How a Book Cover Is Made

For better or for worse, the creation of the cover is often cited the single most important part of the publishing process. Wait, you’re thinking, shouldn’t it be the creation of the BOOK? The actual words?? As an editor, I say, of course the words are the most important! But when it comes to making sure that book sells, I must admit I understand why cover is king.

Whether you are holding a hardcopy or squinting at a thumbnail, you aren’t going to flip the book over to read the jacket copy or click open the first page if that cover doesn’t intrigue you. And if the cover doesn’t intrigue you, there’s a much smaller chance you’ll buy the book. In order for those beautiful words to reach a reader, we almost always need a stunner cover. As a result, the cover process can take months and thousands of dollars.

Despite that pressure to succeed, being a part of the cover creation is one of the best elements of my job. I can barely draw you a stick figure, but it’s so much fun to let that creative side my brain loose with a bunch of very artistic people and see them work their magic. I can’t speak for all publishers, designers, or editors, but here’s a look at what my typical cover process looks like from start to finish.

  1. Competitive research. I spend several hours looking at books in my genre to see which types of covers have recently sold well, which designs have flopped, which ones made the Goodreads “Most Beautiful” list, and so on. I also look to see what is working outside the genre in case new trends are popping up. I compile all the good covers into a PowerPoint for future reference.
  2. Mood board. Once I have all the covers I like, I begin looking around for colors, patterns, designs, and pieces of art that could serve as inspiration for the cover. I’ll even look around on popular clothing and decor websites to see if something catches my eye. I combine this “out of the box” research with my favorite covers to create a mood board the designers can use.
  3. Descriptions. If a book has specific characters who should be on the front cover, I make sure to work with the author to create accurate descriptions and even pick out celebrity doppelgängers to help guide the selection of a photo or cover model.
  4. The hand-off. I will be the first to tell you I am no graphic designer. So once I have compiled as much information as I possible can, I give the material over to a designer. They then work with an in-house team or with a freelance artist to create cover options for the group to review. This is where all the hard work and magic happens! Many weeks and lots of brilliance go into the section between giving initial design direction and seeing the first round of options. The designers take all our notes and ideas and synthesize them into something gorgeous.
  5. Evaluating options. We often get five or ten designs back at once, and then need to pick a winner or a direction. When I look at a cover, I don’t just think ooh, pretty image… most of the time, at least. Instead, I ask myself some version of these questions to find the best parts of each design.
    • Does the image make sense with the content?
    • Will the colors pop on shelf?
    • Does this look different from its competitors, but still in line with what readers want to see?
    • Does the cover font work?
    • Does the author’s name have enough emphasis?
    • Is there room for an endorsement or a tagline?
    • And so on.
  6. Picking the perfect cover. Sometimes The One is immediately obvious, and sometimes we have to go through a couple dozen versions. The selection is a group effort with editorial, marketing, and design to find the right image. Oftentimes we will also loop in our sales reps and/or sales accounts for their feedback too. It takes a village, but nothing is more rewarding than finally finding the image that will represent that book.
  7. Show the world! I love to do cover reveals with books, special online unveilings that showcase the covers and give people a chance to win free copies! Cover reveals also help gain early buzz for books and authors. Check out two recent ones below:

Want to learn more about the cover process? Read on at the links below:

4 thoughts on “How a Book Cover Is Made

  1. Mun Haerin says:

    Fascinating. As an avid reader, I admit that I don’t like being told that book covers are important. Like you said, I prefer to think that it’s all about the words.

    As for how I choose a book…if it’s the book of an author that I haven’t read before, I’ll usually choose whether to buy it or not based on genre, plot synopsis, or reviews. If I like one work of an author then of course I’m likely to remember them and go back for more of their writing.

    But I accept that not everyone is like me. Actually, I’m quite surprised that book covers are still so important – you’d think they’d be nearly obsolete by now, given the digital revolution and all. I understand that album covers (for music) have decreased in significance with the arrival of the digital age.


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