The Amateur’s Guide to a Professional Book Package: Part Five

by Melinda Van Lone
published in Community

We’re in the downhill stretch now folks! If you missed any of the other genres, you can find them here:

Fantasy and Romance

Science Fiction, Myster, Thriller, and Horror

To continue in our discussion of how to create a professional book cover for your genre, let’s take a look at:

Literary and Women’s Fiction

Yes, I know as far as the stories go, these are two different genres. Sort of. But as far as cover designs go, they are quite similar. Artwork tends LiteraryWomensLittoward photography, and is usually understated. Simple colors, less saturation, less complex backgrounds, even smaller titles are typical. The use of white space is important here, and by “white” space I don’t necessarily mean actual white, as in the color. I mean empty space. Put enough empty space around something and you emphasize the thing in the middle. For instance, “The Pieces We Keep” uses white space in the form of a vast, fairly plain, sky, in which the title floats. It’s the first thing the reader focuses on. People looking for a literary read look for this more simplistic approach to art as a clue that the story explores vast themes, deep looks into the psychology of human kind, rather than a cheap thrill. This is a serious tale, and the cover reflects that. Some literary novels don’t use art at all, instead they just use color or just type on white. Or type on black. Simple is the keyword here. The target audience is, in general, female.

New Adult

Bridging the age gap between young adults and adults is the so-called New Adult genre. To my mind, it’s not a genre at all, but it’s desperately NewAdulttrying to be. It’s more of a marketing tool than anything, and seeks to attract the 18-25 age range audience, featuring a protagonist of the same age. Why would these covers be any different? That is a million dollar question without a good answer. In general, what sets these slightly apart from their adult counterparts is a younger looking person on the cover, and perhaps slightly more drama by way of deeper colors, or moody colors. I suspect the target audience here is not people in their mid-20s at all, but rather those in their mid 40s who wish they were 20.

Young Adult

YA is a different animal entirely, encompassing all the genres, but for a younger age group. A lot of the cliches hold true, with some exceptions. YoungAdultIt’s less about the author, more about the artwork. In particular, YA, like the audience it hopes to attract, typically features drama drama drama. A face on the cover, a girl running (thriller, mystery, horror), giant monsters, rich backgrounds (fantasy, horror), larger than life things happening (romance, ALL the genres). The author name is typically small. It’s about the title and the artwork. Young adults like to see themselves on the cover, and picture themselves in the story, so helping them along by picturing the protagonist is a great way to go. Otherwise, regular genre guidelines apply, with the exception of steamy romance…picturing nearly naked children on the cover is just not done, for obvious reasons. And of course, the story itself should probably avoid them as well, especially for younger ages. Parents tend to not like that. (Yes I’m understating…use common sense here folks. Would you like YOUR kid picking up a book that looked like that?)

Children’s Lit

As we reach for an even younger audience, the artwork must change as well. Now it really doesn’t matter who wrote the book (okay, it mattersChildrens to the author and to the parents, but not to the intended audience). It’s also a bit tricky to make a cover appeal to a young child, but still attract their parent as well. Appealing to a parent’s inner child is the way to go here. The titles are fun, both the words and the type treatment. The colors are bold, vivid, primary colors. Drawn artwork is used almost exclusively, particularly for picture books. The way the art is drawn will vary by age group but even adults are attracted to a fun illustration. Basically, any cover that evokes a sense of play is going to be a good choice. Gender marketing not withstanding, the best covers aim to attract both male and female readers, especially the very young ones. Though you’ll often see pink frilly things on covers for girls and blue spidery things on covers for boys (particularly those that tie into products such as dolls or toys), that’s more about commercialism and less about the story within.

Non Fiction

Non fiction books often are a lot easier to design, because the subject matter usually does the dictating. Instead of needing a piece of art thatNonFiction sells the tone or voice of the story within, a non fiction book cover needs to set the expectation about the promise, the information, the “what’s in it for you” that’s inside the wrapper. Is it a book on tenant’s rights? It’ll probably have a house/apartment, maybe a gavel on the cover. A book on dealing with diabetes? Probably some sort of medical device, maybe the face of a person who’s trying to give you advice, etc. A book on new positions to try in bed? Well, you get the idea. Whatever the art, it’ll be a literal, in your face, shout out regarding the content. The reader shouldn’t be left guessing about what’s inside, they should know instantly from the title and artwork.

Memoirs and humor fall into this category, and the guidelines are no different. If Prince William wrote a memoir, his face better be on the cover. Humor usually uses funny drawings or such, but it’s the same approach. It’s obvious that it’s non fiction, and that it is going to be funny.

The most important thing is that a cover for fiction NOT look like non-fiction. If it looks literal, if it looks like “real life”, or “true”, you run the risk of alienating your audience at best, or worse, possibly getting sued if you stray into legal territory. Don’t let your book pretend to be something it’s not.

Next, I’ll wrap it all up with a wheel of covers to show you how all of these guidelines can mesh together at the edges where one genre flows into the next. If you have questions, now would be a great time to ask. Put them in the comments, and I’ll try to address them next time!


MelindaVanLone-BioPicMelinda VanLone serves as DIY MFA’s official shutterbug. Melinda earned an MA in publishing from Syracuse University, which she applied toward years as a graphic artist/designer, a skill she uses today at

In addition to book cover design and photography, Melinda writes urban fantasy and blogs on her website As an air force brat, she’s lived briefly in places all across the country, but currently resides in Rockville, MD with her wonderfully supportive husband and furbaby. When she’s not playing with imaginary friends in her fantasy worlds you can find her playing World of Warcraft, wandering through the streets with her camera, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks.

Enjoyed this article?