How to Make a Book Cover for a Nonfiction Book

by Bennett R. Coles

How to Get a Book Printed and Bound

The Importance of a Good Book Cover

The bar for nonfiction book cover design is much higher than that for most other genres.

Unlike works of fiction, where the primary goal is to entertain a general audience, nonfiction books are usually more serious in nature. Whether your goal is to help your audience at a personal level or in their business, your book will position you as an expert in their eyes.

As a result, the quality of your book’s presentation will have to meet a high standard: that’s the natural expectation readers have from experts.

Your book cover design is an area where you can’t afford to cut corners by using an inexpensive gig site or cover design templates, because your professional reputation will be riding on the final product.

What Makes a Good Cover Design?

Since you’re writing a nonfiction book, chances are that you’re doing so to solve a problem for your audience. Therefore, your unique solution needs to be reflected on your cover in a way that’s clear and unambiguous.

Since problems tend to have a strong emotional component, your solution and the imagery of your book cover must clearly reflect this fact. A good nonfiction cover design needs to pictorially reflect the outcome of your solution, which is the desired state that your target audience seeks to achieve.

For example, consider the book “The 4-Hour Workweek” that provides strategies to escape the rat race and gain personal and financial freedom.

The title doesn’t explain how this is achieved and neither does the cover – you have to read the book to find out! But the front cover clearly shows the intended outcome by depicting the outline of a person lying on a hammock between two palm trees with a sunset in the background.

The end result is that this cover is able to establish 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.

Top 3 Best Practices for Your Front Cover Design

Below you’ll find three best practices you need to apply to your front cover to ensure that your book stands out from the crowd:

1- Make Your Title Short and Catchy

Over the last twenty years or so, there’s been a trend in the nonfiction genre from longer titles and shorter subtitles to shorter titles with longer subtitles.

A classic example from the old days is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Even though this title is a bit of a mouthful, it does say all you need to know about the contents of the book.

However, with the migration of book discovery from the offline to the online worlds, ruled by small, smartphone-sized screens, you’d now find it challenging to clearly make out all these words from a tiny thumbprint image.

As a result, books put out by publishers and self-published authors alike have been trending toward short titles in the 1-5-word range with longer subtitles used to expand on the book’s main premise.

Here are some examples:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It

2- Use Book Cover Images that Reflect the Aspirations of Your Target Audience

In order to compensate for the limited real estate of book front covers viewed online you’ll need to rely more than ever on your cover imagery to paint a clear picture of your book.

This wasn’t an issue when The 7 Habits was released back in the late 80s – in fact, the original book cover had no imagery whatsoever, just a background color behind the title with some strategic underlining.

But today, you have to lean more than ever on cover visuals to complement your title. In fact, for maximum effect, you want to choose illustrations or photographs that clearly reflect the aspirations of your target audience.

Don’t choose images that illustrate your audience’s current problem – choose images that illustrate the solution!

3- Use a Color Scheme in Line with the Expectations of Your Niche

When it comes to the color palette for your book cover, there are unlimited choices and combinations available to you, making the task of choosing the right color appear to be overwhelming.

Since colors are very subjective, you certainly don’t want to make a mistake and risk being labeled amateurish or inappropriate by the buying public. Fortunately, different niches tend to gravitate to specific color patterns that align with the expectations of their audience.

For example, you wouldn’t want to use red for the cover of a book on investment advice, since red is typically associated with financial loss. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to color a cookbook in a way that’s not reflective of the type of cuisine that your book conveys.

Colors have the ability to trigger an emotional response in your readers and you want to make sure that this response is always positive and in line with your niche.

The 5 Key Elements of a Nonfiction Back Cover:

Now, let’s switch to the back cover of your book. The goal of your back cover is to shore up the marketing pull of your front cover. In other words, while your front cover draws people in, your back cover needs to do the selling job.

For the marketing pull of your back cover to be effective, you need to hone in on the following five key elements.

1- Testimonials (from Recognized Experts!)

The first order of business is the solicitation of glowing testimonials from people your target audience considers to be experts in your niche. The stronger the name recognition, the better.

Now the question is, how do you get recognized experts to agree to give you a testimonial? Well, you’ll have to be resourceful. You have to uncover direct paths to them and then work those channels to get introduced to them.

Here are some suggestions:

Perhaps you know someone who knows them – check LinkedIn to see if you share a common business acquaintance, making them a 2nd-level connection, then ask them to make an introduction.

Attend paid seminars or workshops that they offer and simply ask them directly (always towards the end of the engagement, once you’ve developed a relationship of trust). This is a little bit harder to do when attending a webinar because all exchanges are publicly shared, which brings us to the next tactic.

Book a paid one-to-one session if they happen to operate a consultancy in your area and then ask them politely (if they published books earlier in their careers, they’ll empathize with you!).

Keep in mind that they won’t endorse you book simply because you ask – as a starting point, your book has to be professionally designed and edited and its content has to be excellent in their eyes.

By giving you an endorsement and having their name appear on the cover of your book, they’re putting their reputation on the line and they’ll be reluctant to do so if they feel that your content is substandard.

Having said that, there are benefits to them in providing their endorsement. If your book does well in the market they’ll benefit from free promotion for their own books, which will be mentioned along with their names.

2- Marketing Blurb

The goal of the marketing blurb, or marketing text, isn’t to provide a summary your book but to engage and entice readers to consider buying it. The text must connect with their emotions, which is ultimately what’s behind most purchasing decisions.

Therefore, your blurb will need to:

  • Clearly identify the main problem afflicting your readers, which your book will address
  • Show them what your book will do to relieve this pain (your solution) without revealing any of its secrets (the “how”)
  • Address their aspirations by painting a picture of what their lives will be like after implementing the lessons contained in your book

3- Your Author Bio

You author bio needs to establish your expertise in your book’s topic. It must mention what your credentials are, show how long you’ve been practicing your trade and give an account of your experience.

When it comes to style, it’s customary to write author bios in the third person. It’s also customary, although not strictly necessary, to close the bio with a personal touch.

This closing could be as simple as mentioning the general area where you live (e.g. west coast, the name of a state, a city, etc.), mentioning how many children you have, if you have a pet, perhaps their name, and so on.

You can also make it as personal as you feel is required to connect with your audience – for example, mentioning a mundane experience from your life that your readers can easily identify with.

4- Author Head Shot

Your author head shot could either be a black and white or a color photograph (black and white is a common choice for nonfiction books), however, make sure it’s taken by a professional photographer.

Although some authors use casual shots for their author bios, I don’t recommend this approach for nonfiction authors because it creates a disconnect with your image as an expert.

When you meet a lawyer or an accountant, you have a certain expectation on how they present themselves – ripped jeans and a t-shirt won’t inspire a lot of confidence. This is no different with experts who publish nonfiction books.

5- The Barcode

The final key element in your back cover is the ISBN barcode. You want to make sure that it’s of the highest possible quality to ensure that laser scanners in retail locations can read it.

Some barcodes have the suggested retail price encoded, but this isn’t mandatory, especially if your book will be offered in multiple currencies.

Depending on where you live, the barcode may be supplied by the same agency that generates the ISBNs. In the U.S. this agency is Bowker (https://www.myidentifiers.com/identify-protect-your-book/barcode)

Next Steps

In order to formulate initial ideas for your cover, search Amazon for bestselling books in your niche and inspect their covers for visual and textual messaging.

Figure out what you find compelling about them, how they make you feel and how they align with the book’s thesis and the aspirations of their intended audiences. Then take notes about those design elements you think would work on your book.

The goal is not to copy what you see in other books, but to use those books as source of inspiration and an idea generator for yours.

Good luck with your cover!

If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing 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.


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

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 writers (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, ghost writing, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.

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