Designing A Book Cover

by Miko Johnston

Gayle, Madeline and guest blogger Elaine Orr have all recently posted about the importance of research in writing. It reminded me that the subject has been a constant theme on our website. Not surprisingly, I’d been preparing one on the same subject.

My entire Petal In The Wind saga is about to be reissued under a new imprint, in addition to the publication of my fourth book in the series. When my publisher ceased operations, I regained the rights to the three earlier novels, but not the cover art. New covers had to be designed. I knew an excellent source for that which resulted in two sets of designs from which to choose; I’ve put a sample of each for the newest book below. The good news: they were both fantastic. The bad news: they were both fantastic. I couldn’t choose.

I asked others for their opinion, which were divided. Part of me thought I couldn’t go wrong with either, but another part thought, “nah, too easy.” I researched the subject online and found some good information, but I still couldn’t decide which set I wanted.

I needed expert advice. Then it dawned on me who could give it.

In the town where I live, there’s a small independent bookstore, one of the perks of living in a tourist town (another is having many quaint shops, over a dozen restaurants, and two wine bars despite a local population of 2,000). While bookstores are not unique, many visitors stop in to ours to seek out local authors, a great way to discover new writers.

Despite its small size, Kingfisher Bookstore holds a remarkable array of books, everything from popular fiction to DIY hobby and craft books, history and historical fiction, books for kids of all ages and their grownups. When customers ask for local authors, Meg, the owner and book buyer, takes them to a table she’s dedicated to their works of fiction, memoir and poetry, and “hand-sells” them based on the customer’s interest.

I brought my computer to the store and asked Meg if she’d give me her opinion. She looked at both cover sets and asked me, “Is your book historical fiction or romance?” I told her the former. Then I got a valuable lesson in cover design.

Apparently, you can judge a book by its cover. Everything, from color to images to font, sends signals to a potential reader as to what the book is about. Meg guided me through the many subtleties of cover design, which helped me decide which to choose for my series.

For the record, I chose the set represented by the left image, above, but with a Serif font. Here’s why. The novel begins in the last year of World War I and takes the characters through the mid-twenties, with fascism on the rise. Darker images indicate the gravitas of the times. The “ripped paper” cover with the woman implies a love story more than historical fiction, which would be misleading to a reader looking for romance. Sans serif fonts fit better with modern writing. The Didot font I’ll use has a very 20th Century feel that’s neither too modern or too old-fashioned.

Will all this fuss over the cover guarantee sales? Probably not, but at least readers who purchase my book might have a better sense of what they’re getting.

Have you ever considered asking someone who owns or runs an independent bookstore for advice on any aspect of marketing, from what’s selling to what your cover should look like? I would strongly recommend it. And while you’re there, thank them for supporting writers. Where would we be without them?


Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers In Residence, is the author of the historical fiction saga A PETAL IN THE WIND, as well as a contributor to anthologies, including “LAst Exit to Murder” and the soon-to-be-released “Whidbey Landmarks”.

The fourth book in her series is scheduled to be published later this year. Miko lives in Washington (the big one) with her rocket scientist husband. Contact her at

16 thoughts on “Designing A Book Cover”

  1. Great idea to write about book covers, Miko, and thank you for the advice. I was told that dark book covers don’t sell well, yet a look at amazon’s bestsellers contradicts that opinion to a certain extent. I like your including symbolism in your covers. I slip in the flag of Cornwell to my covers as a tiny boost to the UK’s smallest entity with its own parliament and as a nod to my origins. There is also the issue of self-publishing and having total control over covers versus traditional publishing and less control. Thanks again, Miko. Good luck with your latest book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jill. You make a valid point about traditional publishing vs self-publishing. One expects more expertise with the former, though that may depend on the publisher. I love the idea of incorporating a small symbol like the flag of Cornwell on all your covers. I’ll have to look for them on my copies of your books.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My reaction was the same as the bookstore person. I immediately thought that there would be a strong romance element in the peach-themed cover. While that’s fine, it’s not what I look for in a mystery. A couple other things. In the “gray” cover your name is not sufficiently visible. And you may not need to choose between “dark and light.” For example, the gray cover could have streaks of color in the clouds. (Not advocating that, just a thought.)

    I had all the covers in the Jolie Gentil series (12 books and a couple novellas) redone last year. I had intended to do three books and, well… The designer created a template of sorts and said my name had to be in the same place and very prominent. Ironically, at an author fair this weekend, I had them arrayed and a reader commented that my name, “Just popped out at her.”

    An example of a cover that does not fulfill the promise of the book is the first in my River’s Edge series, which was originally with a publisher. (That firm also gave the rights back immediately when they were ready to end most work.) “From Newsprint to Footprints” is a cozy mystery, though not as cozy as the books in the Jolie series. The cover is too frilly and there is so much artwork it’s hard to read the words. Good artist, and I was asked to okay it. I appreciated the artwork but didn’t (back then) have the “cover vocabulary” to make suggestions. Good artist; I worked with her on several other covers and had more direct input.

    Hope you don’t mind the long-winded response. Good luck with the new publisher and new book.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Excellent observations, Elaine. Due to technical issues you’re seeing an earlier version of my chosen cover. The current version does have a different font design that stands out against the background, and there’s a tinge of fiery color added to the clouds at the horizon line. And I’m adopting “cover vocabulary”. Thanks for your comments.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I, too, think the cover sells the book as much as the first few paragraphs, if not the first chapter. Those two things might be all it takes to have someone buy your book. And the last chapter of a book can sell the next book in the series or the next book by the author. When I teach my class on writing, I always point out those things. Your bookstore friend knows her business. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I found Meg’s advice extremely useful because like her, I “hand-sell”more hard copies of my books than any other outlet – Amazon sales favor Kindle versions. Thanks, Gayle. You’re so right about how the beginning sells a book and the ending sells the next one, especially with a series.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Who knew! That is such a great idea, asking a local bookstore manager for advice. I also think that they would then be far more likely to push your book when it comes out. They have a vested interest…. And, as a reader, the cover always draws me in first. Great help. Thanks Miko.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Congratulations, Miko! And what a great suggestion to ask actual bookstore owner opinions! And I must applaud you for listening to advice others offer–I so often, and head-strongly, do what the heck I want, regardless of good advice(probably to my detriment!) And I definitely like your new covers.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I had to laugh, for when I searched for advice online the one bit that struck me was don’t rely on your own instincts. It took three tries to get a certain image for my first book’s cover executed, and as soon as I saw it “in person,” I realized it wouldn’t work. Maybe others are better at DYI (I’m thinking of you, G B), but not me.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I also love the idea of getting advice from a bookstore owner–who can actually see what sells well! Designing covers can be challenging. I’ve always had them done for me or obtained help from artists. Very enjoyable post, Miko!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks, Linda. Getting the right elements on book covers, whether seen “in person” or in postage stamp-sized pictures on Amazon, is as much of a challenge as any aspect of writing, and just as important.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A very good and helpful post. I’ve never written a book, but for the articles I write, I search the free photo opt sites for a picture that works. Some book jackets just spring out to you and insist that you buy the book.
    Browsing through an airport books shop recently, this happened. I was so tempted to pick up a couple books after standing and drooling over the cover art, but, haha, I only had Euros and Dollars, which London shops don’t accept. Probably a good thing, as I have so many unread books already. You will have quite a collection with all your “Petal” books when finally completed!
    PS: It’s no wonder that I’ve been asked by other writers if they could join our group – there is some great writing here.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. There are many online sources for free clip art, a necessity when you need multiple images on a regular basis. However, I couldn’t find the right images for my books on free sites. For a nominal fee I acquired the photographs I’ll be using.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Terrific post, Miko–lots of food for thought therein, and what a clever idea to ask a local bookstore owner for her take on the best cover image. Covers are so important!


    1. Bonnie, you’re right about the importance of having a cover that will attract readers, as well as give them a sense of the book. I really don’t know the nuances of what will sell. Many writers feel the same way, especially if their publisher doesn’t provide covers or if they’re self-published.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: