Images of book coversBefore diving into the details of typography and graphics for designing book covers, it’s important to understand what forms the foundation of a great book cover design. If you’ve read  Create A Focal Point that Gets Noticed, this post will help you position that focal point for maximum benefit on your future book covers. The objective of cover design is not just to make book covers that you can submit to CreateSpace or another self-publishing company. The goal is design that improves the overall experience of your book and increases book sales. In other words, great book covers.


 The Groundwork for Great Book Covers

A layout is like a blueprint for a book cover. It tells you how to arrange text and graphic elements in a way that both looks good and draws in the reader.

In this article, you’ll learn how to create layouts that attract interest—and how to keep that interest focused on your book covers. Just as important, you’ll discover why certain areas of the page command more attention than others do, and how to make the most of those prime locations.

Look at the book covers of some of the top-selling books of recent history, and you’ll find that nearly all of them employ the same general rules of layout described here. In addition to a focal point and an easy-to-read title, they adhere to the Rule of Thirds and comply with preferred upper-left to lower-right diagonal scan (soon to be discussed).

Here, you’ll learn why these concepts are so commonly used in professional publishing as well as how to apply them when designing your own book covers.

Book Covers LOVE the Rule of Thirds

The premise of the Rule of Thirds is that when key elements or objects (such as horizon lines) cross the page at a division of thirds, rather than in half, the image is more appealing. Have you ever noticed that photographs look better when the horizon line crosses the page at the upper or lower third rather than straight through the middle?

By using the Rule of Thirds as the basis of your layouts, you can design visually appealing book covers with little time or effort.

Start with a blank page and divide it into thirds horizontally, then again vertically to create a nine-box grid. The lines and intersections will serve as guides for placing key text and graphics. The fourth illustration, below, gives you an idea for how the page can be divided and laid out using some, but not all, of the grid lines and spaces.






In the images below, grid lines are placed over the book covers. In the first example, a blurb about the book lands in the top third; the focal point, which corresponds with the location of the title, falls in the middle; and the author name and information sit at the bottom. Placing text elements within the rows, rather than over the lines, contributes to a clean and structured appearance. Similar to the first design, the remaining book covers rely heavily on the symmetry and balance created by placing key text, images, and white space within the horizontal rows. The result is a comforting design that’s inviting and approachable.

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When you want increased tension and energy, place key text and objects directly over the lines or intersections. Also called power points, intersections can increase the strength of a focal point.

Below, the strength of the magnifying glass, in the first of the four book covers, is enhanced when placed over an intersection point (a great location for an intended focal point such as this one). The title grounds the cover by consuming the entire bottom third. In the second example, the silhouetted figure lies on a vertical line and an intersection point. The top and bottom third of the cover are filled with text, while the middle section is reserved for the most visually dynamic portion of the photo. Note the horizon line divides the page at the bottom third, rather than through the center.

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The third cover (above) uses words of the title to create a strong focal point. Part of the title runs right through a divisional line, which brings energy to what is otherwise a very basic design. The fourth example places the image in the left two thirds of the page, with the most eye-catching area over an intersection. The title is also placed on an intersection.

While the Rule of Thirds is helpful for positioning horizons, it shouldn’t be limited to landscapes. Some of the best book covers us close-ups of objects, faces, and other images also benefit when a key feature in the photo is aligned with a Rule of Thirds grid line or intersection.

The Rule of Thirds is embraced by novice and experienced designers alike. Its applications are universal and can be found in paintings, drawings, posters, photographs, and logos. It enhances almost any kind of design. Consider the Rule of Thirds in all of your layouts, and learn to rely on it as a fast and easy way to form balanced, eye-pleasing book covers. When a cover won’t quite come together, or feels like a struggle, come back to this rule as a starting point to guide your adjustments.

Preferred Diagonal Scan

Because westerners read from left to right, top to bottom, our eyes tend to move diagonally across a page in a series of left to right sweeps. Decades of this reading pattern have conditioned us to feel comfortable with designs that have an upper-left to lower-right movement or flow. Whether it’s subtle or obvious, it’s pleasing to the eye. Known as reading gravity, this pattern of movement, when taking in written information, has resulted in a subconscious dismissal and negative response to material that asks us to reverse the movement.

Coined the Gutenberg Diagram, the drawing to the left shows where the western eye falls as it moves through information. The circles indicate areas where we are most likely to look—the darkest indicating the highest likelihood of visual contact and the lightest, the least. The entry and exit points (darker circles) create hot spots where a viewer’s eye is certain to fall. The lighter circles, particularly the one in the lower left corner, are more likely to be overlooked. To ensure its visibility, important text, such as the title, should intersect the diagonal path in at least one place.


To convey the message as effectively and efficiently as possible, your book covers should always take diagonal preference into account. Because it is so ingrained in our habits, you likely already incorporate some form of it, instinctively.

Images of book coversWhen in doubt about where to place an object or text element, go with the option that contributes to preferred diagonal scan, and avoid placing objects in areas that pull the eye in the opposite direction. Usually that means placing it somewhere in the upper-left or lower-right areas of the page.

Front covers, as well as other types of designs, can succeed without a literal application of Preferred Diagonal Scan. A layout that’s centered and has no diagonal movement at all can become a great book cover design. However, one that contradicts Preferred Diagonal Scan, by reversing the placement of key text and objects, dampens buyer confidence. When presented with an image that asks our eyes to move in opposition to what we are comfortable with, we perceive it as disordered and confusing. As more effort is required to absorb the information, comprehension drops off and we skip to the next cover. We lose interest before our brains have even read the words. An example of this is shown below, where you can see, right away, how odd the reversed layout looks.

In an exaggerated example, the first of three book covers below asks the eye to start in the upper-right corner and move diagonally toward the lower left part of the page, reversing the preferred direction. This layout is so unfamiliar to the Western eye that the cover appears as though it’s backward. If feels uncomfortable, or as if something is wrong.

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To illustrate how much we prefer an upper-left to lower-right diagonal scan, we’ve flipped the image to create a mirror of the first design (second image). The cover is hardly well designed, but because the diagonal scan is correct, it’s far more acceptable than the previous attempt. The best solution for this particular cover is to center the text and use the house in the image to create a more subtle diagonal movement.

Putting It Together

The following examples illustrate how a successful layout combines a focal point (Create A Focal Point that Gets Noticed), the Rule of Thirds and Preferred Diagonal Scan to create the best book covers.

Images of book covers Left  The strong vertical line, created by the human figure, fills the left third and draws the eye from the top to the bottom of the page. Here, the vertical image is the focal point.

The title (secondary focal point) is placed strategically over an intersection point and in line with the direction of the gaze, as though she is glancing down at it.


images for book coversIf you read the section on focal points for book covers, you know that the human eye will follow the direction of a gaze in an image. Directing the gaze a the title not only strengthens it as a secondary focal point, it contributes to Preferred Diagonal Scan.



Layouts in Action

The book covers below reflect how professional publishers use focal points, the Rule of Thirds and Preferred Diagonal Scan for bestselling books.

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That’s all for Book Covers and Layout Part 1. You can find a link to Part 2 next. Thanks for reading!

Next: Book Covers and Layout Part 2: Beyond the Rule of Thirds

Previous ArticleCreate A Focal Point that Gets Noticed

Thanks for reading!

By Stacie Vander Pol