7 Popular Book Cover Design Trends

Darkly gothic and brightly illustrated book covers ruled 2019

Competition is tough to catch a reader’s eye as they browse at their local bookstore or library, or as they click through pages from an online retailer. A compelling cover can make a huge difference for drawing in new readers. 

In 2019, we saw book publishers lean into both moody, nature-inspired covers as well as bright and graphic covers for their books. To inspire you and your design team in 2020, we’ve rounded up some of the biggest book design trends we saw in 2019. 

Snakes! 

Snakes were top-of-mind for design teams in 2019. Snakes give these book covers an eerie sensibility, an association with forbidden knowledge, the natural world, and, in the case of The Undying, a medical edge.

Pastel Color Blocks

Pastel purples, oranges, yellows, greens, and blues drew attention when they appeared on bookshelves in 2019. Téa Obreht and Jacqueline Woodson hit bestseller lists with Inland and Red at the Bone, respectively. The pastel colors are bright and engaging without being overwhelming and the collage aesthetic gives the books an intimate feeling.  

Moody, Overgrown Vegetation

In 2019, books across genres looked more and more like gothic gardens.The lush, overgrown look could indicate a dense plot, full of secrets and mysteries like Tell No One or sprawling fantasies like The Ten Thousand Doors of January.

Repetitive Geometric Shapes

Some of the buzziest books of the year incorporated geometric repetition, including You Know You Want This, the debut short story collection from “Cat Person”  author Kristen Roupenian and Miriam Toews’ Women Talking, inspired by real-life events. The repetition of these shapes suggests behaviors repeating, shared experiences, and a hypnotic reading experience. 

Brightly  Illustrated Romances

Some of the biggest romance novels in 2018 had illustrated covers (The Kiss Quotient, The Proposal) and we still saw that trend on the rise through 2019. Compared to the traditional, photo-realistic covers of historical romances and mass market romances, these illustrated romances tend to appeal to readers who might not consider themselves romance readers. Berkley is at the center of this trend.

Cindy Hwang, Vice President and Editorial Director at Berkley told NetGalley Insights,  “We wanted to showcase the modern, fun quality of some of our new contemporary romances, and the illustrated approach really stood out for its versatility and vibrancy. We keep things fresh by playing with different ideas and colors to suit the story and characters. We’ve now branched out into illustrating historical romance covers, something that hadn’t been widely done in the genre, and we’re thrilled by the positive early response.

Overlapping Words and Design

Like the gothic garden cover trend, we saw book covers where the design was integrated with the text – under waves for The Water Dancer and licked by flames in Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? In addition to making a strong visual impression, overlapping words and text lets readers know that they can expect an immersive reading experience.

Hair

Titles were shaved into, braided into, and intertwined with hair on book covers in 2019. How we style our hair is one way that we express our unique personalities. Hairstyles, colors, and textures also have deep cultural resonances – cornrows, locs, buzzcuts, long braids, and bobs, to name a few. Books like Queenie and Juliet Takes a Breath used hair in their cover art to signify intimacy and the mix of personal and cultural. 


Make sure to subscribe to the NetGalley Insights newsletter for weekly updates about trends, best practices, industry news, and interviews through 2020 and beyond. 

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Penguin Random House is Bringing Back the Book Fair

Remember the pure, bookish joy of a middle school book fair at PRH’s
Book Fair for Grownups

“We took a playful approach with this event format to inject a bit of that joy into all our lives and to celebrate book nerds everywhere”

On Saturday, November 23, Penguin Random House is bringing bookish nostalgia to life in a Book Fair for Grownups. Attendees will be able to relive their school book fairs in the 80s and 90s, browse books curated by the PRH team, take pictures in a school photo booth, peruse retro crafts by Glue, and see special appearances from PRH authors.

Penguin Random House warns that attendees might experience “Severe middle school flashbacks! Tables stacked with books! Pencils! Mr. Sketch Markers! Erasers! Cubbies! Pins! Patches! Spin art! Snap bracelets! Custom Interactive Mad Libs!”

We heard from members of the cross-departmental team that created this Book Fair about how this event was born, how they are working with partners and sponsors like Belletrist, Urban Outfitters, and Out of Print, and how they are using it to connect with their readers. 

Thanks to Alison Rich & Rachael Perriello, PRH Author Platforms, and Carly Gorga, RH Events & Partnerships, who gave us an inside look at the creation of this event.

What’s the origin story behind the Book Fair for Grownups? 

The idea of Book Fair for Grownups has been floating around Penguin Random House for a while because for so many of us, the book fairs of our youth are what first got us excited about reading (not to mention all of the super cool pencils, markers, Trapper Keepers, etc). By the time this summer rolled around, we believed we had enough excitement among our staff that the time was right to make it happen for the fall.    

There’s been a lot of collaboration across various PRH teams including author platforms, consumer marketing, sales, events, and our publishing divisions to bring this event to life, which has been really fun.

Who is the audience for the Book Fair?

There is no one archetypal “student” at Book Fair. Whether you are a millennial, a mom, or a millennial mom – if you grew up loving book fairs, watching Reading Rainbow, and getting lost in the stacks, this event is for you.

Why this particular era of Book Fair? What are you hoping it evokes for the attendees?

“It made sense to us to try to capture some of that passion offline with an experiential format that would bring our childhood love of books to life, embrace the bookish lifestyle, and create a sense of community around our books and authors.” 

We focused on an 80s / 90s-era book fair because that’s when a lot of us were in school, and also because there’s a lot of nostalgia for that time. That’s definitely the feeling we’re hoping to evoke for guests – the magic of being back in school, shopping for books and school supplies, trading stickers, tie-dying t-shirts, wearing scrunchies, doing Mad Libs. Life gets complicated as you get older and we want to bring people back to a lighter, less complicated time in their lives . . . if only for an afternoon.

How does this event fit into PRH’s larger strategy for reader outreach?

Penguin Random House’s mission is to foster a universal passion for reading by partnering with authors to create stories that inform, entertain, and inspire, and connect them with readers everywhere. Given that reading is such a passion point, it made sense to us to try to capture some of that passion offline with an experiential format that would bring our childhood love of books to life, embrace the bookish lifestyle, and create a sense of community around our books and authors.  

It’s unique for a publisher to have public-facing events like this. Most consumers tend to think about buying books from bookstores or online retailers. How are you hoping this event will influence consumer perception of PRH?

Our booksellers and online retailers are invaluable partners. Consumer-facing events like Book Fair (among many others hosted by various divisions of Penguin Random House) are simply one of the many ways we can connect directly with readers: To meet them. To talk to them. To hear directly from them what they’re loving, what they’re reading, and how we can better serve them. It’s important for us as a business to know our audience, and events like Comic Cons, book festivals, and now Book Fair make that possible. Books serve so many purposes – they start dialogues, bridge gaps, connect individuals and communities, transform lives – but they also bring people so much joy. We took a playful approach with this event format to inject a bit of that joy into all our lives and to celebrate book nerds everywhere.

How did you decide what kinds of activities or giveaway items the audience would be most interested in?

“It’s important for us as a business to know our audience, and events like Comic Cons, book festivals, and now Book Fair make that possible.”

This was really a collaborative effort from our team. We have a Book Fair brain trust of folks from across Penguin Random House, and we did a lot of brainstorming, reminiscing and laughing, and that’s where we came up with most of the ideas and activations you’ll find at Book Fair. We also worked with a host of amazing partners and sponsors including Office Depot, Urban Outfitters, Glue, Tiger Beat, Mrs. Grossman’s, Lip Smacker and our colleagues at Out of Print.

Tell us about the partnership with Belletrist for this event. Why did you choose to work with them and what does that partnership look like?

Belletrist has been a fantastic partner for PRH since its inception. When we realized we both had the same instinct to bring readers back to the book fairs of their youth we immediately knew we had to partner with them on it. They’ve had a hand in inspiration, in bringing in sponsors, in promotion, and sheer enthusiasm.

What kinds of books can we expect to see at the Book Fair?

Because this event is for those 21 and over, there will be a wide assortment of books for grownups for sale (including YA!). The title selection was curated by Abbe Wright from Read it Forward. Some tables of our titles you can expect to see are “Brand Spankin’ New,” “Munchies,” “Heartthrobs,” and “TBT,” to name a few.

Can you give us a hint about any of the authors who will be there?

Principal John Hodgman will be joined by Deb Perelman, Adam J. Kurtz, Mya Spalter, Summer Rayne Oakes, and others. But you’ll have to come see for yourself to find out more!


Tickets are available for the Book Fair for Grownups here.

*Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

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The 7 Best Marketing Strategies from BookExpo and BookCon

In the midst of a very busy week full of meetings, parties, and panels, we got a chance to see how publishers were engaging audiences at BookExpo and BookCon. In addition to the many totes, pins, bookmarks, and ARC drops, we saw some unique marketing strategies, including quizzes, photo opportunities, and even live animals! Here were some of our favorite creative ways that exhibitors got the attention of BookExpo and BookCon attendees.

Adorable, Adoptable Pets – National Geographic

To promote Dr. Gary Weitzman’s The National Geographic Complete Guide to Pet Health, National Geographic partnered with a local animal shelter to bring pets to the show floor. Attendees cuddled well-behaved kittens and puppies, who were handling the stresses of BookExpo better than many attendees! The dogs and cats were available for adoption, which only added to the warm and fuzzy feelings at the National Geographic booth.

Sharing Author Love – Penguin Teen

Penguin Teen tapped into the resonant emotional connections that readers build with authors to promote Looking For Alaska, the upcoming Hulu show based on John Green’s 2005 novel. Attendees filled up the “Share your love for John Green’s books” display with heartfelt and vulnerable notes about Green’s books and his advocacy around mental health, grateful for the chance to share their experiences with an author who had impacted their lives. The Penguin Teen wall was a great break from branded swag, and place for readers to remember how powerful it is to be seen by an author who helps you understand yourself, and be more understood in the wider world.

Live Illustration – Scholastic

To promote Elisha Cooper’s upcoming children’s book about a canoe trip, River, Scholastic sat Cooper down at their booth with pen and paper. He worked on an illustration of the New York skyline while attendees watched. They could even get a closer look at Cooper’s illustration process via a camera and a monitor that projected his detailed work. The Scholastic team told NetGalley Insights that they wanted to give attendees a more intimate glimpse into Cooper’s work process, rather than simply providing an opportunity to meet the author and illustrator. We certainly appreciated the inside look!

Testing Audiobook Knowledge – Penguin Random House Audio

PRH Audio engaged audiobook listeners with audio themed quizzes during BookCon. Attendees listened to audio clips and answered questions about Harry Potter, movie tie-ins, Stranger Things, and fierce female characters for their chance to win a free button. Many other booths didn’t make their visitors work as hard to get a button, but judging by the PRH line, attendees enjoyed this chance to test their expertise.

Totes on Demand – Riveted by Simon Teen

Tote bags are some of the most standard swag items at any book-related event. After all, everyone needs something to put their new books in! Riveted, Simon Teen’s online platform for YA fiction, partnered with local independent screen print shop Bushwick Print Lab to give attendees a unique, high-quality tote. After braving a very long line, the attendee could choose between several different design options for their free on-the-spot screen printed tote bag. The Jenny Han quote, “It’s the imperfections that make things beautiful” (pictured here) was a particularly popular option.

Recommendation Quizzes – Penguin Random House

In addition to their audio quizzes, Penguin Random House used a short quiz to help recommend their new books to BookCon attendees. Readers filled out a short quiz that resulted in a recommendation for an upcoming PRH book, which they then received as a free giveaway. Audiences loved the Buzzfeed-style quiz and, of course, getting to walk away with the recommended book!

Book Wings Photo Wall – Bookish

Bookish gave readers a chance to spread their literary wings with a photo opportunity. They created giant wings out of books both beloved and not yet published. While they waited in line, readers talked to each other about which books in the wings they had read, which were their favorites, and which were on their TBR list. Plus, authors and publicists stopped by to find themselves or their authors in the wings. Check out some of the tagged photos here!


We left BookExpo and BookCon exhausted but inspired by the new ways that publishers are engaging readers, and the enthusiasm of attendees who will break into a run for a new book and wait for hours to meet their favorite authors. Until next year!

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Case Study: Pisces Hooks Taurus by Anyta Sunday

How Anyta Sunday incorporated NetGalley into her post-pub strategy to give her astrological romance a longer tail

On NetGalley Insights, we highlight the successes of NetGalley publishers and authors, and share some of their strategies. Today, we’re talking with Anyta Sunday about her 2018 MM romance Pisces Hooks Taurus, currently available on NetGalley.

Learn why Anyta Sunday lists her titles on NetGalley after they publish, how she generates keywords for her books, and why it’s important to tell romance readers exactly what kinds of tropes they can expect in one of her books.

Our audience of publishers and authors is always eager to learn more about how others are planning their publicity and marketing efforts on NetGalley. Your current title listed on NetGalley, Pisces Hooks Taurus, began its lifecycle on NetGalley at its pub date. Tell us how you came to use NetGalley as a post-pub strategy and why it works for you.

I work with a PR agency to organize blog tours around the release of my books, also handling distribution of ARC copies to interested bloggers and reviewers. These bloggers typically already know me from previous books, while NetGalley allows me reach new audiences.

Using NetGalley starting with the pub date helps me to spread reviews and buzz over a longer time period. [Here are] two reviews [that came in] in over a month after release: Reviews for Those Who Love a Good Book and Amy’s MM Romance Reviews.

Which segments of the NetGalley community have been most important to you and why? How do you go about reaching them?

Most requests for my books come from Reviewers. I post about new titles available on NetGalley via social media and in my newsletter. [You can see an example of this] for my older release, Scorpio Hates Virgo and on my website.

On your Title Details page for Pisces Hooks Taurus, you list the tropes (friends-to-lovers, slow burn, will-they-or-won’t-they) and genres (new adult, light-hearted contemporary gay romance). It’s a great way to give prospective readers a quick snapshot into what the can expect from the book. Describe your strategies for your Title Details page to drive requests and reviews.

I try to optimize the NetGalley Title Details page in the same way as the sales page for my book on retail channels like Amazon; a snappy blurb in the same style and voice as the book, followed by a clear description of what the reader will get. This is particularly important in the romance genre where readers are often looking for specific tropes (and trying to avoid others). Romance is a big genre with many new publications, so communicating clearly what readers can expect helps a book to stand out. Also, if the book is part of a series, I mention whether you need to know the previous books or if it can be read as a standalone.

How did you engage with members who requested access? Did you follow up with them via email?

I make use of the Approval Email feature on NetGalley to engage with members who requested access. In this mail, I thank the reader and encourage them to crosspost their reviews. If the book is part of a series, I also offer the other books for review.

Tell us more about how you leverage your NetGalley listing outside the site.

I mention the availability of the NetGalley listing in my release publicity, and feature it on the book’s detail page on my website.

Your Signs of Love series, of which Pisces Hooks Taurus, is the fourth installment, taps into the current spike in public fascination with astrology. How do you use this to your advantage when finding new audiences?

I use astrology-related keywords in the advertising around the Signs of Love series to reach new audiences. I focus on Facebook and Amazon ads at the moment, and for both the targeting is key. Besides reaching fans of gay and MM romance by using related keywords, I do the same for astrology-related keywords.

What is your top tip for authors listing an individual title on NetGalley?

I find that customizing the approval email is a powerful way of following up with members requesting a book, so I would encourage using this to maximum effect: trying to connect with the reader, thanking them for requesting your book, and potentially offering other ARCs. For Pisces Hooks Taurus, I let readers that request the ARC know that there are three more books in the series and have received multiple requests for these older books as well.

Anyta Sunday is a BIG fan of slow-burn romances. She reads and writes characters who slowly fall in love. Some of her favorite tropes to read and write are: Enemies to Lovers, Friends to Lovers, Clueless Guys, Bisexual, Pansexual, Demisexual, Oblivious MCs, Everyone (Else) Can See It, Slow Burn, Love Has No Boundaries. She writes a variety of stories: Contemporary MM romances with a good dollop of angst, contemporary lighthearted MM romances, and even a splash of fantasy. Her books have been translated into German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Thai.

Follow Anyta Sunday on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

See all of her titles on her website, including purchase links.

Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

Read the rest of our case studies, featuring authors, trade publishers, and academic publishers here.

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Pre-Publication Tips for Authors: Writing Outside Your Book

In the book marketing world, getting your name out there is crucial. If someone casually browsing for their next read recognizes your name, they’re far more likely to take a closer look, and hopefully purchase.

Since writing is your craft, one of the best ways to get your name noticed is to write. So, write! It’s natural to want to write exclusively about your book as a way to promote it, but you should also consider writing about topics related to your book. For example, if you write Civil War romances, pitch a column on a women’s cultural interest website about the hidden histories of women in the United States in the 19th century. You can access a wider audience than you could otherwise, and demonstrate your expertise about your chosen field of interest.

You can also write in more casual settings; like a blog or a newsletter. Many authors and cultural critics send out periodic newsletters that describe what they are reading, listening to, and thinking about. Newsletters and blogs are a way to stay top-of-mind for your audience, and to help your readers develop a more personal relationship with you and your work.

This kind of tactical writing can increase your visibility and the visibility of your titles in the marketplace. But, as with all kinds of marketing efforts, quality is more meaningful than quantity. First and foremost you should write and pitch content that you would be interested in reading, and the readership will follow.

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