What makes a good book cover?

what makes a good book coverWhat makes you pick up a book? I am unashamed to admit that the cover and title of a book always have an impact on whether or not I decide to read it. They’re what I see first, and first impressions count, to the extent where, even if a book is highly recommended, an unappealing cover will put me off for a long time.

So what is it that attracts you to a book? And what puts you off? Here’s a quick analysis of book cover science…  


Book Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo

1) A book cover that matches the genre of the book

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo

This cover shows a ginormous sun overpowering everything else, so that the small settlement below is in silhouette. The red, orange and black creates a dramatic effect, so you can tell it’s a thriller.

2) A book cover which works well with the title

Black River by Louise WalshBlack River by Louise Walsh

This cover is black, which echoes the word ‘black’ in the title. Also, the subtitle ‘A novel about the Aberfan disaster’ is reaffirmed by a piece of artwork that clearly shows a scene of destruction, whilst also being reminiscent of Picasso’s cubist style with connotations of politics, power and death (referencing his most famous work – Guernica). A photograph of the village would not have worked as well.book covers

The Magpie Tree by Katherine Stansfield3) A book cover that is visually stunning

The Magpie Tree by Katherine Stansfield

This cover is beautiful – a piece of artwork in its own right. But it also works well as a cover. The dark colouring and near-silhouette against the bright light suggests contrast between light and dark (magpie colouring) creating an appealing and dramatic cover.

4) A book cover that hints at, but does not explicitly reveal the protagonist or plot

Book - At the Edge of the Orchardby Tracy ChevalierAt the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

We all have our own imagined version of a book, and the characters within. That’s what makes films of books so disappointing – they never turn out exactly as you visualised them. This cover is effective in providing a suggestion of what the main character (Sadie) might look like, but you can’t see her facial expression, and there is still plenty left to the imagination.

5) A book cover that uses colour effectively

Book - The Last Hundred DaysThe Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness

Yes, this cover shows a black and white photograph, but its lack of colour reflects the monotony of the communist era in which it is set, as well as indicating that it is based on real historical fact. Other book covers also use colour well, such as darker colours which imply a sense of foreboding.

And here are two covers that put me off reading the book… though I eventually surmounted this initial barrier to discover exceptionally well-written literature in disguise.

The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker

Book -The Truth About The Harry Quebert AffairThis is a long complex title, hinting at all sorts of things: Who is Harry Quebert? What was the affair? And what is ‘the truth’ about it? It implies that you should have at least a vague idea of who Harry Quebert might be, though he is, in fact, a fictional character. I prefer shorter titles that are more succinct. And the words are printed in big letters over the top of an image which you can hardly see, which makes it look a bit messy. This cover did not attract me, but the book itself is exceptionally clever – an intriguing tale about truth and the power of stories.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Book - My Brilliant FriendIf it wasn’t for the mystery surrounding the identity of this particular author, I would certainly have not begun reading this book. The cover is obtusely bland, and the image of a bride and groom implies that this is a book about family life, but not much more. It’s also old-fashioned, but not in a retro way – it looks like something you might pick up at a jumble sale, but when you open it up you’re in for a fascinating read.

So what do you think makes a good book cover? Please do add your own examples and suggestions below…

One thought on “What makes a good book cover?

  1. If I’m not looking for a book by a particular author then it’s always the cover I choose. I have picked up The Magpie Tree a few times, I think the cover is stunning. I have just completed a novel writing course & learnt so much about books.

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