Judging by the Cover: Memorable Book Cover Design

Judging a book by its cover is, in most cases, not a wise idea. But that old adage tends to diminish the importance that a cover plays in the interaction we have with a book. Judging by the cover may be unwise, but the impression a cover gives is very influential. The very mention of a book title can immediately brings to mind the image of its cover – that image becomes tied to the work, the author, the experience of reading the novel. Below are a few samples that got impressed into my memory over the years:

Book Cover Design

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The cover was painted by Francis Cugat, and it is said that Fitzgerald was so enamored with the work (which was completed before he had finished his novel) that he incorporated it into his story. Entitled “Celestial Eyes,” it is probably one of the most iconic and best known covers in publishing history.

Enormous Changes at the Last Minute – Grace Paley

Edward Hopper’s “Compartment C, Car 293,” an oil painting of a young woman reading on a train, is a beautiful illustration for Gracy Paley’s collection of short stories, all set in New York. Once read, its hard not to see Paley’s narrator Faith as the woman on the train.

Salinger and Burgess

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
and The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

Such simliar covers for two very different books. The straightforward serif font in yellow on a classic crimson background reveals very little about the story inside Catcher in the Rye, yet is without a doubt inextricably tied to the story in the minds of millions of readers. Similarly Burgess’ futuristic distopian thriller could seem almost too bizarre to evoke in such a simple cover. Amazing how the simple skewing of the sans serif title diagonally across the orange background does the job wonderfully.

Examples of Book Cover Design

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway and
Absalom, Absalom! – William Faulkner

Two favorite novels of mine – but not what I would consider great book covers. In a way, they seem lazy – almost as if someone decided “Hey, this image will work, won’t it?” But these two images are what springs to mind whenever I hear these titles. Would a better choice have made for a better reading experience as well?

Book Cover Design from Classic Paintings

It’s interesting to notice the frequency with which classic paintings by great masters, that generally have nothing to do with the novel they are chosen to represent, are so often the choice for cover designs – and are an uncannily perfect fit. Penguin Classics is one publisher that relies heavily on this technique, finding classic portraits that seem to perfectly represent the character in a novel.


In my opinion, the best book cover designs often lean toward simplicity and minimalism. There is something powerful in sensing the feel or meaning of a novel’s theme in just the barest of images, or color, or font placement… a simple, eloquent cover that hints at the complexity within. (Regardless of the cover, if you haven’t read the novels above, do yourself a favor and check them out. All great reads.)


Rely on your printer for advice and direction in design and branding decisions. They have years of experience working with the entire gamut of design trends and tastes. If they can’t help you, they will know who can! The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!

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