The Expanding Market in Cover Design

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It is interesting to note that many designers focus exclusively on traditional marketing sectors such as web design and advertising, while apparently ignoring the huge market potential of an industry that is much older than either of the others.

What I'm talking about here is the publishing industry, a multi-trillion dollar business with more than enough market share to go around if you can get a slice of the action.

The industry has undergone something of a renaissance recently due to the increasing popularity of e-Books, and in fact it is this development which has led to a situation where good cover design is more important than at any time in history.

Cover design has taken on this increased importance due to the shift in the way people now buy their books. In the past, people visited brick and mortar book stores where they could hold a book in their hands, open it up, browse through it and then decide to buy it.

Things have changed a great deal since those glory days. Now most people buy books online, and contrary to what many people expected, publishers are making more money than ever. The difficult situation about selling books online is that now the experience of picking up a book and flipping through it is gone.

Sure, you can “peek inside” an online version of a book, but it definitely is not the same as being able to look inside a physical book. What this means, as you probably already noticed, is most of the selling has to be done by the cover.

In the old days, even a plain covered book would sell well if it had good content. It's much harder to do that now. Books need good covers, and good covers need good designers. That's where you could now have an opportunity to expand your portfolio.

Cover design basics

Before you rush out and add cover design as an additional service offered on your shingle, there's a few things you need to know.

Cover design is different in some ways to the other design work you do. There are specific standards you will need to follow, because your client needs something that actually can be wrapped around a book. It means in fact your are designing three things in one project:

  • The front cover
  • The spine
  • The rear cover

In some cases, you may also be designing an inside front cover, inside rear cover, dust jacket flaps for hard cover books, and/or illustrations and designs that will appear in what is known as the “front matter” of the book. These are special pages that appear before the table of contents or other book content.

Normally all three of the required main components are designed together at the same time, as a single continuous unit.

The dimensions are determined by the size of the book, so it is very important that the author shares the print size with you, so you will know the correct dimensions to design the cover in. The page count and paper “gsm” value determines the width of the spine, so this is also important information that you will need to obtain.

Your “page” will be divided into three parts. On the left, you have the rear cover, in the middle you have the spine, and on the right you have the front cover (some books written in foreign languages which are read from right to left may reverse the order of the sections).

Image credits: Peakpx

The rear cover

On the rear cover you normally need to reserve space for a panel which will include the ISBN, bar code, and often also the price. Sometimes this panel even includes the cover designer credit.

Although it is not compulsory, the rear cover is usually of a much plainer style than the front cover, to make it easier for a blurb (a short summary of the book's topic). If the back cover will merely be a continuation of the front cover, then a plain panel is usually provided for adding the blurb.

The spine

Text that goes on the spine is normally rotated so that it will appear upright when the book is held flat with the front cover facing up. Make sure that any text you use here is legible, ideally from a distance of at least three feet (one metre).

As with with web design, think about contrast and aim for accessibility. The entire point of cover design is to get the book noticed and selected. If the outside of the book is difficult to read, many people will assume the inside is also difficult to read.

The front cover

The front cover is where you have the most creative freedom. When coming up with the design idea, you need to try and make it as compatible with the subject of the book as possible. That means you need to get a really good synopsis of what the book is about prior to even thinking about developing the concept art.

Getting into cover design

With self-publishing on the rise, many designers are hiring out their services on a freelance basis as cover designers. The freelance market is very competitive, however, so it is not for everyone.

You can also contact publishing houses and offer your services as a cover designer. A solid portfolio of your design work would be very helpful in helping you get past first base here.

The payoff

Cover design is a massive and expanding market with strong demand from both traditional publishing houses and an even larger growing market of self-publishers.

With average compensation ranging from $500 to $1500 per cover design, this service can be a rewarding one to include in your lineup. It isn't a field you can go into blindly, however.

You must be willing to learn the techniques of the trade, to ensure you are delivering a quality result to your clients.

Perhaps the best thing about cover design is you get a great diversity in your projects, and the opportunity for our work to be seen by millions.

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Bogdan Rancea

Bogdan is a founding member of Inspired Mag, having accumulated almost 6 years of experience over this period. In his spare time he likes to study classical music and explore visual arts. Heโ€™s quite obsessed with fixies as well. He owns 5 already.

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