Guide to Cover Art: How to Create a Compelling Book Cover


Compelling, quality cover maximises reader’s dramatic experience of your book. Great cover art invites sales. Therefore, it is highly advisable that an author/publisher hire a public-relation expert who is also a fully experienced cover artist.

Experts range from very expensive to affordable. For either, an author and publisher must learn the principles of cover art in order to know what to ask and what not to ask.  As part of my blog series New Authors’ Pathfinder, this article aim to guide:

(a) An author planning to hire a cover artist, but wanting to have a say in the book’s cover art.
(b) A self-publisher wanting to design his/her own book cover.


Notes in building a book cover:

  •  Be mindful of your author brand at all times. (I will publish a blog post on author brand next week.)
  • Unless you are a visual artist or an excellent photographer, buy the license for an image from royalty-free photo sites.
  • Get experts’ feedback—even if you are an excellent artist. Apart from creating the main picture, you must take care of the public-relation and marketing aspects in order not to ruin or waste a perfect picture.
  • Post the proposed cover on your online group walls for critics. Heed bright-idea feedback. Only criticism will give you ideas on how to improve your project.


Guide to Choosing an Image For Book Cover


  • Eye catching quality picture.
  • Intriguing. The image should prompt a second look.
  • The longer people look, its aspects become more pleasing.
  • Let the picture speak the thousand words for you.
  • Captures the essence of your book.
  • Unique. Represents your brand of quality.
  • Be subtle, yet strong. For example, for a horror novel don’t use a too-literal horrific image.
  • Less is best. Avoid using more than four colours, unless you are a specially gifted artist with flair in the use of multiple colours.
  • Image resolution must be excellent.


Cover Size


Recommended paperback sizes for best results:

  • Novelette: 5” x 8”
  • Use 5.25” x 8” for books up to 85,000 words.
  • Use 6” x  9” for fantasy/thrillers with over 85,000 words.
  • Use 6” x 9” for any large-print books.


–          6” x 9” is cheaper because it uses less number of pages, but distributors prefer the smaller, easy to handle 5.25” x 8”
–          For pictorial children book and nonfiction, other sizes are available.


Spine Width


Width = 0.002250? x pagecount for CreateSpace’s white interior paper.

Width = 0.002252? x pagecount for CreateSpace’s cream interior paper.

Enquire about the paper thickness if you print somewhere else.




Allow ¼” all around for cutting (see the dotted lines in Pic 1). Make sure there is no text and no important image inside this gutter.


Final cover size


See the Pic. 1. Including the dotted line:

Cover width = ¼” + back cover width + spine width + front cover width + ¼”

Cover height = ¼” + book height + ¼”


Font Types


  • Use a font type that looks more basic like Times New Roman, but preferably not Times New Roman itself.
  • If you want something different, browse and install some free fonts  type from internet. There are millions.
  • Don’t try to use a PC-provided ‘different’ type of fonts. It’s so overused-yet-unique-wanna-be (Comic Sans falls into this category).
  • Don’t use a too literal horror/spooky-themed font type with blood drops and all that. It would look like a Halloween story for children instead of novel for adults. Be subtle, yet strong.
  • Be careful with the readability of curvy fonts. Make sure that the fonts, especially the capital ones, are easy to recognize.
  • For curvy font type, don’t abuse it. Use it once, or maximum twice, if there are three elements of text (main title, sub title, and author’s name). Use a basic one for the second font type.


Font Colours

  • Visible.
  • Slight invisibility could also trigger curiosity.
  • Choose any colour with earthy tone, not neon/vivid one as it cheapens the novel.
  • Less is best. Let the picture speak—pick font colour/s taken from part/s of the picture as not to detract people’s appreciation.


Text Size


  • Readable in thumbnail. Title must be clear when your book is displayed in the miniature cover size of Amazon listing and other online catalogues or magazines.


Text Placement


  • Avoid putting the text right on any object, especially main object. Use blank space.
  • Place author’s name close to the book title. Make sure both will appear together if this cover is displayed in a square thumbnail (as in Facebook, Twitter, etc.). To accommodate this, it is okay to move the subtitle (if any) or book series somewhere else.




The colour of logo (book title) of the front cover in Pic. 1 was originally black. When I chose dark red for the back cover to let people know that this wasn’t a gloomy story, Zaki advised to change the front cover’s logo to the same dark red. My theme colours become black, white, and dark red.


sydneyssong cover art

Pic. 1. An example of item placement.




To boost your book’s credibility and marketability, ask a well-known author or the topic’s leading expert for a cover quote. The colour for this seal doesn’t have to conform to your theme colour.


Back-Cover Content


When your author brand is famous, all you need on the back cover is your author photograph. Until then, you need:

  • Book description (hook). Use either one of these:

–  A couple of lines that captures the essence of your book.

–  A 100-word summary of your book that book catalogues will also use. (Best option.)

– Your pitch. (Must be in easily readable font-size.)

  • Testimonials.
  • Mention awards, if any.
  • Author photograph with a one-sentence bio or a one-sentence author brand. (Optional.)
  • A signature image. See Pic. 2 (courtesy of Terry Stanfill). Here the krater’s image that speaks the thousand words serves as a book description. Note that the space on the right bottom corner of the back cover is reserved for barcode.


realms of gold

Pic. 2. An example of back cover with a signature image.



And come visit the website of author Diana Wilder for marvelous examples of self-created book covers.

Here’s wishing you the best for your work.