned in the opening of this article, trends come and go, so it’s important not to follow a trend for trend’s sake but to find the best cover design for your story. If a current trend works for your book, then go for it. If it’s a good fit, it will not come in and out of style like most trends. It will be timeless.
We’ve taken a close look at some of the coolest covers of 2023. Which ones were your favorite? Which unique approaches to book cover design will you take with you? Whatever you decide, don’t be afraid to think outside the box to create a standout design.