Book Cover Ideas to Inspire Your Next Eye-Catching Release

Abi Wurdeman
March 22, 2024

Your book cover is your first and most important marketing tool. The vast majority of your readers won’t even consider your book if they’re not drawn to the cover design.

As an author, that can be pretty disheartening. After all, you’ve spent months or even years crafting a compelling and emotionally resonant story. It would be nice if readers were drawn to the story itself.

But I’m guessing that as a reader, you can see why it’s complicated.

With literally millions of new books published each year, readers face a staggering number of options. Judging a book by its cover is the easiest way to narrow down the choices.

Besides, a book cover doesn’t stand apart from the written work. The cover is where literary and visual art join forces to deliver an even more emotionally resonant experience.

Have you ever read a book that was positively perfect, inside and out? Maybe a horror novel whose cover continued to haunt you from the nightstand where you set it down? Or a dizzying summer romance novel whose bright cover made you feel giddy as you packed it into your carry-on?

With a little insight and planning, your book cover design can offer potential readers that same well-rounded experience. You’re about to learn a lot about what makes for a great book cover, and you’ll get loads of examples to inspire your own cover design process.

Whether you want to create your own book cover, plan to hire a professional designer, or work with a publisher who actually invites your opinion on your novel’s design (lucky you!), this guide will help you navigate the process with an eye for art and a mind for business.

Understanding Book Cover Design

Before we dig into the myriad artistic strategies available to you or your cover designer, we need to deconstruct the very concept of a book cover to make sure we understand all its parts.

What are the must-have elements of a great book cover? Which elements are optional? What should a cover convey?

We’ll start with the most basic of the basics.

Key Elements

Every book cover must display the title, author name, and some sort of eye-catching imagery.

You might also choose to include a tagline, series name (if applicable), acknowledgments of awards your book has won or bestselling status it’s achieved, or an endorsement from a well-known author or expert in your subject area.

This article focuses on the front cover, since that’s what you’re probably worried about if you came here for book cover ideas.

But in the interest of being thorough, I’ll mention that in the case of a printed book, the title and author name go on the spine, as well as the logo and name of the publishing imprint, if applicable.

Back cover content usually includes a blurb about your story, a super short author bio, publishing imprint and logo, cover artist credit, and your ISBN barcode. You might also include an endorsement and/or a couple lines from the book. 

What Book Covers Communicate

This all seems pretty basic so far, right? The question is, how do you arrange all those elements into a work of art that draws readers in?

Ultimately, your book cover is a communication tool. It calls out to your potential reader, “Hey! Over here! I’m what you’re looking for!”

And what they’re looking for is usually a combination of these things:

Genre

Anyone should be able to guess your book’s genre at a glance and get somewhere within the ballpark of the correct answer. Someone who’s completely disconnected from fantasy subculture might not immediately realize that this book is fantasy romance: 

The ornate golden book cover for Trial of the Sun Queen by Nisha J. Tuli.

…but they’ll probably assume that the story takes place in a fantasy world

More importantly, readers of your genre should be able to name not only your book’s genre but its subgenre based on the cover alone.

Target Reader

Your book cover should also make it clear who the book is for. About how old is your target audience? What do they value? What styles appeal to them? What do they appreciate most about books like yours?

The book covers for Broke Millennial, The Green Budget Guide, and We Should All Be Millionaires.

Tone

Tone refers to your attitude about the subject and how that comes across in your writing. 

For example, is your mystery dark and foreboding?

The book cover for And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

Or humorous and clever?

The book cover for Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers.

Bonus: When you adequately capture the tone of your story on the book cover, you also let the reader know how they’re going to feel while reading your book.

Content

Depending on your genre, your book cover might include something that alludes directly to the book’s content.

For example, you might show a character…

The book cover for The Last Druid.

A setting…

The book cover for Someone Else's Shoes.

A moment…

The book cover for Instructions for Dancing.

Or even a symbol.

The book cover for The Other Black Girl.

Again, pay close attention to genre norms on this one. Some genres embrace an on-the-nose representation of the book’s content (like contemporary romance) while others are more open to taking this next approach:

Themes

You can also use your cover art to draw attention to your book’s theme, like this one does:

The book cover for How to Know a Person.

This book cover shows two people with literal depth and multiple layers gazing directly at one another—a fitting image for a book about learning to see one another fully.

Current Trends in Book Cover Art

It’s not enough to make sure your book cover design fits your genre. You also want to make sure it aligns with current trends. Because believe me, trends change. Like, a lot.

Three different covers for Are You There God? It's Me Margaret, all from different decades.

At the time of this writing (March 2024), we’re seeing a lot of bright colors and fun with the spectrum.

The book covers for Help Wanted, Lies and Weddings, and Supercommunicators.

Typography steals the show from time to time.

The book covers for Knife, James, and Grief is for People.

There’s still a lot of this ornate, viney business going on:

The book covers for Hungry for Her Wolves and Spring of Sparkling Song.

And on the flip-side, minimalism is having a bit of a moment.

The book covers  for Somehow, Poverty by America, and Almost Brown.

If you’re wondering how you’re supposed to make all these things happen at once, I’ve got good news for you. You’re not. 

Look at the book covers of new releases in your subgenre, and you’ll see much more consistent trends and probably be inspired with some great book cover ideas that are perfect for your novel.

Ten Inspiring Book Cover Ideas

Now that we’ve drilled into some book cover basics, let’s get that creative motor humming. You and I will meander through some book cover ideas together. As we go, make a note of any design elements that speak to you.

As always (and I’m so sorry, I will say this again before the article is over), you’ll ultimately want to create a cover that fits your genre. When the time comes, you can find genre-specific book cover design ideas here.

For now, though, we’re just waking up your inner visual artist by exploring all the possibilities.

Abstract Artistry 

An abstract image can be a great way to convey the intangible. Take Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half for example:

The book cover for The Vanishing Half.

In this novel, twin sisters grow up to live very different lives—one remains in the Black community they both grew up in and the other secretly passes for white, living a life where no one is aware of her racial heritage.

Without depicting scenes or characters in any concrete sense, this book cover nods to the novel’s themes of identity and connection.

Abstract cover art can also be a great way to convey tone or elicit an emotional response, like this:

The book cover for Disruptions.

Typographic Brilliance

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a bold typographical moment. The lettering on your book cover can establish tone, like this:

The book covers for Minor Feelings and I Have Some Questions for You.

It can work as a play on the title, like this:

The book covers for On Gravity and But What if We're Wrong?

And it can tidily weave itself in with your book cover’s main image, like this:

The book covers for Dune and In the Woods.

Nature's Canvas

Natural images are a no-brainer when your book is about nature, like these are:

The book covers for Rooted and The Overstory.

But natural design elements can also convey symbolism, hint at a theme, or set a tone. 

The book covers for When Women Were Dragons and The Fire Keeper's Daughter.

In fact, it can be a fun exercise to visit a local garden, go for a hike, or hang out at the zoo and observe what images nature has to offer you. What elements or animals make you feel calm? Bewitched? Intrigued? Terrified?

Maybe there’s a way to work it into your cover design. 

Retro Revival

This is a fun one. Nostalgic book covers can grab the attention of a certain generation, appeal to a new generation’s embrace of all things retro, or bring to mind the ethos of another era.

The book covers for I Like You, Cover Story, and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.

When you go retro, though, research your target reader and make sure they’ll be into it. You don’t want to accidentally signal that your book is for a different age group.

Surreal Scenes

A surreal image is a great option for conveying theme. You can use this style of book cover design to convey the deeper truth behind a grounded method, like in this book about the science of how nature heals our minds:

The book cover for The Nature Fix.

Or you can use a surreal cover to compliment a surreal story, like this novel about children who actually burst into flames when they’re upset:

The book cover for Nothing to See Here.

Pop Culture References

Pop culture references can create a sort of shorthand for shared experiences.

There are a few ways to incorporate this strategy. One is to model the entire cover after another popular book cover design, like this: 

The book cover for I'm Glad My Mom Died.

I’m Glad My Mom Died seems to mimic the classic book cover design style of 1980s/1990s teen fiction—you know, those stories about girls navigating crushes and tough babysitting gigs. 

This book is not that. Not on the inside. It’s the memoir of a former child actor who survived addiction, eating disorders, and an overbearing mother. The cover design creates a glaring, unspoken contrast between our image of typical girlhood and what the author’s youth actually looked like.

And thanks to the jarring title and the presence of an urn in the cover image, no one will accidentally mistake this book for part of the Sweet Valley High series.

You can also get some pretty great book cover design ideas from other art forms, like my personal favorite, inspired by VHS tapes of the 1980s:

The book cover for My Best Friend's Exorcism.

And then there are book covers like this one:

The book cover for Pizza Girl.

…that play on popular art styles (this “skater art” style was inspired by a t-shirt). The eyes above the city also really feel like a Great Gatsby homage to me, but the cover designer doesn’t mention it in her explanation of the design process, so I won’t go on about it.

Handcrafted Charm

There’s a lot to be said for that handcrafted touch. Hand-drawn illustrations are a great way to give your book cover a distinct style, capture one-of-kind details, or make the book itself feel like a work of visual art.

The book covers for How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and Let the Great World Spin.

You can also use a handwriting-like typeface to give your book cover design a more personal or creative feel.

The book covers for The Last Time We Say Goodbye and The Fine Art of Literary Fist-Fighting.

You can even make your book cover look like a deranged collage project if, you know, that’s the vibe you’re going for.

The book cover for The Mayor's Tongue.

Minimalist Marvels

Minimalist book covers are so striking because they demand that we notice one important thing. It might be a confrontational title, a soothing color, or a single image.

Whatever it is, a minimalist book cover design helps you direct your reader’s attention and leave a powerful impression. Just check these puppies out:

The book covers for Yellowface, Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?, and Quietly Hostile.

Symbolic Imagery

Your book cover design can also incorporate symbols that are visually striking to potential readers and increasingly meaningful to them as they read your book.

One very famous example is the mockingjay symbol that appears on each book in The Hunger Games trilogy.

The book covers for all three books in The Hunger Games trilogy.

This image is modeled after a pin Katniss receives as a gift in The Hunger Games, but as readers know, the mockingjay comes to represent defiance throughout the series.

Another great example is The Handmaid’s Tale book cover. Or, more accurately, most iterations of The Handmaid’s Tale book cover.

Three different versions of The Handmaid's Tale book cover.

At first glance we might say these covers merely depict the main character. But her face is never shown—only her “wings,” the bonnet designed to prevent her from both seeing and being seen. Even when her face is visible, its features aren’t filled in.

This artistic choice symbolizes how Offred has been stripped of her identity both in her present life and in history.

Designs With Dimension

This is a great book cover idea if you’re looking for something that immediately catches your reader’s eye and holds their attention. 

It may be one of the oldest tricks in the book, but still, who doesn’t love a good 3D illusion? Just look at these beauties:

The book covers for The Lovely Bones and Bad Therapy.

DIY Tips for Creating Your Book Cover

Here’s hoping some of those book cover ideas inspired you, got you thinking about your cover’s appearance in a new way, or gave you new options for discussing design elements with a professional book cover designer.

If you plan to tackle this major design project yourself, I’ve got a few quick tips for you. 

The first and biggest tip is to only create your own book cover if you’re highly skilled at this stuff. If you’re not, it’s best to hire a professional.

Beyond that, we’ve got a whole guide to designing book covers right here, so I’ll keep this section brief.

Keep It Legal

Make sure you’re legally allowed to use every design element that appears on your book cover, including images and typeface. 

Double check. Then triple check. Even if you paid for a stock image, make sure you’re cleared for commercial use of that image.   

Less is More

Resist the temptation to clutter your cover. Negative space is a good thing. It allows the reader to see the images that matter most.

Of course, that’s the hard part—choosing what matters most. A lot of indie-authors-turned-designers make the mistake of trying to cram their whole story onto the cover. They want to get all their favorite characters on there, a sense of the setting, a few symbols…

…it’s too much. If you want, choose a few key aspects of your story, make a book cover for each one, then get feedback from friends and beta readers on which one resonates most.

Keep Your Brand in Mind

If you didn’t know you had an author brand, you can read more about that here. The short version is that your author brand is who you are in the eyes of your readers. A consistent brand helps nurture superfans who are eager to return to your work again and again. If your book cover deviates from that brand, you might confuse your fans and miss out on sales.

As you may have guessed, staying true to your brand includes (I warned you it was coming) staying true to your genre.

Last time, I promise.

Think Strategically About Color

Color is massively important when it comes to book cover design. Different colors stir different emotions, strike different tones, and even hint at genre.

The moody blues of mystery, the optimistic pinks of contemporary romance, the mystical greens and royal purples of fantasy… it all matters.

Keep It Legible

I confessed that I’m a sucker for fun typography. But if you go this route, remember that you still want people to be able to read what’s on your cover.

Don’t let your title become so viney or scrawly or entwined with the image that your reader has to turn their head sideways and squint just to figure out what this book is. 

Also be sure to…

Check the Thumbnail

Even if you hit it big, most readers won’t discover your book perched on the Barnes and Noble new releases table, all bright and obvious and life-sized.

They’ll find it in Amazon, Libby, Kobo, or in the hands of a BookToker in an itty-bitty video on an itty-bitty phone screen.

So don’t finalize any design until you’ve checked to see what it looks like in that tiny thumbnail image. Are the images still clear? Can you read the title? 

Don’t Get Lazy With the Back Cover

I’ve seen it so many times. A self-published book will have a gorgeous, professional book cover design. Then I flip it over and it’s just a block of Helvetica. No attempt at anything a person could call “design.”

If you plan to print physical copies of your book, you need to pay attention to the details that make professional back cover designs, well, professional. Like your front cover, the back doesn’t have to be complicated. But it should look deliberate and be a natural extension of the front.  

Don’t Forget Those Accolades!

Finally, if your book has scored any kind of bragging rights that your readers will recognize, make sure you let them know on the cover.

This includes a glowing endorsement from an author in your genre, a blurb from a well-known review publication, bestseller status, or a major award. You can even mention being a finalist if the contest in question is highly regarded.

With all the thought you put into your book cover and all the inspiration you’ve sought out, you’ll no doubt end up with a design that will make readers want to pick up your book. Letting them know that your content has already been vetted and celebrated by someone they trust will seal the deal.

Bottom Line: Your Book is Worth All This Work

After all the hours you’ve put into planning and writing a book your readers won’t be able to resist, you might as well design a cover that gives your masterpiece the best shot at success.

That’s what all aspects of marketing are about, really. The social media ads, the newsletters, the book events… it’s all about finding the audience your novel deserves. There is an absolutely absurd number of books in the world. If you want yours to be seen, you’ve got to push it.

The good news is that with Dabble, you’re never alone. DabbleU has tons of free resources to help not only with the craft of writing, but the business end of things, too. Peruse our articles here or subscribe to our newsletter and have new articles sent to your inbox weekly.

Better yet, do both, and give your book the best possible chance in this great big world.

Abi Wurdeman

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.