How to Make a Best-Selling Book Cover

What goes into making a book cover really stand out?

Among the best selling bookshelves of today’s book stores, it’s hard to determine what exactly pushes books to the top lists -- other than incredible reviews, marketing, and authors with hot names. But what if a book is stripped away of the other stuff -- what if you’re an indie author trying to make a name for yourself with limited marketing collateral and no big push from a publishing company?

They say don’t judge a book by it’s cover, yet that’s the very first impression your book gives off. What else is going to compel a person to pick up your book from the shelf and turn it over to read the blurb?

The book cover.

First impressions are everything in sales. If you’re going to convince a reader in 2.5 seconds whether or not to flip through your book on the shelf, you need to have a stand-out book cover.

There are different reasons people choose a certain book cover over others:


Some great book covers evoke a particular mood. Horror is a genre that does this quite well. Promoting feelings of fear by using dark or high contrast images, scratchy text, and the combination of red and black are at the top of the bag of tricks for compelling horror covers.

horror book cover examples from the blog post: how to make a best selling book cover

Matching your book’s mood to what the cover evokes is one way to grab your reader’s attention and show them the contents of the book before they even read what’s inside.

Many romance novels’ covers look exactly the same: some big muscular man with no shirt on and the wind blowing through his hair, often clutching a fair maid in his arms.

Do you know how many romance book covers Fabio graced? Hint: it's A LOT.

Do you know how many romance book covers Fabio graced? Hint: it's A LOT.

Why are they so often the same? Because it’s a style that works. It tells the reader what the book is (especially if we’re talking about generic paperback romance novels) and what to expect -- that it’s going to be similar to the other books the reader has read and loved.

How you can capture Mood in your novel cover

Create a Pinterest MoodBoard

Pinterest is a treasure trove for image inspiration. You can search for and collect images that reflect a certain mood, theme, or that revolve around a particular image, like a crystal ball or wolf.

From a Pinterest MoodBoard showing dark images perfect for your novel cover inspiration

You can follow my fantasy inspiration board here for some incredible pictures of sexy dark fantasy (hint: it’s my most popular board on Pinterest!)


Get inspired by other authors writing in your genre. Find covers that you’re drawn to and save them (either in a folder on your computer, or by using Pinterest).

Pull Key Themes

Bear down on your novel and pull out key themes from it. These can be general themes, like grief, forbidden love, vengeance, etc. Or they can be more nuanced, like reflections of a particular culture, musings about the end of humanity, or imaginations of the future.

Use these themes to direct your image search and your cover art.

Ask yourself, what is essential to convey?

From the moment your potential reader picks up your book, what do you want them to know about it?


If images aren’t really your thing, the design and branding of your book cover can do a lot to convey the story to a potential reader.

Typography is an art unto itself. Similar to images, you can establish mood with typography. By themselves (and with a good eye for color to enhance this) fonts can set the tone for how your work is received.

Ruta Jamenis' designs for  His Dark Materials  on  Behance .

Ruta Jamenis' designs for His Dark Materials on Behance.


If you don’t want to divulge your book’s secrets on the cover, you can use curiosity to pique your potential reader’s interest.

This is usually done by choosing a title that teases a reader into wondering what it means or how the story will unfold.

Like Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, Paula Braxton’s The Witch’s Daughter, and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, titles can intrigue a reader and need minimal cover design to get the point across: you want to read this book.

how to make a best selling book cover



The last in the bag of tricks for how to get your book cover noticed is to use novelty. If you want to stand out, do something different!

There are endless books on the shelf that look the same. If you look at sci fi covers from the 1970s they all start to blend in with one another.

1970s Sci fi book covers all look the same

If you want to stand out, take a look at the styles of contemporary covers that are prevalent in your genre and notice what you can do to stand out.

For example, looking at these Sci Fi covers from the ‘70s I can see that a stark cover with no illustration and just bold text would really stand out. Or something that includes only a single element, like this one from Sylvan Neuvel’s Waking Gods.

To get your perfect book cover, don’t be afraid to try new things and constantly tweak the cover you’re working with.

For Ella Bandita and the Wanderer and its attendant novelettes I was lucky enough to work with an extremely talented artist BANE, who knew just what I wanted to convey.

We started with a concept for the cover for the novelette Challenge:



The Wanderer is faceless in both of these because we hadn’t figured out what he looked like.  But the ferocity of Ella Bandita’s 3/4 profile was so much more powerful as just a portrait. And oh Lawdy!  That pose! Too cool.

Just because I liked it didn’t mean we didn’t go through several iterations on the final cover.

Here’s what BANE delivered next:


Here, she’s in a huntress pose. But what is she hunting for? She looks very sexy, but the problem is she also looks a little too gorgeous. The point of the character is her animal magnetism. Here she looks like a supermodel. Or Michelle Pfeiffer in her prime.

I also don’t care for it that the characters are not interacting with each other. What does Ella Bandita have to look so fierce about?  Needless to say, I’m so glad I stopped BANE before he kept going!

We worked on character sketches next to catch the Wanderer's face:

And here’s the final version- surprisingly different from the rest:


This section of the book is about the Wanderer’s seduction of the Seductress herself, Ella Bandita. I wanted to highlight their interaction and show the reader the nature of the novelette -- you’re sure to find a sex scene or two in this one.

I pulled a scene from the book that highlights an unusual moment shared between the two characters. If you’ve read any of the Ella Bandita and the Wanderer novelettes, you know Ella Bandita is a badass femme fatale who seduces the worst men and claims their hearts.

But when she meets the Wanderer, it’s not seduction on her mind. It’s how to get rid of this annoying upstart. How does someone seduce the ultimate seductress and melt down her ice cold guard?

You’ll have to read Challenge to find out!