A physical book has about seven seconds to sell the book before the consumer puts it down. In that time, the consumer is connecting to the art on the cover, the title, and other design elements, such as foiling. Simultaneously, the customer also connects with the book through its weight, texture and scent. If the reader likes what they see and feel, they may flip the book over or open the cover to read a synopsis of the book. All of the sensory inputs allow the reader to form an emotional attachment to the book, making them more likely to buy it.
The digital shopping experience cannot offer the immersive experience that brick-and-mortar stores can. The digital storefront is only capable of connecting with the reader through sight, meaning that e-book covers must adapt to a visually heavy digital storefront.
How are E-Books Presented?
In online storefronts, the cover is reduced to a thumbnail. In physical stores, the books are typically presented spine-first, with a few books cover out; however, in a digital storefront, every book is presented with the cover. Additionally, a thumbnail has no reverse, so even if a reader chooses to click on the book, they have to search for the information that is found on the back of a cover.
Shortform Content and the Rise of Visual Shopping
George Chrysostomou makes the argument that TikTok is influencing book cover designs because content creators want something that will grab the viewers’ attention. Shortform content relies on the visuals of a cover to sell it, much like digital storefronts do. A common BookTok trend is the “Books That” trend, where a creator recommends books that made them cry or that they couldn’t stop thinking about. Creators typically only show the covers of the books against a simple background. Sometimes they will provide a “hook” or a rating system for each book, but the majority of the focus is on the book cover.
The value of aesthetics in shortform content has carried over into digital storefronts as readers expect aesthetically pleasing covers when choosing what books to purchase. A successful e-book cover should be simple and offer a promise of what the reader will find behind the cover.
Creating for Smaller Screens
The first step is to make sure your potential readers can clearly see the cover at its tiniest. An e-book cover is vastly important because it is the first thing, and often the only thing, that readers see when browsing. Smashwords founder, Mark Coker says that “a poor cover creates unnecessary friction that prevents a reader from clicking [on an e-book].” You want your book title to be clearly legible on the cover, as you cannot always count on the platform to format the title correctly or show the complete title. On Kindle, the preview thumbnail is only 60×90 pixels, which is incredibly tiny. Many stylistic choices that work for print books or for larger images will not translate into the thumbnail.
Know Your Genre
Knowing the style of cover that is particular to your genre is imperative, especially in a digital storefront. You want your audience to immediately know that your book will interest them solely off of the cover. Kris Miller argues that one of the most important aspects of book design is a “harmonious cohesion between design elements and market. The art shouldn’t fight the typography. A romance novel shouldn’t look like a thriller or visa versa.” Beyond branding your book for a certain genre, your cover starts to curate your brand.
Develop Your Brand
Colleen Hoover’s branding strategy is clearly defined by her text placement, font, and cover colors. Most of her covers feature pink or blue backgrounds that often have an easily identifiable motif, such as floral accents, that integrate themselves into the other elements on the cover. Hoover’s books are bright, bold, and clearly advertising contemporary romance, except for Verity. Her 2018 novel, Verity, is the opposite of bright and bold, yet it is not completely removed from Hoover’s brand. The dark background offers a nice contrast to the desaturated gold of the title and central design element. More importantly, Hoover kept her name in her typical place at the bottom center of the cover. The success of Verity is dependent on the recognition of Hoover’s brand.
Color and Images
The color of the cover is often the first thing that readers recognize and can be a huge part of an author’s brand; however, different displays will show color differently. Light mode will generally work well with all colors. In dark mode, bright colors can induce eye strain and dark colors will blend in. The cover must also translate into grayscale since most e-readers do not support color. A high contrast between the background image and the text is a good way to make the cover “pop,” even without color. Coker argues that the image alone should convey the premise of the book. The cover art should promise the reader the experience they are searching out.
Typography and Text Placement
Though the color and art are the most easily recognizable part of the cover, the typography and text layout are key elements that can make or break a cover. Aside from the cover art, the text is the largest element on a book cover. It is important that the font categorizes the book into a specific genre and the text is easily readable in thumbnail form.
The largest text should be what will get the reader to click on the book. For established authors with a loyal fanbase, the author’s name is typically the largest piece of text on the cover. For authors who haven’t developed name recognition, an interesting title should be given prominence. While teasers and reviews on the cover can give a print book credibility, the small text shrinks down into a blur on the thumbnails for e-books. The focus for e-book covers should be on hooking the reader with strong visuals.
Text hierarchy and font can also define your brand. Danielle Steele’s books are easily distinguished from other books in her genre because of the specific font she uses for her name, which is always positioned at the top of her cover over the title.
The success of an e-book is dependent on its ability to hook a reader from the search page. Credibility is no longer sought through reviews or a clever synopsis, but the aesthetics of a book cover. With the increasing focus on visual content in shortform media, e-books have no choice but to adapt.