Bold, graphic of three prospective book covers in orange, black and white

What the judges are looking for

Your cover design should encapsulate the essence or key themes of the book in an imaginative, instant and engaging way. To help you get started, we’ve set out the top things to consider when designing a book cover, and what we look for when narrowing down our shortlist.

Regardless of style, think of your audience

Your cover design can be made using illustration, photography, mixed media, pure typography or graphic elements – it’s up to you! But most importantly, it should give the prospective reader a sense of the tone and content of the book, and appeal to the broadest possible audience for it.

What will make a reader pick up the book?

Think about which covers have made you want to read the book itself.
Your cover should:

- Evoke an emotion in the reader when they see it, which reflects how they will feel when they read it

- Be an attractive piece of design – something that draws people in and makes them want to pick up the book and learn more about it

- Be an original and unexpected interpretation of the brief – something that we’re unlikely to have seen and that will surprise us

- Stand out, whilst still appealing to readers in the target audience. You should engage with the book market – look at published covers in the same genre and think about how to make your cover design unique

It should also:

- Have a strong use of typography

- Have executed the use of colour carefully. A well-considered pop of colour, or an unusual palette can make all the difference to how impactful a cover design is

- Use type, images and colour that work seamlessly together

How and where will a reader see the book?

A potential reader may first see a book in a bookshop, a supermarket, a library, on their phone or computer. In these different scenarios, certain elements of your design will have to work harder.

While all elements of the cover (front, back and spine) need to work together, remember that the front cover in particular has to be eye-catching. It should stand out within a crowded bookshop setting, as well as on screen at a reduced size for online shopping.

The front cover is what will draw people in, but the blurb on the back cover is often what makes them decide to buy the book. It’s important that the design for this is clear and well laid out, but also that it works with the design of the cover as a whole.

The spine is often the only part of the cover that is visible in a bookshop display, as well as on bookshelves at home. It needs to work very hard to clearly show the title, author and logo. It should look attractive on its own as well as being an integrated part of the overall design.

Feeling more prepared?

Why not take a look at the former winners to see what stood out for the judges.

Penguin Cover Design Award

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