When Less is Truly More: Designing a Cover for a Novel

Looks matter: It’s the cover that makes a potential reader stop and browse a book in a store. As writing and editing my historical romance is finished, the next challenge is to design a compelling cover. No easy task!

I started with jotting down ideas. The cover should:

  • indicate the historical period, i.e. the late 18th century
  • provide the reader with some ideas about the story
  • match the genre of romantic love story
  • have a serene and elegant air

So many wishes, but could they be combined in one cover?

The very first draft

To achieve an 18th century look, I decided to work with silhouettes as they were a typical art form of that age. Silhouettes are also useful to illustrate a short part of the storyline or an important scene: Cleverly arranged, it’s like shadow puppetry.

I browsed my database for photos that match elements and motifs of my novel. I came up with a couple in love, a horseman, a country house, a carriage, a necklace and a thief’s hand. I recoloured them and arranged them on a pinkish background – I had, after all, written a romance.

A friend pointed out some of the weaknesses of the draft (‘Is the horseman run over by the carriage?’) and also vetoed the colour-scheme. She also suggested to use the neckless as a frame for the couple.

Everything has to change

In the next draft, the couple was indeed placed inside a frame, though not one created by the necklace. I had found a photo of an 18th century mirror. The mirror is great to indicate period (18th century) and setting (nobility) of the novel. The frame being a mirror also meant I could still use the necklace as an element of story-telling.
The new draft shows the couple standing in a ring formed by the necklace. A thief’s hand threatens to grab the necklace. If it succeeds and pulls, the couple will tumble or even fall. This illustrates the impact of the necklace on my hero and heroine.
The background of the cover is now of a calm greenish-blue instead of a clichéd pink.

So far, so good. Now I needed a professional graphic designer to check it and turn the draft into a decent cover. Luckily, a friend of a friend is a graphic designer. Saskia Koelliker invited me to her studio.

Less is more

Saskia listened to my ideas and checked my draft. Her advise for my draft was ‘less is more’, and she kindly suggested to:

  • eliminate the distortions on the green-blue background,
  • reduce the ornaments on the mirror,
  • delete the coloured bar used to highlight the title.

Then, she set to work and

  • added shadows to the thief’s hand and the mirror for a more realistic effect,
  • used a colour gradient to create a floor for the couple to stand on,
  • changed the size and colour of the font to bring design and words into balance.

She allowed me to check all her decorative fonts and choose the one I liked best to highlight the word ‘tadellosem’ (‘impeccable’).

Here is the preliminary result after about one hour of work.

Compared to my draft the new version is smooth, and more precise.

The next task was to work on the colour-scheme. The green used for the cover is pleasant and calming, but we were looking for something fresh and lively. I suggested a light blue, as seen in 18th century Wedgewood porcelain or ceilings by Robert Adam. The new colour provides a serene air.

I liked this version very much but wondered if we could try and add a ‘wow-effect’. Saskia immediately suggested to add a picture or ornament to the background. This picture would be transparent and in a darker shade of our 18th century blue. It could show a country house, a carriage or an ornament of a wallpaper.

I found some matching photos in my database. Saskia added them to the cover and showed me several versions to choose from. I went for the one with the wallpaper (which is indeed from a country house in Derbyshire).

Saskia also developed an additional decorative element for the cover: She added the silhouette of the couple to the book spine and also placed it above the blurb. An adorable idea! I love it very much.

This is the final version of the cover:

Lessons learned

Less is indeed more! The cover developed from a motley display of pictures to a smooth composition pleasing to the eye. It indicates period and setting of the story, and provides the reader with ideas about what will happen in the book.

I am glad to have asked a professional graphic designer for assistance. The cooperation with Saskia was great fun.


About Saskia Koelliker

Saskia Koelliker has been running her own graphic design studio since 1999. She designs brochures, magazine layouts and corporate designs, and has an additional focus on illustrations and web-design.

Website: http://www.koelliker-grafik.de


The novel ‘Von tadellosem Ruf‘ (‘Of impaccable reputation‘) will be published in August 2017 (ISBN: 9 7837 4485 4313).

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