Tuesday, October 26, 2021
Book design

5 Book Cover Decisions for Writers

This is the new cover for INTRUSION, Book One of my historical series, A Relative Invasion. It was time to refresh the series but I knew that designing the cover would be difficult because the books do not fit an established genre. I had 5 Book Cover Decisions to make…

A Relative Invasion – Book One – INTRUSION

The series is set predominantly during WWii but the central story, a toxic and lasting relationship between two boy cousins, could have occurred in any decade.

Decision 1 – Genre

The current advice – to seek a design similar to the best-selling books of the genre – can lead to multiple covers with closely similar images. This may lend immediate recognition of what kind of book to expect, but ultimately a weariness on the part of the browsing reader.

For wartime stories, (WWii romantic fiction) a slim woman in forties street-wear features in countless covers walking towards, away, through a damaged or flag-bearing or empty street, under an arch, approaching some forbidding edifice.

In wwii stories featuring children, the “heart-rending” tag usually has covers showing sweet-faced children looking abandoned.

 A Relative Invasion hasn’t the romance, the warring action or the ‘heartrending’ content.

The theme of my series is invasion; not invasion of a country or even a street, but of one well-meaning child’s life by his devious cousin. So I wanted a cover that could represent this psychological invasion (literary historical fiction).

Decision 2 – Cover relevance

I have often passed a table of classic novels and felt aggrieved at covers which lightened and/or misled the reader, even with a Jane Austen or Dickens novel. How could a cover with cartoon figures suggest that inside the book a rich and deep narrative awaited? Where was the suggested romance in military novel? Embarrassingly bad book covers are revealed and discussed in an article by Emily Temple on Flavorwire.

Keen to avoid a relevance mistake, I sought a cover for A Relative Invasion that had a 40s look and a slightly sinister tone but without direct reference to military action.

Decision 3 – Cover type

A cover may represent the content by a symbol, or by figures and recently, by text and use of fonts alone.

I wavered between seeking a symbol representing the invasion theme, or using figures to set the scene.

For a brilliant example of a symbol representing the theme of a novel, see Sally Rooney’s “Normal People”.

Normal People: One million copies sold
Normal People

It perfectly sums up the closeted relationship between two seemingly unmatched young people.

The only symbol I could think of to suggest a domestic invasion, was an open door showing through to a table set with cups and saucers, as if someone has pushed into the house without being invited. That is on the cover for my Prequel.

Decision 4 – Image type

Is it best to use an edited stock image, an illustration, or a photograph?

Even edited, a suitable stock image requires considerable research.

The “heart-rending” and romantic books often use photographs of actors dressed in appropriate costume. This has the benefit of producing a quality, high-definition result. A good example of this is The Orphan Thief and Glynis Peter’s similar titles.

The Orphan Thief: A heartbreaking historical romance perfect for fans of My Name Is Eva
The Orphan Theif

Illustrations can give a cover a unique and wonderful appearance but they are very expensive. They are risky in eliciting an image that suits, and multiple revisions require too much of an illustrator.

In the end, I used vintage child photographs from stock for the main books in my series. It was truly a nightmare finding any suitable ones and I’m indebted to the designer for her patience in gaining most of these. I emphasise that the work involved in finding suitable images for each book, then allowing for increase of the chanracters’ age, isn’t a course I’d recommend.

This article is headed with the cover for Book One. The designer‘s use of a curled page edge may suggest the unfurling of a toxic personality contained in the innocent look of a small boy. This feature has been kept for these three books and is a creation of the designer’s, not something from the stock images sources.

Decision 5 – Fonts

The more famous the writer, the more dominant the author name in relation to the title.

However, typography is increasingly used to dominate book covers often without any image.

Fonts can represent a period in history because of the change in fashion over time. But, importantly, like the images, they can also suggest what kind of content to expect.

Looped, handwriting styles are typically used for romantic titles, whereas bold capital letters may suggest something hard-hitting.

I left the font choice for my books very largely in the hands of the designer, and I’d suggest that’s wisest for anyone who is not a graphic designer.


For a self-published writer, the work and worry in conveying the book’s essence to the cover designer, and then seeking revisions without being unreasonable, can be stressful and extremely time-consuming.

The author has strong views about how his/her story is to be conveyed to potential readers. The designer has strong views about what works, both visually and in the market. Working together on a book cover can take as long, or even longer, than writing a short story. Best be prepared!


Rosalind is the author of the WW2 trilogy, A Relative Invasion, the contemporary psychological suspense series, Uncommon Relations, and the satirical short story collections, Me-Time Tales and its companion volume Curious Men. She lives in SW England where she enjoys theatre, Art and scenic walks. Her career as a psychologist means all her writing is character-led. She relishes creating characters of all ages. Even her humorous work has a dark edge.

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Rosalind Minett