Designing ''Judge-Worthy'' Book Covers

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While ''don't judge a book by its cover'' may be appropriate when advising your tween daughter about class cliques, the cliché may be unwisely used when discussing its actual subject — a book. Don't be alarmed. Judging in this case is expected. Learning the reasons why we judge will in fact help you create captivating (and sellable) book covers.

Judgment Number One — Personal Taste

Consider this. When you peruse the aisles of books in a bookstore, you most likely linger on covers that satisfy your tastes. And why not? You do the same for clothing, even food. A bright dress catches your eye — you are drawn to it. You stare at the menu, uncertain of what to buy, when a waiter whizzes by with a steamy plate of pasta — you order it. Same with books. Naturally, you drift towards colors and images that fit your taste.

Judgment Number Two — Time Saver

In this fast-paced, mocha-cappuccino-to-go, too-busy-to-talk-so-I'll-text-message-my-kids world, you don't have time to flip through a novel and read the first few pages, or first chapter even, to figure out if you want to spend $24.99 on a hardcover book. Instead, you depend on the cover to guide you. Like a movie trailer, the book cover needs to catch your attention in a matter of seconds — short, quick, entertaining. If it doesn't, you probably won't even bother reading the inside flap. A quick judgment call, and the book is back on the shelf.

Making "Judge-Worthy" Book Covers

Judging is inevitable. With that in mind, read the following to learn how to create your own book covers that will tempt, excite, and turn potential readers into compulsive buyers.
  • Bear in mind what the book is actually about. Designing a book jacket that has nothing to do with the book not only leads readers astray, but may also be detrimental to the author. For example:

    • A professor once told me that a prolific author he knew had written an historical fiction; however, when the book was published, it was given a harlequinesque cover and sold as a romance novel. The book did miserably. Finally, when the author had the chance, he switched the cover and sold it as historical fiction. Sales then soared.

  • Make it pop in an instant. Remember, you don't have much time. So make each color, each letter, each stroke count.

  • Read through the book. Make notes. Find character quirks you can illustrate — and be authentic. If a character is left-handed, don't draw something in his right hand. Try and tell the story with illustration.

    • Take J.K. Rowling's scintillating Harry Potter series and its illustrator Mary Grandpré. With great acumen for designing book covers, Grandpré, would go "through [each]...story with a highlighter, picking out descriptions," says an article on, before drawing and re-drawing the cover.

    • "She's [also] careful not to create anything that's too obvious — she just wants to drop some hints to the reader, not tell them what happens next. 'I get to show the reader the essence of the book without giving anything away,' she said. 'I kind of tempt the reader to keep moving on through the book.'"

  • Note the mood and setting of the book. If the story takes place in a peaceful countryside, dousing the entire background in bloody red might hinder the book's sales. With design, you set the mood and tone in an instant. Be wary.

    • For example, Grandpré understands the relation between color and mood. According to the same article, "As the books have changed, getting darker in tone, so has her palette, from a lighter combination of colors in book one to shades of blue for book five."

  • Consider not only the front of the book but the back as well. Remember, adding blurbs, benefits, reviews, testimonials, author information, and a photo will all help better inform and sell the book to readers.

  • And don't forget the spine. That's usually the first piece of the book one sees. Printing the title in an interesting font and including an image that hints at the book cover will entice even the choosiest of book judgers.
Master these aspects of book designing and your "judge-worthy" cover will have readers pulling out their wallets in no time.
On the

Harry Potter

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