Thursday, March 8, 2012

Designing Book Covers - Part 5

Every day this week, we welcome graphic designer and author Suzanne Williams, who shares some excellent information in a special series on designing book covers.

Part 1 - Designing Book Covers
Part 2 - Composition
Part 3 - Layering and Graphics
Part 4 - Colors and Fonts

Part 5 – Creating the Back Cover and Spine

The final consideration in book cover design is the book spine and back cover. Of course, your first step in assembling your design is figuring your spine width. The formula for spine width is page width (at Create Space for white paper this is .002252) times final number of pages. So for a 300 page book the spine width would be .68 (.002252 x 300). You must know your spine width before figuring total book cover size.

Looking at your complete book cover laid flat you will see the back cover, spine, and front cover, in that order from left to right. So allowing .125 for trim around each edge, your width formula is .125 + cover size + spine width + cover size + .125. For a 5 ½” wide book with 300 pages, the formula would look like .125 + 5.5 + .68 + 5.5 + .125, or 11.93” total. I always use a standard page count to design covers and then alter it when the manuscript is completed.
Also, using layout guides is a good idea. I place one on either side of my spine. This requires simple math: .125 + book cover gives me my first guide. Add the spine width to that figure and I have my second.
Your height is much easier to figure because there is no spine to consider. The formula for an 8 ½” height book is .125 + 8.5 + .125. I find it easiest to keep a Microsoft Excel chart of book sizes, then I don’t have to figure things again.
Once you have your size configured, there are typically three types of design:
  • One design wrapped around from the front cover onto the back
  • Solid spine, Back cover with graphics
  • Solid spine and back cover
In each of these choices, the most important factor is having readable text. Spine text should reflect that used on the front cover, unless there is a script font that does not translate well at a smaller size. In this case, use a simpler font, but be consistent with what else you’ve already used.

The ultimate goal of background design is to display the text. After all, potential readers usually read the blurb before deciding to purchase. Any graphics you use should take this into consideration. Repetition of design elements is a good way to tie the front cover to the back, but be careful of creating anything too busy. Black text over a background with black in it is distracting most of the time. Similarly, bright colored text doesn’t appear well against an equally bright background.

Typically, I use either a dark color on a light background or a light color on a dark background, staying as close to blacks and whites as possible (for example: dark greens and blues).

Another great way to draw the viewer’s eye is by employing a quote. Quotes – whether from the book itself or a book reviewer – are a great way to increase interest. The font of the quote can be different from the blurb, but again, it should fall within the set of fonts you have decided to use. Altering the text color for the quote is also a good idea as is increasing the size a bit from the blurb. Simple separations (short lines or small vector graphics) can enhance the overall appearance and provide interest.

Also, consider how your blurb text relates spatially to both your bar code and your spine. You want to leave ample border around the cover’s edge. With longer blurbs, I prefer to use more than one paragraph. The back cover of thicker books needs additional room for the natural folding along the spine when the book is opened, especially when near the bar code area.


All of the visual elements of a book cover are as important as the story itself. Often the overall design decides whether a reader buys it. By following certain basic rules of graphic design, you will have pleasing results. However, knowing your abilities or inabilities is important.

I hate to see books with bad covers. Equally, I hate to see books with bad covers that people have praised. I have yet to figure out why bad designs get nice comments other than people are inherently nice. Unfortunately, this not helpful to someone wanting to learn. Constructive criticism is just that, constructive. As a beginning designer, know that you must be mature enough to accept you could have done something better.

There is a reason good designers charge big bucks, so before you leap in with both feet, stop and think if perhaps it is better to hire a professional until your skills reach the level where you feel comfortable enough to go it alone. Graphic design is great fun, but when you are working with your own book, ultimately you want the best end result.

Some of Suzanne's work:

Suzanne D. Williams is a native Floridian, wife, mother, daughter, sister, granddaughter, Christian, dachshund owner, spelling whiz, wildlife enthusiast, photographer, graphic artist, and writer. She designs book cover art for independent publishing companies and self-publishing authors. She writes a regular column on digital photography for Steve's Digicams, as well as in her personal blog. Her book, Fearless, is her personal testimony of how God freed her from crippling fear. Her novel, Missing, debuts in April.

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