In this article I’ll show you 9 book-cover ideas to take your nonfiction cover design to the next level. In this competitive age of digital shopping habits, your book is more likely than ever to appear side-by-side with traditionally published books than ever before.
By implementing the nine ideas below, you’ll be able to level the playing field with your competition, making your book cover more compelling as you’re able to match the expectations of readers in your niche.
All Books Are Judged by Their Covers
While it’s true that all books are judged by their covers, this is of particular importance for nonfiction books.
The reason is that while fiction book covers only need to reflect the story and characters in the book, nonfiction book covers need to show a reflection of the reader’s hopes and dreams.
In other words, what readers of nonfiction titles want to see on their covers is who they stand to become if they read your book. Nonfiction covers are aspirational.
So if you want your book to be picked up, you’ll need its cover to reflect a mirror image of the future your reader can expect if they were to implement your solution.
In this article, I’m going to share nine ideas or tactics that’ll help you get this done right.
Book Cover Idea 1: Browse Covers of Bestsellers in Your Niche
Before you hire a professional book cover designer, you need to learn what the state of the art is in your own niche.
Begin by doing the following search on Google: Amazon bestseller books. Then, select the category the best aligns with your niche in order to display a list of bestsellers sorted numerically.
Click on each cover and when you get to the book detail page, right-click on the larger cover image and save it to your computer – you might want to create a new folder on your desktop and save them there since you’ll be pulling down lots of covers.
Finally, using PowerPoint or a similar tool, create a new file and insert three images per page side by side. Print this file and then use the margins to make handwritten notes about what you like most about each cover.
You’ll be passing these notes later on to your book cover artist when you discuss your design.
Book Cover Idea 2: Speak to an “Audience of One”
A very important aspect for nonfiction book writers is to understand the motivation of your readers.
While fiction readers are motivated by a need to be entertained, by the need to find a respite from the daily realities of life, nonfiction book readers are motivated by the need to solve a pressing problem that’s afflicting them.
Therefore, the question that nonfiction readers will ask themselves at every step as they go through your book’s content is: What’s In It for Me? (It’s often said that the only radio station nonfiction readers are tuned into WIIFM).
For your book and by extension for your cover to be effective, you’ll have to tailor them to an audience of one. Each reader will want your book to be addressed specifically to them. Not to a group of people, not to a “generic” reader, just to them.
In fact, whenever you read a great nonfiction book to solve a problem you’re having you’ll invariably feel that the writer is talking to you, and by the end of the book you’ll feel that the author is like a friend who’s trying to help you.
That’s your goal with your nonfiction book and especially your cover: making your readers feel that you’re there for them.
Book Cover Idea 3: Less is More
As stated before, nonfiction book covers have a simple mission: to reflect the aspirations for your readers. In order to be effective in your visual messaging, you need to eliminate any type of distracting elements that can clutter up your cover.
In this context, less is more. The fewer elements that you use in the design, the more impactful that your cover will be. This is an area that your professional nonfiction book cover designer will help you nail down.
They are experts in reading the psyche of nonfiction audiences and in knowing how to capture their hopes and dreams in a visually compelling way.
Book Cover Idea 4: Use Professional Photography that’s Unique
Nonfiction books must be professionally executed from the ground up, because they will become a proxy for your expertise and your level of excellence. This includes any photographic images on the cover.
Your photography must also be unique. If you choose to go with a cover photo from a stock photo site you run the risk of overexposure – perhaps other books have used it before or perhaps it appears repeatedly on various websites and blogs.
So, make the investment to hire a professional photographer in order to create the required photo art for your cover, and make sure that you have a written contract that stipulates that the copyright of the photograph will transfer to you on payment.
Book Cover Idea 5: Use Professional Illustrations
The same applies to cover illustrations. Don’t but images from public sites, even it they’re professionally produced. Instead hire a graphic designer to create unique art the represents the aspirations of your readers in relation to the topic of your book.
As is the case with photographic images, make sure the copyright transfers to you contractually and make sure this document contains your graphic artist’s signature.
Book Cover Idea 6: Use Colors That Resonate With Your Niche
Nonfiction book covers need to use a color palette that’s in line with your niche. Different niches have different expectations when it comes to colors. For instance, many wealth management titles favor the use of green and gold.
To find out what works in your niche, observe the color schemes on the book covers you captured in Idea 1. Also consult with your cover designer to find out what works best based on their experience.
Using the wrong colors for your niche may have negative consequences for your sales. For example, most wealth management books tend to stay away from the color red.
Book Cover Idea 7: Make Your Book’s Title Your Cover’s Focal Point
Unless you’re a widely recognized author coming up with a new book, your title will have to take center stage on your book cover.
Always reserve the biggest font size for your main title and make it the focal point of your cover. This is of particular importance as shopping continually moves from the desktop to the mobile world, where real estate is very limited.
Make sure that your book title is highly legible and compelling enough to get your readers to click on your book’s thumbnail when doing a search.
Book Cover Idea 8: Make Your Title a Single Word
This is an idea that has been gaining in popularity as some one-word titles have achieved blockbuster status, such as Quiet, Outliers, Becoming, Blink and Fury.
The goal with single-word titles is to choose a word that evokes the desired feeling from your readers based of the subject of your book, which can then be expanded upon by your cover’s imagery and your sub-title.
Book Cover Idea 9: Make Your Cover Impactful Even as a Thumbnail
Since book discovery migrated from the world of physical bookstores to the online world, covers have been reduced to the size of a thumbnail.
As a result of this seismic change in shopping behavior, book covers have had to adapt to the real-estate limitations of this tiny digital representation of your book.
So publishers have had no choice but to adapt to this new reality by making important adjustments to how book covers are designed.
For example, in the past book titles could be long enough to explain the entire thesis of a book while the sub-title was there as an afterthought – e.g. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.
Nowadays, titles need to be short and intriguing, often three words or less, and a much longer subtitle is needed to complete the thesis – e.g. The Mindfulness Code: Keys for Overcoming Stress, Anxiety, Fear and Unhappiness.
In the world of thumbnail covers, you title has to be shown in a very large font so that it can be fully legible in the tiny image, whereas subtitles will be illegible until readers click on the thumbprint to expand it.
3 Book Cover Mistakes to Avoid
The nine ideas shown above take care of many of the variables that come into play when designing a nonfiction book cover, however, there are three key design areas that you must stay away from at all cost:
Book Cover Mistake 1: Using Pixelated Images
Many cover designs use photographs and images that are made to wrap around the entire book, so they must contain a very large amount of fine visual information to cover the front and back covers plus the spine.
But the fact that those images look sharp on the computer screen doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll show well in print form.
The advanced digital printing presses that are used to print book covers today can print very fine pixels and need a lot of information in order to produce a smooth image that doesn’t look pixelated.
Your cover designer will be able to advise you on the resolution and size of files that are required to print a professional-looking cover.
Book Cover Mistake 2: Using Gimmicky Fonts
In keeping with the professional image that your nonfiction book must convey, stay away from using gimmicky fonts that could make your book appear amateurish in any way.
Nonfiction fonts must conform to the expectations of your niche. What works in one niche can bomb in another. Rely on the expertise of your cover designer when it comes to cover fonts and try to keep them simple and niche-friendly.
Book Cover Mistake 3: Using Too Many Cover Elements
We briefly talked about this subject before, but it bears repeating one more time. Nonfiction book covers have one job only: to reflect the aspirations and hopes of your target audience.
You want to produce a book cover that clearly and cleanly achieves this objective. Too many elements will simply obscure this important goal cluttering your visual message.
Even if you feel that certain images or graphic elements need to be on you cover because they have a personal meaning, remember that your book cover isn’t about you but about the state of mind of your readers.
In other words, the meaning that you ascribe to those images or elements will not be shared by your audience, so might as well keep them out of your cover so as not to clutter your key visual message.
In the world of digital shopping you need to make sure that your nonfiction book cover is able to compete with the pros.
The above nine book cover ideas show you foundational design tactics that are necessary to compare favorably with other professionally-produced books in your niche that’ll appear side-by-side with your title in book searches.
By developing your knowledge around these rules of cover design, you’ll be able to have more in-depth discussions about your cover with your designer.
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.
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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.