Although people have been claiming that “print is dead” since Marshal McLuhan published The Gutenberg Galaxy in the 1960s—and arguing just as vehemently that it isn’t and never will be—if you’re a self-publishing author you know that the real truth is somewhere in between. The rise of digital alternatives like e-books may have changed the importance of classic printed copy, but it has also made authors known to their fan bases in all new ways.
That’s why the art of book cover series design is so important, and for no one more than the self-publishing author. Since so many of us ferry each project through every step in the process from idea to finished product, book covers are our province now. With book series—groups of books that are connected by a storyline, theme, characters or genre, or collections by the same author—being so popular, marketing and selling them as collectible sets is itself an art.
Book cover series unified by a coherent graphic style are appealing, and signals to potential readers that they go together. They also look amazing on bookshelves, in a store or at your place. Here are some of the coolest approaches to book cover series design we’ve come across recently, and how you can take these ideas and use them in the design process for your own series.
Webb gives each book in the Oliver Sacks series a unique identity with the addition of superimposed graphics in bold colors. Sahre keeps the four volumes by Clarice Lispector fairly uniform, adhering to principles of minimal design. The effect is simple and clean—and actually very accessible to a self-publishing author without design training.
Illustrations, which register distinctive qualities of the artist’s hand and style, are often a great way to bring a book series together. If you are not an artist yourself, it’s fairly easy to find a graphic artist to work on this kind of project with you. Illustrations add a human touch to a product that can sometimes look austere, which is why you might see this kind of technique used with heavy hitting writers like Truman Capote, Joseph Heller, and William Shakespeare:
While a book’s front cover might seem to be the part of the design that’s most important, remember that this is actually not the most visible part of a book’s anatomy. Rather, most people arrange books on a shelf with their spines facing outward.
They can be fairly narrow, but a nicely designed spine can make a book series double as an element of living room or office decor. The below are much too attractive to ever be boxed away.
Loud colors and bold or detailed graphics really grab attention, but they run the risk of drowning out the text of the title. Separating or setting the title into relief solves this issue and leaves you with a cover that is striking.
In this book cover series for The Juicy Guides, bright colors and eye-catching graphics don’t compete with the titles because of their placement and the way that the designer made use of the “and” in each one to set off the entire title.
Some designs present a double solution to this problem: the manner in which you separate a book’s title can be a strong unifying element in a series.
A minimal approach
We could hardly have a roundup of book cover design without including a section on the minimalist approach. Contrary to many of the covers featured so far, these minimalist graphics reduce visual noise to present a clean and organized cover. But that’s not to say there isn’t room for a bit of fun.
Color or pattern
A strong, traditional way to brand your book cover series is to choose a general composition, font and illustration style, and change the background color or pattern from cover to cover. This is a common way to brand a series because it simply works, making it easy for potential readers to recognize your books as a series, and maintaining a coherent design.
Book cover series design may feel like a challenge if you’re not a graphic designer yourself, but remember: you already did the hardest part here. You wrote the books! Now you’re just packaging your work so that people will be interested and ready to buy it off the shelves.
When all else fails, just make sure all covers in your series are equally badass-looking.
Need book covers for your series? Launch a book cover design contest today!
This article was originally published in 2014. It was updated with new information and examples with help from Karla Lant.