Key Questions for a Standout Book Cover

by Deanna Dionne
published in Writing

In a bookstore, shoppers feel at home, walking up and down the aisles filled with hundreds of books, perhaps with a coffee in hand. They take their time, looking at each book cover as if in a gallery.

You’re not in a traditional bookstore. In the fast-paced world of digital publishing, users demand instant gratification. They swipe, click, tap, and some barely spend 3-5 seconds looking at a page of book results, let alone one thumbnail. It is now more important than ever to have a cover that stands out. That’s professional. That’s intriguing.

As a self-publisher, you have control over your book cover. You can choose your designer, and tell them exactly what you want. A good designer will take that and bring it to the next level. However, A great designer will read your synopsis, perhaps ask a few questions, and come up with an amazing concept birthed from years of training. If you are hiring a capable designer, you may want to give him the space to really get creative.

Things to look for in a successful cover:

Does my cover stand out?

This involves great balance. Each genre has a specific look, and that’s good. It’s how a reader knows he’s in the right place. But your cover also has to grab someone’s attention. Designers need to avoid clichés just as much as writers do, and strive to always be unique.

How does it make me feel?




The cover needs to appeal to our emotions. A romance cover should turn us on. A thriller cover should make us feel anxious. A memoir cover should intrigue us. A non-fiction cover should inform us. Readers will be relying on emotion as they scroll through thousands of results, finding the cover that exactly fits their mood. A book cover is a promise, conveying an expression of things to come. A good design will make you feel. 

In my pre-made book cover shown here, I found an image of a doll which looked rather creepy. It’s those eyes. They grab your own, and fill you with unease. The darkness under her chin makes her appear beheaded. The tilted and off-centered text contributes to the anxiety. It stands out, draws the reader in, and immediately makes them feel.

Does it convey my story?

This should actually be: Does it convey the emotion of my story, and allude to the storyline? The cover does not need to be too literal, as readers often like to let their imagination determine some aspects of the story. I was browsing through Amazon when this cover caught my eye. “The Dinner” by Herman Koch.


It is conceptual, showing tension in what would be considered an intimate setting– a meal. And that’s just what the book is about. Other books, such as Life of Pi, have such an incredible story that it’s obvious what should be on the cover. A boy, a tiger, a boat. I don’t even need to read a description to be intrigued.

Is it clear?

When browsing on their computer, tablet, or phone, the thumbnail could be as small as a quarter. Some designs may look great when large, but when shrunk down, they could be misleading, too busy, or unreadable. With that in mind, do not be afraid to go with a simple cover design.

Is it good quality?

As a designer, poor quality jumps out at me. Here are just some things that will cause me to stop and frown. Bad kerning (letter spacing). Blurriness caused by over-compressed JPGs or up-scaled images. Hard pixel edges, or over-feathered edges.  Over-use of effects. Outdated or inappropriate fonts. These all add up to an amateur-looking design, which conveys to the reader that the writing is likely also amateur.


Just like investing in a quality suit for an interview, investing in a quality cover design can only bring good results. It is the only thing standing between a reader and your words. You know your story is good, now you need to show them.


D-2Deanna Dionne is an award-winning graphic artist whose work regularly appears in national magazines. She understands the writing world, having worked as an administrative assistant at the Backspace Writers Conference for five years. You can find her designs at

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