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Book Design: 8 Pet Hates In Book Cover Design

Book Design: 8 Pet Hates in Book Cover Design

photo of a cross-looking cat to signify pet hates

ALLi authors share their pet hates in cover design that drive them away from a book (Image by MackFox (Music Fox) via Unsplash.com)

In today's post, we share ALLi authors' eight pet hates about book cover design, to help you avoid all-too-common cover design gaffes, whether you are working in partnership with a professional book cover designer or, if your budget precludes hiring a third party, you are trying to do it yourself.

NB It would not be kind to share images of examples of bad book covers, so please use your writerly imagination to conjure up the pictures in your head!


1 Home-grown image

“Don't insist that the wonderful drawing done by your kid/mother/aunt/niece/talented artist friend will be perfect for what you've written,” says David Penny. “Same for that fantastic sunset/forest/waterfall pic you took on your iphone last vacation.”

2 Images scraped illegally from the internet

“Don't steal artwork from copyrighted sources,” advises Tim Lewis. “I had this happen in a 99 Designs competition I ran. Thankfully I didn’t go for that design, but it’s a real peril with more casual designers.”

3 Inappropriate cover models 
Mary Gannon takes exception to historical novels whose covers feature characters with faces that are all wrong for the book's period. Full face make-up in a Regency romance? No thanks! Christine Hammacott speculates that the problem of finding stock shots of models who don't look modern may account for the recent vogue for putting headless women on th covers of historical novels – one of my own pet hates!

4 Indecent cover models

“Unless essential to the genre, my pet hate is the continual use of half naked bodies to sell books,” says Chrissie Parker. “Some authors do it exceptionally well and it works, but it's not a go to image just to sell a book.” Whether the bare bodies belong to men or to women, many readers find them a turn-off.

5 Flat typography

“So often people have no idea how to subtly use text effects to make the text on their cover readable,” says Kim Lambert. “I hate covers where, even at large size of image, I have no idea what the writing says. So many people either use dreadful fonts, or just drop flat text on top of an image and expect it to be readable.”

6 Over-busy typography

The opposite of flat text can be just as bad! John Doppler counsels: “I've seen covers where an amateur designer decided to use every Photoshop effect they could: embossing, beveling, strokes, drop shadows AND glow at the same time, all cranked up to the maximum… It brings tears to my eyes, and not in a good way!”

7 Overcrowding

“Some book covers use too many elements,” says Jules Horne. “Five different fonts, three images, a testimonial and a sale splash all competing for attention. More isn't more!”

8 Mismatch to genre

A sure way to wrongfoot the reader is to give your book a cover design that doesn't reflect its genre. Chrstine Hammacott shares some helpful examples:

  • Crime and thrillers tend to have large sans serif titles and large author names, often with moody photos of empty streets, forest or winding roads, frequently with a shadowy figure (often in red coat at the moment) walking away.
  • Romantic comedy and chicklit tend to use lighter, swirly fonts and bright illustrations and are more nostalgic.
  • Sci-fi uses very modern fonts and often strong perspective to draw the eye in.
  • Historical leans towards elaborate fonts that are often part of the background image.
  • Literary fiction and YA often break all the rules.

Not sure what would be right for your book's genre? Just search in Amazon for the various genres, or take a trip to your local bookstore and peruse the section that would house your book, and you'll soon start to see a pattern.

With thanks to ALLi authors and designers  John Doppler, Mary Gannon, Christine Hammacott, Jules Horne, Kim Lambert, Tim Lewis, Chrissie Parker and David Penny.

  • Need a great book cover designer to help you get the right cover for your self-published book? Check out the list of tried-and-trusted ALLi Partner members in our Services Directory here


OVER TO YOU What's your pet hate in book cover design? What current trend are you hoping will soon fall out of favour? Join the conversation!

#Indieauthors - are your book cover designs guilty of any of these 8 pet hates? Cast your eye over the list to make sure you're in the clear! Click To Tweet

From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive


This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. High heeled shoes without the wearer or part of her are a pet hate pf mine.

    And conversations with booksellers have made me realise that the main purpose of a cover is to lure a buyer into picking up and opening a book.

    A clue to its genre is valuable, but it is pointless to try and make the cover summarise the story.

  2. Any tips on fonts for educational resources? Those books seem to be all over the place. But I am curious if you had fonts in mind off the top of your head. I do peruse the shelves.

  3. Nothing beats going to the Amazon Bestsellers page for your detailed genre.

    Your cover should signal the same thing those covers do (and your price should take their prices into account, whatever your pricing strategy may be).

    When your cover artist delivers draft versions to you, shrink them and put them onto an image of the Amazon Bestsellers page. Can you read the author/title? Can you tell if it is part of a series? Is it too dark (when you reduce images, they darken)?

    Make it fit in/stand out from the best in your genre before you sign off on the design.

  4. I don’t like the headless dress trope either, but it’s not used to avoid models wearing make-up. The dress signals the historical period and aims the book at women, while the headlessness supposedly allows the reader to form her own image of the protagonist. Also, it’s very hard to find a portrait of a woman who looks like your protagonist. This thing may have reached its peak. It’s been horribly overdone. Another thing to avoid in cover design — tricks that have been done to death.

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