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Book Cover Design: How to Make a Book Cover

Good Book Cover Design is Vital

The book cover design is one of the most critical factors in a book’s success.

There are only really three things that make people buy a book:

  1. They recognise the author’s name and liked their earlier work.
  2. They had the book recommended to them.
  3. It’s in a genre they like, it’s got an intriguing title, an attractive cover, a blurb that makes them want to read more, and a first page that grabs them (and even the blurb and the first page will only help sell the book if the reader picks it up first).

Recognition and recommendation aren’t really under your control, so one of the few things you can do that will help sell your book is make sure you have a book cover design that attracts attention.

The Book Cover Design Process

Whether you are being commercially published or self-publishing, and whether you are employing a designer or doing your own cover, the book cover design process has the same four steps:

  1. Branding
  2. Concepts
  3. Drafts and Revisions
  4. Artwork and Titling

Stage One: Branding

First, you need to understand what you want your book cover to say.

  • What genre is it?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What is it about your book that will appeal to that audience?
  • What’s your high-concept?

The high concept of A Kill in the Morning is ‘James Bond versus the Nazis’ (or ‘Fatherland meets Thunderball‘) And my editor felt its new spin on classic spy style had a Tarantino flavour to it.

So the book cover design needed to say:

  • Genre: Alternative History & Spy Thriller
  • Target audience: Mass market commercial fiction, spy genre readers
  • What’s the appeal: It’s a Tarantino-style remix of classic spy thrillers with a twist.
  • High Concept: James Bond versus the Nazis

Stage Two: Concepts

Once you have the brand values worked out, you or your designer need to think about how to express them visually.

One way into that is to look at existing novels and movies that have similar brands and get inspiration from them. Two movie posters that we felt captured A Kill in the Morning’s brand values were From Russia With Love and Inglourious Basterds.

A Kill in the Morning Book Cover Design Influences

Working with a book cover designer

Designers are skilful professionals, but they don’t have a lot of time to work on your book cover design and probably don’t have time to read the novel. So they rely on you to give them the branding information that we discussed above.

Do I need to use a professional book cover designer?

It depends.

  1. Do you have any ability as an artist yourself?
  2. Do you understand how to use fonts to create a particular effect?
  3. Can you identify what makes one cover better than another?
  4. Do you have time to design your own cover?

If you answered “no” to those questions, then you might be better employing a book cover designer. Remember, the cover is critical to your book’s success.

For A Kill in the Morning, these were the initial concepts the book cover designer came up with.

A Kill in the Morning Trial Book Cover Designs

Although my editor and I thought the right-hand one was okay, and some of my friends liked the swooping eagle, these designs didn’t embody all the qualities of the A Kill in the Morning brand.

Mood Board

To help the designer, I got together a mood board for the novel to give a sense of the brand style we were looking for.

Book Cover Design for A Kill in the Morning: Mood Board

Producing a mood board takes time, but it’s enjoyable.

I found Fotor to be the best free software for producing the collage of images for the mood board. Fotor is available here.

Stage Three: Drafts and Revisions

With the mood board to refer to, the book cover designer sketched this design, which was much more the style we were looking for.

A Kill in the Morning Cover Design First Draft

As a draft, this was great and I could immediately see the potential. But there were some issues:

  • It looked too much like a war thriller and not enough like a spy thriller.
  • Lots of the elements weren’t actually in the book.
  • It didn’t have any hint of the alternate history.

Based on that feedback, the designer redrew the cover to include:

  • A German jet bomber to imply alternate history.
  • Heydrich, the antagonist of the novel, in the gun-sight instead of a generic Nazi.
  • Molly Ravenhill, the heroine of the novel, in a less military pose.

A Kill in the Morning Cover Design Improved Draft

Stage Four: Artwork and Titling

With a design sketched out and agreed, the drafting stage was over and the cover design went away to an artist to be painted.

At this point, if you are doing the cover yourself, you’ll need to redraw your sketches in an image-editing program. The three free image editing programs I recommend and use myself are: iPiccy, Pixlr, and GIMP.

iPiccy and Pixlr are the free and easy-to-use image editing programs I use for experimenting with book covers. iPiccy is here and Pixlr is here.

GIMP is a free alternative to Photoshop. GIMP is available here.


The subject of fonts is just too big to cover here, but one basic tip is not to use the fonts that come with your computer. You can find lots of different titling fonts (usually called fancy fonts) on the internet, free or paid. If the font is free, make sure the licence allows commercial use though, as some don’t.

For A Kill in the Morning, the book cover designer chose the Fette Egyptienne font. It’s a strong font with a retro flavour that suits the novel.


The Tagline for A Kill in the Morning is: “Never Let Evil Out of Your Sights”. In my case, my editor came up with the tagline, but if you are doing your own cover, you’ll have to think of your own. Test half a dozen on your friends before settling on the one that works.

Final Review

The painted elements came back from the artist, and the designer tweaked them a bit and added the lettering and tagline to produce the finished cover.

We started with our brand inspirations: James Bond and Quentin Tarantino. Let’s revisit them and see how the A Kill in the Morning book cover design compares with them.

The covers of A Kill in the Morning From Russia With Love and Inglourious Basterds

It looks pretty good to me.

Book Cover Design Success!

Recently, I showed the book cover design to a friend of mine who hadn’t read A Kill in the Morning.

She kind of frowned and said, ‘But this looks like James Bond versus the Nazis in Space!’

I said, ‘Yes! Exactly!’


Want to Read A Kill in the Morning?

Read the opening of A Kill in the Morning for free by clicking here or on the cover:
A Kill in the Morning by Graeme Shimmin

Book Cover Design Help

If you’d like some help with your book cover design, please email me. Otherwise, please feel free to share the article using the buttons below.