What images do I put on a book cover?

It can be tough to decide what images to put on your book cover. Should it be a photo, an illustration, or should you only use a font face? Could you mix elements, or should you only stick with one? Here’s some pointers to give you some clarity and direction.

Stock images/photography:

The Good Rat by Jimmy BreslinBrief History of the Dead by Kevin BrockmeierA General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis

Pros of stock images:

  • Simple to use
  • You can take your own photographs
  • Is very affordable if you don’t have a big budget
  • There are some photographs which are perfect visual representations of your book.
  • There’s a huge range of photos to choose from on stock image websites
  • Designers can place separate images together in a photo-manipulation. This can give your cover a realistic feel.

Cons of stock images:

  • The image you use could also be used on other book covers.
  • Using your own images can risk the look of professionalism in the cover, especially if there is lack of consideration of lighting, composition, depth of field, use of grid, and colour. 
  • If you don’t have a designer it can be a lot of work to put together photo-manipulation, and if you haven’t done that type of work before it may come out looking low-quality.

Stock images are easy to use, and easy to get your hands on. So long as you take all the right measures to ensure you have the correct license for the photos (whether it’s free or paid for) then you can manage to get by on little effort for a great looking cover. When using an image get dynamic with the placement. If you have a photo of a person dead centre the risks looking boring, and one dimensional. Be creative with the placement, use only a section of the image or push it off centre.

Be open to the idea you won’t be the only one to use such an image. Take the example below of the three romance novels. This is an extreme case, but if you decide to follow the standard look of your genre (i.e.: romance in this case) there’s a possibility the image you’re using is used on other covers.










August by Bernard BeckettWe the Drowned by Carsten JensenOryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood


Pros of illustration:

  • If you use stock image illustration- again very affordable
  • You are only limited by your imagination. 
  • If you’re a good illustrator, you can design your own cover.
  • Having someone illustrate for you, or illustrating yourself means your cover will be unique.
  • Eye catching
  • Can be more personal to your story than a stock image.

Cons of illustration:

  • Illustrators can be expensive.
  • To put together a professional looking cover that’s illustrated can take a lot of time and effort, and I advise you to seek a designer.
  • A lot of writers who decide to do it themselves tend to put all their effort in to the illustration and none in to type, which ends up with a low-quality looking book cover.
I ask you to have the same awareness of use of illustrations from stock photography websites- specifically for chick-lit books. It’s very popular to use the image of the girl shopping, walking, doing something fancy.

Putting pen to paper is a super exciting concept though! You’re only limited by your imagination. You book cover could be abstract, post-modern, vintage, comical, collage, water brushed, or classical.



In the Cut by Susanna MooreSpade and Archer by Joe GorgesExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Pros of typography:

  • Easy to read in thumbnail form
  • Type can be just as effective at portraying the story as any image.
  • Type can be free, or cheap, which works well with a small budget.
  • Your cover can stand out as a unique and stunning design against your competition- where other covers in your genre can end up looking generic and same-ish.
  • Typography is beautiful, fun, and underestimated.
  • Eye catching from a distance.

Cons of typography:

  • Knowledge of typography in design is vital.
  • If you’re not inventive or creative enough with font choice it can look very bland. 


What is typography: Laying out type (fonts/words). It is dealing only with the arranging and art form of type.

Typography can be a scary thing to consider for writer’s who are putting together their own book cover, or even for writer’s who have hired a book cover designer. It’s a foreign concept, and something they probably don’t recall seeing in a bookshop. But typography is used more often than you realise.


 So what images should I use for my book cover?

What images to put on your front coverWhen I send my clients a questionnaire to fill out before we begin the process of concepts for their book cover I ask them: Do you want a book cover that looks like the style of your genre? Or do you want something different and unique? The answer most of the time is they want to stick with the genre, and this is understandable.

When you’re dealing with a graphic designer you don’t know what you’re going to get so you want to make sure what you get is thematically consistent between the two of you.  And it’s also important to know that when people look at your book cover they know what to expect, and sticking with your genre will ensure that. The use of type, the combination of images- or lack of-, the colour, the texture all adds to the genre/story you’re communicating.

By reading the article ‘How to find a book cover designer‘ you can find out how to become familiar with a designer’s body of work. If you find you’re attracted to the majority of their folio I would suggest taking a punt and trying something new. It’s a risk, absolutely.  But I think it’s a worthy risk. All the best cover designs in the book industry are covers that break rules, don’t stick to the mould, and give readers an opportunity to ask questions like “Wow- what is this book about?” no matter what the genre.

And considering you have the chance to categorize your book at most opportunities like KDP, CreateSpace, and Smashwords it’s unlikely people will mistake your book for an alternate genre. Even in your local book store your book will be placed amongst it’s competitors. And if they do, so what? They’ll pick up your book anyway and you might have converted a thriller-lover to a sci-fi fanatic!


What risks have you taken with book cover design? What covers that you love only use typography, or illustration, and how do they do it effectively?


Comments 4

  1. Pingback: How long does it take to have a book cover designed? | Book Cover Design

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  3. Pingback: ReBlog – What font or type faces should I use on my book cover? | | Brickley Jules Writes

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