6 Important Lessons from Covers of Critically Acclaimed Books

POSTED ON Feb 6, 2024

Althea Storm

Written by Althea Storm

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A book cover is one of the biggest marketing tools a book has—especially in libraries and bookstores. While many readers like to judge a book by its contents, we often consider reading a book if its cover catches our eye. 

Now, what catches the eye of a reader is purely subjective; it depends largely on the aesthetic biases of the reader—whether that is illustrations, photographs, stark covers, busy covers, montages, heavily colored lettering, monotone typography, etc.

Despite this, you, as an author or book cover designer, can still attract your readers by using good art and/or striking colors on your book cover. In this article, we analyze six covers from critically acclaimed books and pinpoint what makes them so visually appealing.

1. The Centre by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi 

Cover design by Jonathan Bust, Art direction by Evan Gaffney 

bestselling book covers the centre ayesha manazir siddiqi
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Flowers are some of my favorite things to look at because they come in different colors and shapes (and scents, too, if you’re handling them in real life). So it’s no wonder the book cover of The Centre, caught my eye. 

The dark background made the reds, oranges, yellows, and pinks of the bouquet pop and catch my eye (and the eyes of thousands of readers worldwide). But the longer you look at the cover, you start to notice weird and disturbing details that slowly take center stage: the skull-shaped planter, the carnivorous Venus flytraps, the spilled coffee, and the thorny vines circling the cabinet on which the bouquet stands. 

Once you see these things, you know immediately that the contents of the book won’t be all roses and sunshine; there’ll be dark secrets lurking underneath all the beauty. And suddenly, you feel the urge to find out what those secrets are. 

Lesson: Putting a bright image or object against a dark background is a great way to make your book cover visually alluring. If it aligns with your book’s contents, you can also add some semi-concealed elements that keep people’s attention and awaken their curiosity.

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2. Occulted by Amy Rose and Ryan Estrada

Cover design by Jeongmin Lee

occulted amy rose and ryan estrada
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On this book cover is a young, wide-eyed girl engrossed in the book she’s reading, blissfully unaware of the terrifying woman who’s seemingly hexing her. You likely suspect that the story is about a young person being brainwashed into something eerie and revolting—and you’d be right! 

A mindblowing graphic memoir detailing Amy Rose’s experience growing up in an emotionally abusive cult, Occulted’s book cover is but a glimpse into Rose’s bravery and rebellion. It’s the perfect introduction to Rose’s narration of how she fought against the ideologies she was being indoctrinated into and eventually escaped the cult.

Lesson: If you could turn your entire book into an illustration or piece of art, do it—and make it the book cover. This way, people can guess what your book is about and decide if it’s something they’d like to explore. 

3. Every Drop is a Man’s Nightmare by Megan Kamalei Kakimoto

Cover design  by Jaya Miceli

every drop is a man's nightmare mega kamalei kakimoto
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When I first saw this book cover, I was reminded of The Birth of Venus—a 15th-century painting by Italian artist, Sandro Botticelli, depicting the Roman goddess Venus arriving at the shore after her birth, standing on a giant scallop shell. The painting is stunning, much like this book cover depicting a woman emerging from a corpse flower growing in what looks like a body of iridescent blue water. 

The book itself is a collection of short stories with interesting, yet varied, Hawaiian characters whose lives and emotions burst through the pages and find their way into the hearts of readers

Lesson: While it might not be the case with this specific book cover, taking inspiration from popular paintings and cultural artwork to make your book cover art is a great way to make people go, “Oh wow—this reminds me of something I know!” 

4. The Thick and the Lean by Chana Porter

Design and art direction by John Vairo Jr., Illustration by Aykut Aydogdu

the thick and the lean chana porter
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If you love fruits, this book cover will draw your attention like a magnet. It’ll do the same if you love interesting-looking art, too. The orange of the background blends well with the orange tones used to depict the contours of the woman’s body. The pears, however, interpose with this orange hue, allowing readers to separate the rich background from the center figure and the pomegranate that accentuates her curves. 

If you think this book cover, coupled with the title, teases a tale about food, you’d be on the right track. The main characters of this book, Beatrice and Reiko, were born into a dystopian world governed by corporate greed where it’s taboo to enjoy food or have an appetite. This cover encapsulates the women’s fight against an oppressive system that glorifies undue fasting and thinness. 

Lesson: While you want to make your book cover stand out from the stacks of books on the shelves, it’s okay to include familiar elements, even if those elements are food. You should, however, employ striking colors, adequate contrast, and a unique concept to make the cover art look interesting.

5. Big Swiss by Jen Beagin

Cover design by Jaya Miceli, Featuring art by Anna Weyant

big swiss jen beagin
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The unique cover art of this book was taken from Anna Weyant’s painting titled Falling Woman. At first glance, it looks like the woman in question is choking and terrified. On deeper examination, you might think she is experiencing a sort of pleasure that makes it hard for her to catch her breath. 

My first urge, when I first saw this book cover, was to turn it upside down so I could see the cover art better. I knew, though, that if the cover was anything to go by, the story itself would be completely bonkers (in a good way)—and it is! 

It’s about a woman who moves to New York to escape her old life and takes a job as an anonymous transcriber for a sex and relationship therapist. It’s an exciting job, but the town is a small one—and soon, she starts recognizing the voices of her neighbors from the recordings of them describing their most personal and well-kept secrets to her boss. 

Lesson: If it’s appropriate, use an actual artwork done by an independent artist. Remember to ask for permission, though, to avoid copyright issues. 

6. A Small Sacrifice for an Enormous Happiness by Jai Chakrabarti 

Cover design by Janet Hansen, Photograph by Alex Plechko

a small sacrifice for an enormous happiness
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The difference between this book cover and the rest on the list is that this one doesn’t have a definite illustration. It’s just a beautiful combination of colors—or so you think. 

The longer you stare at the book cover, you’ll notice the dark orange speck in the middle and start to piece together why the outer edges are a combination of darker colors that segue into a lighter color as it reaches the center. 

Before you know it, you get a faint understanding of the title, which is written in a simplistic, uneventful font. It takes on a new meaning. And just like that—you can’t wait to dig in. 

Lesson: You don’t have to use elaborate illustrations or photographs on your book cover. The right combination of colors might just be enough to make readers stop in their tracks. 

Final Thoughts on These Critically Acclaimed Book Covers

Your book cover is the first thing people see when they peruse libraries and bookshelves. So you’ll need to think deeply about what you want it to look like and whether it’s sufficient enough to draw people in and make them buy it.

Hopefully, you’ve learned a few things about creating a stunning and eye-catching book cover that reveals just enough to get people curious about your book’s contents. 

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Althea Storm

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Althea Storm

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