Scroll open and look at the top 10 fiction books on the Amazon bestseller list, and you’ll find that they have a few things in common: blocky, oversized text, bright wallpaper, and eye-grabbing colors.
This trend is all part of the “bookstagram” aesthetic, a book cover design movement that emerged over the past few years to make books appealing to social media users. After all, social media is a huge part of marketing strategy, with everything from influencers being paid to showcase their bookshelves on Instagram to publication houses themselves creating images and social copy exclusive to the platform. And this is what creates an interesting paradox: To get analog readers, publishers have to make sure their books are enticingly scroll-stopping on small screens.
“Instagram has made everything more aesthetic, from lattes to fashion trends to book covers to travel,” says Carly Kellerman, associate publisher for Zondervan Books at HarperCollins. “I’m very cognizant of the ‘shareability’ of book covers as I craft the direction, and I often draw from an author’s Instagram presence to gauge how highly-designed or curated we might need to go to create a cohesive look.”
You’ve seen book covers of this style before: oversize, all-caps sans serif text, flat, vivid colors, and soft pastels. Some examples of the bookstagram aesthetic include Vanishing Half by Britt Bennet for its all-caps block type and bright, abstracted overlapping colors, and Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (consider the bright, modern art-like wallpaper and block white text).
A big reason the books look like this has to also do with the fact that photos are much smaller now when it’s time to sell a book— whether that’s through compressed images on an Instagram feed, scanning product thumbnails while mobile shopping on Amazon—so it becomes even more imperative for the book to stand out. “The book cover needs to work, and be attention-grabbing as a small thumbnail among many other book covers,” says Nicole Boehringer, art director and production manager from The Images Publishing Group on the role that Instagram has played in the design process.
Still, it seems that at this point, millennial book design has reached full tilt. Everything looks alike—splashy, colorful, and loud. At the same time, online book marketing isn't going away either… and we’re definitely not planning to give up social media. So, the question remains: How will book design evolve and innovate to reach online audiences and social media in new ways? We spoke to a few experts in the field, and this is what we found will dominate trends in the next few years.
1. Geometric designs will have a moment.
Currently, splashy wallpaper is definitely a thing, but Boehringer believes that geometric design isn’t all that common—and still has the same appeal as a colorful graphic. “The shifting contours and grids can feel almost hypnotic to the reader, whether they’re hugely splashed out or in contrasting, small grids,” says Boehringer. “I think by playing with these patterns, readers will get hooked onto the small details in the cover.” Consider playing with ratios and shapes, looking to see which ones play with detail the most.
One example of this trend is Good Rich People by Eliza Jane Brazier, releasing in November, where the flooring and people imitate rich hexagonal patterns all over the front (that white sans serif text is still going strong, though).
2. Text will go vertical.
Big, splashy texts will remain, but the copy will be flipped, rotated, and set from top to bottom, rather than left to right. This will play with perspective and get readers to look at an old word in a new way. According to Kellerman, this can especially work well for shorter titles, where the font can go bigger and twist around the book in an almost haunting way. Designers, take note from this classic example: 1959’s Psycho by designer Tony Palladino.
3. There’ll be a deeper contrast.
Right now, the splashy covers of Instagram are adorned with fonts that stand out from the full-bleed graphics behind them, whether that’s a bold white text or block black fonts. However, Kellerman believes that an even richer contrast, especially in terms of the fonts with the backgrounds, will be on the horizon: “Instead of simply adding contrast with colors, even the images will change,” she says. “There might be an out-of-focus background with a very clear text, or a white square smack dab in the middle of a picture in order to keep the title name at the forefront.”
This will allow you to see the title even better on a small screen and help it stand out when you’re looking for your next big read. The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell is one such example, in which bright orange strips on a portrait allow for an extra jolt of attention.
4. Maximalism will go bigger.
We know what you’re thinking: How big can it get? Haven’t we already reached peak maximalism? Well, apparently not. “We’ll have more colors, even colors you may think don’t go well together—like a sunset orange mixed with a pale purple—and more intricate, splotchy designs,” says Boehringer. It’ll be hard to get away from these eclectic covers that honestly will seem like they’re all over the place (which, to be honest, they kind of are).
5. Some will consider going minimal.
“That being said, I also don’t think we’ll have all the books—especially the more subdued ones—swing the way of the eclectic,” adds Boehringer. She instead believes some will go the opposite, minimal way: “The background will remain really simple and focused, so that the entire focus will be simply on the text,” she says. “This still catches the reader’s attention, but in a more subtle way. I think we’re all now realizing less can be more, and this is translating to the book cover space, too.” Just look at The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy, which has a simple, scenic, photographic (!) background and white text.
6. There may be conceptual book trailers on the horizon.
A recent Instagram post by Rodrigo Corral Studio, which has designed countless book covers for New York Times bestsellers like Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, and Crossroads by Jonathan Frazen, touches upon another way book marketing might pivot in the age of social media. “Just the word ‘bookstagram’ makes us uncomfortable,” the studio wrote in the caption, before offering up a possible alternative: conceptual book trailers.
The post is essentially an Instagram reel that showcases the plot of the bestselling book Severance by Ling Ma, which, even though it was published a couple of years before the pandemic, tells the captivating tale of an incurable infection that attacks civilization. In the reel, haunting images of the protagonist in a mask shows up in varying scenes accompanied by captions like “Is it the end of the world, or just another day at the office?” and “The end begins before you are even aware of it.” This adds a sense of mystery, and hooks the reader to find out more about the book.
Going forward, designers will likely be tasked with using video to provide book publishers with new ways to captivate potential customers, and could very well be a big part of the future of book marketing. Like so many other design decisions around social media products these days, it seems the next gen of the bookstagram aesthetic could very well be determined by a new competitor: Booktok.