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Book Design Elements Influencing Bookstore Sales

by Ron Kurtus (revised 22 June 2014)

How your book looks on a shelf in the bookstore often determines whether the person will pick it up. The potential customer typically follows several steps in deciding whether to purchase your book.

First of all, the title is important, but it also must be readable on the front cover or from the spine of the book. The person then usually opens the book, checks the table of contents and riffs through the pages. Finally, the customer looks at the back cover to see what the book is about and how much it costs.

Each of these elements is important in persuading the person to buy your book.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Title, front cover and spine

A good title is important in attracting potential customers and getting them to take your book off the bookstore shelf to examine it. However, that title must stand out and be readable from several feet away.

When your book is displayed in a bookstore, customers will read its title from the book's front cover or its spine, depending on how the book is displayed.

Publishing companies often pay a premium to have the front cover of certain books displayed on the bookshelf or table. The rest of the books are displayed with the spine facing out.

The front cover of your books should be appealing and able to attract a potential customer. The spine should readily display your title and perhaps the author's name.

I've seen some book spines that had color combinations or typeface selection that were difficult to read from a few feet away. This doesn't encourage a person to pick up the book and look at it.

Pick a good title and design your cover so that the title stands out when viewed on a bookshelf.


After looking at the front cover, the customer usually skims through the book content to get an idea of what it is about and how it has been written.

Often, the person first looks at the Table of Contents to see what topics are covered. Vague or "cute" chapter titles don't provide much information to the potential customer.

The content should be formatted in a way that is pleasing to the eye and easy to read.

I often judge whether I will buy a book of interest on the internal structure. A book that has long paragraphs with few headings is usually immediately rejected.

My view is that people these days prefer to skim-read nonfiction books. Even fiction that "has too many words" can be discouraging.

You should divide your book into chapters. Some books use larger divisions of parts. You certainly should have clear page numbering and headings in your book.

Back cover

Finally, a potential customer usually looks at the back cover as part of the decision-making process.

There is usually a short descriptive paragraph, followed by material that should appeal to the buyer. Some authors or publishers list testimonials about the book—especially from famous people. Others may list important features or topics from the book.

You can also include a picture of the author, with a short bio.

Finally, the back cover gives information about the publishing company and displays the ISBN and barcode. Most publishers include the price above the bar code. There is also a classification of the type of book it is (i.e. Fiction, Business, etc.)

The price can often be the tipping point on making a purchasing decision. That is why it should be on the back cover.


When your book is displayed in a bookstore, customers will identify your book by its front cover or its spine, depending on how the book is displayed. After looking at the front cover of a book, a potential customer usually pages through the book content to get an idea of what it is about and how it has been written. Finally, the customer looks at the back cover to be make the decision to buy.

Design a great book

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


Publishing Resources


Top-rated books on Self-Publishing

Questions and comments

Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.


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