Back Cover Design

Book Cover Design: What goes on the back cover?

A very common question that I get asked is, “What do you need for the back cover?”  The book description is a given, but there are many elements that can amp up the design to make it look more traditional verse self-published.

Most of the time the back cover gets overlooked as an important aspect of the design. Usually, you’re so focused on making the front cover amazing, that the back cover becomes a second thought. However, if you plan on putting your books in stores, bringing them to events – like book signings -, then you want to make sure your back cover lives up to the standards of your front cover.

The following is a breakdown of the different elements that can be included to make the back cover more professional.

Book Description

Below are a few tips for those who will be writing their book description:

  • Start with a headline that entices your readers to want to read on.
  • The ideal length for the main description is 150-200 words.
  • Break up your copy into shorter paragraphs verse one long paragraph.
  • Avoid clichés such as “a must-read” or “This book will change your life”.
  • Avoid using the terms like “the book”. Instead, use the title in italics. Avoid “the readers” and “readers” in your description. For example, instead of “Readers will learn…” say “You will learn…”
  • The last paragraph should compel the reader to take action by wanting to open your book to know more.

If you would like to read more in depth about certain aspects, I recommend this article written by Casey Demchak.

About the Author

This is optional, but if your description is on the shorter end, adding an “about the author” and/or author photo can increase the appeal of the back cover. However, it is recommend to keep it fifty words or less and keep the information pertinent to the story itself. For example these are some things to include:

  • Education, degree, other writing achievements or if you are a bestselling author
  • Hobbies or interests if it can be related back to the story. For example if the main character is a kayaker in the story you could say “Jane Doe has been kayaking since the age of 10…”
  • A little personal brief which could include where you live and/or your family.

If you get stuck, take a look at some of the author bios of traditionally published books and see how they approach it.

Author Photo

If you choose to include an author photo, make sure it is appropriate and professional. It is typically a head shot or portrait of the author and it should be a recent photograph. Make sure the photo is clear, not blurry, and that the background is plain or solid and not overly dark or light. The more professional the photo, the more readers will assume the author knows what he/she is talking about.

If your photo doesn’t fit those recommendations then it’s best to not include it. If you want to take your own photo because you cannot afford a professional photographer, then follow these tips:

  • Find a solid color wall with neutral tones to stand/sit against
  • Wear clothes that look nice, but you’re comfortable in
  • Use an actual digital camera, not your phone. You’ll need the resolution to be 300 DPI for printing, and not all phones live up to those standards. Some might, but you’re safer using a real digital camera for now.

Quotes from Reviewers

If you have received praise either from advanced copy readers, or after your book has been on the market for awhile, you can consider including some quotes on the back cover. However it is best to use quotes or endorsements from people or periodicals that relate to your book in some way. It is also best if they are from significant sources (not your family member). Be sure to include a credit line giving the name and title of the person who gave you the endorsement.

Additional Items

  1. Barcodes are always on the back of a book. Now, if you self-publish through Createspace, they will place on the barcode themselves. However, if you prefer more control, you can purchase both the ISBN and barcode to have included on the back cover. This gives the designer flexibility so the barcode doesn’t necessarily have to be in the bottom, right corner.
  2. Traditional authors typically include a price. As a self-publishing author, you have control over the price of your paperback and can adjust it at anytime. So only include the price if you are 100% sure you are never, ever going to change it.
  3. Publisher Logo/Author Name/Website: If you happen to have a publishing name for yourself, include that on the back along with a logo if you’ve had one designed. Also, it’s good to include your website URL so that readers know where to go to find out more.
  4. Category: If you ever think that you might want your book in a local library, or bookstores, it’s a good idea to add a category on the back. This helps libraries and bookstores know where to put your book. This is a great article by Joel Friedlander that talks about Categories. Even through it’s from 2009 the categories are still relevant.
  5. Cover Design Credit: If you don’t include the credit on your copyright page, then you should include it on the back cover – or both. If you hired a professional designer then it doesn’t hurt to promote their work twice, right? Especially if you loved the work that they did for you.
  6. Thumbnails of other books: It’s not very often that I see this, but it is definitely an option to include small thumbnails of your others books. Just make sure your book covers work well at that small of a size and convey the book properly (doesn’t just look like a blob of color).

Just don’t overcrowd the back cover with information. You want there to be room to breathe and you also want to make sure you’re providing your reader relevant information.

Communicate with your designer what you want included, and if they come back and say that there’s not enough room for it all then believe them. Trust them. And then work together to figure out what you can edit/remove so that it all fits nicely.

Below are a handful of a good variety of examples.


You can see examples of print covers I’ve designed in my portfolio on my website.


7 Common Cover Design Mistakes

Inexperienced designers, or authors who attempt to make their own covers, tend to make these same common mistakes which make it look like an amateur design.

Trying to match all of the details perfectly

For the most part, cover designers are working with stock photography, unless you happen to find a designer who can do custom photo shoots for you. Therefore, the designer can only use what already exists. If you want a particular item/person/animal on your cover, there may be times you have to compromise the exact details in order to create an effective cover. For example if you’re putting a dog on your cover, yes you’ll want to use the same breed the dog is, but the dog might not have the same markings as what’s described in the book. Most readers aren’t going to care enough to look back at the cover to see if the dog matches the description in the book. If you’re using a silhouette of a dog, sometimes you may have to use a silhouette that looks like it could be the dog even if it happens to be a different breed.

Also keep in mind that although designers can alter images, we can’t change an angle an object is pointing, or we can’t (at least not easily) change clothing, or the position of someone’s arm or body, so using an image that’s more powerful can be more important than using something that 100% matches your story.

That said, you don’t want to be so far off that you mislead your readers, so you have to find the right balance between the truth and a cover that will sell your book.Read More »

The Secret to a Great Cover Design

Hopefully you’ve realized that a book cover is a valuable asset to your book and can help determine the success of your book. Therefore, you decide you’d like the best cover ever. So, you start doing research and what you find are famous books by famous authors who’s covers are creative and sometimes very unique. However, these authors (or better yet publishers) can do this because their name is what is going to sell the book, not the cover. If they literally just want to put their name and title on the cover, they could and they’d still sell their book to all of their fans – but they might be missing out on potential new fans. The larger your established reader base is, the more risky designs you can try.

What self-publishing authors don’t typically realize is that the best cover might not be the most beautiful, unique, or innovative design. It’s the cover that is going to catch the attention of a target reader, communicate the genre, setting, and tone, and give them a general idea of the emotional investment they’re about to make all within 3-5 seconds. This is the first step to selling your book because if your cover is intriguing enough, they will click on your book and read the description. If your cover doesn’t convey the necessary ideas to the reader in those 3-5 seconds (aka an unprofessional cover), then it doesn’t matter if you have the most amazing book description ever written – because they’re never going to read it.

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Book Cover Design: How to avoid disappointment in the early stages

You’ve hired a designer, you’ve sent them what felt like a butt-load of information and the date is approaching for when you will receive the first concepts. You’re nervous, excited and your expectations are through the roof. You’ve seen the amazing covers on the designer’s website thus you’re expecting one of the concepts that they are about to send is going to be perfect and exactly what you envision. Your email dings and it’s finally here! You open it up, your heart sinks and you go, “What in the world?”

The first cover concepts are rarely perfect, unless you’ve been so precise on your wants and needs that the designer and you are so in tune you don’t have to change a thing. However, designing a cover is all about collaboration between the designer and the author, even if you’re allowing the designer to take the lead.

Here are some common things that lead to disappointment, lack of confidence along with other not very happy feelings and how to prepare for them.

Your expectations are too high

It is usually one of two scenarios:

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Book Cover Design: Does the author know better than the designer?

In traditional publishing, authors have zero to some say in their cover design. There’s a team of highly skilled designers who make the decisions on what the book cover will look like. If the author loves, it great! If the author hates it, well, that’s too bad because they’re designing a cover that will have the greatest potential of selling, so to them, does it matter if the author loves it? All that matters is if it sells.

However, with self-publishing authors now have a say in everything. Self-publishing authors wear so many hats – writer, editor, proofreader, promoter, designer – and even when they hire people to edit their book and design their cover, they still get the final say. It’s an amazing opportunity that the author gets to make all the decisions – but does that make them the best fit for every job?

Authors are experts at writing

You know the ins and outs of writing and how to be a storyteller. Therefore, you know your story better than anyone else – but that’s the catch. You know your story and characters so intimately, that it’s hard for you to break down your book into a simple, visual message since you’re use to focusing on details. So you may not be the best judge for your cover because you’re going to be stuck on the detail.

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Book Cover Design: Simplicity is Key

Writers are great at, well, writing. No matter how talented the author’s literary skills are, most are writers and not designers. As a writer, you’re focused on details, whereas designers need to focus on a simplistic image that will capture a reader’s attention and convince them to pick up, or click on a book.

Some authors may not realize, especially new authors, that a book cover can make or break your book sales. You have roughly 3 seconds to capture a readers attention – if a cover is too detailed/busy/etc. readers are just going to scroll on by because they are looking for something interesting. When most people think of the word ‘interesting’ they think that to be interesting you have to include a variety of things, because there’s no way just one or two images can be interesting. Right?

Wrong. Look at some of the bestsellers in the past few years.

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What makes an effective book cover design?

Establish a main focus for your cover

Every book has a story, and you want your cover to reflect that one idea clearly .
There should be that one element of the design that takes control of the cover and demands your focus.

Effective Cover
Joel Friedlander has a great analogy:

“You could think of your book cover like a billboard, trying to catch the attention of browsers as they speed by. Billboards usually have 6 words or less. You have to “get it” at 60 miles per hour, in 3 to 5 seconds. “

This is exactly what needs to happen with your book cover. Readers should be able to tell at a glance:

  • Your genre
  • The general idea of your story
  • Sense the tone of the book
  • Spark an emotion (love, fear, sadness, curiosity, etc)

A romance novel will have a different tone than a mystery novel, and a nonfiction book cover should appeal to your brain instead of an emotion.

Legibility of the title

This is still a highly debated aspect of a cover design. Some professionals say that you have to be able to read the title at thumbnail size, and others say it’s not necessary. Some say it’s not necessary because Amazon (and other online retailers) displays your title right next to the thumbnail of the cover so if the reader really wants to know the title, they can read it there. However, it never hurts to make sure the title is readable at thumbnail size because when you run ads for promotions, you want people to be able to read the title.

Keep it simple

This ties back to the first point made but a busy cover can look amateurish and can actually turn readers off from wanting to look at your book. An author may see the cover as a masterpiece because the hero, his best friend, the space ship, the mountains and the dog are all represented on the cover. But not one thing stands out so all a reader sees scrolling by is a busy cover because they can’t make out what is happening or what the story is about within those 2-3 seconds. Remember, you design a cover based on grabbing your readers attention. They are the ones who are going to buy your book.

Don’t go overboard on fonts and colors

The general rule of thumb is 2-3 fonts maximum. The whole design has to work as one and this includes the font choices. Typically, the title is one font style and the author name is another. Try to steer clear of using two serif fonts or two sans-serif fonts. They typically don’t compliment each other and can make a design look amateurish.

Limiting your colors can also be beneficial, unless you have a specific (and logical) reason to use the entire rainbow. There are quite a few color palette pickers online to help you choose colors if you’re not sure where to start. Another good idea is to research what different colors represent. I am constantly referring back to the color book I own: Color – Messages & Meanings: A PANTONE Color Resource by Leatrice Eiseman. I’m sure there are other great books but I’ve found this one quite helpful.

Make sure images have a purpose

If you’re going to include an image on your cover, make sure it communicates something to the reader about your story. If the image doesn’t tell a reader something related to the main image, then maybe it’s not worth having on there.

A professional book cover designer should already know these, but the more the author and book cover designer can be on the same page, the better the cover design will be in the end.