Book Cover Content Checklist

What Book Publicists—and Media— Want to See on Covers

By Sandra Poirier Smith, President of Smith Publicity 

Each week, Smith Publicity receives more than 100 inquiries from authors and publishers seeking book marketing campaigns or looking for our help in other ways. Book covers need the right content for publicity campaigns. The requests include how to get their books featured on television and radio shows, in newspapers or magazines, and/or online/blog outlets. In evaluating if we are a good fit for a project and if we believe we have a good chance of securing favorable media attention, we review many factors including the outside or overall look of a book.

A book’s cover, back cover, title, sub-title, author photo, etc. need to be professionally executed. In some cases, we see these details are not given enough attention. Here is a book cover checklist to help understand what book publicists and the media look for in content on a cover:

1. Is the cover professionally designed? Hire a graphic designer who specializes in creating book covers (not a friend’s daughter who took a graphics class in high school). Book design is a true art form, with knowledge needed in imagery, colors, typography trends, and expertise in print production and/or e-book presentation. A cover sets the tone for the book. Find a professional who will work to represent the book creatively. Please note: Most book designers do not write or edit copy, which is an entirely different skill set. Make sure the cover works at a thumbnail size (the size you see on Amazon and other online retail outlet search results) as this may be the only way readers view your cover. Here are some examples of bad book covers (Huffington Post) and good book covers. Read here for more information on book design from award-winning designer Joel Friedlander. From a publicity perspective, if a book cover is of inferior quality, the media will likely ignore the book even if a highly credentialed author beautifully writes it.

2. Does the title reflect the essence of the book? Selecting a title is a combination of creativity and market research. Creatively, does the title help differentiate the book? This is especially important for a non-fiction work where immediately describing the book’s content—what problem does this book solve—is critical. Fiction titles have a bit more creative leeway. Based on the title, is the tone and genre of the book evident to target buyers? For example, can you tell from the title whether the book is serious, humorous, playful, or a self-help, chick-lit, children’s book, or a murder mystery? From a market research perspective, review competitive titles on Amazon. What makes this book different? Is this difference evident in the title? What Amazon key terms are people using to find books on similar topics, and can these words be incorporated into the title/sub-title? Is the book part of a series? If so, keep this in mind as you design the series’ brand. Vague, lengthy, confusing, or misleading titles detract from a project. From a publicity perspective, as we present books to producers, editors, and bloggers, there are only a few seconds for a book and its title to capture interest for further consideration.

3. Does your non-fiction book have a sub-title? Not having a sub-title for a non-fiction book is a huge mistake. A sub-title helps the reader understand who the book is for, what they will learn, and why this information is essential. It takes time to get this right! For example, there is a book with the title Quiet. Without a sub-title, could this book be a listening skills book, a parenting book, or even a meditation book? Its sub-title is vital to define the book: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Another example is the title: Clean Slate. Without a sub-title, this could be for a person starting out again after battling addiction or jail time, dating after divorce, or perhaps home decorating advice. However, the subtitle: A Cookbook and Guide: Reset Your Health, Detox Your Body, and Feel Your Best clearly defines the content.

From a publicity perspective, media professionals need to quickly understand what your book is about and the problems it can solve.

4. Does the back cover give a solid book summary, author bio, professional headshot, and blurbs? Some books come to us with no back cover copy. Blank. Even if a book is only sold online, this is a huge mistake. If blank, media (and book buyers) will know the book was not professionally published. Back cover copy should nicely summarize the book. Another mistake we often see in novels is when the author gives too much of the plot away. The goal is to entice people to want to read the book. For non-fiction books, the author’s credentials are essential. As with the entire book, hire a professional editor to help with this important text. If using a photograph, make sure it is a high resolution, professional image that matches the book’s tone and genre. We’ve seen blurry author photos, photos with other people and body parts cropped out, old, dated photos, and even one with a bride in the background (obviously taken at someone’s wedding). If you have reviews from industry experts, book reviewers, or people with impressive and relevant titles, consider adding these to the front or back cover. Do not put a review from an anonymous Amazon reviewer. We even received a book with a glowing review attributed to the author’s mother, and sadly, it was not meant to be funny. From a publicity perspective, professionally presented back covers help media quickly understand a book’s tone, message, and genre, why the author is qualified to write it, and its intended audience.

5. Does the book have the title, author name, and publisher on the spine? We’ve seen no text on a spine, the text facing the wrong way (the bottom of the letters should be pointing left or, if wide enough, across the spine), and even seen a book with the text like this:






Please don’t do this unless there is a specific reason. A solidly designed spine—with the book’s title, author’s name, and if appropriate publisher name/logo—is critical to a book’s overall presentation. Think what happens if someone shelves your book with no title on the spine (lost forever?). From a publicity perspective, having no text on the spine or spine that does not fit the design readers expect will make it stand out to the media in a negative way.

For book cover inspiration, I always recommend visiting a bookstore to see where the book would be shelved. Look on Amazon too. How does the book look compared to the competition? Does the size, shape, color scheme, tone, text, and images quickly and clearly define your book to its targeted buyer? Does it have all the other books’ attributes, including pricing, age range (for a children’s book), and bar code with ISBN?

This information scratches the surface of the marketing and design process needed to create the outside of a book. With the number of choices producers, editors and bloggers have when selecting a book for potential coverage, the book’s cover design and copy are essential to the first step in generating interest.