The Do’s and Don’ts of Full Cover Design

25th November, 2020

6 min read

The Do’s and Don’ts of Full Cover Design

The Do’s and Don’ts of Full Cover Design

Written by:

Rosie Lowe

A front cover is all about quickly establishing a mood, feeling and genre for your book and is your first big chance to draw the eye of purchasers. It follows then that the book’s back cover is about drawing the would-be reader further in – taking them a step closer to buying. Your whole cover (front, back and spine) is your shop front - enticing a reader to look more closely. A common mistake authors make when self-designing their own cover is to over-complicate it. Books, plots and stories can be complex and you must give a suggestion of the type of book without trying to replicate all your plot twists. A professional book designer’s skill rests in being able to simplify synopses creating visual artworks that immediately appeal to readers. At Troubador ( our talented designers will design your entire book cover - front and back - for you, but if you are designing your own cover, bear these tips in mind.

When will my front and back book covers be needed?

The front cover will be designed as far in advance of publication as possible - the front cover is a marketing tool and one you’ll need as early as is feasible. The back cover (including the spine) will be created much later in the publishing process. And this is because the design will depend on so much else in the book production process – from the number of pages, to the type of paper – so that the design cannot really be completed before all of these are known.

What about the blurb on my book’s back cover?

The book description is the single most important part of the book’s back cover. Remember that you are presenting a sense and a feeling of your book, not giving away the entire plot line. So don’t overcrowd the back cover with text. Writing blurbs is a skill - take a look at the books on your bookshelf and really consider how the blurbs flow and how they reflect, but do not over-complicate, the themes of the book. Every single word has to count on the back cover. Breaking the blurb up into sections can make it flow better - and it offers a way to make it more visually appealing too. A few more don’ts… Don’t squeeze text onto the back cover by making it run too close to the edges (thereby entering the danger zone for cropping). And If laying text over images, be sure you can still easily read the text. Make sure you use a font size that is easy to read and at an appropriate size for the book and audience.

Author bio or no author bio on the book’s back cover?

If your book is academic, educational or professional, a short author bio on the back cover is a good convincer, stating why you are the right person to write the book and citing relevant experience. For a first-time novelist, a bio on the back cover is not nearly as useful as a convincer, and it might be that the space can be better used for other text or design elements. If you do include a bio, keep it short and only include relevant information. A photo can take up space that can be used for sales text, so unless you are immediately recognisable, consider including your bio and photo inside the book, not on the back cover.

Reviews and endorsements?

Book reviews and endorsements - from authoritative sources and people rather than from unknown or unrecognised names - are very important, and should be used if you have them. Break them out from blurb text and always cite the source. Consider using really important endorsements on the front cover, where space and the design permit. Praise for previous books (if clearly stated as such) can also be used to help convince readers to buy. Don’t, however, use ‘5* on Amazon’ unless you immediately want to put off any indie bookseller from stocking your book!

How important are the barcode and ISBN on my book cover?

Some elements are vital to include in a full book cover design. The barcode, ISBN and price, for example, are all essential for the distribution and retail sale of your book and must be included. Bookshops like (and often insist) on having a price printed on the book’s back cover – and research says that consumers prefer this too. Barcodes incorporate important information and are scanned throughout a book’s distribution and sale process, so they must be included. Ensure your barcode is not too small, otherwise, it won’t scan properly! You can download free barcode reader apps for a smartphone, so if you are designing your own cover, check that the barcode scans well at your chosen size. While it should not be too small. it also does not need to be too large, taking up valuable design space on the cover. Nielsen have additional advice about barcodes available but remember that if Troubador are designing your cover, we include all of this as standard. The ISBN is the unique identifier for your book - so make sure it is correct on the back cover. The wrong ISBN will lose sales and cause confusion within the book trade. The ISBN and barcode would usually appear towards the bottom of the book’s back cover.

How important is the spine?

In bookshops, due to pressure on shelf space, the majority of books are displayed spine out, so your spine is an important part of the design of the book and another chance to grab readers’ attention. The width of the spine will depend on the bulk and type of the paper being used for printing and the number of pages; it's important to get the spine width calculation correct, otherwise, the entire front and back cover design will be pushed out by the spine not being central. It is common to include the publisher’s logo - usually but not always at the bottom of the spine - which starts to build a publishing brand and authority for the book/author. Common problems we see around spines include having the text too big or too small, and having the spine text running ‘backwards’, ie. running bottom to top rather than top to bottom, which will make the book look odd when set against the majority of other books spine out on a shelf. Often, authors self-designing a cover overlook adding the spine text, even when the spine width will allow it - however in some cases the page extent and bulk are simply not enough to realistically have spine text (you’d never be able to read it).

And a final word from a full cover design expert

Rosie Lowe, Assistant Production Manager at Troubador, specialises in creating front and back cover designs. Here she shares her thoughts on how to produce captivating full cover designs: ‘We all know how important the front cover of a book is - it helps to get your book noticed by a reader - however we cannot underestimate the importance of the design of the entire front and back cover - including spine - when it comes to making that sale. So what do readers expect to see on the back cover? The blurb, yes, and the barcode, of course, but we also want the back cover to be a continuation of the front. When I design, I really like to incorporate elements from the front cover, such as imagery, textures, feelings…

A wrap-around cover is also very effective; this is where the image literally starts on the front and wraps around the spine and onto the back, but the most important aspect for me is making sure the book covers, front and back, have the same message about the book and what I will find between the covers. The blurb should always be the focal point and needs to be pitched at the target audience. It also needs to be the right font size for the audience and book size (i.e., much larger for younger children and around a 12-13pt font for the average novel). Blurb that is too long clutters a back cover design. Unless it's an academic or scientific book where the devil is in the detail, less if often more when it comes to blurbs!’ At Troubador ( our talented designers will design your entire book cover - front and back - for you, but if you are designing your own cover, we hope our tips about how to make the most of your book cover stand out help.