Dos and Don’ts of Book Cover Design

designI’ll be the first to admit it. I don’t have much design sense.  When it comes to choosing paint colours, arranging furniture to maximize feng shui, or figuring out what configuration of flowers and shrubs looks best in the garden, I’m at a loss.  Usually, I play to my strengths.  My wife has a design gene I appear to be missing, so I let her decide and nod my head in approval when it all comes together.  So when Rebelight Publishing Inc. arranged a meeting to discuss the cover for my novel, Missing in Paradise, a voice inside my head whispered Really? You want my input? You’ve got to be kidding.

With other publishing firms, I’d never been consulted about a book’s cover. Traditional publishers mostly treat authors and designers as separate commodities. Often authors don’t see the cover until the book comes out.  If they like it, that’s fine. If they don’t, well… too bad. But Rebelight does things differently.  As the company name implies, Rebelight’s founders liken themselves to rebels lighting the way, carving creative inroads through dark forests of tradition.

REBELIGHT_LOGO_4CBefore the book cover meeting, I received a digital draft of the cover to consider. Admittedly, I was stunned.  The cover was a composite of vividly coloured, boxed images, each one representing an element from the story. It was unlike anything I’d seen elsewhere and very different from what I expected.  I showed it to my wife, she of inherent design instincts.  Her reaction was similar. ”Well, that’s interesting,” she said.

Interesting, it was. Effective?  Well, I wasn’t so sure.

When I arrived at the meeting, Rebelight’s creative director, Melanie Matheson, a recipient of several design awards, calmly eyed a stack of books I carried. These were from my collection, books with covers I admired and thought were effective. “Oh, good. You’ve brought samples,” Melanie said, clearing a space on the table.

images3I7I7BTYTogether we sifted through the pile. I told her what I liked about each one. She patiently listened and interjected occasionally with comments.  After, we discussed her design for Missing in Paradise, and Melanie walked me through her rationale for each component.

All in all, the meeting reinforced something I already knew. That missing design gene – yep, still missing.  But I also came away with new understandings of all that goes into a book’s cover and a stronger trust in experts like Melanie who do it so well.

Here are a few things I learned in my meeting with Melanie.

  • To stress the ‘Missing’ part of the title, Melanie added a hand to hold the word, enlarged the letters, and fanned them outwards to create a ripple effect of motion. She positioned the ‘in Paradise’ portion below it and opted for smaller letters so the reader’s eyes would be drawn primarily to ‘Missing’ with its implied promise of adventure inside.title
  • Boys like the colour yellow. Melanie chose yellow for the title’s hand and sprinkled yellow elsewhere on the cover to entice boy readers to linger and look inside.


  • About 8 % of males & O.5% of females are colourblind. Melanie avoided colour combinations which are trouble for many of the afflicted. Instead she used other vibrant colours.bear
  • In the fashion world, hot colours of the moment are turquoises, browns and greens. Melanie used a background of stripes from this colour palette to give the book its jazzy and current appeal.waves
  • In this era of video games, kids – boys in particular – are attracted to quests, and they’re pretty astute at solving complex puzzles. Melanie’s design features an array of puzzle-like boxes, each a component of the treasure-hunting story inside.knife
  • Titles should be positioned at the top of the cover. That way, when books are displayed on a table and the top of one overlaps the bottom of another as is often the case, the title is still visible and easily read.

cover - early pdfThose who say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ have it all wrong. The cover’s tone, the colours it flaunts, the position and size of the title – everything on the outside of the book should reflect the content within and invite readers to delve deeper. To that end, I offer a toast to Melanie Matheson.  Here’s to you, Mel.  Job well done!



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