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10 Principles of a Bestselling Book Cover

How I created a cover which hit #1 in the entire Amazon store.

“Reinvent Yourself” book cover design by Pamela Sisson.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but that’s often exactly how a reader decides which book to take home. It’s the first and only thing they see before opening up the book.

A cover is your book’s single most valuable asset; people will decide if they’re interested in it within a second of seeing it. 

The marketplace is very competitive and readers won’t make a purchase without connecting to your cover somehow.

In short, your cover can make or break your book and you’re unlikely to sell many books unless you have a great design. These are the 10 principles I follow when creating a cover that is going to be a bestseller (e.g. “Reinvent Yourself” by James Altucher, which hit #1 in the entire Amazon store.)

1. KNOW YOUR PURPOSE. What is the goal of the book? Sum up your book in 3 sentences. Write down the top 10 words you associate with your book, followed by the top 10 images that you associate with these words.

2. HAVE FEELINGS. What do you want people to feel when they see the book cover? What they feel is more important than what they think because the design evokes an emotional response in a viewer who is considering whether the words behind the cover is worth their time and money.

3. THINK FIRST. Think more and design less. If you spend more time thinking about an idea, when you actually sit down to design, it’s 80% complete. You have less work to do.

4. STAND OUT. Your book cover has to pop! Go to Amazon, scroll through the best sellers and notice which catch your eye. Go to Barnes & Noble and do the same thing. Take note of what captures your attention but try to create a book cover that’s unlike other book covers. Go left when everyone else goes right. And don’t forget to view your design at thumbnail-size — this is how it will appear on Amazon. You need to be able to recognize either the image, the title or the author.

5. BE SUGGESTIVE. Flirt with the reader. Give them a hint of what’s inside the book. The best book covers don’t spell out what the book is about, but they get at the mood. Engage the brain but don’t give it all up. Leave them wanting more.

6. LEAVE SPACE. Say more with less. Provide room for elements to breathe and exist. When there’s less on a cover, the design elements that are there take on more meaning. Every design decision becomes crucial because there’s nothing to hide behind. Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Discretion equals simplicity equals power.

7. BE DELIBERATE. Your book cover is not decoration. Conceptual, intelligent, and strong cover design is not trendy. It is an idea that has been clearly communicated. A design that is fresh and enduring is a design that is straightforward and smart, and it all begins with the idea.

8. BE AN EXPLORER. The creative potential of typography is limitless! There is so much you can do with it. The look and feel of a book’s cover design can change drastically utilizing the same title only with differing fonts and styles. Be playful and explore the potential.

9. MAKE CONNECTIONS. Your cover must become part of the story and should not be dissonant with the subject matter. It is a key piece of a puzzle. Similarly, the cover elements (typography, image, illustration, color) must also hold together. A successful composition will clarify the book’s theme, set the tone, and establish an emotional connection.

10. STAY OPEN-MINDED. Don’t expect the design you finish with to be what you had in mind when you started. The final cover should surprise you and take you somewhere new. Give yourself permission to experiment. Push your creativity in exciting ways. This will force you to dig a little bit deeper and come up with something that’s more interesting. When you create something that deviates from the standard, it’s exciting!

These 10 principles are crucial to a bestselling book cover. If you publish your book and it isn’t selling, definitely rethink the cover. Unless you’re an experienced designer, designing a book cover on your own usually isn’t worth the money you’ll be saving in the long run. Investing in a great cover is one of the best decisions an author can make!

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