As a book cover designer and author, I spend a lot of time thinking about that few pixels of real estate on your book’s page known as an “ebook cover”.  It’s long been my mission to find the sweet spot between making those pixels sell your book and be a beautiful piece of design — if not art.

So, I hired my brother to go through the Top 100 of Amazon’s best-selling ebooks by category with the mission of sussing out the truth of what best-selling ebook covers have in common. Because I write paranormal romance, I started by examining paranormal romance book covers.

Before we plunge into what I found, I have a few notes.

  • This data was taken on one day.
  • This data set encompasses only 100 covers, not a large enough sample size to say anything with 100% certainty.
  • This data was taken from Amazon — so it may not be as applicable to other vendors.

Alrighty, let’s get to the goodies!!

First, I examined who exactly is /on/ PNR romance book covers in the top 100. The answers weren’t that unexpected.

To no one’s surprise, the man comes out on top, but he doesn’t dominate completely. Over a quarter of the book covers had a couple, and 12% had a woman. I’m taking this as a tenet that man on a book cover is a strong selling tool for PNR, and it’s something I’ll be encouraging my clients to have. I think one thing to avoid, unless you’re Nora Roberts, is plain scenery without any human element.


Now to perhaps one of the more controversial opinions: shirtless men. Of the men on covers (which was about 57% percent of all covers in the top 100%) 68% percent of them were shirtless. This may seem like a number big enough to be a mandate, but when you actually crunch the numbers it’s not all that clear. 68% of 57%, is only 38.7%, so while that does mean over a 1/3 of PNR covers have a shirtless guy on them, that’s hardly the 100%.

The logical next question is: other than shirtless guys how can we measure “heat content”?  For my next foray into data gathering, I looked at things like physical content, amount of clothes worn, sexual provocativeness and gave each cover a score between 0-3. 0 Being no romantic content at all, 1, being some light, sweet romantic content, 2, being a shirtless man with abs covered or a couple kissing clothed, 3 being a shirtless man with underwear visible or a couple in underwear kissing passionately.

Again,  this echoes my earlier response that the more established your brand, the less sexual your covers have to be to make it to the top. Nora Roberts, a perennial best-seller, can get away with having just buildings on her covers. Indies may have a harder time with that strategy. Alrighty, enough with people, now onto my favorite graphic of all.

First, while bears are hot right now, wolves are still standing strong as a shifter animal in paranormal romance. My prediction is that they’ll stay up there for a while yet, as a werewolf is probably the most familiar shifter to the average reader. A few fun animals did sneak in however.The cat was for a cozy mystery series, and the gorilla, was by T.S Joyce, on request of her readers. One thing to keep in mind with these statistics is that as there was only a sample size of one hundred books. That means that a single series can easily shift the trends around in the lower percentage brackets.

As a cover designer, this was probably the most useful piece of data I gathered. While I knew that the blue/orange combination is a favorite among designers of all stripes, I had no idea how prevalent it was exactly. In fact, blue as the primary cover of PNR books is almost as common as shirtless men!