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How a Book Cover Gets Made: 5 Steps to Hooking a Reader

Five Steps to Hooking a Reader

The most successful covers are like love at first sight. Whether the cover needs to convey the adrenaline thrill of action, the seductive allure of romance, or the awe-inspiring worlds of sci-fi fantasy, a publisher has to make a cover that appeals to its audience.

We can all remember a book that we bought for its cover—one that signaled to us that the book is exactly something we want to read.

Want to know how all that magic happens? Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how the fantastic new cover art for The Forever War by Joe Haldeman was made.

Step 1: The Matchmaker

Cover art starts with the people behind the scenes: The editor has a vision for how the cover should look, and the designer must come up with art that fits the editor’s vision. Sounds pretty simple, right?

It can be—except that sometimes neither the designer nor the editor knows the other beforehand. Often the designer is a freelancer and so interactions between the designer and the editor could end up being kind of like going on a blind date, hoping for the best.

Luckily, to avoid those awkward dates where each person spends more time twiddling thumbs than talking, there is a third crucial person involved in the process: a kind of matchmaker, the art director, who finds the perfect match between book editor and freelance artist.

Step 2: The Blind Date

The art director is given a cover brief from the editor—a list of qualities the editor wants expressed in the book cover. In the cover art for The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, for instance, the focus was on creating a cover with an epic, narrative feel that captured, but didn’t focus on, the fact that the book is military science fiction. Above all, the cover for this Hugo– and Nebula Award–winning book had to feel iconic.

Taking that information, the director can then look through her database of freelance artists to pick the one who she feels can best appropriate the editor’s requests. 

Step 3: Puppy Love

Once the freelancer is chosen, it’s time to start the actual design. The chosen artist is given a few weeks to come up with a few different cover designs based on the editor’s suggestions. These designs are sent to the art director who then vets them and, in turn, sends off the best of these designs to the editor. In the case of The Forever War, two designs were sent over to the editor for comment.

The Forever War first drafts:

Step 4: It’s Not You, It’s Me

Of course, the first attempt is hardly ever the one the reader will see on the final front cover.  Anything and everything can be revamped again and again to find the cover that feels just right. As you can see in The Forever War, there are both drastic changes to the central image and slight changes to the size and color of the font. It’s a lot of hard work to find “the one!”

Some of The Forever War’s revisions:

Step 5: Love at First Sight

Many drafts, back-and-forth emails, and brainstorming sessions (and perhaps a few gray hairs) later, that perfectly crafted cover becomes the one we eventually see in the stores and online. Once the editor loves the cover, the author takes a look too, and sometimes that can send a cover back to the drawing board! Luckily for The Forever War’s eager readers, this whole cover art process was completed in just five weeks.

The end goal is always to make the reader feel something; to help the reader find love at first sight. What do you think of the new cover?

The Forever War’s final cover art:



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