With all the recent debate over book covers, it’s important for writers to understand how covers are created.

(See http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2009/07/23/aint-that-a-shame/ for more information on one debate on covers.)

Now, each publisher is different, but there are common elements that stay the same. Those common elements include cover image(s), title and subtitle, byline, and font, and cover blurbs. Whether your book is fiction or nonfiction, for children or adults, these elements make up the cover.

Some things publishers also have to consider involve the audience: age, sex, and culture, among other things. The cover should be aesthetically pleasing and attention grabbing while accurately portraying the contents of the book.

Most publishers have an art department or team of designers that they use to create the book cover and interiors. They take each of these elements and incorporate the suggestions of the editor to create several options for the cover.

These options are then reviewed by the editorial team, and revisions are requested. Finally, when all of the elements combine to make a great cover, it goes to sales and marketing for review. They offer suggestions as well, followed by more tweaks, or even a major revision of the cover.

Publishers have come under fire recently for their choice of covers. The thing is, designers, editors, and sales and marketing teams aren’t perfect, but they do have a lot of combined experience. That experience helps them to make educated decisions about what will sell in the market. They may not get it right every time, but their rate of success is much better than if the writers created their own covers. (For example, look at covers that self-published writers create. They generally don’t look nearly as professional as what an established publisher will create.)

Now, let’s dissect several of my favorite covers to see why they work so well.

The Willoughbys

The first time I saw this book in a store, I knew I would buy it. There’s something simple but elegant about the cover. It’s primarily black and white, but a small cutout reveals the red case of the book beneath. The title and illustrations are hand-drawn, giving it a unique look. It is classic and classy at the same time.

The most interesting thing to me is that this is a middle-grade novel, geared toward 8–12 year olds. This is something that might appeal more to an adult’s eye. But since adults are generally the ones who purchase books for children, offering a more sophisticated look appeals.

As for the contents of the book, it is a play on a traditional Mary Poppins–theme, but with spunk. That fits with the style of the cover—traditional with a twist.

The Enchantress of Florence

The most appealing feature of this cover is the textile feel of it. It’s a thicker paper that has a touch similar to wallpaper. It is luxurious, as are the colors and design of the cover. Gold foil rests on top of a beautiful yellow in an intricate scroll design.

If you look closer at the orange background, you’ll see a silhouette of a woman in a seductive position. That is especially telling since the text is sensuous and evocative. Again, color, font, and image combine to make something special.


This isn’t the first edition of the book cover, but it is my favorite. There is no image, per se, but more of a design. This cover runs contrary to the others that we’ve discussed—the content is not easily devised from the cover. But still, it works well because it is a beautiful design.

The linear fonts complement the swirling look of the illustration, as do teh colors. It is simple but elegant at the same time. And this is one case where a cover blurb takes up more space than the title or byline, and yet it doesn’t overshadow either.

I could go on about dozens of covers, picking out what I like about covers and why they speak to me. But I’m interested to hear what you have to say about book covers. What appeals to you? Do you buy books because of the cover? I’d love to know which covers have jumped out at you.