5 ways to design a book cover.

“You shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover” is a true statement, but it’s also kind of dumb.

We all judge books by the covers. Why? Because we have too many options.

There were three million books published in 2010. How does your book get noticed in this glut of options? One way is with a great cover.

Today I get to share the cover of my new book Do Over for the first time. (It’s available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)

Do Over Cover 2

I think the Portfolio/Penguin team did an awesome job with it! So how did we get there?


Whether you’re self publishing an ebook or going the traditional route with a publisher, there are a lot of ways you can design a great cover. I think a perfect place to start is by asking these five questions:

1. Will it stand out?
One of the first questions they used to ask in publishing when it comes to book covers is, “Will it stand out if I’m in a busy, loud airport and I’m walking by quickly on the way to my flight?” Now, the question has been tweaked a little since your book will also by on a virtual shelf. The cover needs to stand out in a postage size format shown in an amazon listing of books. If your cover fades in instead of standing out, it’s time to start over. That’s one of the reasons I really liked the vibrancy of the yellow for the Do Over cover.

2. Does it reflect the heart of the book?
Sometimes people think a “Do Over” is negative. It feels like you’ve messed up and need to crawl out of some Eeyore shaped hole. But Do Over is a wildly optimistic book. It’s about seeing each day in your career as a fresh opportunity. It’s about intentionally building the career you’ve always wanted with the four things every amazing career has in common. After spending 16 years in the halls of corporate America and the trenches of dream chasing, this book represents a fun explosion of practical possibility. The cover needed to create that feeling and I think it does. Sometimes you see books that feel very different from the content inside. The cover design is brave and bold while the content is quiet and afraid. You have to make sure the cover is an extension of the content not a new conversation altogether.

3. Is the design subtle and bold?
When you design a cover, it’s tempting to try really blunt metaphors and we certainly played around with those at first. We thought, “What represents a Do Over?” and then we came up with a lot of designs based on erasers. For some books, an eraser worked but when we tried it on this one, it felt too obvious. Pasting the word “Do Over” on an eraser was an easy solution but it didn’t have the subtly that great design often has. There weren’t any layers to that metaphor. After exploring a lot of images like that, what we all ended up liking about the typography in the word “Do Over” was that there was movement there. In a kind of MC Escher way it showed motion. It still had a bold visual but the typography told a subtle story about never getting stuck.

4. Did we explore a lot of options?
Maybe some people have “love at first sight” when it comes to cover designs. The artist creates one comp, the entire team falls in love with it and the whole process takes 15 minutes. I guess that happens, but that’s certainly not something I’ve ever experienced. We went through more than 50 different designs. I’m not talking about 50 rough sketches or napkin concepts. I’m talking about 50 deliberate, hard fought comps. The challenge is that as an author, toward the end of the process, there’s a part of you that wants it to be done. It’s very tempting to pick a design you kind of like just to get the whole thing finished. Fight that with everything you’ve got. You need to find something you love, not just like. You didn’t half write the book, don’t half design the cover.

5. Were you brave during the process?
Not everyone is going to like your cover. Or your blog. Or your business. Or your anything. That’s life. Don’t worry about that. Worry instead about taking the coward’s way when it is offered (and it is always offered.) Bravery is a choice, not a feeling. Choose it every day. Be brave with the design!

I’m not sure how other authors pick a book cover, but that’s the process I’ve gone through with all five books I’ve written. I’m excited about the Do Over cover and hope if you publish a book you’ll be just as excited about your cover.

Quick question:
What’s a book cover you really loved?

  • KC
    Posted at 09:15h, 08 December Reply

    Congratulations on Do Over, Jon! Been excited for it to release since you mentioned it on your trip to Seattle. Like how the new book’s cover is a departure from previous titles. Not that they were bad, but this one is unique in a whimsical, but sophisticated sort of way.

    Recommended book cover? I really like Switch by Chip & Dan Heath.

    • Jon Acuff
      Posted at 10:27h, 08 December Reply

      It was a blast seeing you in Seattle! I really liked Switch too.

  • Emily
    Posted at 10:07h, 08 December Reply

    I’m so glad you chose the yellow one! You seemed the most excited about it. 🙂 I’m thrilled you didn’t follow the trends with this one.

    • Jon Acuff
      Posted at 10:27h, 08 December Reply

      Thanks Emily! That is the one I was most excited about. It felt the riskiest in a good way and had so much energy

  • JB
    Posted at 10:11h, 08 December Reply

    The cover of Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” is brilliant. It takes bravery to put a forest fire on your book cover.

  • David Mike
    Posted at 10:13h, 08 December Reply

    Can’t wait for your new book! Your “Start” cover was amazing. The 3D switch made me want to flip it! I love the “Hunger Games” covers as well as the covers on Jim Woods & Erik Fisher’s books.

    • Jon Acuff
      Posted at 10:26h, 08 December Reply

      Thanks David! I loved the Start cover too, the team at Dave Ramsey did an awesome job on that!

  • Rick Theule
    Posted at 10:31h, 08 December Reply

    Great point about needing to grab the attention of the customer on Amazon with the postage stamp size listing! One book that continues to pull me in simply because of the cover is Eric Metaxas’ book “Bonhoeffer”. The intensity on the face of Bonhoeffer creates intrigue and a desire to find out what he’s thinking.

    • David Mike
      Posted at 14:45h, 08 December Reply

      I agree with you on that cover.

  • Casey Lewis
    Posted at 10:45h, 08 December Reply

    I love that the cover is standing on the merit of the title. It’s doesn’t need a picture. This cover doesn’t have to fight to tell me what the book is about on the cover.

    The typography is playful. It makes me think of my 6 year old and his dreams. The subtitle “Rescue Monday…” so stinkin good!

    I’m excited!

  • Camilla
    Posted at 10:59h, 08 December Reply

    Love the cover Jon! Definitely catches your attention. One cover I like? Well, besides my recently published book How To Get Out Of Debt Living Paycheck to Paycheck that turned out great and that I’m very proud of (with help of a designer and feedback from people) I would say Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Brilliant cover and book. As soon as I saw that cover I wanted to know more about the book.

  • Josh Hatcher
    Posted at 11:37h, 08 December Reply

    As a graphic designer myself, I do a lot of book covers for a lot of people.
    I think that your advice on this is VERY sound, Jon!

    AND the cover of Do Over looks great! It’s got your personality all over it!

  • Jonathan Carone
    Posted at 12:00h, 08 December Reply

    Subtle and bold – the hardest yet most powerful thing a designer can do.

  • Chandler
    Posted at 12:15h, 08 December Reply

    One of my favorite covers is “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. It’s simple yet really draws you in.

  • Zach Ford
    Posted at 12:17h, 08 December Reply

    Jon, I thought the same thing about the motion in the cover when I saw your Instagram post. It’s got a great fluidity to it. Props and congrats!!!

    For me personally, I think Seth Godin puts the final nail in the coffin on covers with ducks, cows, toys, bald heads, bird cages, but my personal favorite is the cover of Tribes.

  • ClintM
    Posted at 12:18h, 08 December Reply

    Another graphic designer chiming in here. Looks great. I love the simplicity but the typography speaks to the content of the book. As a once famous philosopher once stated:

    “Nailed it.”

  • Adam Smith
    Posted at 13:02h, 08 December Reply

    Dang. It’s perfect man. I will second that Seth Godin does some great covers with his books.

  • Chris Shumate
    Posted at 14:29h, 08 December Reply

    Die Empty by Todd Henry and Rookie Smarts by Liz Wiseman.

    Of course my favorite cover design is the children’s book I wrote, but if I take mine our of the equation, it is certainly the two above titles.

    An indie author’s cover that’s pretty awesome is The Page Turners by Kevin T Johns.

  • Jesse
    Posted at 14:51h, 08 December Reply


    I really like the cover! I can’t wait for the book to come out it sounds like it will be speaking my langauge. We all need a ‘do over’ sometimes and the courage to make it happen.

    Keep it up!

  • Sarah Zadok
    Posted at 14:56h, 08 December Reply

    WOW!! So excited to read your latest (Quitter and Start are favs in our house. Fun fact: you have been making rounds in the Golan Heights, Israel – your work has had a big impact on me. And what an endorsement from Mr. Seth Godin. Duuuude. Right on!! Pumped for you and us!

  • Sue
    Posted at 23:30h, 08 December Reply

    Do the Work by Stephen Pressfield. No title. Just a photo. Awesome-ness

  • Jon Stolpe
    Posted at 04:54h, 09 December Reply

    I liked Jeff Goins’ cover for his book, Wrecked. The upside down turtle was definitely an attention grabber.

    • Jeff Goins
      Posted at 13:37h, 09 December Reply

      Thanks, Jon! That means a lot.

  • christina
    Posted at 06:59h, 09 December Reply

    Love the cover! And the tips. I am designing a pre-school curriculum book cover of my own and appreciate the post.
    My fav book cover is Ann Voskamp’s 1000 gifts. I am partial to birds. Also, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark, (the red cover) –simple but the spine looks fantastic on a book shelf. That is what made me first pick it up.

  • Nick Pavlidis
    Posted at 08:10h, 09 December Reply

    Awesome! I just went to preorder it and it turns out I already preordered it in September. 🙂 Can’t wait to read it. Cover looks great!

  • Bethany
    Posted at 20:24h, 09 December Reply

    Well, I really liked the cover of Stuff Christians Like.

  • Vic
    Posted at 06:30h, 10 December Reply

    It’s important to have an eye catching spine as well because that’s what people will notice first as they’re perusing the shelves. I think the yellow accomplishes that quite nicely.

  • Adam Martin
    Posted at 14:36h, 10 December Reply

    Love the cover Jon. Really like the Yellow!

  • H.E.
    Posted at 11:08h, 02 February Reply

    Who is the designer that actually worked on this cover?
    Looks like he or she bounced back with enthusiasm and creativity even after 50 comps!

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