Your Book’s Cover

A book is a long term proposition, and over time, a pretty face will not compensate for an empty character. This is as true of books as it is of people. The promise made by the cover—its appearance, title, and any promotional statements on it—must be compelling, and that promise then needs to be fulfilled by the content you have created.

The cover is the essential component of the marketing for your book. It is the visual image that symbolizes the ideas your book communicates. Everything else that may be said about your book—reviews, the annotation (the brief description found on or on, advertising, web pages, and so on—references and reinforces the image in peoples’ minds created by your book’s cover.

The primary function of the cover is to sell the book. By “sell” we mean to induce the potential customer first to purchase the book and second to read it. It can be reasonably assumed that someone who has paid money for your book will read it, but when a book is given to a reviewer or some other person who has not made a conscious decision to buy it, getting them to read it can sometimes be a challenge. In both cases, some investment of resources is necessary to get the desired results, whether that may be a sale or a favorable impression.

Despite the importance of the cover, this does not create more budget for its creation than should otherwise judiciously be allotted to it.

Some practical guidance on choosing your cover art may be useful. The five or six cover types below are roughly arranged in order of complexity, a plain cover being the least time consuming and therefore least expensive to execute, and the combination cover having the potential to be the most time and dollar intensive. If suitable stock art or a stock photo is available for the graphic or photographic covers, these types can be very reasonable to produce.

Broadly speaking, there are five basic types of covers:

1. Plain cover.
A plain cover would be one that includes no graphic elements and uses only text to identify the title and author of the book. The layout of the text is simple and functional. Any description of the book’s content or promotional blurbs on the back cover would likewise be simply presented.

2. Typographic cover.
This cover type uses distinctive typography or typographic treatment to create visual interest. Additional color, highlights, drop shadows and other effects are often employed. The type may be distorted or shown in complex arrangement. Descriptive copy and blurbs will also be emphasized typographically. An author photo may be included on the back.

3. Graphic cover.
Graphic visual elements accent or dominate the cover, working with the title text to create a more rich and complex image. The graphic is usually an illustrated image, although it may also be photographic, but is generally not a realistic image. Layout and typography complement the graphics. Some version or repetition of the image(s) is often included on the back cover. Author photo, descriptive copy and blurbs may also be used.

4. Photographic cover.
The cover is primarily or entirely a photograph, or occasionally multiple photographs. Often a cleaner layout is employed so as not to distract from the content of the photograph. If appropriate, the photograph may wrap around the front and back covers. Descriptive copy and blurbs may appear in a boxed area to minimize visual interference from the photo, as may any author photograph.

5. Illustrated cover.
An illustration may be used to show a visual image that is otherwise unobtainable photographically. This is especially useful for fictional works and reference books focused on concepts that do not have relevant images available. In addition to the illustration’s content, its style can also contribute to the impression created about the book. A highly photocomposed image would also be considered an illustration in this case. Back cover text would be handled as with a photographic cover.

Combination cover.
You could also consider there to be a sixth type which would be some combination of two or more of the five basic cover types.

How to Use This Information 

Cover design and creation is an extremely subjective process. By all means, select something for your cover that you like personally, but don’t lose sight of the functions the cover needs to perform. Consider the audience for your book. What sort of cover would they expect to see, what would they be likely to find appealing? Survey the other books that are similar to yours. What sorts of covers do they have? How does your book differ from these, and how can your cover show this difference? Take into account your budget for the cover, but remember that the cover will be your basic marketing tool. What will be your main methods of promoting your book—in person, direct mail, in print ads, via the internet, in bookstores? This can affect how your cover should be designed.
If you have an idea in mind of how you want your cover to look, it will be useful to communicate this early on. Even a vague idea can be helpful to guide the designer. A reference to an existing cover of another book is also useful, possibly something you have seen on or

You may have a photograph or artwork that you would like to use. If your book is an illustrated work, it may make sense to use one of the book’s illustrations or something from the illustrator for your cover. Call us to discuss what you have and what resources are available to you for using your own photo or art. If you are using your own design source for your cover, consult with the person who will produce the cover art about how this can be done, and please have them contact RealityIsBooks about the specifications for photos and artwork.

Besides working with your own sources, RealityIsBooks can design and execute your cover. We can either create your cover from scratch or from materials you furnish. We have several sources who may be useful in this regard. For all covers, we will create the final art incorporating the book title and various barcodes and other information to be printed.

For photographic images, we recommend you browse through,, or Bigstock, iStockphoto, and Dreamstime charge for their photos and graphics and are very reasonable (about $10-$15), and SXC is free. We have used artwork from all of them with good results. Each has a large selection of photos that is searchable by keywords and the images are almost all available for use as book covers. For illustrated cover art, please contact to discuss your needs. For all covers, we will create the final art incorporating the book title and various barcodes and other information to be printed.