Killed Book Covers: 18 Designs that Didn’t Make the Cut

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Emily Polson

Staff Writer

Emily Polson is a freelance writer and publishing assistant at Simon & Schuster. Originally from central Iowa, she studied English and creative writing at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, before moving to a small Basque village to teach English to trilingual teenagers. Now living in Brooklyn, she can often be found meandering through Prospect Park listening to a good audiobook. Twitter: @emilycpolson |

Publishers know we’re going to judge books by their covers, so they try to beat us to it in-house while the cover is being designed.

Beautiful covers are the result of a long, collaborative process between art directors and designers. Oftentimes a single designer will create multiple versions before the final one is chosen. Other times, multiple designers are hired to submit covers for the same book, and the art director picks their favorite. This design process results in countless unused designs, which are known as killed book covers.

While hunting down the best book cover designers to follow on Instagram, I discovered a treasure trove of these killed book covers. Rejected designs of both the we-see-what-you-were-going-for-but-we-want-to-see-more-options kind and the thanks-for-submitting-but-we’re-taking-things-in-a-different-direction variety. Here are 18 that didn’t make the cut (and the ones that did).

18 designs for book covers that didn't make the cut (but are worth checking out anyway!). book covers | book cover design | book design | awesome book covers

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977–2002) by David Sedaris

theft by findingSeveral designers took a stab at the cover for David Sedaris’s Theft by Finding. Here are two casualties of the design process:

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

cover of an absolutely remarkable thing by hank greenIn anticipation of the release of his debut novel, YouTuber Hank Green discussed his thoughts on book covers in a video. He praises Rodrigo Corral for his cover of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Turtles All the Way Down. However, Corral’s design for Green brother #2’s first book didn’t make the cut. As Corral puts it in the caption for this killed book cover, “guess we had better luck with John ;)”

Florida by Lauren Groff

FLORIDA by Lauren GroffThis is the third #killedcover by Rodrigo Corral to show up in this article, but don’t worry—this time he also designed the accepted version. He says, “It was storm clouds versus panther. Panther won.”

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

We’ve already debated the hardcover vs. paperback covers of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, but what do you think of this other version of the cover by designer Joan Wong?

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Designer David Eldridge discusses the careful process that went into designing the cover for Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness in this interview. It was inspired by old gravestones. This colorful killed book cover by Isabel Urbina Peña took things in a totally different direction.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

book of unknown americansIsabel Urbina Peña’s Instagram feed shows five rejected book covers for The Book of Unknown Americans, and her website has even more, a testament to the amount of beautiful, rarely seen covers that exist for countless books. Do you prefer any of these killed book covers to the final version?

It by Stephen King

The first image is the final version, but click right to see the outtake, both by designer Will Staehle.

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

Cover of Dear Mrs Bird by AJ PearceIn an interview with Spine magazine, Kimberly Glyder talks about exploring a variety of retro-inspired covers ideas while designing for Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce. Once the in-house design team latched on to her idea to use typewriter keys, Glyder created multiple covers featuring different versions of the illustrated woman until the team settled on the final design.



Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

And, just for fun, here are some killed book covers for the Portuguese edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cama de Gato. The final version, also by Adalis Martinez, isn’t too far off.

View this post on Instagram

These were killed 💔

A post shared by Adalis Martinez (@adalis11) on