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Whether setting up a display to entice readers or creating a cover from scratch, there are a few things booksellers should know about book covers. We are all aware that readers judge books by their covers, but that doesn’t mean just any ole book cover will sell. When I created my covers for my first series I’ll admit, I had no idea what I was doing. I wanted something eye-catching, that branded my series and evoked the feels. That’s all good, and I might have accidentally followed some rules for cover designing by genre, but it’s much better if we know what sells from the beginning. I’ve learned now that readers are attracted to particular types of covers, and it depends on what they like to read. 

There are three necessary things for any cover, no matter the genre. The first is the title. Now, before you think I’m babbling the obvious, please give me your listening ears. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve seen where the title takes a backstage to the graphics on the cover. It needs to be bold, jumping out to entice readers. It’s important as booksellers for us to remember that most readers see books as thumbnails on a screen or from a far distance through the store or library. Titles are lost if they aren’t the overwhelming focus of the book. Readers shouldn’t have to squint or try to decipher a title lost in a beautiful graphic. Secondly, the same idea goes for an author’s name. Prominent placement, in bold is favorable for books that want to sell based on author branding, which I can’t stress enough. And therefore, that leads me to the third point which is that successful covers, in any genre, benefit and sell when proper attention is given to branding. Covers that span a series which are represented by a color scheme and share distinctive text have been shown to have higher read-through rates. Now all these points apply well for any genre, but fortunately for those of us who enjoy niche books, there are specifics that apply to those covers. 

Fantasy/ Science Fiction

How does a reader passing through shelf after shelf discern books in a display as either fantasy or a mystery? Well, I picked the brains of experts in the field and found there are a few distinctions between genre covers. And most importantly, a book that tells its would-be reader what genre it belongs to without even leaving the shelf is going to sell better over time. Bright colors and a broad array of them are one way that fantasy/science fiction novels can flag down a hardcore fantasy reader. For each of the sub-genres within this category there are specific rules, but one seemed to stay consistent and that is a figure or object needs to be central on the cover. For space operas, a ship needs to be right in the middle and it will no doubt grab the attention of every fan in that genre before they are through the door. A figure poised for action, was something consistently reported as a winner for fantasy books. The key here is the reader needs to know right away that this book isn’t about this world. It’s fantasy. 


Covers that are keeping voracious romance readers coming back are evoking two emotions: love and sex. More times than not, the top ranked romance books have a central figure and a preponderance of skin showing. But in all cases, I found the covers were cute. They made me feel pretty looking at them. They reminded me that we are humans and our desires for attraction and companionship are real. Women in big dresses sell historical romance, whereas shirtless men seemed to sell better in the contemporary genre. And those writing romantic suspense were sporting covers that were edgier overall, with a slight dark component to the total feel.  


Although this isn’t a genre that I read or write, browsing through the top-sellers on Amazon gave me a clear idea of what covers attract this audience’s eye most. It’s relatively simple, actually. One to three colors seems to be what makes these covers instantly stand out as mystery thrillers. Secondly, a single central figure, immersed in an action scene is important. The minimal environment around the character provides just enough context to grab reader’s attention.


Are these guidelines hard and fast for cover designing? No, there are always exceptions. I’m sure I’ll get a billion emails from readers who have examples of covers that broke the rules and made a zillion dollars. However, I did the homework for you. I found that the covers, which in most cases, tell a reader what genre the book belongs to, and more importantly, follow guidelines that have helped sell books for many best-sellers. It’s important to consider these ideas because when we know how readers think, we can better serve them, and that benefits everyone.

by Sarah Noffke  (

Author of the Lucidites, Reverians, Vagabond Circus, and Ren Series

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