Should you judge a book by its cover?

It’s obvious that book covers help to sell books. When you are in a bookstore or scouring the countless online depositories the book cover is the first thing you see.

The purpose of the cover is not just to display the title and author name – it’s meant to give you a sense of what the book is about, sometimes with a single image.

For me, as a horror book cover designer, the feeling I aim to invoke – depending on the story – is fear or dread. That sense of unease. This can be achieved in a variety of styles, from a highly detailed montage or to something purely typographical. The adage of “less is more” is one I, as a designer, always ascribe to. Sure my covers can be detailed, or contain multiple images, but there’s always ONE concept, or idea.

This is just my opinion, but I’d like to provide some examples of recent cover art I have admired that I feel conveys that “sense” of what horror is. Some may disagree with me but again this is just my opinion.

This work, by Lynne Hansen, immediately evokes that sense of eerie dread. You know exactly where the contents of this book is going to take you. It’s beautifully rendered and designed.
Vincent Chong is a real talent. THIS IS A HORROR COVER. Psychological horror. There’s a real beauty to this image in the stark contrast of its colour palette. There’s also a subtlety to it, the things beneath the surface bleeding through.
I really love the work of Wendy Saber Core A prolific artist with a keen eye for detail. His pieces are always meticulously thought out down to the last pixel. His work always makes me gasp – which is exactly what book cover art is meant to do.
This piece by Todd Kiesling is just astounding. It bears a folk horror quality. Both beautiful and horrific at the same time. You can almost smell the flowers mixed with the decay.
Daniele Serra is another artist I admire. He is a master of watercolour and his pieces always seem to have this mythic quality, His choice of red washes immediately evokes that “sense” that you are in for one very dark journey when you open this book.
UK artist Ben Baldwin is another truly gifted designer. This work, to illustrate Josh Malerman’s book, Bird Box, clearly took him days to complete. It’s absolutely breathtaking.
Luke Spooner‘s pieces are always unique in style and this one is no exception. Graphical in nature, almost like a screen-print with its splashes of reds and blacks, it screams horror. The typeface is also perfectly matched.
This piece by Francois Vaillancourt is a prime example of when illustration and typography comes together. It really pops and would certainly stand out on the bookshelf.
Don Noble’s minimalist work is always inspiring. This slightly distorted, unnerving image of a face looks deep into you. The symmetry of illustration and text is simple, never detracting from the singular image.
Kealan Patrick Burke respects the great horror novels of the 70s and 80s and it shows in his work. Note the intricate but singular image and old paperback feel.

In the end, these are just some of cover artists I admire. You’ll notice that all of them work with or in the small horror press, which in my opinion, is where horror is thriving. The artists noted here should be your go-to’s for book cover design. You should always look to experts and have faith in their many years of experience.

If you know any other book cover artists, feel free to post their links in the comments.


About darkscrybe

Two-time international Bram Stoker Award-nominee®*, Greg Chapman is a horror author and artist based in Queensland, Australia. Greg is the author of several novels, novellas and short stories, including his award-nominated debut novel, Hollow House (Omnium Gatherum) and collections, Vaudeville and Other Nightmares (Specul8 Publishing) and This Sublime Darkness and Other Dark Stories (Things in the Well Publications). He is also a horror artist and his first graphic novel Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times, (McFarland & Company) written by authors Rocky Wood and Lisa Morton, won the Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel category at the Bram Stoker Awards® in 2013. He is also the current President of the Australasian Horror Writers Association. Greg lives in Rockhampton with his wife and their two daughters. * Superior Achievement in a First Novel for Hollow House (2016) and Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, for “The Book of Last Words” (2019)
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2 Responses to Should you judge a book by its cover?

  1. Perfect examples. I’m very fond of your work, Greg.

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