Book Covers in 2016

Illustrations and Artwork

As we’ve talked often in these pages, the “best” way to design a book’s cover changes yearly. The expectations of the readership is continually updating. It’s why a cover that was ideal for sales in the 1970s is rarely perfect in 2016. Heck, a cover that was perfect in 2014 is rarely perfect in 2016. The industry is changing that quickly.

Sometimes it’s subtle differences like the use of certain fonts. Other times it’s larger.

Here are the winners of the cover design category at the latest New York Book Show. There is a clear trend here. They are choosing illustrated covers.


Perhaps because an intensely beautiful stock photograph is now available at 33 cents a photo all over the web. Just about anybody can make a beautiful photographic cover if they have a basic skill set with fonts and layout. A top-quality photo is no longer enough to stand out because everybody has one. If anything, that high quality photo merely lets you wallow in the massive “middle pack” above the brand newbie self-publishers who don’t know how to use layout programs well. Even those bare-bottom newbies will have high quality photos, though. They might just not crop them well or have legible titles.

So it seems the new way in which to set yourself apart is to go to that next level – to have a custom work of art created by an artist, manually. The fonts, similarly, are often hand-lettered to show you haven’t simply chosen a random font from one of the thousands available on the web. Even the few people amongst these winners who used a reasonably typical font still did something with it – they gave it a texture, or gradient, or worked with the letter sizes to make it more artistic.

It’s pretty amazing how fast the cover design world is changing right now. It’s why it’s good not to get too obsessed about a specific cover for your book. Wait a year - that perfect cover will soon be an ‘old cover’ and you’ll be thinking about a new one!

Here’s the winners of the 2016 New York Book Show covers:

And here’s Amazon’s current best sellers. They seem either illustrated or with a painterly style of photo.

Even popular perennial books like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, which in the past have boasted photographic covers, are currently focused on illustrated covers. It's not just fantasy. It's a cross-genre trend.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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