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Behind the Scenes of Writing a Business Book – Part 4: Cover Design

Behind the Scenes of Writing a Business Book – Part 4: Cover Design

This is the fourth article in a series on what goes into writing a business book. If you’re just now tuning in, be sure to check out Part 1 (an introduction to the series), Part 2 (all about the writing process), and Part 3 (editing and book layout), too. That way, you’ll have a clear understanding about what is involved in each stage of the process.

This article is all about book cover design, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the book creation experience. Your cover is the first opportunity you have to catch your audience’s attention, so when it comes to getting your book out into the world, the cover is the most important piece. It is often the deciding factor in whether or not a reader picks up your book, which means that a great cover leads to reaching more people!

Business Book Covers Are Special

A book cover is a book cover is a book cover, and as long as the art looks cool, it’ll draw people to my book, right?

Not necessarily!

Believe it or not, whether or not a book cover “works” is not dependent on fancy artwork or flashy colors. Grabbing the readers’ attention is important, but that goal in and of itself is not enough. You have to keep their attention long enough for them to want to learn more, and eventually, read your book. Because readers follow patterns and know what to look for (whether consciously or subconsciously), there are guidelines that all professional book covers follow, and those guidelines vary, depending on the book’s genre.

This means that business book covers have a set of guidelines all of their own.

The best business book covers feature:

An Uncluttered Design

As a society, we are more distracted and pressed for time than ever before, and we have to make decisions quickly. Imagine your readers looking at a page on Amazon filled with dozens of thumbnails of business books just like yours, and imagine that they will only take a few seconds before choosing the one that stands out to them the most. They are likely to choose the one they can see the most clearly, which means a busy design will get lost in the sea of options. It simply won’t draw the eye.

A Bold and Easy-to-Read Typeface

A common mistake people make with book covers is to use a typeface (font) that is intricate and “artsy.” Unless art is your business, it’s a much better bet to keep the typeface simple and elegant. It communicates a level of professionalism that’s important if you want your readers to see you as an expert.

Plus, the title of your book (and, ideally, your name as the author) needs to be plainly readable, especially at thumbnail size. Readers do not have time to click on every book cover to see a larger view, and in most cases, if they can’t read the title at first glance, they will pass right by it.

A Simple Color Palette

Color is fun, and it’s important! You want your book cover to stand out, so some use of bold colors is necessary. It’s a fine line, though. Too many colors can begin to compete with one another and cause the overall design to become too busy. A good rule of thumb for a business book cover is to choose one bold color and keep everything else very minimal.

Guidelines, Not Rules

The above guidelines are important to keep in mind when it comes to designing a cover for your business book. However, they are not hard and fast rules. There are exceptions to all of the above. There might be a time when a hand-drawn typeface would be more appropriate than something stark and serious. There might be a time when a photo would communicate the content of the book better than a simple graphic.

The problem is that it can be tough to make the decisions to bend the guidelines if you’re not a cover designer yourself. This is why I strongly recommend hiring a professional to design your business book cover for you. Cover design requires such a specific skillset, and those judgment calls are tough to make without having had a lot of experience under your belt.

Working With a Designer

Of all the stages, this is the one where I typically see the most tension between the author and the hired professional. There’s something about a book cover that seems so personal and so integral to your identity as an author. Also, unlike helping a ghostwriter nail down an exact phrase you would use, guiding a cover designer is much more subjective. It can be difficult to communicate what you’re looking for—only that you’ll know it when you see it, and nothing else is quite right.

It’s not uncommon for an author to tell a cover designer what they envision for their book cover, only to find that the designer’s interpretation falls short of expectations.

I want to set you up for success, so here’s what I’ve learned from working with various authors and cover designers over the years:

Give Your Designer Few (or Zero) Constraints

The more specific you are about your own vision, the harder it is for them to nail it.

For example: “The book has a casual tone, and I want it to be approachable to anyone who’s thinking about starting a business. It’s serious, but it’s conversational.”

Instead of: “In the lower right-hand corner, I want an image of a desk, and the chair behind it should be red….”

I’ve found that being vague at first usually causes designers to come up with something different than the specific vision you have in your head, but it can be tweaked much more easily if it’s the designer’s own vision to begin with, not yours. A designer who feels creatively stifled will not produce a great design, even after a bunch of revisions and feedback.

Plus, sometimes even though the first proof will probably be different than you imaged, it might be even better. That’s often the case!

Be Specific With Your Feedback

If the designer didn’t get it quite right the first time, help them understand exactly what needs to change.

“The title needs to be quite a bit larger,” works better than: “I don’t like the title typeface.”

I get it—sometimes you see something, and you know it’s not working for you, but you don’t know why. We’ve all been there with various things. If you’re having trouble pinning it down, communicate that, too. The more you can communicate with your designer, the better your end product will be. Designers are not mind-readers, and all they want to do is make sure you’re happy with your cover. They’re used to feedback, so don’t be afraid to reach out and have a conversation if it’s necessary.

Don’t Scrap the Professional Design and Decide to DIY

I have seen this happen far too many times. An author doesn’t get quite what they want with the professional design, and then instead of working through it with the designer or even hiring a different professional, they decide to whip something up on Photoshop. This may feel better in some ways because it puts them in the driver’s seat (and saves any additional cost), but it’s not smart. I can promise you: Even if you don’t like the cover your designer has come up with, it probably contains the right elements to capture readers’ attention, and it likely communicates what it’s supposed to. A DIY effort may end up being artistically cool, but it can easily fall short in the marketplace because readers don’t see it the same way you do.

Unless you are a professional cover designer, you probably don’t understand the nuances of what it takes to create a truly effective business book cover. Leave this one to the pros.

Have Fun!

As with all parts of the book creation process, cover design is supposed to be more fun than it is stress-inducing. Most importantly, you’re not alone! If you’re struggling with creating a cover for your business book, or if you’re not quite to the cover design stage yet but want to get ahead, contact us at Maven. We work with outstanding cover designers who would love to help you get the right cover for your business book.

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by Jessica Dawson // Editor-in-Chief of Founder Nonfiction, a boutique publishing house of non-fiction, making published authors of entrepreneurs, business people, and professionals.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.