Have you ever had the experience, while browsing a display of book covers on Amazon or strolling the aisles of a bookstore, where a book suddenly caught your eye? For no particular reason, you did a double take? For what ever reason, one stood out in the sea of other book covers? What you experienced was most likely the result of an effective focal point.
The focal point is what catches our initial attention and, when successful, prevents our eyes from moving on to the next cover. It’s one of the keys to great book covers. Without a focal point, your book cover can virtually disappear, which means the book you worked so hard to get published will never be noticed.
Book Covers that Capture Attention
Though it’s usually subconscious, the focal point halts our momentum when scanning the shelves or a list of thumbnails. It’s the reason we stop for a closer look.
You likely recognize some of the book covers shown below. Besides being bestsellers and cool book covers, they have something else in common: a striking focal point created with the title words or with an image.
In this article, we’ll explore how a focal point gets your book noticed, and ultimately increases book sales.
Five Easy Focal Points
Below are five ways to ensure your book cover gets noticed. In the examples, the title is used as the focal point, but the same rules apply when an image is the star attraction.
A larger object (or text) tends to dominate smaller, similar objects, making the larger one a focal point. The bigger Peter Pan (to the left) towers over the smaller one and overshadows it. The larger one conveys a greater sense of importance and commands more attention.
Objects at or near the center of the design tend to grab attention more than similar sized objects in other areas of the page do.
Surrounding an object with white space draws attention. Even though the example on the left is covered with the words Peter Pan, one of them stands out more than the others. Note, this image employs each of the three tools, described so far: largest size, near the center, and isolated from the other text.
Bright and dark objects placed near one another create contrast, which gives them more eye-popping visibility. The title, itself, can be a strong focal point when the color of the type contrasts with that of the background. In the example below, you can see that the focal point appears to move toward the eye, away from the page, while the paler words of the border appear to recede.
Lines within the design can point to, or converge on, a word or object to increase its point of focus. The eye will naturally follow the direction of a strong visual line, or multiple fine lines as shown below—where just four small strokes bring a surprising amount of emphasis to the focal point.
Right Three of the five tools, described above, make the title of this book a solid focal point. The black letters, which are the largest text on the page, contrast with the white background (rules #1 and #4). Rather than placing it somewhere within the textured and colored part of the image, the title is somewhat isolated, where white space surrounds it (rule #3). You can see how the tips for creating a focal point translate easily into designing book covers.
Right The words in the title create focal point with larger size (#1), centering (#2), contrast with the background (#3), and many convergent lines that point to it (#5). This cover not only captures initial attention with its title, it keeps that attention by directing the eye back to the focal point whenever it tries to leave. Notice what your eye does when you start to look at other elements of the cover. The convergence of the pencils draws it back to the title.
Right Similar to the example above, this cover creates a focal point with a single key word. One glance and your eyes go directly to RING. The letters are large, they contrast with background, and they are near the center of the page. Additionally, a ring around them works as a convergence tool (as well as a symbol for the book itself).
You just learned how key words in the title can become focal points on book covers. In many cases, however, it may be more desirable to use a graphic or photo instead. Using the same techniques described above, it’s just as easy.
How do you handle the title when an image takes center stage? A prominent graphic can define and dominate a design (in a good way), and when that happens, the title should be the secondary point of focus.
Using contrast, centering, and isolation, the dark figure against the bright yellow circle, shown left, creates a powerful and eye-catching focal point. Another thing that makes this a great book cover is that the same subtle convergence line that points at the circle also points at the title. After your eye is captured by the image, lines move out from it and carry the eye to the title (which also happens to be well contrasted and easy to read).
Next, we’ll create a book cover using a similar strategy. Here, well use an image as the focal point, and work through the process of ensuring that once the cover captures initial attention, the viewers’ interest will remain on the page long enough to read the title.
The example includes four drafts of a cover design (not uncommon when creating good book covers) that illustrate the process of reaching a balanced hierarchy of focal points, using an image as the main focal point and the title as the secondary.
First Draft: Too Cluttered Here, the image is the right size and location for a focal point (for more on locations, see Book Covers and Layout Part 1: Rule of Thirds & Diagonal Scan) . However, the title is too close to the lens of the magnifying glass (reducing its isolation) and too near the center of the page. Instead of forming two tiers of focus, the image and title combine to form one large mass.
Second Draft: Too Competitive In the second attempt, the text is too large and dominant to be secondary. It overtakes the image and competes for initial attention. The eye bounces uncomfortably between the lens and the words, unsure of where to rest.
Third Draft: Too Extreme The secondary focus (words in the title) is far too small. The primary focal point is bolstered by the additional white space (or black space) that surrounds it, which further minimizes the title. When the eye tries to move away from the image and take in the words, it is pulled back to the white circle.
Final Design Finally, the image and title work together to support the design and create a great book cover. The magnifying glass is such a commanding focal point that a viewer can’t miss this cover. By moving the title away from the image and moderating its size, it becomes a suitable secondary focal point that is bold, but not overbearing.
Faces: Powerful Focal Points for Book Covers
Because we are genetically programmed and socially conditioned to connect with others, images of eyes and faces are almost guaranteed to get our attention, even on book covers (consider the Mona Lisa). Faces are so powerful that we will subconsciously and reflexively make eye contact with facial images, whether or not they are human.
Eyes and facial expression communicate emotion and feeling, which translates powerfully into how our subconscious perceives images of them. Before we consciously realize what is on the page, our brains have already recognized the image of a face. Such near-instant recognition makes human, animal, and even cartoon faces some of the strongest focal points for book covers, especially when we can make eye contact with them. In this segment, you’ll learn how to work with these commanding graphics, including how to direct gaze, leverage attractiveness bias, and maximize face-to-body ratio.
Below Carved of stone and lacking contrast, the face in the first of the two book covers manages to capture attention and evoke emotion at once. In the second image, the penetrating gaze of the photograph leverages contrast to create an inescapable focal point.
Direction of Gaze on Book Covers Counts
Our eyes will follow the direction of a gaze, so always position facial images to look onto the page, rather than off it. Otherwise, you could inadvertently send a viewer away from your book cover. Direct the gaze from left to right when the image is at the center, or left side, of the design. When the face is on the right, direct the gaze left, so that it doesn’t look off the page.
Because of our tendency to follow gaze, advertisers and marketers frequently use it as a convergence tool to direct our attention to products or logos. A face that looks toward the title, on book covers for instance, will influence viewers to do the same.
Attractiveness bias is the tendency to attribute attractive people with positive qualities. Intelligence, strength, character, talent, and popularity are among them. Because the bias exists in all of us, regardless of culture, social class or age, marketing and advertising campaigns often leverage it to convey desired messages. The location of a face and placement of text, can be manipulated on book covers to increase or decrease its attractiveness (see below).
The first image, of the two book covers above, is cropped through the forehead, and copy covers the mouth in an unflattering way–almost suggestive of censorship. Both techniques serve to minimize attractiveness bias and create a negative association with the image. This design approach is used to set a sinister mood or cast the subject in a negative light.
Using the same photo in a different manner, the second book cover comes across more positively. By adjusting the image down (so the forehead is fully in view), and by moving the text off the face, the subject becomes more attractive and, therefore, more appealing.
Note Copy on the face doesn’t necessarily make an image unfavorable (see below); just be aware of where it’s placed.
Face-to-Body Ratio on Book Covers
Face-to-body ratio refers to the amount of face shown in relation to the rest of the body. A large facial close up, like the one shown below, has high face ratio (the highest possible), because none of the body is visible. The second image is of the body only, and therefore has a low face ratio (or no face ratio). Why is this important? Faces and bodies communicate subconscious messages on book covers, which can either contribute to, or take away from, the message you want to convey.
High Face Ratio
Book covers that contain more face than body draw our attention to the subject’s logical, analytical, and intellectual qualities. High face ratio images also highlight personality traits such as confidence, shyness, or determination. The book cover shown below has the highest face ratio possible because none of the body is shown. By using a close up of the face, this design directs our attention to the subject’s thoughts, beliefs, and political positions, which coincide with the book’s theme.
Low or No-Face Ratio
Book covers with full-body shots, including those with or without faces, highlight physical and bodily qualities such as fitness, strength, and vitality. The cover for the diet book, below, uses a high body ratio (in this case, a zero-face ratio) image that contributes to the book’s objective of health and physical appearance.
Take a look at the bestselling book covers below. They’re the same covers you saw at the beginning of the article, but I bet you now see them differently. Now that you understand how focal points draw attention, you probably recognize the focal point for each one right away. And, now you know why it works…
Hope you enjoyed Book Covers that get Noticed. Thanks for reading!
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By Stacie Vander Pol