In today’s article, I’ve assembled a list of 30 cliché concepts in book cover design to make you aware of the graphic elements that tend to be overly used. The list is based on my years of experience participating in book design competitions where I’ve had the opportunity to observe both authors’ and designers’ approaches to cover design. My intention is not to overwhelm you but to provide you with concrete examples of book cover design clichés. Please note, the list is meant to be without graphics to give you a quick hands-on guide. I’ve got multiple upcoming articles which will treat each bullet point in-depth and which will contain real book cover examples too. So make sure you subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss a thing!
For now, here goes my list of 30 cliché concepts in book cover design in no particular order:
- Tiny silhouettes of people walking down a road that seems to lead to nowhere—or into some sort of fog or mist.
- People with arms raised above their heads. This was initially a good idea to convey joy for life and hope however, these images have been so overused that they simply are no longer memorable nor effective.
- Sunrise and sunset landscapes—you’ve seen these everywhere, right?
- Stacked pebbles or large smooth stones used for conveying meditation, calm, and relaxation. Still not sure how a pebble can induce calmness however, the idea of the stone or pebble coming from a riverbed may be the source.
- Puzzle pieces or different objects made out of puzzle pieces.
- The solitary tree in a meadow.
- Legs, legs in shoes, shoes with no legs. Lots of walking?
- Sexy man torsos—most of the time, naked.
- Melancholic women dressed in white—usually used to introduce a lost romance [with literary touches].
- Chess pieces—business book covers playing the buy-me-I’m-a-smart-book game.
- Hands, hands and more hands—enough; off with the hands!
- Translucent silhouettes containing a collage of other images.
- Mysterious guys wearing hoods—you know, the Assassin’s Creed kind of look.
- Water ponds or solitary, melancholic people sitting on a pond.
- Silhouettes of heads or faces.
- Dramatic, stormy sky.
- Flowers, buds, sprouts—especially dandelions and forget-me-nots.
- Bokeh and lens flares with extra glitters, sparks or flashes. In photography, bokeh is a beautiful effect which was initially considered a technical mistake. Somewhere along the trends, it has become widely used in book covers but in a totally garish way. I will be posting a follow-up article entirely dedicated to good and bad practices of bokeh effect on book covers—please stay tuned for that.
- Flags of different countries.
- Guns, tanks or other weapons.
- Blood—stains, dripping, droplets—cut marks or dirty knives. Blood graphic effects can easily turn a cover into a kitschy cliché. Yet, when used subtly over minimalistic backgrounds, bloody elements can create pretty good and memorable outcomes.
- Arrows—mostly for business books.
- Fish jumping out of their water bowls—as funny and unrealistic as this sounds.
- Women in lavish dresses—especially used for historical romance genre. Funny how it almost looks as if the entire fashion industry has found homes on book covers.
- Masks—full face, half-face, fancy, spooky, you name it!
- Cityscape backgrounds and silhouettes of tall buildings.
- Golden eggs—yes, really!
- Trees or illustrations made out of leaves.
- Flat icons which seem better suited for UI design.
- Body parts.
I can hear you saying, ok, so … what’s left that is not considered a cliché? Don’t be discouraged, it’s not as bad as it seems! That’s why I’m here to tell you that all design concepts can be seen as clichés whether they’ve been used only a few times or a few thousand times before. The good news is that the more they’ve been used, the more obvious it is they’re effective. So don’t let my list of 30 cliché concepts in book cover design intimidate you because book cover clichés are not necessarily bad. Do not be fearful of using them nor should you obsess over them. Most importantly, do not forbid your designer to use some of the scenes or elements you see in this list. Remember, all you need is a creative and imaginative professional designer who knows what to do to turn a cliché into an original book cover or when to avoid them completely. Sometimes, combining clichés with good design and great writing is the key to getting yourself a bestseller no matter what the evil skeptics have to say!
What about you? Have you seen other clichés that are not on this list? Are there any cliché designs that you have seen lately that have no connection at all to the story of a book? I look forward to your input!