The following story is part of our #FriesenPress10 series examining the past, present & future of self-publishing.
A book cover is a profoundly important part of your book’s impression on potential readers. It’s the truest introduction to a book, acting as packaging, branding, and marketing. The importance of a well-designed cover and accompanying title and subtitle cannot be overstated.
Over the past decade, FriesenPress has developed over five thousand book titles, which means years and years of evolving cover designs. We consulted our in-house designers to find out their favourites of our covers and learn more about the employed techniques that make them work so well:
What draws me to the cover for A Practical Philosopher’s Approach to Critical Theory is the contrast between the subject matter and the visual style. The designer did an excellent job of developing a concept that really brought a fun and abstract visual to a complex and abstract subject matter.
This type of book would typically be seen with a classic serif typeface on a simple backdrop, with its intention to be utilitarian and communicative first. But, in this case, the design goes completely against the grain and not only shows the book in a subject-relatively outrageous manner, but it also opens the door to the audience and makes the book feel more approachable to people of all different kinds of interests.
I don’t know anything about Critical Theory, nor do I consider myself remotely philosophical, but looking at this peculiar cover, I feel the potential of picking it up and learning something new.
What Makes A Cover Great
As is true of many great covers, the strength in this one is its concept. The unaltered photo (excluding colouring) is of an existing building in Paris. By simply tilting the camera to be level with the grassy knoll, the building appears to be on a severe angle. A practical technical approach to an abstract visual. The designer has taken an abstract subject matter and applied a simple illusion as a parallel.
The typography and its composition is quite abstract as well. Playing with the absurd angles of the building, it connects itself and creates an amalgamation of elements. Being set in white, the title becomes the highest point of contrast with the peachy hues of the background, which makes it stand out. And lastly, on the chance that the typography is too abstract, the designer has included a secondary and tertiary listing of the books title.
I chose the book Tangleville by Donald H. Hull as my favourite cover because of its minimalist layout design. Despite the simplicity of the design, it manages to convey and evoke so much. The symbolism piques reader curiosity about the significance to the story and what’s to come.
Speaking on the technical side of things, the high colour contrast, balanced layout, and vector/cartoon style are specific design choices that best suited the source material and audience.
In this cover, the relationship between the primary blue and the corresponding secondary and tertiary yellow and orange create an eye catching aesthetic. And yellows and oranges are colours that stand out more on a bookshelf.
It has a well-balanced layout and contemporary aesthetic with the vector/cartoon style that integrates elements together nicely. In particular, the title and image blend well in both style and substance. The relationship between the symbols (the microphone and the town) ties the premise of the story to the cover image, causing you to wonder about the book. Vectors are incredibly versatile and can really bring imagination your to life; anything is possible with vectors.
What Makes A Cover Great
The most notable way to determine whether a cover is great is based on the cover’s ability to deliver its message in a fast and straightforward way. This can be done, like with Tangleville, by establishing a clean and well-balanced layout with a title (text) that is easy to read. Not only that, but ensuring the premise and tone are immediately conveyed to the quickly discerning bookstore patrons. A cover must integrate well with the book’s story and connect with the target audience in a compelling way (for example, this cover has a curious symbolism with the rope and the microphone).
I chose the book Children of the Shadows by C. C. Uzoh as my favourite cover, because I love the way the profile blends into the mysterious wispy spotlight of smoke. Also, the font style is still a classic serif but with an added little twist.
Aside from my own personal praise, there are a number of design choices that made this cover work so well. First, it avoids cluttering with too many elements, keeping the design simple. There is no need to have every aspect of the plot reflected on the cover, but a cover should reflect a representation of the story through the tone and atmosphere. This cover achieves its melancholy and mysterious feel in a few ways, particularly through the wispy spotlight of smoke.
It’s also not necessary to always have the characters on the cover, but for this one, it worked. The woman is the main character, and your eye is drawn to her first, because she’s more prominent and the only element in colour. The monochromatic figure in the smoke is her son in the shadow world, which contributes to create a contrast that ensures the important elements and title stand out.
What Makes A Cover Great
There are several ways to discern a great cover, of which Children of the Shadows exemplifies many. An important quality to such a cover is having all the elements well-blended and noticeably belonging with each other (that is, for a picture-based cover like this one). A lot of “home made” covers just have elements pasted one on top of the other, but they neglect the way the elements interact, the shadow, the overall lighting, et cetera—all of which are crucial.
Again, a good cover avoids using too many elements, focusing instead on a particular symbol, object, or important story element as a starting point. Regardless of what imagery is used, it should sit comfortably within the genre (i.e. not using a soft pink image for a thriller novel).
Another key component is having clean typography with good contrast to the background. For this, using non-basic fonts (those that don’t come with Microsoft Word) are best, because they can take the cover further. That's not to say every font that comes with Word is bad, it just depends on the way it's being used—the context is worth considering. For example, a bad contrast, which goes hand in hand with colour selection, would be like using red text on a blue background. A good contrast should focus on the value difference between the colours, such as how bright or dark the hue.
My favourite book cover is David Yager’s From Miracle to Menace: Alberta, A Carbon Story. Its greatest aspect is the clarity in the illustration of contradictory forces in the Alberta oil business. The use of black and white help to compliment the title’s meaning and the duality of oil in our country.
I grew up in Alberta, surrounded by friends and family who identified as “Rig Pigs,” but I’ve also lived in Victoria, BC over the past decade. Both of these experiences influenced how I felt about David’s book, and these differing perspectives were infused into the cover-design approach.
The main title uses the Alternate Gothic font, which looks great at a large size with its dark and dense appearance. Just beneath it is the elegantly contemporary and traditional Ratio Modern font, which creates an appealing contrast with its heavier counterpart.
The graphic of the oil drum went through a few revisions, and I’m glad for the discussion and slight pushback that led to the final product. Originally, we only had the drum with a puddle of oil and a silhouette of the province just below it, but it became clear that this view didn’t connect well enough as a design in collaboration with the book. To adjust that, we included the entire map of Canada, and then everything just fell into place. This set the individual province apart from the country in stark contrast.
What Makes A Cover Great
A strong cover design should convey an emotion, develop a clear visual hierarchy, and draw appeal through careful aesthetic choices. These were the tenets at the forefront of the design for From Miracle to Menace.
It should also be noted that a great cover comes from the variety of team members that develop it. Each member of the author's publishing team, including the author, all played individual but collectively blended roles in developing the cover’s success. We all had an opportunity to critique and improve the overall concept, each of us contributing a unique brush stroke to processing the cover’s vision.
Many book covers may come and go, but the greatest of design work is timeless. It’s clear that what makes a cover appealing is broadly defined, but the methods to ensure a technically great cover are clear and consistent: a contrast based on value, not just colour selection; clarity of message and typography; and blending the elements together as one complete idea, as opposed to individual pieces that happen to be next to one another.
The cover is a crucial part of your book’s presentation and plays a number of influential roles in your book’s success. It’s important to consider, in detail, what the cover can do to maximize the book’s impact. A cover that is given explicit and careful consideration from a designer, coupled with a comprehensive strategy behind it, means a more appealing, noticeable, and successful book.