The Anatomy of a Book (Cover) – Book Design 101

Welcome to Book Design 101 – a handy guide covering all the basics of what you need to know when publishing your first book. In this episode, we’ll look at the most popular book formats and all the individual book parts – with a focus on covers. 

The most common book cover formats

Softcover, or paperback

Softcover book without flaps. Illustration to a Book Design 101 article.

The most common type of a book you’ll see out there, and the cheapest one to print. The cover is made out of thick paper or thin cardboard. The book is flexible, light and comfortable for the reader, but not very durable.

A softcover book can have both blank/glossy and matte finish, and can be printed with most special printing effects like Spot UV or foiling.

Softcover books usually have the book pages glued to the spine.

A variation: softcover with flaps
Softcover books with flaps.

Did you know that you can print a softcover books with flaps? That’s an option that is rarely available through self-publishing platforms, but is offered through most printing companies if you’re printing independently.


Hardcover children's book designed by Marta Dec, a book designer and illustrator.

The more expensive, more durable, and more exclusive-looking option – the hardcover format. A hardcover book is heavier and thicker, with the cover made from cardboard stock. Printing books in this format costs more, but then the price tag is also higher when you sell them. These books can be either glued or sewn.

But! There are several types of hardcover formats you can choose from.

The basic choice is whether or not to use a dust jacket.

…with a dust jacket or without
Hardcover book cover with a dust jacket.

A dust jacket is basically an additional, exterior cover that you can take off the actual book. It has flaps to keep it in place, which you can use to include reviews, a blurb, or a short author bio.

You don’t have to use a dust jacket though – it’s also possible to print directly on the hardcover. The popularity of dust jackets is often dependent on where you are in the world – for example, they’re not very common where I come from (Poland, Europe), but they’re much more often used in Norway or in the US.

If you do use a dust jacket – the most common option is to use it for the actual cover illustration, while keeping the design on the hardcover simple. Often it’s only the title and the author’s name that are placed on the front cover and spine (or even just on the spine).

If your budget allows for it, though, you can also use the cover board for a second design, which can be simple or really elaborate (see examples below!). Keep in mind, though, that going this route means that you’ll need to pay both your designer and your printing company significantly more, depending on how fancy you want the cover to look.

Cardboard or…

If you’re printing independently and want to give the cover a specific look, you can also decide on a fabric cover (linen is a commonly used material) or a faux-leather look. 

All the parts of a book cover

Now, let’s move to the actual book anatomy – for all the basic book formats.

I usually work with either Norwegian, English, or Polish, so this guide will be three-lingual.

These are the terms I regularly use and have heard in my design work – but hey, let me know if you know of any others!

Anatomy of a Book - parts of a book cover in Polish, English, and Norwegian.
front cover en forsideprzednia okładka/pierwsza
back coveren baksidetylna okładka/czwarta strona
spineen rygggrzbiet
book blocken bokblokktrzon/blok książki
dust jacketet smussomslagobwoluta
cover boarden permokładka
head&tail bandkapittelbåndkapitałka
endpapersforsats og baksatswyklejka

That’s it!

I hope you found this short article useful – let me know if you think it’s lacking something, or if you have an additional question.

I’m always up for a chat – get in touch via  

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