Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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August 26, 2015

Book Covers - Speaking the Language of Color

Christopher Lentz

Unless you’re trapped in a 1953 Zenith television, your world is full of color. Whether you know it or not, you’re reacting to the hues that bombard you every second you’re awake. And, if you dream in color, the rainbow never ends for you. It beats me, but there are claims that we can discern 7-10 million colors. Now wouldn’t that spectrum make an incredible box of Crayola Crayons?

Did you know that colors have hidden meanings and not-so-hidden meanings? They do. Color actually has its own language. It’s a form of non-verbal communication, one that’s not entirely universal, however. There are regional dialects. For instance, black is the color most associated with mourning, but not in China where the color white signals death.

The information in following discussion isn’t hard and fast. And it won't be specific to book covers. But when we’re smarter about the psychology behind colors and the common associations humans have with certain colors, perhaps we can engineer our covers to tap into the key emotions or reactions we want to trigger. Sound intriguing? Let’s get started.

Speaking with color

We’re masters of words. We paint pictures for our readers with just the right descriptions to add dimension without dynamiting the flow and pace. Using an economy of words that most people have common associations with, we can deliver a message efficiently and effectively. Consider this: a coral and tangerine sunset versus a grey and steely storm cloud. Got the point? Good.

Selecting and visually applying colors can tell stories too. For instance, red and yellow are stimulating and active colors, while green and blue are considered calming and relaxing. Review the list below to see if you agree with U.S. researchers.

Black—The color of authority and power. Death and mystery. Think villains. Stylish and timeless.

Blue—The color of serenity and trust. Peaceful and calming. Think sky and sea. Can be cold. And while it’s one of the most favored colors, it’s one of the least appetizing.

Brown—The color of earth, as in dirt. Stable and reliable. Though favored by men, it can be sad.

Green—The color of nature. Relaxing and refreshing. Think growth and wealth. Brides in the Middle Ages wore it to symbolize young love and fertility.

Purple—The color of royalty. Abundance and dignity. Think luxury, spirituality and romance. Because it’s rare in nature, it can appear artificial. Purple dye was extremely hard to create, so it was a highly prized pigment.

Red—The color of love, fire and blood. Stimulating and dangerous. Think fast cars and lipstick. It’s an appetite stimulant. That’s why so many fast food restaurants decorate with red and orange.

White—The color of innocence and purity. Hope and openness. Think doctors and a clean sheet of paper. It’s the non-color that can indicate the beginning or perfection.

Yellow—The color of cheerfulness. Sunshine and attention-getting. Think taxi cabs and daffodils. Can be overpowering if overused.

What’s this mean for book covers?

Covers are our story’s calling cards and billboards. Much thought goes into the fonts and images, but how much consideration goes into the selection of colors? Now that you’ve been exposed to the natural associations humans have with colors, shouldn’t book covers leverage what attracts and communicates? Absolutely.


My recent novel, Blossom, features a cover that was strategically constructed. From the images, the potential reader can deduce that there’s sex (the seductive woman’s eyes), mystery (the fan) and adventure (the inferno).

Let’s look at how color selections further deliver the key elements of the heroine’s story. The eye is lavender, a pastel version of purple which can evoke romantic and nostalgic feelings. The hair and fan are black to reinforce style and mystery. The cherry blossoms on the fan add a dash of the color of passion. And the inferno is yellow and orange to indicate heat, energy and danger.

How does this language of color work on widely known book covers like Fifty Shades of Grey, The Hunger Games, The Help, The Great Gatsby and Twilight? Do you have an accurate sense of what you’re getting into if you turned those covers or clicked through to the story?

It’s something to consider when shopping for your next book to read. And it’s definitely something to consider when the time comes to wrap a cover around your soon-to-be-published next book!

50-shades-of-grey-pdf 179948586_HungerGames the-help 5543 Twilightbook

To learn more about designing a book cover that tells and sells, be sure to read my June 3, 2015 Writers in the Storm blog.


What do you think about the covers shown in this blog? Or, go look at the cover of your favorite book and see if the dominant color that’s used triggers the correct response for the story it promotes. Would a different color or color combination do a better job?


LENTZ-WEBAbout Christopher Lentz

Christopher Lentz is a matchmaker, midwife and murderer … when he’s writing books, that is. He’s a man who writes romances, a self-starter who self-publishes and a dreamer who thought growing old would take longer. He truly believes love changes everything. As a journalist, a corporate marketer and now a romance writer, his career has been all about storytelling. His first romance novel, Blossom, is now available and it’s the first book of the Blossom Trilogy. For more information, visit christopherlentz.org and blossomtrilogy.com.

15 comments on “Book Covers - Speaking the Language of Color”

    1. Thank you for sharing your positive reaction to the post. Yes, yellow can be a tough color to work with. Typically, you would avoid using it with type against a light background. More often, light type (white, yellow) is best against black. However, yellow and black can be alarming .... think of a street sign or a school bus. That honey-bee combination gets your attention, but depending on the situation, is it grabbing attention for the right reason?

  1. A color-bursting post and a beautiful cover for Blossom, Christopher. Of the covers shown above, I find 50 Shades of Grey the most successful. Simple yet powerful in symbolism (the tie a symbol of control) it didn't go for the cookie-cutter naked torso to brand its sexiness. I always thought the trilogy covers were a lot more professional than the actual writing 🙂

    Good luck with Blossom!


    1. Yep, the series of Grey covers works well. Not only does the color send the right message, it supports the name of the books! Quite a winning combination. I'll restrict my comments to the cover designs, however. Thanks for liking Blossom's cover!

  2. Ha, thewriteedge - proof in the pudding, huh?

    Chris, I never thought much about color sending an almost subliminal message that readers react to.

    I don't have a choice in my bookcovers, but my website is in golds, browns and yellows, which I chose because I find them soothing, and the allusion to 'dirt'. Reading the above, do you think I'm sending a mixed message?

    The Writers in the Storm photo I chose for our background turned out to be an ignorant, but good choice!

    Thanks for the education!

    1. I just spent some time on your website, and it was just like spending some time with you. And, from my perspective, that's what your site should do. It's not about one book. It's about you, your brand, the experience you want your readers to have when they connect with you ... the author.

      The warm, earthy tones reflect you and the stories you're currently choosing to tell. If you plan to step away from that vibe in your storytelling, then you may want to revisit the visual tone of your site.

      And I agree with you about the image for the WITS site. The image says it all ... instantly. The burnt orange you chose as an accent is perfect. It's not that Florida fresh-squeezed kind of orange. It's more of that warm, harvest kind of orange. This site is about warmth and harvest ... warm people generously sharing their thoughts and expertise, and it's a place where visitors can to harvest fresh viewpoints and practical knowledge!

  3. Great post, Chris. Love your cover, and as for the others I find the Twilight cover most compelling. I confess I didn't read the book, but it fits with the tone of the movie.

    1. Alina, thanks for your positive thoughts about the blog and Blossom's cover! I must admit I had trouble getting into the flow of the first Twilight book. But the cover does convey -- with impact and use of color -- the core of the story. So, yes, on that level, the cover is successful.

  4. And here I am running to my website, because my preferred colors are so different from Laura's. I have worked with color to set tone in my classroom, creating a floor to ceiling craft-paper tree with fall leaves to start school, then green leaves in the spring. I even give tests on yellow paper because brain research shows yellow "wakes up" the brain and promotes synapse firing. And we all know about that "power suit" in the closet...

    Thanks, Chris, for a wonderful reminder about color on our covers--and between the covers, too!

  5. Color is such an interesting and potentially tricky thing, isn't it? One of my daughters is starting her first full-time gig teaching kindergarten. As you can imagine, we're all pitching in to get her room ready for those sparkly eyed, dumpling-cheeked munchkins (and their parents) to enter that room and have the best possible first impression. Color is part of that, and the earthy, warm and welcoming colors of autumn are ideal ... except for it being 100+ degrees outside!

    Ah, life in Southern California can be challenging when it comes to seasonal changes or lack thereof. But we do out best!

    1. Bette, thanks for sharing the post on Twitter! I wonder what our "favorite" color says about us. Mine has always been red. I am a romantic and high-energy. As for danger, I never met a roller coaster I didn't like ... though I have to admit it takes me a bit longer to bounce back these days!

  6. I love the language of colors, but I have a complete block when it comes to book covers. I know what I like, but I wouldn't have the foggiest idea about how to set up a great cover.

    1. Jenny, it's a good thing you know what you like! Imagine if you didn't AND you didn't know about setting up a great cover. That's when effective designers and marketers come into the picture. Some of this is science and some of it's just gut!

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