How to Choose the Right Book Cover Image

With a polished manuscript, it may seem like your work is done. The level of investment in your story is to be applauded, but your book is a package that includes the written and visual content. When it comes to choosing cover or interior imagery, an equal level of care should be taken. Whether you’re using an old photograph, contracting a custom illustration, or purchasing a stock image, there are legal, technical, and creative aspects to consider.

Looking at an image on your computer screen is different than seeing it in print. The first step to choosing a suitable image is its technical measurements. A high-resolution image with great clarity is key. An ideal image measures at least 300 dpi (dots per inch) at the size in which you’d like it printed.

If you’re composing a memoir, non-fiction, or historical book, authentic photographs from that time can be significant. Some digital clean-up can be done by a designer, but there is a difference between a beautiful, old photograph and a low quality one. A poor quality photograph, though meaningful, can actually detract from your work.

The truth is that many readers do shop books based on the cover. Not only must technical requirements be met when selecting a cover image, but it should speak to a theme or message within your book. When a book designer reviews or selects a cover image, they ponder a few key questions:

  • Can this cover image be designed around?
  • Is there room for text on this image and where could it be placed?
  • Does this image connect to the book’s theme?

A book designer will also consider how an image will interact with all segments of your cover, including the back cover and spine. Your front cover may get the spotlight, but your cover design as a whole is just as valuable.

An author photograph can add personality and credibility to your book, and it is worth the time and cost it takes to have one taken properly. If a professional photographer is unavailable, grab a friend and camera, and head outside (or find sufficient indoor lighting). Spend an hour snapping photographs and you’re bound to get a few impressive shots. If a high quality author photograph is out of reach, it is more advisable to go without.

Before the imagery is decided upon, you must ensure that all visuals can be rightfully used. If you didn’t personally take the photograph or produce the image, you must obtain usage rights. For stock photography, this is done by purchasing the rights. If your chosen visual was created by another person, they must provide you with written permission for use in print. Doing your legal due diligence will keep you, and your work, safe.

In writing, less is often more. If something can be said in five words, don’t use ten. The same is true when selecting imagery. It isn’t necessary to crowd your cover or interior with images; the significance of your visuals is more important than the quantity. Taking into consideration the legal limits, technical requirements, and creative elements, any image used within your book should be selected with as much thought as your words.

Written by Erika Renfrew, FriesenPress Author Account Manager
Edited by Kate Juniper, FriesenPress Editorial & Illustrations Coordinator