by Jenny Kimura, Collaborative Designer

Everyone knows that to market your book right, you need just the right front cover image. You might spend hours with your designer going back and forth on the fonts, colors, imagery, and placement. You might want to add a tagline, a fantastic blurb, or an author byline—all pieces of a larger puzzle that, taken together, hopefully attract your ideal reader.

Every little thing counts. And that’s all great…but except for those lucky few who get their book face-out in a bookstore, most books are first seen by readers spine-out. While online retailers have made book discoverability easier on the web, print design and physical books are (thankfully) not dead, and therefore, it’s still crucial that you put plenty of thought and care into that little sliver of space on the shelf.

Spines can be one of the trickiest parts of a book design. They may seem trivial or just a derivative of the cover, but as a designer, I find problem-solving a spine design to be one of the most rewarding design exercises there is. On some level, it’s easy—you could think of it as a shortened, thin version of your cover, with just the author name, title, and the publisher logo. But depending on your page count, the width of your spine and how much room you have (or lack thereof) can greatly influence how your spine is designed. For instance, what do you do if you have a really long title or author name? What if you want your subtitle to be on the spine, too—will it fit? If the book is part of a series, will you want to note the order in the series on the spine? What if the established series design doesn’t work for the title of your newest book in the series? What if your publisher logo is hard to read against the background color of the spine? And those are just the logistical questions—to say nothing about how to make your spine look interesting, different, and give a hint to readers about what they’ll see on the cover.

So, where do we start with Spine Design 101? I’ve broken down some common spine design components and included a few tips and tricks to make your spine pop on shelves. Happy spine designing

  • The Title: The title is arguably the most important element of the spine design. It must be easily readable (i.e., large enough to be read by a casual viewer), and still fit in the spine width, whether vertically or horizontally. Whenever I have long titles (think five words or more), my first test is to see how the title looks horizontally with unimportant words (like and, the, of) set in smaller type than the key words of the title. Usually, that’s enough to make everything fit. Sometimes, though, depending on the typeface I’m using or the words themselves, I find that positioning type vertically may read better. Another trick I’ll try if the spine is thick enough is to break the title onto two lines. This is also a good solution for books that need both a title and a subtitle on their spine.
  • The Author Name: I often style author names at the top of the spine, which naturally leads the eye into the title. I have styled authors’ names stacked vertically and horizontally, and much of this decision comes down to the length of the author’s name. In terms of hierarchy, I always make sure that if the first thing you read on a spine is the title, the second is the author name, which means playing with color and font size to ensure readability. I might also frame the author’s name between pieces of art to call attention to it, as well.
  • The Art: Not every spine has some sort of artwork on it, but it’s a practice I always try to do, even with the most narrow of spines, because it gives a viewer some visual interest, something to look at that might catch the eye of a reader. The easiest way to source art for a spine is to grab art from the cover, or one element of it, such as a background pattern, a key piece of art, or even the whole cover art without the title, placed into a little box between the author name and the title. Sometimes, if you’re working with an illustrator, you might work with them to create wrap art for your cover, where the cover art seamlessly continues from the front cover to the spine to the back cover and maybe even the flaps.
  • The Background: While you might be tempted to simply pick up the same color background for the spine as the front cover (and it’s a very common choice!), consider making the spine color a contrasting color that still works for the overall design, but gives the spine a pop of color. I often do this when the front cover has a lot of the same colors or cooler, softer tones, and utilize a brighter color on the spine to catch a reader’s eye.
  • Series Design: When you know a book is going to be a series, your book series name is pretty much a logo: it needs to be in the same place on the front cover, with the same treatment for every subtitle. The same goes for the spine. When I am designing a first book in the series, I am not only designing that book’s spine, but I am also designing the spacing for every other book that will come after it. So I try to leave a lot of space between a title and the publishing logo if I can, so there’s room to add a series number (for example: “Book 1” or a subtitle).
  • The Publisher Logo: The last element of consideration is the publisher logo on a spine! While it may seem insignificant, a publisher logo is part of your brand identity; it’s another piece of information that may tie multiple works of yours together. I prefer to go very simplistic with spine logos, opting if possible to make a logo white or black for best contrast against the art, and sometimes adding a drop shadow or an outer glow effect to increase readability. Like the author name, I also try to position this information framed between or by art if I can, though less to call it out and more so that the whole design overall looks cohesive and well-thought-out.

Are there any clever spine designs that have caught your eye lately? Tell me in the comments!

Jenny Kimura is a book designer in Brooklyn, New York, working on children’s books by day and freelancing for Indigo: Editing, Design, and More by night. You can see some of her favorite spine designs at