How to Make a Nonfiction Book Cover in 5 Steps

by Bennett R. Coles

Book Cover How to Make

This article will show you the best practices to make a book cover for your nonfiction title in five simple steps.

The Importance of Nonfiction Covers

The cover of a nonfiction book is absolutely critical for its success. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, changes are that you’re doing so to solve a problem for your target audience.

Your unique solution needs to be reflected on your cover in a way that’s clear and unambiguous. Since problems have a strong emotional component, your solution and the imagery of your book cover must clearly reflect this fact.

Your best approach is for your cover to pictorially reflect the outcome of your solution, which is the most desired state that your target audience seeks to achieve.

For example, the book “The 4-Hour Workweek” provides strategies to escape the rat race and gain personal and financial freedom. Now, the title doesn’t explain how this is achieved and neither does the cover – clearly, you must read the book to find out.

However, what both the title and the cover do is to show the outcome of having put this yet unknown solution into practice. Specifically, this book’s cover depicts the outline of a person lying on a hammock between two palm trees with a sunset in the background.

This cover achieves a direct emotional connection with the source of its audience’s problem (living in a financial rat race) while offering an aspirational outcome that symbolizes personal and financial freedom.

Why It’s Key to Hire a Professional

When it comes to nonfiction, your self-published book will be competing head to head with traditionally published titles.

When your book comes up on a user search, it’ll be flanked by other books in your niche that have professionally produced covers. Anything less will look amateurish by comparison.

This is the reason why you can’t afford to farm out this important task to family or friends, or even do it yourself (unless you all make a living as professional cover designers).

Don’t cut corners in the most important aspect of visual marketing for your book. Also, keep in mind that your nonfiction book will establish you as an expert in your field and as such it’ll become an extension of your professional reputation. Any sign of amateur design will poorly reflect on your professionalism.

Now, even when you hire a book cover artist, it’s important for you to be familiar with the basics of cover design so that you can both have an intelligent discussion.

To this end, here are five steps to making a nonfiction book cover that can move the needle:

Step 1: Research Covers in Your Niche for Ideas

The first step is something that I recommend you do before you hire a professional.

Do a Google search for the most popular and critically acclaimed nonfiction books in your niche and create a list of titles and authors.

Then search Amazon for those books and copy and paste the covers in a document on your computer – you can use PowerPoint or similar so that you can easily manipulate the images.

Place three covers side by side per page, then print them and make notes on the margins about the features that you find appealing, or that you would like your designer to emulate.

Then take pictures of each page with your phone and email them to your cover designer so they can read your handwritten comments. They’ll use this research to inform their design choices.

Step 2: Choose the Right Trim Size

The next step is to choose your trim size. Now this is a decision that will be made jointly by your layout artist and your book designer and it’ll take into consideration the following two criteria:

  • Using the trim size that is most favored in your nonfiction niche – the goal is to match the expectations of your target audience. For example, a financial investment guide printed in a small 5×8 trim size may give the appearance of a lack of gravitas as many mass-market novels are printed using this size.
  • The number of words in your book. The larger the trim size the larger the number of words that can be fitted onto each page and the fewer the number of pages that will be required. Now, a book that’s too thin might give the perception that it’s not thorough enough for specific niches. Again your designers will arrive at the best compromise.

Paperback Format

For your paperback format, your cover will consist of a front cover, the spine and a back cover. Your front cover will include the main graphic elements, your title, sub-title, your name and if available a key testimonial from a highly trusted source.

Your spine will include your title, sometimes your subtitle in small print (but not always) and your name, and your back cover will include a sales blurb for your book, your bio and additional testimonials.

Hardcover Format

Your hardcover’s book cover will be slightly different. The information in your front cover and spine will be identical as your paperback edition, but your back cover will be different, plus the hardcover format introduces a new element: cover flaps.

Your back cover will now only show testimonials and no book blurb. This information will be shown instead on the front-cover side flap. The back-cover flap will contain your bio.

Step 3: Choose the Right Fonts

The next step for your book cover designer will be to choose the cover fonts. This is a critical choice since there are thousands of font families to choose from.

Here are some of the guidelines that your designer will use:

Font Selection “Do’s”

Use Fonts That Look Good When Enlarged

Cover fonts tend to be narrower than body fonts due to the natural limitations of book covers.

Since standard size book covers have a portrait orientation, fonts must be narrow in order to fit your title without having to use too many lines of text.

Use Fonts that Match The Expectations of Your Niche

Some nonfiction niches may call for more “artistic” fonts, while some may call for more “formal” font designs. Your book cover professional will be able to advice you on this important choice.

Your Title Must Always Be Bigger Than Your Name

This is always the case unless you’re a well-known author.

Also your font title must be large enough to be easily legible in a small thumbnail image of your book, since this is what will appear on search results.

Font Selection “Don’ts”

Never Use Gimmicky Fonts for Your Book Cover

This will distract from your overall theme and message and will also make your cover design look amateurish.

Don’t Use a Lot of Graphic Elements

Stick to a single main image if at all possible. You designer will likely produce multiple cover samples with different images for you to choose from. Multiple images in a cover can become distracting and confuse the reader.

Don’t Use Too Many Colors

The goal of a cover is to convey the main theme of your book while relating to your readers aspirations. The use of too many colors will be distracting, may look garish and may be perceived as amateurish.

Don’t Use Too Many Font Types

Consistency is key. Once you agree on the main font family for your front cover with the help of your designer, you should stick with it.

It’s okay to use a different font family for your front and back covers (e.g. a sans-serif font for your front cover and a serif font for the text-heavy back cover) but try to stick with a single font family on the front cover.

Step 4: Choose the Right Images


If you’re using a photograph, stay away from stock photos because they tend to be overused. You want your book to be unique and not to reuse photographs that may appear on people’s blogs, or worse yet, on another book cover.

The solution is to use a professional photographer that you hire for the occasion. This will guarantee your uniqueness and also ensure high production quality.

Make sure that your contract stipulates that the copyright transfers to you on payment of the photographer fee without any limitations.

Images or Drawings

You’ll also have to hire a graphic artist for your cover image. Don’t use stock images for the same reason as stated above.

Your book and the solution that you’re offering to your target audience are unique and so must be your main image.

Also, make sure that the copyright to the image transfers to you on full payment as well.

Step 5: Choose the Right Colors

Nonfiction books demand very specific color palettes, and they are driven by the expectations of your target audience in your niche. For example, cookbooks require colors that people will identify with based on the food theme of your recipes.

If you use colors that don’t reflect your theme, it’ll be confusing to your audience, and perhaps even unappetizing. Colors trigger an emotional response so you must ensure that they are in line with your subject matter.

This is another area where your cover designer will be able to advise you. They’ll know from experience the colors that work well in your niche and what colors you need to stay away from.

In Conclusion

By following the above five steps, your professional designer will produce a great cover in consultation with you that you’ll be very proud of, and also a cover that’ll compete effectively with traditionally-published nonfiction books in your niche.

If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing, designing or publishing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.


Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.

Here are some related posts I highly recommend:

How to Write a Compelling Book in 12 Steps: A Must-Read Guide for Nonfiction Authors
How to Grow Your Business Writing a Nonfiction Book
How Long Does it Take to Write a Book to Help Grow Your Business?
5 Book Cover Maker Mistakes to Avoid When Designing a Nonfiction Cover

Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.

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