I don’t have a problem with attempting to avoid clichés in book cover design but I’m also not against them. I don’t think the culprit is a particular cliché element but rather the way the designer makes use of it. That’s why it’s so important to explore other creative ways before rushing into using cliché concept designs. In this article, I am going to share with you my 3-step solution to book cover clichés alternatives.

Let’s start with an example of a book cover cliche

Generally speaking, the reason a book cover is considered a cliché is that it’s been used so many times before it became mundane. A good example of a book cover cliché is the tiny man or woman silhouette walking down a road leading nowhere. We see this on many book covers out there because it’s good for conveying the idea of taking a journey, finding oneself, breaking free, and even feeling lost.

Instead of sweating over a blank piece of paper or in front of a stark computer screen trying to pull ideas out of your head, get visual!

Even though there’s nothing wrong with what the scene communicates, the real problem is that it’s too vague in relation to a story. The foggy landscape, the silhouette, the large top portion of the cover (usually a dramatic looking sky), and sometimes even the same color trend, are too random. But let’s say you absolutely need to use the journey concept because it’s strongly related to your story. Before rushing into using the random scene with tiny silhouettes walking down a road to nowhere, open your mind to the magic of synonyms. Instead of sweating over a blank piece of paper or in front of a stark computer screen trying to pull ideas out of your head, get visual! Brainstorm with your eyes. The best way for that is the online concept of visual words maps. VisualThesaurus.com has been on the market for years now and it does a great job. But there’s a free one just as awesome. It’s called Visuwords.com. With this online resource, you actually see how words are connected by different meanings. What’s even cooler is that you get to interact with them on your screen. You don’t even have to make a word list beforehand. You just need a “pool of ideas”. I guarantee you, many of these visual synonyms will instantly spark your imagination.

The 3-steps solution to book cover cliches alternatives

To prevent using the cliché of the tiny walking silhouette, we need to generate as many ideas as possible to convey the “journey” concept. Don’t worry, it’s a fun 3-step solution. Let’s see how it works in our example.

Step 1: let’s enter the word “journey” into the “visualize a word” field. See … we’re already starting to get a few alternatives.

step 1

Step 2: now let’s start unfolding as many branches as we can by clicking on each bubble. We can also drag them around to better organize how we see them.

step 2

Step 3: once we have a huge map unfolded, let’s begin taking notes. For this, hover over each word to reveal its definition.

step 3

Each definition will inspire us to make involuntary connections to different objects, symbols or emotions. Here are just a few to get you inspired:

  • a “trek” makes me think of a dusty and worn out pair of shoes
  • an “odyssey” makes me think of a long period of time, so maybe an hourglass
  • a “digression” makes me think of a split path, maybe a sign post, maybe a hideout
  • a “flight” – planes – suitcases – a flock of birds …

… And so on and so forth! Don’t restrict yourself. Note as many ideas as possible. You’ll get to the perfect one. Of course, this doesn’t mean a book cover with tiny-people-silhouettes-walking-down-a-road-to-nowhere won’t sell. Many bestsellers do. But their success doesn’t come from the cover design only. They’re well written too…

Final Thoughts

Book cover design clichés aren’t as sinful as the design purists want you to think. I’d say be aware of them but don’t be afraid of them. Instead of obsessing over them, explore as many creative techniques as possible to come up with alternative ideas that will enhance the design composition. My 3-step solution to book cover clichés alternatives is a great start to get those creative juices flowing. Go ahead and try it! It’s fun!

There’s so much more to say about the disputed subject of book cover clichés. If you’re interested, check out my list of 30 book cover cliché concepts.

What about you? Do you agree that a cliché can turn a book cover into a fantastic design if used creatively? Have you ever used the synonyms solution to find better alternatives to book cover clichés? Do you have any other magic trick that usually inspires you? I look forward to your input!