GUEST POST: 8 steps to illustrating and designing a great book cover (Cathy Thole-Daniels)

Cathy Thole-Daniels (NJ SCBWI regional advisor) happened to illustrate Charlotte Bennardo's EVOLUTION REVOLUTION MG series. She stops by the blog today to offer tip for those hoping to brand out into cover design:

A book cover is a preview of the story within. A great book cover causes the viewer to open the book. It’s as simple as that. Whether on a book shelf or a two inch image on an online bookseller site; the cover entices the viewer to come closer, look further. To read a little and find out more about it. The cover should evoke the same feelings when reading the book as when looking at it and when finishing a book the reader should know why the cover image came to be.

The style of the illustration, the colors, the font, all have to be carefully chosen and work together to create the feel and the mood of the story. Below are ten tips an illustrator/designer should keep in mind when creating a great cover.

Read the entire book. Make notes identifying the key ideas in the content. Look for details to use in the design. Focus on the symbols, characters and images of the book. 

Research other covers in the same market. See what’s already been done and try to come up with a fresh perspective. If it’s historical fiction/non-fiction you’ll need to research the time period the story takes place in as well.

Sketch thumbnails. After you have made your notes do some thumbnail sketches, paring down to the essential story elements. Keep in mind the design has to appeal to the age of the audience. Do at least three quick thumbnails, in different design directions, for composition and style. Then enlarge to the printed book size to see if it looks just as good.

Don’t forget to review the cover image at two inches. E-readers are looking at books online and usually only view the initial cover for the first time at that size. Is the cover compelling at a small size? 

Color Roughs. Use a color palette that represents the feel of the story and the mood you want to portray. If you are working digitally make sure to work in CMTK mode which is the color mode used when printing the book. The color palette can sometimes look quite different from RGB color mode. If you are working in a program that does not provide CMYK color mode, export the file to Photoshop (as a jpeg or pdf if it does not take that program file) periodically to view the image in CMYK mode. 

Feedback is important. Show your thumbnails and color roughs to other illustrators and get feedback on composition and color. Sometimes it’s just hard to see if something isn’t working when you’ve been staring at it for too long. Try looking at it upside down or backwards to break you out of that tunnel vision. If you are working on an indie book it’s important to collaborate with the author and listen to their ideas, whether you use them or not. For the third book in the Evolution Revolution series, Charlotte came up with a great idea for the cover that I hadn’t thought of – have the squirrel (Jack) holding a screw driver!

Typography as well as the layout need to reflect the story. The title should be big and easy to read. Choose a font that reflects the feel and mood you are trying to portray. The text should add to and support the feel of the illustration. If the cover illustration is extensive leave roughly two thirds space for the art. Usually a cover should not have more than two fonts. Too many font styles can be too much visual competition.

For Book Series Use Similar Design Elements. This means a consistent use of imagery or at least style, type, and/or layout. There should be something to tie all of your cover designs together, this can be a common color, a common typographical style, a common illustration/photography style. Make each cover unique, but also make each cover cohesive with the rest.

Cathy Thole-Daniels's work:


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