When you look at book covers, what usually strikes you? Almost always, it’s the dominant elements – the title, author’s name and image.
These are the obvious or most apparent elements – elements that you easily recognize.
However, book covers are more complicated than that and graphic artists would tell you that there is more in there than meets the eye.
Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. ~ Antoine de Saint Exupéry, The Little Prince (1943)
They work at the background, are subtle, almost invisible, and can, at times, be subliminal. They play with your mind as viewer and influence how you feel, think, decide or act in ways like:
- turn your head around or grab your attention;
- make you curious or excited about what’s inside;
- create a strong desire in you to explore a book some more;
- compel you to browse the book’s table of content;
- pique your interest to read sections of the book;
- push you to search for customer reviews about the book;
- nag you to buy the book;
- compel you to buy the book.
Insane, isn’t it? But that’s true. And it always happens at both the conscious and subconscious planes.
What is in your book cover that creates these kinds of behavior?
Let’s take a peek into what makes book covers stand out.
4 Attributes of Exceptional Book Covers
What do great book covers have that set it apart from the rest? You’ll get a ton of responses on this and here’s my take.
A standout book cover has four attributes:
Attribute #1 – Appeal
It grabs attention almost instantaneously. I can use an endless stream of powerful words to describe it: dazzling, captivating, charming, attractive, handsome, beautiful, stunning, striking, entrancing, professional, wow, dynamite, lovable, cute, delicious, delightful, pleasing, magnetizing, elegant, hypnotic, inviting, great, awesome, wonderful, engaging. And on and on
How the book cover elements were used or put together effectively contributes to engendering a positive feeling of excitement, curiosity and/or desire in your target reader. They may not even know it. They simply feel it.
Attribute #2 – Simplicity
It is simple, uncomplicated and spot on. It is devoid of clutter that may repel, mislead or confuse readers and take them away from the real message, theme or content of your book.
You would see book covers that only have type or words in them, nothing else.
Attribute #3 – Uniqueness
It is different, uncommon and special. No other book cover has that “X” factor or quality.
In an ocean of romance novels or non-fiction books on productivity, yours is undoubtedly a standout.
Attribute #4 – Clarity
It is crystal clear what your book is all about simply by looking at its cover. It mirrors and/or hints at your book’s content, theme, genre or topic. At thumbnail size, your book cover is easily recognizable; its text – title and author, most especially – is highly readable.
Book Cover Elements: The Obvious
The apparent or obvious elements of book covers are mostly these three:
Element #1 – Title and subtitle
The title is the name of your book. It is usually the dominant element of your book cover (although in many instances, the author’s name is). Many titles, most especially non-fiction, are straightforward. You get what the book is all about as soon as you read its title. It may be one, two, three or more words whose meaning may have to be deciphered.
Book titles are important and necessary. Your book has to have one. The subtitle, however, is not compulsory but optional. You may or may not have one.
What’s the value of having a subtitle? Your subtitle puts more meat on your title. It defines the slant of your book, explains its content further and provides more details. This is especially most helpful if you have a book title containing a word or two.
For instance, how would target readers know what your book “Hurry” is all about? If it’s fiction, your choice of image would most probably reveal more about it. For non-fiction, it may be more daunting and can be confusing. Attaching a subtitle that says “How to Do Things More Quickly in Your Own Terms and Succeed at What You Do” would most probably help clarify your book’s content.
Element #2 – Author’s name
This is the name of the book writer or, in some instances, the publisher. As an author, you may use your real name or choose a literary pen name, fictitious name or pseudonym.
Element #3 – Image
This may be a picture, image or symbol that would depict your book’s content or provide a clue or hint. It may be a single image or symbol, a collection or collage of images, or a composite image.
A composite image is what you get after combining various visual elements from separate sources to get a desired effect or picture. Graphic artists achieve this through compositing (with the use of photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop) to create the illusion that all those elements belong to or are parts of the same scene.
So we’re done with the obvious elements.
Book Cover Elements: The Subtle
Now, make a guess on the subtle elements of book covers. They are those that you may not even know or suspect exist but are positioned or placed there for some reasons. The impact that they create is more psychological or at the level of the unconscious or subconscious.
I can think of four:
- Color - You may not always be aware of this but colors have a subtle effect on your psychological, physiological and behavioral functions. For instance, red evokes excitement, energy, and warmth. Yellow stimulates happiness, laughter, and cheer. You may read some more about color psychology here.
- Typography - You may use two types of fonts in your book cover. No more than three. Otherwise, you'll get a messy and incohesive effect.
- Space - Empty spaces give a break to your reader's vision. They separate each one from the other. Those near or within large chunks of negative spaces gain more importance or attention.
- Composition - This is how you arrange, place or size the visual elements or parts of your design so that the most important get dominance and all the rest contribute to it. This includes images, fonts, space, color, and everything else.
What do you think?