Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What Goes on the Cover?

just to remind me--I'm sorry
By Kim Pettit

There are no internationally agreed-upon industry standards for what must appear on the front and back covers of a book.

American books usually include an ISBN number and bar code on the bottom right corner of the back cover. This is not required by law, though it does makes electronic scanning of a product at the register far easier.

So how do you decide what elements to include in your cover designs?

You can study the bestsellers in your country and form a list to review when you consider how you will tackle your next design project. A quick perusal of recent New York Times and CBA bestsellers shows there are many elements to consider.

The front cover may include:

  • author name(s), editor(s), illustrator, photographer, translator (as applicable)
  • author credential or identifier (bestselling author of ____, Pulitzer Prize winner) or book credential (bestseller, one million copies sold)
  • title & subtitle (and if a book is bilingual, these may appear twice)
  • illustration or photo (unless the title itself, with an eye-catching type treatment serves as the main graphic element on the cover)
  • series name and/or logo
  • genre (a memoir, a novel, a Bible study)
  • teaser (e.g. “don’t catch your death” for a suspense novel; magazines include article titles but in books the subtitle may suffice)
  • promised benefit (and occasionally, even a guarantee: “lose weight or your money back”)
  • special features (includes book discussion guide or CD, red-letter edition, concordance, index)
  • preface, foreword, afterword by author or famous person (if applicable)
  • endorsement (brief quotation from named source, e.g. “A masterful storyteller.”—USA Today)
  • publisher name and/or logo
  • intended audience (for kids ages 5-7; for men; 9th grade)
  • volume (if it part of a multi-volume set or series, magazines include volume and issue number)
  • date (mostly on magazines, but often on books issued annually or for specific seasons such as Lent or Advent, or as a benefit, e.g. “30 days to a new you”)
    edition (2nd edition, revised & expanded edition, large-print edition, illustrated, etc.)

In contrast, elements that most often appear on the back cover include:

  • author photo (including a credit line for the photographer or stock agency)
  • author biography
  • plot description/teaser paragraph
  • endorsement/reviews
  • promotion of other books (previous works by the same author or related works from this publisher) or information on this title in other formats (also available as audio CD)
  • publisher name and logo (and, when applicable, name and logo of distributor or collaborating ministry or co-edition partner)
  • publisher address, phone, and Web site (usually only the city or Web site)
  • imprint or series name (if any)
  • price
  • cover design and illustration credits
  • ISBN and bar code (and sometimes an additional order number issued by the publisher)
    subject classifications (to help bookstores know where to shelve this title)
  • printed in (country)

Some elements may be found on the front or the back (for example, endorsements or the author photo). For hardcover books, much of the copy that currently appears on the back cover is placed on the inside flaps of the paper jacket of the book. Establishing a standard that would work for all publishers is impossible!

Besides, who cares about the back and front covers if all you see is the spine? Given bookstores’ limited space, most often publisher’s books are shelved spine-out. So consider it in your cover design as well.

Elements on the spine include:

  • title and subtitle
  • author/editor name
  • series identifier
  • edition number or type (2nd edition, study edition)
  • publisher logo and name
  • collaborator’s logo and name, if any
  • volume number and range (e.g., Vol. 2, M-Z)

For books where the traditional cover design does not allow the amount of copy generally found in other genres (e.g., a leather-bound Bible) or for mass-market paperbacks, book spines may also include the price and ISBN number and/or special features (e.g., concordance, maps, glossary).

Your choices for what to place on the front and back covers, and on the spine of the book, should all contribute to your goal of marketing the book. Covers are only effective when they help you generate sales of a particular title. Remember, your design has to be attractive and include enough white space!

Go to a bookstore and study the reactions of the customers. Take care to check local bestsellers. Your country may have specific laws you must follow. For instance, a publisher of Christian books in Indonesia wrote that his titles must have a disclaimer stating that they are intended for the Christian community.


Determine what covers are most attractive to your target audience, and use that information to guide your decision-making process for future releases. Develop what will serve you best in your market.

Copyright ©2007 Cook Communications Ministries International http://www.davidccook.com/international/CCMIPartners2/index.cfm?N=6,143,4,12

(Thanks Mister....)