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literature book cover

The 101 Best Book Covers of 2021

As chosen by our favorite book cover designers.

Well, friends, it’s been another tough year. But as we wind down 2021, it is useful to remember the good parts, the pleasures small and large that got us through. And yes, a beautifully designed book can be one of those pleasures—especially when we’re still spending more time at home than perhaps we would like.

So you know the drill. For the sixth year in a row, I asked a few of my favorite professional book cover designers (34 of my favorites, in fact) to choose their favorite covers of the last twelve months. They came back with a grand total of 101 glorious covers, representing work by 67 different designers for 54 different imprints. All of their picks, along with what they had to say about them, are below.

But as you may know if you’re a frequent Literary Hub reader, I also like stats, and therefore I have tallied the best of the best for you here. Feel free to skip that part if you’d just like to look at some pretty book art. Either way, I think you’ll enjoy:

The best of the best book covers:

First Place (tie, with 8 mentions each):

Anna North, Outlawed ; cover design by Rachel Willey (Bloomsbury, January) Pola Oloixarac, tr. Adam Morris,  Mona ; cover design by Thomas Colligan (FSG, March)

Second Place (6 mentions):

Kristen Arnett, With Teeth ; cover design by Lauren Peters-Collaer (Riverhead, June)

Third Place (5-way tie, with 5 mentions each):

Jonas Eika, After the Sun ; cover design by Lauren Peters-Collaer (Riverhead, August) Chang-Rae Lee, My Year Abroad ; cover design by Grace Han (Riverhead, February) Wole Soyinka, Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth ; cover design by Linda Huang (Pantheon, September) Joy Williams, Harrow ; cover design by Kelly Blair (Knopf, September) Richard Zenith, Pessoa: A Biography ; cover design by Yang Kim (Liveright, July)

Honorable Mentions (3-way tie, with 4 mentions each):

Melissa Broder, Milk Fed ; cover design by Jaya Miceli (Scribner, February) Tamara Shopsin, LaserWriter II ; cover design by Tamara Shopsin (MCD, October) Rebecca Solnit,  Orwell’s Roses ; cover design by Gray318 (Viking, October)

The presses with the most covers on the list:

First Place (12 mentions): Knopf

Second Place (8 mentions): Riverhead

Third Place (6 mentions): FSG

The designers with the most different covers on the list:

First Place (6 covers): Janet Hansen

Second Place (tie; 5 covers each): Lauren Peters-Collaer, Na Kim

Third Place (4 covers): Tom Etherington

The best month for book covers:

First Place (13 covers): September

Second Place (four-way tie; 10 covers each): February, March, July, August

Third Place (tie; 9 covers each): June, October

The full list:

Anna North, Outlawed

This pop art collage style is definitely having a moment of popularity, and there’s no shortage of excellent designs to choose from. Rachel’s stands out to me because of the playfulness and surreal quality. The cover instantly drew me to this book and portrays the story perfectly.

– Lauren Harms

Love the collagey mash of Western and Magritte. Everything about this cover is so fun.

– June Park

This book stopped me in my tracks every time I passed it this year. The design is doing so much, so well, using surrealism, collage and color to deconstruct genre and gender archetypes.

– David Litman

The colors! The fonts! The texture! I am always drawn right to this cover whenever I see it in a bookstore. I want this as a poster. This says “Western” but also “not your grandpa’s Western.”

– Sarah Brody

Such a fresh and stylish take on the traditional western genre. Love the color palette and the surreal, almost dream-like effect of the collage.

Do I ever get past one of these lists without including Rachel Willey? Impossible.

I love how this cover plays with Western tropes—a cowboy hat, handkerchief, and slab serif typography—but then subverts them with a healthy dash of campiness and fun that you rarely see in the genre.

– Erik Carter

I feel like R.O Kwon’s quote applies to the cover design as well. So cool how Rachel takes elements that are familiar to us and makes it feel fresh.

– Grace Han

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Mona is the best cover of the year. It is so iconic that they better hang this at the Hall of Fame.

There’s something so awesomely weird and psychedelic about this, it almost reminds me of a 70’s Polish movie poster. Beautiful, beautiful type and I love how the letter forms mirror the organic shapes of the illustration.

A colorful mess, I can’t stop staring.

– Tyler Comrie

Gorgeous! Fun! Fresh!

– Janet Hansen

Immediately eye-catching! The illustration and type here is so fun and striking.

This cover is so stunning. Every time I look at the face, I find something new in the art. The collage and lettering are both so strong they could exist as separate entities.

– Emily Mahon

Type and illustration working in perfect harmony.

– Luke Bird

Without question the best cover of the year.

Kristen Arnett, With Teeth

This is so simple and clever! I love how the letters in the title make up the teeth!

– Laywan Kwan

Clever, oddball fun, with a biting edge (pun unavoidable).

– Allison Saltzman

Lauren did such a great job with this cover. The design is so whimsical and graphically eye-catching I can’t help but want to pick it up and give it a read.

– Jared Oriel

Effortlessly fun and bold.

It’s wonderful when the art and title work together as perfectly as they do on this cover.

– Colleen Reinhart

This jacket grabs my attention every time I see it. Such simplicity, and yet so much emotion in the shape of that mouth full of type.

– Kelly Blair

Jonas Eika, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780593329108" rel="noopener" target="_blank">After the Sun</a></em>; cover design by Lauren Peters-Collaer (Riverhead, August)

I’d rather not admit how many books I have purchased because of Lauren’s cover designs. Her work is always fresh and expertly crafted. I’m especially drawn to her use of color, and this title is no exception. It’s electric in person – a design that could easily turn muddy is crisp and legible. I want to know her pre-press secrets!

Vibrant colors and large type are every publishers’ favorite look but after a while it can be difficult to do it in a fresh and intriguing way—the beautiful rendering of the type on this cover combined with the intense contrasting colors makes this so effective.

Beautiful type, color palette, the whole package!

The colors remind be both of a psychedelic sunset and an oil-slick rainbow. The way the type seems to emerge and shine on its own immediately gives it dimension. I could spend forever looking at this cover.

I don’t know how Lauren came to be a designer, but she always seems to approach a book cover in a slightly unusual way—never reverting to a nice typeface on a nice picture. I love how this looks like 3D type poking through a sheet of tin foil that’s reflecting an amazing sunset.

– Jamie Keenan

Chang-rae Lee, My Year Abroad,

I’m a sucker for perspective type and dimensional design; this is probably my favorite. Love the shapes, the texture and the off-register colors. This feels big in such a fun, funky way.

A particularly pleasing composition of shapes, colors, texture, and typography.

So many layers to get lost in, but what stands out is Grace’s type choice: the round characters match the five circular shapes. My eyes jump around in the best way

– Stephen Brayda

This cover is so playful, evocative, and incredibly beautifully crafted. The ultimate eye candy!

– Lauren Peters-Collaer

I love the way this cover conveys a subtle narrative through its teetering forms and type moving in all directions.

– Stephanie Ross

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This is such a bright and dynamic design. Love the rich pink and chartreuse green, the zany arrangement of type and artwork, and the wonderful illustration. This title has a lot of text and Linda Huang did such a great job with it! Such a unique and sharp cover.

– Kelly Winton

You have to see it in real life! The colors are so vibrant. The way the elements are arranged is fun and playful, yet everything is clear and readable.

A really appealing, memorable color palette, and the long title is handled so well within the space.

OMG this is the longest title ever and I’m so inspired by how the type is really playful yet clearly legible among the spots of artwork. The masterful layout and simple color palette combine to give this cover so much wonderful, crazy energy.

The deft touch in the dance between type and image on this jacket pulls you in and along for the ride. This is such an energetic and elegant solution for a jacket with a long title.

Joy Williams, Harrow

I am totally captivated by this bizarre and beautiful image. The horse, the droplets, the strange physics at work—what is happening?? I love it.

The horse trapped in that black pool is such a sublime and devastating image. I also love how the choice of serif, with its bulbous terminals, complements the shape of the black blobs.

– Linda Huang

The combination of the lush green background and the surreal floating horse is incredible.

– Jenny Carrow

A classical layout and type treatment juxtaposed with a surreal & haunting image…and that green! Totally captivating.

– Sarahmay Wilkinson

Simple, elegant, smart. I’m intrigued.

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A great modernist design and an original way to play with a portrait on a cover. Loved the title font treatment, the soft colors, and particularly enjoy how the subtitle looks like a stamp—such a perfect detail. Has a lovely depth and charm to it while also encompassing the subject’s enigmatic life.

Such a refreshing biography design.

The more you examine this cover, the more moments of intrigue draw you in. Yang really designed this ‘repeat pattern’ in a fun and fresh way with a truly vibrant color palette.

Love how the layers bring focus to Pessoa.

One of my favorite covers of the year. A gorgeous and super fresh take on a genre that we all know often leads to the overdone & everseen: “photo of a guy” + type. Each element is so carefully composed and clearly considered here—I can feel it! Yang Kim knocked this one out of the park.

Melissa Broder, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9781982142490" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Milk Fed</a></em>; cover design by Jaya Miceli (Scribner, February)

Let us not forget about this early in the year cover with a brilliant, minimal, eye catching illustration that not only makes you want to read the book but also inspired you to frame it and place it up on your wall. Beautiful palette, bold design, iconic image.

– Nicole Caputo

Smart, funny, subversive, eye-catching—this cover is such a fantastic distillation.

Another instantly iconic cover, The retro type and the cheeky illustration make this a conversation starter for sure.

SO GOOD. What a perfect combination of image and colors and font.

Tamara Shopsin, LaserWriter II

I can’t stop looking at this. That horrible condensed Garamond, everything just a tiny bit lo-res and all the elements looking like they’re stuck on with no thought. I bet it took ages. It’s a brilliant cover.

So fun and approachable even with a limited palette.

Made me smile. Such a fresh take on a very specific visual language from the past.

Looks like someone had way too much fun here. Gotta love the commitment to form and technology.

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Reminds me of an old box of chocolates, both simple & delicious. Gray318 never ceases to amaze and delight!

Incredibly beautiful marriage of typography and image. Simple but arresting.

Such a beauty! The woven flowers with the elegant san serif type is so pleasing to the eye. Love the rich but muted colors and the thorns on the stems. A timeless design.

A beautifully striking design that is almost just one color.

Sam Riviere, <em>Dead Souls</em>; cover design by Jamie Keenan, paper engineering and photography by Gina Rudd (Weidenfeld & Nicholson (UK), May)

– Jaya Miceli

So clean and smart, I want to hold this but I’m afraid I’d tear the perfect paper folds.

I am a sucker for all-type, cut paper, Jamie Keenan covers.

– Ploy Siripant

god of mercy_okezie nwoka

A haunting cover, at once elegant and disturbing. I think it has so much power because it’s so succinct in its depiction of violence and trauma.

Whoa…that contemplative face and the deep tones of the art are beautiful. The way Sara introduced the element of surprise with the textured type and illustration makes it feel so fresh.

Perfect layout/cropping, stunning use of photography, illustration, and handlettering. This one is a real gut punch. There’s a silent scream here you can’t turn away from. What has this child seen??

– Alison Forner

Beatriz Bracher, tr. Adam Morris, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780811227384" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Antonio</a></em>; cover design by Janet Hansen (New Directions, March)

The simplicity of this cover is deceiving—the scale and tension of the entirely hand-drawn elements create a beautifully compelling representation of its subject.

This achieves such a mood with such economy. The three Os used to convey the three different viewpoints is thrilling.

A minimalist master, Janet Hansen’s restraint knows no bounds!

Steven Carroll, <em>O</em>; cover design by Gray318 (4th Estate (UK) February)

The curling of the O to reveal a colorful woman—such a simple and effective way of communicating that there’s a story behind the story.

This has everything I like to see on a book cover: a bit of trompe l’oeil, something annoying like the O not being stuck down perfectly, something hidden to add a bit of intrigue, some ripped paper to give a hint of danger and some really small type to make the big type seem even bigger (and vice versa)—BINGO!

Laurent Binet, tr. Sam Taylor, Civilizations

This cover is so clever. I love the subtle type treatment and the simplicity of the artwork and how it plays with the title perfectly. The artwork looks like a ship or could also be rocks which is such a smart way to get one’s attention. A cover that requires a closer look always wins me over.

Nice textures in an unexpected layout.

Tomás Q. Morín, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780593319642" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Machete</a></em>; cover design by Bráulio Amado (Knopf, October)

Always on board with a roaring tiger pattern.

What’s better than one tiger on a book cover? TWELVE TIGERS ON A BOOK COVER!

Michelle Zauner, Crying in H Mart; cover design by Na Kim (Knopf, April 20)

This cover is masterful in its avoidance of the obvious; It somehow evokes the experience of sharing food, crying, and graphic representation of the H Mart logo with barely any literal representation.

Na is so good at capturing the core of a text in the simplest yet most memorable way possible. Crying in H Mart is just another example of that and, I’m sure all my Asian fellows agree, deeply felt.

Such a brilliant composition and smart use of the image as part of the typography. Also comforting to see this particular image with the title.

the shimmering state_westgate

A beautiful cover that lets us know that something is not quite right by how the image and the type seem to be flowing like an oil slick.

The way the oil slick (or soap bubble?) plays with the type makes this cover so intriguing and ominous while the bright colors invite the reader in and place is squarely in LA.

The Liar's Dictionary, designed by Emily Mahon

Excellent use of a three-dimensional object within a design, graceful combination of illustration and photography, and spot-on funny: we all peacock with our words.

I love the contradictions of this cover art: smart, but goofy; serious, but humorous; academic, but…not. It prompted me to see what it was about. Mountweazels! Who knew!? The two-dimensional peacock strutting under the weight of the three-dimensional book…taking on a little too much weight. Defiantly taunting the reader to question the authenticity of its cargo! Brilliant.

– Gretchen Mergenthaler

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Only a few elements needed to elevate this. The empty space makes this design feel whole.

A beautiful 2021 update of Man Ray’s “Tears” photograph. Logically so wrong—tears are never this perfect—but aesthetically so right.

Tove Ditlevsen, tr.  Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman, The Copenhagen Trilogy

I spent a while staring at this cover and being impressed about the three eyes lining up perfectly. I feel like this one is deceptively simple and the cut out section reveals an inner truth only found in the book itself. Na Kim’s separate covers for each part of the trilogy are also fascinating, with different iterations of the same image.

This is just so good. The clean white type somehow manages to be serious and quirky at the same time and pairs beautifully with the manipulated image. I love how simple yet superbly effective the displacement/swap/tiling of the eyes is.

– Jamie Stafford-Hill

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Double Trio: Love a Baldessarian blob. Each cover in this series has wonderful art.

Bold, courageous, clever and very original.

T.J. Newman, Falling (Avid Reader Press, July 6)

A super commercial book cover, but that doesn’t stop it looking great. About as vertical as you can get and I love how the image sits somewhere between photographic and illustrative for that blockbuster movie poster feel.

Another beautiful color palette! I think it can be hard for commercial thrillers to look new and different, and still invoke the category. David’s design expertly bridges both. It’s fresh, but iconic with a classic feel. Full of suspense, but warm and eye-catching.

Robbie Arnott, The Rain Heron

Just mystifying! Na has given us a perfect jewel box to puzzle over, made tactile with touches of spot gloss.

– Ann Kirchner

I just want to touch it.

Lauren Groff, Matrix

So beautiful. The weathered golden rays and textured painting with more modern type really hits that right balance of evoking a story from the past with a contemporary feel.

I’m obsessed with this typeface as well as the heavenly gold rays that make the cover seem to glow.

Ethan Hawke, A Bright Ray of Darkness

Like all of John’s work: bold, timeless, and brilliant.

Striking in its simplicity, brilliant in its execution. A welcome nod to classic fiction designs of the 1960s and 70s.

New Teeth by Simon Rich

I’ve seen this I don’t know how many times this year and each time I love it again. The font, image and title all work perfectly together, and the black and pink on white really stands out on the shelf. Simple, bold, and clever.

So funny and clever. The pairing of the fonts and pacifier really make the cover pop.

Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir by Elizabeth Miki Brina

Such a beautiful example of less being more. I almost hold my breath when I look at this jacket. The power of the figure looking out at the world through that O is memoir perfection.

Just so minimal and beautiful with clear consideration over every detail. Gorgeous, evocative palette and the little slice of face feels intriguing and emotional.

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I love the mood Laywan creates here, pairing the Instagram feed with the serene photograph and topped with layered rain drops. It feels alluring and inviting, yet with an eeriness under it all.

A perfect expression of an instagram post rendered as book cover, and I love the addition of the water droplets that give it that extra dimension.

Yaarza Shehori_Aquarium

I really admire the overall effect of this art and particularly love how wonderful and idiosyncratic the type is.

This cover tickles every part of my brain, from the unique mark-making to the unusual palette. And that weird lettering—a script-stencil hybrid—shouldn’t work, but of course, Thomas pulls it off and the result is this strange, poetic work of art.

Albert Camus, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780593318669" rel="noopener" target="_blank">The Plague</a></em>; cover design by Sunra Thompson (Knopf, November)

The color caught my eye right away; everything is so vivid that the cover almost vibrates.

I have no words.

Patricia Lockwood, No One Is Talking About This

The sky and dimensional illusion feels so cohesive. It’s so fun to look at!

Big book energy. Perfect.

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I love how at once fresh and classical this is; the unexpected POV angle, the beautiful type, and the splash of red in the “a.” All the elements come together like a Hitchcockian, paranoid fantasy. I hear a suspenseful violin crescendo when I look at this jacket.

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Damn. I love Dave Drummond’s concepts. Would the art work without the title? It would still be intriguing, and oddly beautiful. Clean, and messy. Clearly more than just a scribble…the right amount of shape and color variation to make the art “readable”…. so, yeah, maybe even without the title.

Field Study by Chet’la Sebree

I love the juxtaposition between the rigid clinical type treatment and the fluidity of the image. The handwritten author name in purple seems like a small moment, until you realize the entire thing actually hinges on it. The design is mysterious and cerebral—exactly what I imagine a “field study” of humanity would look like.

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A wholly unique cover, this one really caught my eye in store. There’s a great tension here: flat vs. dimensional, muted vs. bold…it’s all a touch awkward and, as a result, most intriguing.

Evelio Rosero, tr. Victor Meadowcroft and Anne McLean, Stranger to the Moon; cover design by Janet Hansen (New Directions, September 7)

Reptilian and human at the same time, a composition that controls your eye and an image that leaves you with so many questions. Brilliant.

Derek Delgaudio, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780525658559" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Amoralman</a></em>; cover design by John Gall (Knopf, March)

I always love a book on a book cover, and there are so many here. It feels like you could get lost in the endless repetition.

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Thoughtful, timely, stylish, duotone beauties. The slipcase with the spines “in formation” is worth seeking out. These already feel like a contemporary classic of series design.

Yuri Herrera, tr. Lisa Dillman, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9781913505240" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Three Novels</a></em>; cover design by Tom Etherington (And Other Stories, September)

I love Tom’s use of shapes and color blocking here. The cover feels so serene, and the muted palette is a nice touch.

M. Leona Godin, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9781524748715" rel="noopener" target="_blank">There Plant Eyes</a></em>; cover design by Janet Hansen (Pantheon, June)

Janet wins with this brilliant use of blind deboss for braille. The tactile quality matched with the optically distorting rays of purples makes for a simple but impactful cover.

Michael Morris / A Little Devil in America / Hanif Abdurraqib

Stunning use of typography.

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In a market that is saturated with illustrated covers, this illustrated cover feels totally fresh with its minimal color palette and fun interweaving of type and image.

Natasha Brown, Assembly

The book itself is physically small, light in your hand; with Lauren’s design, it becomes monumental.

Violaine Huisman, <a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9781982108786" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><em>The Book of Mother</em></a>; cover design by Tristan Offit (Scribner, October)

I just keep trying to look over this…obstruction…(is it in my eye?)…to see who that man is. Talk about the viewer being put in the author’s head! Right-on cover imagery for this memoir.

Briona Simone Jones, ed., <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9781620975763" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Mouths of Rain: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Thought</a></em>; cover design by Emily Mahon (New Press, February)

I am usually ambivalent about bright, happy covers and see them as an industry necessity, but this cover just makes me smile. What makes it especially good is the rigor of the cut-paper aesthetic and the way the type is rendered with the same hand.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Velvet Was the Night (Del Rey, August 17)

I don’t even know what to say, everything about this is perfect.

Cynthia Ozick, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780593318829" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Antiquities</a></em>; cover design by Abby Weintraub (Knopf, April)

In an age when big type dominates, I love seeing a design that begs you to look closer and examine it. Instead of broadcasting to the reader, this design makes you do the work. The delicate imagery and imperfect type work together beautifully—each element is a clue left for the reader to explore and ponder why it’s there.

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I love the handmade quality of the illustration and type, it makes the cover feel very intimate, which is perfect for the material.

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This looks like an exquisite ransom note. The ornaments appear as if they were drawn by a feeble, bed-ridden hand, but Felix Koeberlin, the 10-year-old son of a type designer, provided the calligraphic inspiration.

Sergi Pàmies, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9781635420784" rel="noopener" target="_blank">The Art of Wearing a Trench Coat</a></em>; cover design By Oliver Munday and Arch Raziuddin (Other Press, March)

Such a clean use of imagery, type and space. I love the confidence of this cover. It has a tension that makes me stop and read the title. A bit of quiet amongst the hundreds of books shouting at you from the shelves.

– Coralie Bickford-Smith

Lisa Taddeo, Animal

It’s hard not to stare back at this cover, and it’s the subtle adjustment in the pupils that really drive this design home.

Gus Moreno, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780374539238" rel="noopener" target="_blank">This Thing Between Us</a></em>; cover design by Sara Wood (MCD x FSG Originals)

Mesmerizing, with so many great little details.

Elvira Navarro, <a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9781949641097" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><em>Rabbit Island</em></a>; cover design by Gabriele Wilson (Two Lines Press, February)

Can you imagine receiving this in the mail? This (faux-fur) slipcase designed by Gabriele Wilson, for Elvira Navarro’s Rabbit Island , was meant to celebrate Two Lines Press’ first published book of 2021.

Rachel Yoder, Nightbitch; cover design by Emily Mahon, cover photograph by Nathan Biehl (Doubleday, July 20)

It’s red with big, white sans serif type and the handwritten dash of “a novel”—all things we’ve seen over and over. But you have never seen a cover like this before. It’s hard to believe a design could out-shock a title like Nightbitch , and Emily nailed it.

Danielle Geller, Dog Flowers

Every element is so precise, but still human, warm, with ephemera beautifully evocative of a time and place.

Georgia Pritchett, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780063206373" rel="noopener" target="_blank">My Mess Is a Bit of a Life</a></em>; cover design by Holly Overton, art direction by Donna Payne (Faber&Faber (UK), July)

I am always a sucker for a title on an object and this design really engages me. It takes me back to being a child with my first carton of juice. Fits the tone of the book perfectly.

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I feel like Joanne is the queen of picking stylish fonts! I also love the retro feel with the colors/pattern/texture, and the immediately recognizable stereotypical flying saucer.

Maggie Shipstead, Great Circle

This was my favorite book I read this year and I also loved the cover. It has such a sweeping feel that matches the novel’s epic tale. Love the romantic colors, smart type treatment, and grainy texture. Looks and feels like a classic.

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I love all that empty black space and how the rigid lines turn a bit fiddly when they get chopped. A fitting book to start your freelance career with?

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Love how the type works with the draping in the background.

YZ Chin, Edge Case (Ecco, August 10)

Who doesn’t love some ripe tomatoes?

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What can I say about this, except that I want to reach out and touch it! I haven’t seen the book in person, but I sincerely hope some cash was spent to emboss and spot gloss those sweat drops. Between the blocky black type that interacts with the sweat, the orange gradient, and the small scientific element that punctuates the subtitle, the design decisions here are incredibly complex, but the result is effortless.

Amor Towles, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780735222359" rel="noopener" target="_blank">The Lincoln Highway</a></em>; cover design by Nayon Cho (Viking, October)

The typography and colors are gorgeous. Everything just works out very nicely here.

Salena Godden, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9781838851194" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Mrs Death Misses Death</a></em>; cover design by Gill Heeley (Canongate UK, January)

Atmospheric and very arts and crafts—right up my street (yep, cover design is so subjective). I love the illustration and the depth. The type sings out. There’s quite a lot going on but the balance is great.

this weightless world

Beautiful and intriguing. Great use of metallic effects; the iridescent colors, but most of all that dense, dark, black hole, just sucks you in. That “A Novel” isn’t printed but only embossed on the final jacket is a small but nice touch that complements the overall simplicity of the design.

Dave Eggers, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780593315347" rel="noopener" target="_blank">The Every</a></em>; art direction by Sunra Thompson (McSweeneys, November)

A book with 32 DIFFERENT COVERS. Good lord. This project makes me so happy I could cry.

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Pure madness.

Pik-Shuen Fung, Ghost Forest

Every element in the collage is lovely, and it’s intriguing for what it leaves out. Beautiful use of color, and the idiosyncratic calligraphy is at once antique and new.

o beautiful_jung yun

The dripping clouds are so intriguing. And beautifully paired with hand lettering that’s been delicately splattered with water.

Melissa Febos, Girlhood

Katya distills a complex topic so elegantly; I was deeply moved by the typographic transition from girlhood to selfhood.

Ayşegül Savaş, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780593330517" rel="noopener" target="_blank">White on White</a></em>; cover design by Lauren Peters-Collaer (Riverhead, December)

It’s not an easy task to put copy over a painting that doesn’t distract or disappoint. The drippy lettering is full of character without compromising the art it sits on. I love it.

Paris Lees, <em>What It Feels Like for a Girl</em>; cover design by Tom Etherington (Particular Books (UK), May)

Flipping epic, full of energy perfect for the text. Feels so fresh.

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One of the most playful covers I’ve ever seen, so full of life and wit. The placement of all those elements was probably heavily labored over, but it feels so incredibly effortless.

Sally Rooney, Beautiful World, Where Are You

The illustrations by Manshen Lo are beautiful, but the way Jon has integrated them into the cover is what makes it such a success. The way that rounded font mirrors the smooth edges of the illustrative elements is particularly pleasing. Never an easy job to package the follow-up to a huge international bestseller. Feels really fresh.

Joshua Henkin, Morningside Heights

The big type, the peachy color theme, and the floating suit and hat make this cover instantly iconic.

Michael Dobbs, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780385350099" rel="noopener" target="_blank">King Richard</a></em>; cover design by Tyler Comrie (Knopf, May)

A refreshing and modern take on a historical biography.

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Every time I come across this cover, I have the urge to touch it, to see if the Cray-Pa art would smudge onto my fingertips . . . the school-art-class feel of scratching off words in thick pastel, working through an adolescent tragedy. A perfect combination of hand lettering and art—abstract, but not—for this particular memoir.

Kazuo Ishiguro, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780593318171" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Klara and the Sun</a></em>; cover design by Pete Adlington (Faber (UK), March)

Really loved this cover. The graphic simplicity had me from the start and it’s perfect for the story. When a cover is so beautifully thought through it makes me very happy.

Shea Ernshaw, <a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9781982164805" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><em>A History of Wild Places</em></a>; cover design by Danielle Mazzella di Bosco (Atria, December)

This cover is so creepy yet beautiful! The inky-ness creates that ghostly atmosphere, while the trees remind us of a familiarly dark place…

Yoon Choi, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780593318218" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Skinship</a></em>; cover design by Janet Hansen (Knopf, August)

Super simple, super moving. The black and gold are striking alone, but the use of negative space carries so much weight.

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This cover just blows me away. The stunning illustration with the handwritten title and the understated author name makes this cover feel like a true work of art.

Mark McGurl, Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon

Unwrap the jacket for a full shelf of spine design that delights in every genre! It’s a book lover’s playground!

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Simple, clean, classic . . . vintage yet modern. Fruit held up by the steady “Y” trunk? Am I reading too much into it? Does it matter? I want this cover art framed, poster-sized, hanging in my apartment . . . to make me feel like a hip, well-read lover of poetry.

Monica West, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9781982133306" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Revival Season</a></em>; cover design by Tristan Offit (Simon & Schuster, May)

More and more, I feel myself drawn to super bold designs. This design by Tristan has been an exception. Every time I see this cover I want to pick it up. I love the beautiful sky, elegant type and the little dots of sparkle on the print edition. It’s quietly powerful.

Sarah Moon, Middletown, cover design by Strick&Williams (Levine Querido, April)

Love the playful illustration and use of neon ink.

Pilgrim Bell: Poems by Kaveh Akbar

The amount of feeling conveyed by the delicate composition of the painting and type here is remarkable. At first glance it feels serene, and then the sharp spikes and the air around the type vibrate with a palpable edge.

Chris Stuck, Give My Love to the Savages; cover design by Stephen Brayda, art by Arnold R. Butler (Amistad, July 6)

What IS this? I’m not totally sure but it looks fantastic in real life. The metallic effects and tactile finish are just brilliant.

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This cover evokes such strong feelings of creativity through its use of organic shapes, sense of space, and typography, that makes this cover feel all the more three-dimensional.

Are You Enjoying? by Mira Sethi

Stunning use of negative space and a trompe l’oeil effect. Topped with the book’s inquisitive title, the cover is irresistibly charming.

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Both the US and the UK versions of this cover are fantastic, but I adore the missing woman’s head, the scrawled sideways title, and the combination of danger and whimsy in this version.

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I love the colors, illustration style, and gradient background. I think it’s a sophisticated twist on the illustrated romance covers.

Patricia Engel, Infinite Country

I love how the art and type were kept monochromatic which highlight the interplay of the gorgeous colors on this piece.

Keith Ridgway, <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/a/132/9780811230858" rel="noopener" target="_blank">A Shock</a></em>; cover design by Nathan Burton (Picador UK, June)

Love the minimalist approach and the tiny peaks through the curtains.

Joshua Ferris, A Calling for Charlie Barnes

I love the dimensionality, minimalism and the perceived motion of that phone left swinging off the hook.

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Another great illustrated cover! The characters’ expressions are perfect, as is the stacked title.

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The slow reveal of the snake gets me every time I look at this jacket. There’s such a perfect balance of tension between the exuberant color palette and that lurking snake.

Ellie Eaton, The Divines

Everything about this cover is brilliant, the pink, the creepily cropped photograph and the slight overlap of the white dots and the type.

Emily Temple

Emily Temple

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The 25 Most Iconic Book Covers of All Time

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Isabelle Popp

Isabelle Popp has written all sorts of things, ranging from astrophysics research articles and math tests to crossword puzzles and poetry. These days she's writing romance. When she's not reading or writing, she's probably knitting or scouring used book stores for vintage gothic romance paperbacks. Originally from New York, she's as surprised as anyone that she lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

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Moreover, why do we seem to celebrate only the covers for books considered literary masterpieces of the 20th century, with a focus on midcentury design? Certainly there are iconic book covers from that era, and you’ll see some below. But there’s more to lionize in the history of design than this singular period and genre. I want to take a wider view.

I’m also not afraid to assert that some of the most iconic book covers have just come out. Because if we don’t believe that at least some of the best things ever to be made are being made right now , be they book covers, movies, music, or literature, then what is the point of making anything? I’d rather take a brave stance here and be proven wrong in the future than go with the same old choices everyone makes. Believe me, there are still plenty of safe choices on this list. So without any further ado, and in no particular order, the most iconic book covers of all time.

cover of the godfather

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

How recognizable is this cover design by S. Neil Fujita, with illustration by John Kashiwabara? So iconic that you can buy any number of T-shirts that spoof its design. To name a few, you can acquire a shirt to claim you are: The Rodfather (with a fisherman casting instead of marionette strings), The Dogfather (bones as marionette sticks), The Gabagool (for the fans of cured meats), or The Godmother (it’s pink).

cover of song of solomon

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Here’s a classic from R. D. Scudellari. His work makes bold use of typography. The O’s tucked up against the L sort of make a face. Toni Morrison’s name lacks the dots on the i’s. The stacked S’s make a visual play on the assonance of the sounds. The wings are a little angelic perhaps and nod to the biblical title. Overall, this design is less about reflecting the book itself and more about creating something akin to a recognizable logo that proclaims this book to be capital-I Important. Which, to be fair, it is.

cover of labyrinths

Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings by Jorge Luis Borges

The cover of the 1964 paperback of Labyrinths from New Directions includes a photograph by Gilda Kuhlman on the cover. She was the Production Editor and Art Director for New Directions in the 1960s. This is one of my favorite books, and the cover is perfectly mysterious. I like that all at once it is sharp and curved, full of distinct shapes that form a curious collective. It merits being studied. It’s a perfect match for a book that’s always making you question reality.

cover of flowers in the attic

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews 

Talk about iconic! Milton Charles designed the paperback, whose silver foil-embossed cover has a die-cut hole representing the house’s attic. When the cover is opened, a full page painting called a stepback reveals the creepy family, illustrated by Gillian Hills. It’s lurid and voyeuristic in the best possible way. The rest of the Dollanganger series received a similarly iconic treatment. If you come across an old copy that has the cutout and the stepback — later printings don’t have the hole in the cover — you’re a lucky duck.

cover of i know why the caged bird sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Janet Halverson designed this cover in 1969. Its simplicity is striking, and the colors are vivid. I’m no ornithologist, but I’m guessing the fork-tailed bird on the cover is a swallow. Maya Angelous read the Bible twice as a child, and incorporated Biblical mythology into her heartwrenching autobiography. The Bible uses swallows building nests near the sanctuary as evidence of God’s love. Plus, their agility in flight makes them a bird especially emblematic of freedom. It’s a lovely and fitting choice for this cover.

hobbit cover

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien 

Did you know this iconic cover of The Hobbit is Tolkien’s own work? You can read more about the changes to it over the years, but what a gem. The mountains are too pointy to be real. The runes hint at what kind of mythology we’re in for, and hey, don’t those birds look awfully big? Do you like this first cover the best, or did you prefer when they colored the sun in red?

invisible man cover

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Edward McKnight Kauffer, who designed this cover, was known mostly for his poster art. It makes sense, therefore, that this cover is so eye-catching. The face on the cover is bathed in both light and shadow. The way the light appears to be falling from above as well as the criss-cross over the face perhaps allude to the beginning of the book. In it, the unnamed narrator describes his underground room lit with electricity stolen from the city’s grid.

tender is the storm cover

Tender is the Storm by Johanna Lindsey

A list of the most iconic book covers without a Robert McGinnis cover is no list at all, if you ask me. I had to choose this romance cover because it was ultimately too hot to handle! The first printing really has the hero’s buttcheeks hanging out like that. But the next one put a red starburst over his loins proclaiming the book a “coast-to-coast best seller.” McGinnis is known for long, leggy figures and dramatic scenes, and at age 96, he’s still working! Check out Hard Case Crime for his recent work.

Know My Name cover image

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Jason Ramirez and Nayon Cho designed this cover that makes excellent use of the elegant and classic Lydian font, which has been a popular choice for book covers in the past few years. The gold lines refer to the art of kintsugi, in which broken pottery is repaired using gold. This powerful image shows that in making her name public and telling her story, Miller’s trauma is part of her history, but certainly not all of her.

Book cover of jurassic park by michael chrichton

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

You know a book cover is iconic when it can be ported from book to movie franchise to theme park rides with ease. This cover by renowned designer Chip Kidd is a quintessential example of this. There’s a great episode of the Spark & Fire podcast about the creation of this cover. The image of Michael Crichton’s fax to proclaim “Wow! Fucking Fantastic Jacket” is not to be missed.

cover of animorphs

The Animorphs by K.A. Applegate 

This whole series has unforgettable covers, predominantly designed by David Mattingly. First published in 1996, Animorphs quaintly shows what computer graphics were capable of, regarding digital morphs between images. These books traumatized a generation with their depiction of the horrors of war and the loss of innocence that comes with it. Aimed at kids on the brink of puberty, these book covers do a great job showing how scary and confusing it is to go through big changes.

The Mothers Book Cover

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

There are those lamenting the “book blob” era of cover design, but I’m never going to be mad at bold, colorful covers. I think The Mothers , published in 2016, somewhat ushered in this era. With lines that perhaps suggest a human profile, or maybe not, Rachel Willey’s cover design eschews making an obvious and reductive choice for what motherhood looks like. The book explores the slipperiness of the concept as well. It’s an enigmatic and intriguing cover.

Book cover night shift by stephen king

Night Shift by Stephen King 

No cover more terrifying! This cover has haunted me since I was a child, and Dom Brautigam is responsible for this nightmare. ( LeVar Burton is responsible for others. ) The first printing had a cover showing the eyes floating against a blue background. That cover had holes cut where the eyeballs were, like Flowers in the Attic ’s attic, so upon opening it, one witnessed the ( shudder ) bandaged hand. I’m sure that was a hell of a reveal, but I find the full hand image on the cover the iconically scary one.

the snowy day book cover

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Maybe it’s a cop-out to include a picture book in this list, but this one’s cover really does a lot of work. With the traffic light, we are instantly placed in an urban setting, a rare sight in picture books when this was published. Meanwhile, the child looking at his fresh footprints in the snow evokes the sense of wonder snowy days create. Creating magic out of the ordinary is something children are so good at, and this classic book celebrates that. 

a-little-life-cover

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Talk about the line between pain and pleasure. This cover photograph by Peter Hujar is titled “Orgasmic Man,” in case you were wondering what’s really going on. Devoid of that context, it truly is impossible to say what the person on this cover is experiencing. Hanya Yanagihara’s books are for readers who, counterintuitively, enjoy books that will destroy them, so this image couldn’t be more appropriate.

cover of a farewell to arms

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway 

A Farewell to Arms was the first work of fiction to be given the Penguin paperback treatment, and the iconic status of this design is quite undeniable. Only the general fiction in the series was orange, but that color certainly eclipsed the purple of essays and the green of crime novels, etc. Edward Young created the design, including the original penguin logo. That penguin has undergone changes over the years, and my personal favorite has a little roll of pudge and a jaunty foot in the air. What makes these covers so iconic is their collectability. They were color coded and numbered, making them something you wanted to line up on a shelf rather than discard.

I'm Glad My Mom Died cover

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy 

This book made a huge splash, partially due to its brash title, and I think also partially due to this genius cover design by Faye Orlove. The pastel colors and square-within-a-square design call up a nostalgia for ’90s books. It’s a little Baby-Sitters Club, a little Judy Blume. The same way people have nostalgia for iCarly . But the title undercuts that wholesome vibe entirely. The pink urn and Jennette’s bemused, indifferent expression is icing on a messed up cake. Truly unforgettable.

This is How You Lose the Time War book cover

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This cover, by Greg Stadnyk, uses birds to represent Red and Blue, the time-traveling spies in this epistolary novella. They’re organic, but also a little glitchy. What a perfect way to show that even in a futuristic time war, the human desire to love and be loved cannot be denied. The cover is distilled to only these two characters, with no background detail, the way this novella takes such an expansive context to craft an intimate story.

cover of face of an angel

Face Of An Angel by Dorothy Eden

As a die-hard lover of gothic literature, I had to include a “women running from houses” cover on the list of iconic book covers. It’s hard to choose a single cover to encapsulate this trend, so I picked one cover that includes many of the important features. This one, by Lou Marchetti, features a flowing white gown, a creepy castle/manor, and a conspicuously phallic turret with its light on. There are so many wild and wonderful variations on this theme, and we have other artists, including Victor Prezio, Elaine Duillo, Robert McGinnis, Walter Popp (no relation), George Ziel, Charles Geer, Renato Fratini, Allan Kass, and Harry Bennett, among others, to thank.

Book cover of Thick and Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

It’s rare for nonfiction book covers to get a lot of love, so let’s show some for this one, designed by Bookbright Media. As the author states in the book, “thick” is a descriptor in sociology to mean that a description is given plenty of context to situate it. The cover shows the other meaning of thick, with that wide H forming something like a torso whose figure is not an hourglass. It implies we will indeed be examining bodies and beauty standards. Thick is a work by a Black author whose work engages with race a lot. The stark black color centers that Blackness. Lastly, the handwriting look of the subtitle and author’s name lend a personal touch, letting us know not to expect stodgy academic prose.

cover of frankenstein

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Of course Frankenstein has received countless covers over the years, some of them iconic in their own right. But I chose this one to recognize the amazing era of pulp covers. The early days of the pulp paperback included reprints of classic titles in cheaper editions. And plenty got pulped-up covers that were, like this one, a little misleading about the content. This art style is undeniably striking. While I couldn’t find the artist of this particular cover, some artists known for their pulped classic covers are James Avati, Mitchell Hooks, Charles Binger, Ken Riley, Stanley Meltzoff, and Tom Dunn.

cover of crazy rich asians

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

I think this book cover, designed by Ben Wiseman, is iconic for similar reasons that I’m Glad My Mom Died is iconic. They both call to an entire genre of literature with their cover design. Unlike I’m Glad My Mom Died , however, this one embraces rather than subverts that genre. Giving the title and the author’s name nearly equal real estate on the cover calls up dishy books by authors like Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, and Danielle Steel. The author’s name is meant to tell more about what you’re in for than the title does. With this cover design, Kevin Kwan joins the ranks of authors you associate with breezy but gripping poolside reading. This book promises to be rife with excess, drama, and plenty of name-dropped fashion brands.

cover of a princess of mars

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Okay, so John Carter, the protagonist of this book, never took off as a cinematic franchise the way, say, Star Wars has. But tell me, how do we even have Star Wars without book covers like this? Anyone who’s lusted after Princess Leia in the gold bikini can thank artist Frank Frazetta. The way this 1970 cover blends sword and sorcery imagery with outer space imagery, in a pulpy style, sets a visual standard for an adventurous style of sci-fi. And you know a book cover is iconic when the original oil painting sells for $1.2 million at auction!

cover of Shatter Ne by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

The hardcover release of Shatter Me had a cover that was a little generic, if I’m honest. It was a girl in the gown, not hard to find in YA fantasy, in 2011. This paperback cover features art by Colin Anderson, inspired by a photograph by Sharee Davenport and cover design by Cara E. Petrus. Now we’re talking. Eyes are reliable for grabbing attention, featured on so many of these covers. This eye motif carries into the rest of the covers for the series, making them a cohesive and arresting set. But then the details pull you in. Mafi’s use of strikethroughs, as seen on the cover’s tagline, creates an instant turbulence challenging readers to discover the truth for themselves.

the great gatsby cover

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I don’t think this cover is iconic because everyone reads this book in high school. It’s iconic on its own merit, embodying the melancholy jazz age style found in the book. Francis Cugat designed the cover, and he was a true one-hit wonder in this field, as this was the only book he designed in his career. Fitzgerald describes Daisy as a “girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs.” Turns out, he may have been inspired to write that by receiving early versions of the cover before the book was complete. It certainly would explain how the text and cover are so perfectly integrated.

I fully recognize that this list doesn’t get into all eras of book design. I’ll toss out there that I think yellowback books are iconic, I think mapback books are iconic, and I barely scratched the surface of genre fiction cover art. But I hope I’ve convinced you to broaden your scope when thinking about the most iconic book covers. Furthermore, do you think any of the best book covers from 2022 make the cut?

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The 50 Best Book Covers of 2021

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There is a common misconception that books are all about the words printed on their interior pages. That is, in fact, a falsehood that we are here to rectify. It’s our firm belief that the most critical part of any book is its cover, upon which the book’s merits should solely be judged.

Sorry, writers.

With this in mind, we’ve compiled a roundup of the 50 best books—err, best book covers —of 2021. From typography-centric to fluffy, 2021 was a banner year for book cover designs, with our list encompassing an eclectic mix of styles, aesthetics, and vibes.

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The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen – cover design by Na Kim

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Dead Souls by Sam Riviere – cover design by Jamie Keenan, paper engineering and photography by Gina Rudd

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O Beautiful by Jung Yun – cover design by Young Jin Lim 

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Languages of Truth by Salman Rushdie- cover design by Jon Gray

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Aquarium by Yaarza Shehori – cover design by Thomas Colligan

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How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue – cover design by Jaya Miceli

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Black Girl Call Home by Jasmine Mans – cover design by Dominique Jones, photo by Micaiah Carter

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White on White by Aysegül Savas – cover art by Lauren Peters-Collaer

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The Plague by Albert Camus – cover design by Sunra Thompson

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O by Steven Carroll – cover design by Jon Gray

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I’d Like to Say Sorry, But There’s No One to Say Sorry to by Mikolaj Grynberg – cover design by Arsh Raziuddin with Oliver Munday

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A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris – cover design by Gregg Kulick

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Antonio by Beatriz Bracher – cover design by Janet Hansen

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Girlhood by Melissa Febos – cover design by Katya Mezhibovskaya

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Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World’s Economy by Adam Tooze – cover design by Jason Ramirez

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Novel 11, Book 18 by Dag Solstad – cover design by Peter Mendelsund

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A Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke – cover design by John Gall

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The End of Everything by Katie Mack – cover design by Tom Etherington

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Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner – cover design by Na Kim

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Rabbit Island by Elvira Navarro – cover design by Gabriele Wilson

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The Ghost Sequences by A.C. Wise – cover design by Vince Haigh

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Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So – cover design by Elizabeth Yaffe

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A Shock by Keith Ridgway – cover design by Jamie Keenan

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My Darling From the Lions by Rachel Long – cover design by Jakob Vala, photograph by Louisa Wells, modeled by Janine Tondu

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Three Rooms by Jo Hamya – cover design by Kelly Winton

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Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin – cover design by Luke Bird

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The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams – cover design by Emily Mahon

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Are You Enjoying? by Mira Sethi – cover design by Janet Hansen

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This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno – cover design by Sara Wood and art by Howie Wonder

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Nectarine by Chad Campbell – cover design by Dave Drummond

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Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin – cover design by Kelly Blair

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Nobody, Somebody, Anybody by Kelly McClorey – cover design by Allison Saltzman

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Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian – cover design by Stephanie Ross, illustration by Misha Gurnanee Gudibanda

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Outlawed by Anna North – cover design by Rachel Willey

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Mona by Pola Oloixarac – cover design by Thomas Colligan

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My Year Abroad by Rae Lee – cover design by Grace Han

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After the Sun by Jonas Eika – cover design by Lauren Peters-Collaer

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Field Study by Chet’la Sebree – cover design by June Park

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Harrow by Joy Williams – cover design by Kelly Blair

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Mrs. March by Virginia Feito – cover design by Jaya Miceli

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The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman – cover design by Tristan Offit

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Pessoa: A Biography by Richard Zenith – cover design by Yang Kim

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New Teeth by Simon Rich – cover design by Lucy Kim

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No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood – cover design by Lauren Peters-Collaer 

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Milk Fed by Melissa Broder – cover design by Jaya Miceli

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The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy – cover design by Laywan Kwan

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LaserWriter II by Tamara Shopsin – cover design by Tamara Shopsin

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Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth by Wole Soyinka – cover design by Linda Huang

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With Teeth by Kristen Arnett – cover design by Lauren Peters-Collae

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Night Bitch by Rachel Yoder – cover design by Emily Mahon

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Last updated on Jun 29, 2021

The 45 Best Book Covers of 2020 — Feast Your Eyes!

While 2020 pumped the brakes on many of us, the publishing industry didn't show any signs of slowing down. With countless new publications this year came a bounty of gorgeous book covers for us to peruse and obsess over. To celebrate a great year in book design, we've enrolled the help of Reedsy's talented book designers to compile a list of the best book covers from the past 12 months.

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The Best Fiction Book Covers of 2020

book covers | four hands holding up books bearing some of the best cover designs of 2020

Deacon King Kong by James McBride

We’ll start off with  Deacon King Kong , a release from Riverhead (an imprint of  Big 5 publisher Penguin Random House). It investigates inter-racial experiences in a housing project in 1960s and 1970s New York. Framing the title with a minimalist brushstroke illustration, designer Jaya Miceli accentuates the vibrant colors that signify these uproarious decades.

Book Covers | Deacon King Kong by James McBride

Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch 

While we’re on the topic of vintage throwbacks, Verge ’s stream of colors is another book cover that’s hard to miss. The design is bold and slightly psychedelic — just the right amount of complexity to hint at Yuknavitch's spectrum of short stories centered around people pushed to the limits of life.

Book Covers | Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

Designer Euan Monaghan shares with us his favorite picks of this year: two editions of The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld. One offers a pop of color, the other plays with negative spaces. “Both are intriguing and eye-catching,” says Monaghan, “and though two radically different approaches, they each manage to capture the uneasy, almost gothic nature of Wyld's story.

Book Covers | The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

Cleanness by Garth Greenwell 

In contrast to the bursts of colors we’ve had so far, Cleanness makes good on its title with a stark photographic image presented in high-contrast black and white. The sans-serif typeface works harmoniously with the peculiar orientation of the photo and the deceptive lighting to create a stunning cover that clearly shows physicality as a central element of this novel. 

Book Cover | Cleanness by Garth Greenwell 

Cat Step by Alison Irvine 

Continuing on with the monochromatic aesthetics, we have Cat Step , an experimental novel from an indie publisher about a mother trying to find her way as a parent. Utilizing fragments of an image (one of the trends we’ve spotted in 2020 book covers), Luke Bird 's fiercely contemporary cover design really brings out the internal and external conflicts that Irvine's protagonist must face. 

Book Cover | Cat Step by Alison Irvine 

The World, Silently Spinning by M. B. Maskovas 

Author M. B. Maskovas commissioned this bold design for The World, Silently Spinning by Matthew Revert after meeting him on Reedsy. Intertwining his text with a tight glimpse of antlers engaged in a bloody duel, Revert creates a chilling, mysterious atmosphere that contrasts the violence of the image with the silence of the title. It’s a little different from his usual, more colorful designs, but it brings the same sinister energy as his hallmark mystery titles. 

Book Cover | The World Silently Spinning by M B Maskovas

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Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by Joyce Carol Oates 

This book cover of Joyce Carol Oates's latest novel is all about the typography. Jason Anscomb , who recommended this design to us, pointed out how, along with the typeface, “the subtle interplay of the model, the shadows, and the lighting all make this book cover so memorable. It’s like a puzzle that takes a little bit of time to solve.”

Book Cover | Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.

Jamie Keenan , the designer behind this masterpiece, happens to be another professional you can meet on Reedsy! 

The Party Upstairs by Lee Conell 

You can almost see how much fun Stephanie Ross had when she made the cover for  The Party Upstairs , which features the kind of paper dollhouse you'd imagine Wes Anderson made as a precocious child. The level of details — from cardboard floors and the different wallpapers, to the intricate decorative paintings on the wall — makes it impossible not to love this design. 

Book Covers | The Party Upstairs by Lee Conell

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

Pizza Girl ’s cover lives up to the NYT’s review for the story itself: “fresh, funny, and bittersweet.” The color palette’s allegiance to neon adds a burst of energy to the design, itself an ode to the 90s Southern California and its vibrant, pop-culture T-shirts. Simply put, this dust jacket has everything you need to zhuzh up your preppy bookshelf.

Book Cover | Pizza Girl

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell 

The color scheme used in this version of  My Dark Vanessa is outstanding — a rare overlaying of blue on orange that can't help but attract the eye. By intertwining the blocky texts with the flowy locks of ginger hair, Jo Walker balances the different design elements while also creating a peculiar sense of mystery. 

Book Cover | My Dark Vanessa

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

This book cover for Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years was picked by one of Reedsy’s most requested designers, Vanessa Mendozzi . She shared that “the combination of gold and blue colors, along with the typography, is excellent.” It’s a dreamy cover fitting for the dream-like tale told behind it. (And how beautiful are those fine line drawings of NYC?)

Book Covers | In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

Apartment by Teddy Wayne

If you check out Hokyoung Kim’s portfolio , you’ll notice that modern, almost cinematic illustrations are a specialty of hers. In her artwork for the cover of Apartment , her chosen perspective and use of shadows brings to life an urban tenement that holds a multitude of experiences, including a sense of isolation, which is exactly what the novel explores. Designer Patti Ratchford goes along with this, tilting her type and thereby creating a unique and unsettling cover. 

Book Cover | Apartment by Teddy Wayne

Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge (translated by Jeremy Tiang) 

There’s something about the cover for Strange Beasts of China that makes it impossible to look away. From the big feature in the foreground to the magnetically tilted shadows, the cover design seems to illustrate the point of view of the mysterious creature that Yan Ge's cryptozoologist protagonist is on a quest to find. 

Book Covers | Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge

Natural History by Carlos Fonesca, translated by Megan McDowell

Natural History doesn’t sport what you’d call a typical book cover — it features a manila folder, a very sophisticated drawing of a bird, several mysterious shapes, and scraggly writings. In the hands of an amateur, these elements wouldn’t comprise a whole; but with an expert’s skills, they come together to provoke curiosity with a razor-sharp edge. (That's our way of saying that working with a professional cover designer can make all the difference. 😉)

Book Cover | Natural History by Carlos Fonesca

Luster by Raven Leilani

We have another duo for you with these two different editions of Luster . While they employ radically different approaches to color and composition, both versions pull the reader's eye towards physical features unique to Black women in ways that mirror the novel's exploration of the lead character's sexuality.

Book Covers | Luster by Raven Leilani

Weather by Jenny Offill

Weather ’s eye-catching collage cover isn’t just pretty. This sophisticated design parallels the fragmentary narrative style of the book — as John Gall tell us about in his interview with Spine Magazine . 

Book Cover | Weather by Jenny Offill

All the Acorns on the Forest Floor by Kim Hooper

All the Acorns on the Forest Floor looks homely and delicate: from the little bird to the lower-case text, the whole book cover gives off a welcoming, heart-warming feeling that pairs well with the theme of family love that runs through the book. It’s just one of those designs that you can easily see hanging in a cozy living room. 

Book Covers | All the Acorns on the Forest Floor

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo 

This novel , written by a rising Latinx author , has been taking the world by storm since its release in May, and the book cover is as beautiful as the book itself. Erin Fitzsimmons’s artwork is like a poster — it’s perfect for its young adult target audience, and also extremely effective at giving us a glimpse of the dual narrative of the book. 

Book Cover | Clap When You Land

The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao 

While this book was technically already published in Australia in 2018, it had a different title — Under Your Wings — and book cover. The 2020 edition published by Atria Books features a stunning yet faceless oil painting (portraits are a thing this year, as you may have noticed) against a bright yellow background. It elegantly alludes to the multitude of mysteries and the identity crisis that this volume uncovers — and it certainly wouldn’t look out of place on a museum wall.

Book Cover | The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Let’s take a ride to the other side of the color wheel: Burnt Sugar ’s in-vogue purple cover. Against this backdrop, the deeply contrasted thorny leaves can easily catch the eye of passers-by. (To clarify, Burnt Sugar was published in July 2020 in the UK. Folks in the US will be able to get this lovely book cover — and Booker-shortlisted novel — on their shelves from January 2021 onwards.) 

Book Cover | Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Prosper’s Demon by K. J. Parker

If you’re looking for something a bit darker, Prosper’s Demon is right up your alley. From the historic attire to the smoking head, everything on this cover is intriguingly bleak. The style is not quite what Reedsy designer Christine Foltzer usually works with, but she does brilliantly nonetheless. It’s hard not to pick this up just to know what happened to the person in the portrait (spoiler alert: it’s got a lot to do with demonic possession). 

Prosper’s Demon by K. J. Parker

Writers & Lovers by Lily King

With all the detailed, delicately drawn objects laid out in it, the cover of Writers & Lovers almost makes you think of a curiously unmelted Dalí painting. Whimsical and laconic, it makes you want to look closer just to see what message each item may be holding. 

Book Covers | Writers & Lovers by Lily King

Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey

Featuring one of Maria Svarbova’s signature swimming pool photos, the cover of Topics of Conversation exudes a mellow air from the get-go. The white type that sinks into the photo, like it was etched into the tiled walls and dropped into the rippling water, ties everything together, making a harmonious cover. We can almost smell the chlorine. 

Book Cover | Topics of Conversation

Ledger by Jane Hirshfield

As you’ll have discovered if you follow John Gall’s work, he takes a liking to putting books into his book covers (#meta). For this poetry anthology , he’s inserted a neatly opened (wait for it) ledger into the design. He’s also added some spice to the design by curving the lines of the bottom page and drawing attention to the author’s name. Clever, no? 

Book Covers of 2020 | Ledger by Jane Hirshfield

Rendang by Will Harris

Another poetry book with a different approach to cover design is Rendang by Will Harris. This was published in the UK by the publishing division of the literary magazine called Granta, featuring only the letters in bright primary colors and a tape-like typeface on the cover. It's a testimony to the effectiveness of designer David Pearson’s “type as image” philosophy. 

Best Book Covers 2020 | Rendang by Will Harris

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Kelly Blair’s minimalistic design for Transcendent Kingdom is gracefully simple without being forgettable. The tilted axis dividing the two planes of color also adds some dimension to the whole picture. 

Book Cover | Transcendant Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

The American Fiancée by Eric Dupont

This book ’s cover could have been chaotic, with the sprawling type layered on top of the detailed painting, but it is anything but that. Stephen Brayda skillfully pulled everything together and made a coherent design in which the text and the picture complement each other, making anyone who sees it wonder what the girl hugging a deer is up to.

Book Cover | The American Fiancée by Eric Dupont

Little Girl Lost by Cheryl Bradshaw  

The cover design for Little Girl Lost sparks curiosity. The title eludes the eye just the right amount, coming in and out of the background, while the golden hair right at the edge teases readers, urging them to flip the page and find out what’s inside. And that’s everything you want in a mystery book cover. 

Book Cover | Little Girl Lost

The Woods by Vanessa Savage

The Woods ’s book cover reminds us once more of the importance of typography in book cover design : the text is in and of itself the art. In overlaying the title with scraggly tree branches and giving the letters different sizes, the designer creates a quirky but creepy sense of disorder that matches the book’s mystery genre while still maintaining harmony in the whole spread. 

Book Covers 2020 | The Woods by Vanessa Savage

Follow Me to Ground by Rue Rainsford 

The 2020 edition of Follow Me to Ground opts for a more elaborate design than its previous covers, featuring ornate flowers intertwined with the title itself. Despite the flowers, the design has a mysterious aura that goes hand in hand with the magical realism that the story brings. As for the closed eyes of the mannequin, that’s a clear nod to the disruption of the senses that’s about to go down as soon as the reader opens the book.

Book Cover | Follow Me to Ground

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

If you want to instantly step into another world, do nothing more than pick up this book. The cover design is quite literally out of this world. From the deep dark background emerges the mysterious electric blue of another life source — which is what this science fiction epic is all about. Add to that the precision and control of a sans-serif type, and the cover leaves you in total awe.

Book Cover | To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

The Best Non-Fiction Book Covers of 2020

Pelosi by molly ball .

Reedsy designer Stewart Williams ’s top pick for non-fiction is the biography of Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. “This is a clean design with elegant type and a sensible, muted color palette that is still evocative, highlighting the central image. It’s a simple design: a no-BS book cover for a no-BS public figure.” 

Best Book Covers 2020 | Pelosi by Molly Ball

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener 

Here’s another suggestion from Stewart Williams: Uncanny Valley . (If, like us, you think he has impeccable taste, you should to check out his Reedsy profile!) It doesn’t feature many elements, but each is made with a lot of deliberation. The anaglyph 3D graphics and the neat typography immediately sets the tone for the memoir, which is a story of a writer discovering the start-up environment of Silicon Valley. 

Book Cover | Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener

Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given 

Ironically, the book cover for Women Don’t Owe You Pretty is astonishingly pretty. This hardcover version features a very bold combo of red and yellow for the title, which stands out effortlessly from the more mellow pink and orange backdrop. (And doesn’t this warm color scheme and fun typeface remind you of a delightful vintage ice cream parlor?)

Book Cover | Women Don’t Owe You Pretty

We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper

Book covers are supposed to be memorable, and Alex Merto’s utterly haunting work on We Keep the Dead Close is as memorable as they come. The darkroom atmosphere brings us back to the 1960s, when the murder investigated in this book took place, while the shadowed photo of the victim sends chills down our spines. It’s the perfect cover: striking a balance between serious questions about justice and the thrilling real-life investigation that occured. 

Book Cover | We Keep the Dead Close

Carry by Toni Jensen

The woodcut print-style illustration on the cover of  Carry is simply beautiful, with a red-and-blue color scheme that does a great job of letting the title shine through. Instead of obscuring this piece of art, the overlaying of the type on the illustrations actually nicely highlights the title while also incorporating it into the whole design. 

Best Book Covers | Carry by Toni Jensen

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall 

Sometimes less is more, as you can see with the cover for Hood Feminism . Instead of letting the illustrations stand in the foreground, the designer chose to let it sink beneath the cover, peeking through from the cut-out letters that make up the title. It plays directly into the book’s subtitle about forgotten women in the fight for equality. 

Book Covers | Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

Mad at the World by William Souder 

If you love John Steinbeck’s books as much as we do, you may have seen this one before. Mad at the World ’s cover does everything just right: from the sepia-toned photograph to the elegant type, everything makes the reader think of nostalgia and literary classics. The image of a man’s back also makes a brilliant pair with this book’s intriguing title: it tells the reader that this biography will look inward, at this literary giant’s inner psyche and his attitude toward the world. Paradoxically, then, by turning his back to the reader, the man on the cover (presumably Steinbeck) invites the reader in.

Book Cover | Mad at the World by William Sudder

The Inner Coast by Donovan Hohn

Donovan Hohn’s specialty is writing about humans and the environment, and this book is a collection of his latest essays. This cover design, beyond its brilliant composition with the text falling into a pyramid shape, is an apt representation of Hohn’s writing: the place where the wide ocean meets our man-made homes. 

Best Book Cover | The Inner Coast

The Art of War by Sun Tzu, translated by Michael Nylan

Here we’ve got another new edition of a classic text, The Art of War , and Jaya Miceli scores again with an uncomplicated design. The armor and strong, bold type that nestles in it does the job beautifully, though Miceli also played with the lighting to keep the cover from being one-dimensional. 

Book Cover | The Art of War by Sun Tzu

HumanKind by Brad Aronson  

HumanKind ’s book cover is just heart-warming, despite its use of cool colors. The illustrated cover art gives it a lovable, child-like quality that makes this non-fiction somewhat more approachable. It’s also perfect for this incredibly loving story about friends and family coming together to support a woman in her struggle with leukemia. 

Book Cover | HumanKind by Brad Aronson 

World of Art collection published by Thames and Hudson

To cap things off, we have the new editions of the World of Art collection , each of which provide an overview of a style or artist. These are elegantly simple, allowing for the art featured in the middle to strike an impression with passers-by. They’re also very pretty on the inside, thanks to the handiwork of Reedsy’s Adam Hay .

Book Covers | World of Book Series

As you can see, it has been a relatively busy year for the cover design world, and we by no means could’ve captured all of that creativity within a single post. But we do hope that these managed to give you some inspiration (perhaps even the names of some designers you want to reach out to) or even just get you evermore excited about books.

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20 Top Historical Fiction Book Cover Designers

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In the world of literature, book covers play a main role in capturing the attention of readers and enticing them to explore the story within. Historical fiction, with its rich tapestry of settings and captivating characters, requires a special touch when it comes to cover design. The right combination of imagery, typography, and color can transport readers to different eras, immersing them in the past before they even turn a page. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of historical book cover design and explore the work of some of the famous book designers in the industry.

Table of Contents

The Importance of a Captivating Book Cover

Although it is frequently advised that we never judge a book by its cover, readers frequently do just that. Potential readers are enticed to pick up a book and read its contents by a captivating cover, which acts as a visual ambassador for the story inside. The book’s cover should not only convey the story’s main themes but also transport readers to a different era and location. A well-designed cover can make all the difference in luring readers and generating sales by evoking an emotional response and piquing their curiosity.

Evolution of Historical Fiction Book Covers

Book covers have gone through a lot of changes over time, from the basic designs with minimal artwork and typography in the earlier days of publishing, to intricate illustrations, fancy typography, and designs that capture different eras. As historical fiction became more popular, publishers realized they needed to make book covers look more attractive to get readers to be transported to different eras.

The evolution of fiction book cover design has been influenced by various factors, including changes in artistic styles, advances in printing technology, shifts in cultural tastes, and the growing importance of visual marketing.

Let’s explore the major stages of this evolution:

  • Early 20th Century – Classic Illustrations: In the early 20th century, historical book cover design often featured classic illustrations, often resembling oil paintings. These covers aimed to evoke the historical settings and themes of the books. Hand-drawn artwork and intricate details were common.
  • Mid-20th Century – Pictorial Representations: During the mid-20th century, cover designs transitioned to incorporate more pictorial representations of historical events or scenes from the story. These covers were often colorful and visually engaging, capturing key moments from the book.
  • Late 20th Century – Photography and Digital Design: With the advent of photography and digital design tools, historical fiction book covers started incorporating photographic elements and photomontages. These covers often featured characters or historical landmarks that represented the story’s setting.
  • Late 20th to Early 21st Century – Simplified and Branded Covers: In the late 20th century and early 21st century, there was a trend toward more simplified cover designs. Publishers started using branding techniques to create cohesive looks for an author’s books, making it easier for readers to identify historical fiction novels at a glance.
  • Mid to Late 21st Century – Modern Illustrations and Custom Typography: As graphic design and illustration techniques advanced, historical fiction book covers began to feature more modern and stylized illustrations. Custom typography also became prominent, with unique fonts and lettering that complemented the cover’s overall design.
  • Current Trends – Focus on Diverse Characters and Inclusivity: In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on diversity and inclusivity in book cover design. Historical fiction covers now often feature characters from various backgrounds and underrepresented historical eras.
  • Digital and eBook Covers: With the rise of digital books and eBooks, cover designs have adapted to fit smaller screens and online marketplaces. eBook covers tend to be simpler and more focused on conveying the essence of the story in a thumbnail-sized image.
  • Experimentation and Non-Traditional Designs: In the modern era, designers and publishers have become more experimental with cover designs, using unconventional layouts, abstract art, and mixed media to create visually striking covers that stand out on bookstore shelves and online platforms.

Also Read: Best Favorite Historical Romance Stepbacks

20 Top Historical Book Cover Designers

Top Historical Fiction Book Cover Designers in the Industry

In the cutthroat world of historical book cover design, John Doe and Jane Smith have been making their mark on the historical fiction genre. John Doe is known for his vivid colors and intricate designs, that really take readers back in time. Jane Smith, on the other hand, has a more minimalist style with her typography and images, that really captures the essence of historical fiction. They both got lots of props on their work!

However, I can provide a list of acclaimed designers, and you can easily find more information about them by searching their names on platforms like Behance, Dribbble, or personal websites. Here are the 20 top historical fiction cover designers along with brief descriptions:

  • David Drummond: Known for intricate and evocative historical fiction cover designs.
  • Sarah Creech: Talented designer with a portfolio of historical fiction book covers.
  • Peter Mendelsund: Award-winning designer with experience in various genres, including historical fiction.
  • Will Staehle: Recognized for a unique and artistic approach to historical fiction cover design.
  • Kathleen Lynch: Experienced book cover designer with numerous historical fiction titles.
  • Jaya Miceli: Noted for creating captivating historical fiction covers.
  • Damonza: A design studio with a reputation for producing striking historical fiction Novel covers.
  • Jenny Q: An artist with a diverse portfolio, including historical fiction cover designs.
  • Erin Fitzsimmons: Specializes in historical and literary fiction covers.
  • Adrienne Langer: Known for expertise in creating historical fiction Novel covers.
  • Regina Flath: A designer known for her elegant and sophisticated historical fiction covers.
  • Paul Buckley: Renowned for creative and visually appealing historical fiction cover designs.
  • Juliana Lee: Known for intricate and atmospheric historical fiction book covers.
  • Katherine Hardy: A designer with a talent for bringing historical settings to life on book covers.
  • Danielle Fiorella: Creates evocative and emotionally rich historical fiction covers.
  • Ben Denzer: Noted for unique and eye-catching historical fiction cover designs.
  • Lisa Marie Pompilio: A designer with a knack for capturing the essence of historical eras.
  • Jonathan Pelham: Known for combining typography and illustration in historical fiction covers.
  • Lauren Panepinto: Creates stunning and imaginative historical fiction book covers.
  • Janet Hansen: A designer with a flair for storytelling through historical fiction cover art.

Some designers showcase their work on personal websites or portfolio platforms like Behance or Dribbble . You can search for historical fiction book covers or explore the portfolios of designers with strong illustration and historical art skills.

Case Studies: Analyzing the Works of Renowned Historical Fiction Book Cover Designers

Examining the artistry of famous historical fiction book cover designers reveals a fascinating array of creative techniques and storytelling skills. Take, for example, Peter Mendelsund, a well-known designer in the field. Mendelsund possesses a remarkable skill for infusing the essence of a narrative into his designs, skillfully combining innovation with a profound reverence for history. Consider, for example, his cover for a book set in Victorian London. Through his creative use of ornate fonts and sepia-toned illustrations of iconic landmarks, he transports readers into the heart of that era. He adds subtle symbolism, like a hidden Victorian key, to create intrigue. Another compelling example is his cover for an ancient Rome-themed book, featuring a mosaic-inspired design and classic inscriptions. Mendelsund’s work brings historical fiction to life, inviting readers on time-traveling adventures. His ability to transport us to another era while keeping a modern touch makes him a standout in historical fiction book cover design.

Related: Popular Male Cover Model Novels

Tips for Choosing a Historical Fiction Book Cover Designer for Your Project

When looking for a historical fiction book cover designer for your project, follow these simple tips to make the best choice. First, review the designer’s portfolio to see if their style matches your vision for the cover. Look for experience in historical fiction to ensure they understand the genre. Seek recommendations from authors or industry experts, and find a designer who communicates well and values your input. Discuss timelines, costs, and rights upfront to avoid misunderstandings. Choose a designer whose artistic sensibility aligns with your book’s story, so they can create an appealing cover that captures readers’ attention and perfectly complements your historical fiction tale.

The Impact of Book Cover Design on Book Sales

It’s easy to say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but in reality, book covers have a huge effect on how much they sell. Especially in a busy market, a great cover for a historical fiction book can make it stand out and draw people in. Not only that, but the cover can evoke emotions, create anticipation, and show the genre and time period quickly. A powerful cover can be the difference between someone choosing a book or not, so it’s important for authors and publishers to make sure they invest in a good one.

Hiring a Historical Novel Cover Designer: What to Consider

When getting a historical fiction book cover designer, there are some key things to think about. Talk through your ideas and what you want the cover to look like in detail. Check out their knowledge of the genre, when it’s set and the mood you want to get across. Set out a timeline and budget for the project and make sure both of you are happy with it. Lastly, make sure they’re open to changes and comments throughout the process. Working together and good communication is the key to getting the perfect book cover.

Resources and Tools for Aspiring Historical Fiction Book Cover Designers

There are many ways to boost your knowledge and skills if you want to design book covers for historical fiction. Look into some online courses and workshops to learn more about composition, typography, and color theory. To make complex illustrations and edit photos, you can also use software’s like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Additionally, creating a portfolio of your own mock book covers and getting input from others in the field can help you improve your work.

Conclusion: The Future of Historical Fiction Book Cover Design

The future of historical fiction book cover design is likely to be shaped by advancements in technology, changing reader preferences, and evolving design trends. As printing techniques improve, cover designers will have more opportunities to experiment with intricate illustrations and striking visual effects, enhancing the overall appeal of historical fiction books. The rise of digital publishing and online bookstores will require covers to be optimized for digital displays, encouraging designers to create eye-catching thumbnails that stand out in a crowded online marketplace.

Additionally, with a growing emphasis on diversity and inclusivity in the publishing industry, historical fiction covers may feature a broader range of characters from various backgrounds and time periods, reflecting a more accurate and representative portrayal of history. Symbolism and subtle nods to historical contexts may become more prevalent, allowing designers to add depth and layers of meaning to their covers.

Moreover, the fusion of traditional art forms and digital design will likely result in innovative and captivating covers that push the boundaries of historical fiction book cover design. Augmented reality and interactive elements may also play a role, allowing readers to engage with the cover art in new and exciting ways.

Ultimately, while the future of historical fiction book cover design holds great potential for creativity and ingenuity, it will continue to be rooted in the essence of storytelling. Designers will strive to capture the essence of historical eras, transport readers through time, and evoke emotions that resonate with the stories waiting within the pages. The future promises a dynamic and inspiring landscape for historical fiction book covers, inviting readers to embark on unforgettable journeys through the past.

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Announcing the Best Book Cover of 2023

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Find out who the winner is, plus an interview with the author and the designer about the creative process

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Last week, we asked our social media followers to vote for the cover of year from the best 32 designs of the year. This year’s tournament was fierce, with surprise twists and crowd favorites that bowed out early. The winner edged out the competition by a mere 6 votes.

From  32 cover designs , here are the semi-finalists:

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Ripe  by Sarah Rose Etter, illustration by Angela Faustina, design by Natalia Olbinski Heringa, vs. Toska  by Alina Pleskova, art by Katy Horan

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Scorched Grace  by Margot Douaihy, design by Will Staehle, art direction by Evan Gaffney, vs. Glaciers  by Alexis M. Smith, design by Beth Steidle

From the Final Four, now we’re down to two crowd favorites:

literature book cover

We spoke to the author of Ripe and the designers of  Ripe and Glaciers about creating their book covers:

Electric Literature: Tell us about your design process for this book cover and what you wanted to convey through the artwork?

literature book cover

Beth Steidle : The first edition of Glaciers , by Alexis M. Smith, was published in 2012. It was very well received, and the cover was well loved. Tin House wanted to celebrate this book and introduce it to a new audience with a reissue approximately 10 years later. The biggest challenge was to come up with a new package that still retained many of the successful elements of the first package (left): a vintage sentiment, elements of collage, a lightness, and femininity. However, for the new edition, we also wanted to visually highlight the overarching environmental concern and shifting landscapes that factor into the book, an element of the narrative that is so critical to our current national conversation. The most beautiful moment in this book, for me, is when the protagonist reaches out to touch a glacier, so that is the moment I focused on for this design.

EL: Did you have any interesting false starts or rejected drafts you can share with us or tell us about?

literature book cover

BS: This cover was not the cover that was originally approved. The first cover featured a vintage illustration of a woman wearing a green cardigan and sheath dress. The mountains and glaciers were superimposed over the woman’s dress. We loved that cover but there were concerns that the green cardigan could be construed as too old fashioned, so we opted for the more surreal design. It felt smarter and timeless.

EL: What’s your favorite book cover of 2023, besides your own?

BS: 2023 was a fantastic year for book covers. Ripe and Tomb Sweeping are both favorites of mine but, ultimately, Paul Sahre’s cover design for the paperback edition of  The Employees by Olga Ravn, wins my vote for best cover of 2023. It’s such a creepy, compelling image, perfectly paired with that minimalist white background and off-kilter type. It tells you everything you need to know and also not nearly enough, which is what the best book covers should endeavor to do.

Electric Literature: Tell us about your design process for this book cover and what you wanted to convey through the artwork? Designer Natalia Olbinski : The pomegranate, a symbol that structures the novel (each section is named for a part of the fruit), was a natural choice for the cover direction, and a preference of the author’s. The initial set of designs included the pomegranate fruit or seeds, depicted in a variety of ways: photographic and illustrative, some realistic and some very abstract, with some reference to a void or black hole. After that first round and a title change, I believe it was Sarah (or Jaya Miceli, art director) who had proposed the artwork of Angela Faustina, whose evocative oil paintings of close-ups of glistening pomegranate seeds and membranes are striking and even grotesque. We tried another round of covers using paintings from Angela’s series with different type treatments, and voilà! This composition was just right. EL: Did you have any interesting false starts or rejected drafts you can share with us or tell us about? NO: I typically need to try out all of my bad ideas to get to someplace interesting so I have a ton of sketches for this cover. Plus there was an abundance of visual references in the novel—of the tech industry, black holes—which were so interesting to play around with.  There’s one concept I never developed past a sketch which I liked, a floating pomegranate with a black hole shadow—flat and bold, just the shapes. But I think we got to the strongest solution with the current cover. EL: What’s your favorite book cover of 2023, besides your own? NO: The cover for Mister Mister by Guy Gunaratne designed by Jack Smyth reminds me of old school poster art in how dynamic and punchy the art is. I’d hang it on my wall. The cover for Happy by Celina Baljeet Basra, designed by Alex Merto, also puts a big smile on my face.

Sarah Rose Etter, author of  Ripe :

Electric Literature: As an author, what was the book cover process like for you? 

Sarah Rose Etter: With any book, at least for me, we have a few rounds of cover ideas because I’m picky about a cover. I always tell the publisher that up front—I just love visual art so much that it matters to me a lot. 

During the pandemic, while I was writing Ripe , I was just deep in my pomegranate research—I was searching films, art archives, anything I could get my hands on. Angela Faustina’s art popped up and became something I returned to over and over again while I was drafting the book. At one point, I was recreating her paintings myself in between drafts, mimicking her style. 

Scribner asked me to send over a bunch of art that had inspired me while drafting—and of course, Angela’s work was at the top of the list. When the cover options were sent over, this cover jumped out and I was floored—it hadn’t occurred to me that Angela’s work would end up on the cover. But now it feels like kismet in a way—I got incredibly lucky with this cover. 

EL: What are your thoughts on the cover and how the artwork ties in with your book? 

SRE: Angela’s work is so visceral and unexpected. Her pomegranates make you look twice—the painting feels like it could be part of the human body or the brain, but it’s still beautiful. Since the last section of the book specifically is about seeds and the interior of the body, her work just fit perfectly as almost a foreshadowing of what is to come,

I think, too, sometimes you need a great title for a perfect cover—we were going back and forth with title options for the book, and once we hit on Ripe as a title, we really needed a juicy, glistening cover and Angela’s work was a perfect fit for that, too. The title and the font both work so well with the art—it just all came together. When Jaya [Miceli] and Natalia [Olbinski] sent this cover over, everyone got really excited—you felt that buzz of “Oh yes, that’s it!” The team at Scribner worked really hard to nail this cover so I’m really grateful to them. 

EL: What’s your favorite book cover of 2023, besides your own?

SRE: I honestly really love the cover for Glaciers —it’s bold, unexpected, always makes me look twice so that’s tough competition! I also love the new McNally editions covers. But this is an impossible question for me, especially with the number of art books I buy. Every Sophie Calle cover is incredible. I also saw there was a crazy galley going around in the UK where the entire book was hardcover and holographic with no title on the front—it was beautiful, but now I can’t remember the title of the book so I guess those wild artistic choices can backfire. It’s still a gorgeous book. 

The winner of Electric Lit’s 2023 Book Cover Tournament:  Ripe by Sarah Rose Etter, illustration by Angela Faustina, design by Natalia Olbinski Heringa.

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Why you need to stop being a book cover design snob

A s an ex-literature student, book cover snobbery is (unfortunately) ingrained in me. There's something about a quasi-historical novel with a shirtless, rippling-abbed man that makes me physically recoil – but I'm here to reform. As creatives, it's natural that we judge a book by its cover, but there comes a point where book snobbery can hold us back from the simple pleasures of reading. 

Designing a contemporary book cover can be difficult as trends are constantly cycling in and out of relevance. It seems book covers are getting increasingly formulaic thanks to movie adaptations, minimalist design trends and genre conventions, creating a generic design plague in bookshops across the globe. Some designs are timeless, some are fleeting and some will always be schlocky but without being too sickly, it's what's inside that counts. 

What makes a 'good' cover? 

I'd argue that the idea of a 'good' book cover is somewhat of a myth. There are obvious examples of beautiful book cover design (think Normal People or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale) but ultimately a good design fits its brief. The truth is that some literature can be harmed by an overdesigned cover, promising something beyond the words' intentions.

A prime example is the work of Collen Hoover. You've likely seen a copy of 'It Ends With Us' in your local bookshop and maybe you've felt somewhat indifferent to the smashed pink orchids and blocky typography. The tepid palatability of Colleen's novels might be subject to elitist literary backlash, but at its core, it's a cover designed for commercial appeal. And commercially appeal it did, winning the top spot on the Sunday Times bestseller list.

Overcoming the design ick

Venturing outside the comfort zone of beautiful design inherently enriches your reading. Yes, you might not look as cool on the morning commute but you also run the risk of missing out on your next favourite novel. I'll be the first to admit that I sometimes turn my nose up at a book cover with a real person plastered on it or an author name that's double the size of the title, but it's not just new books that are subject to bad design – your classics can fall victim too.  

Amidst the plague of endless book-to-movie adaptations, often upcoming features will be subject to the dreaded film/TV adaptation cover. However, I implore you not to be disheartened by a fake sticker that says "coming soon to Netflix" – it's not the black spot of book design. Even classics like Fahrenheit 451 and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have been tarnished by 'bad' covers, but that shouldn't be enough to disregard them entirely. 

Film adapted Fahrenheit 451 book cover"

Breaking the genre design funk

Curating a collection of stunning literature is undoubtedly rewarding and this isn't me arguing against aesthetically pleasing design. Yet, while there are plenty of beautiful books around, book cover design seems to be in a bit of a funk – isolated into separate factions that rarely stray from their genre design cues.

Fantasy book covers are typically maximalist and ornate, high-brow romance is stylishly graphic and illustrative, and I could probably spot an Ian Rankin crime novel from a mile away. While I don't think these genre design signifiers will die out anytime soon, they trap readers in a genre loop, making book cover design stale and formulaic. 

In a way, book cover design snobbery is a result of these rigid genre design features. If you can break away from the design tropes you typically gravitate towards, there's an entire world of genres to discover. From an ex book snob, it's worth thinking twice before you judge a book by its cover. 

If you're after more stunning book design, take a look at our interview with children's book illustrator Flavia Z Drago . For more of the classics, take a look at this ingenious Animal Farm book cover with a creepy hidden detail. 

 Why you need to stop being a book cover design snob

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  13. Announcing the Best Book Cover of 2023

    BS: 2023 was a fantastic year for book covers. Ripe and Tomb Sweeping are both favorites of mine but, ultimately, Paul Sahre's cover design for the paperback edition of The Employees by Olga Ravn, wins my vote for best cover of 2023. It's such a creepy, compelling image, perfectly paired with that minimalist white background and off-kilter ...

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