Book Cover Design: Dos and Don’ts

In indie publishing, you have two choices: either you do the cover yourself, or you don’t.

Unless you are a professional graphic designer, I strongly recommend the latter. Your book cover is the your main marketing tool, second in importance only to having a solid, well-edited story — mess it up, and you’ll hurt your sales.

1. Don’t: Think you can do it alone (unless you actually can).

These are two of the rough Above Ground covers that I made over the last 3+ years.

While I’ve never used them to SELL the book, it’s clear that these covers wouldn’t help sales. I’m not an artist or even a Photoshop expert; my attempts are amateur and reflect badly on my writing.

Just because it’s indie publishing doesn’t mean it’s okay to look homemade. Your book is competing against countless other indie and trade titles. Every detail matters.

2. Do: Stick to what you’re good at.

Most of us are writers, not artists — and even those of us artistically inclined may not have the eye for design. Book covers require more than just good illustrations. There is typesetting and layout to consider; the writing should blend with the image.

Did you see those covers I made? Yep, I’m sticking to writing.

3. Don’t: Settle for anything you dislike.

If you wanted a cover image forced upon you, you should have taken the traditional route.

As an indie we’re free to get what we want (within budget and reason). A good illustrator or designer — like the lovely Jeffrey Thompson who is illustrating Above Ground — will create mock-up covers for you to choose from, will tweak things, listen to your feedback, and work with you to make you happy. With Hungry For You, I rejected the cover 8 times before MCM and I found the perfect fit.

If you settle for anything less, you’ll hate your book.

4. Do: Spend time thinking about what you really want.

I made rough sketches, and finally pitched Jeffrey with two ideas. I described the viewpoint, the surroundings, the feel of the cover, the colours… I told him about the book itself, too. The more you explain, the easier it is for them to understand where you’re coming from.

5. Don’t: Ignore market trends.

Check out bestsellers in your genre. Are there trends in the cover design? Similar fonts, colours, types of images? These are all subtle markers which readers pick up on.

Yes, you want your book cover to be original, but you ALSO want readers to roughly know what the book is about by simply glancing at the cover. With the right colours and style, you’ll lure in your target audience, and warn away any haters.

In sum: if you’re writing horror, don’t use a pink theme with fluffy cupcakes and high heels. Unless there’s lots of blood too.

6. Do: Consider your format.

If most of your sales will be ebook sales and most of your marketing will be online, your book cover needs to look good even as a thumbnail. Shrink down your book cover. Is is still appealing, legible, eye-catching? Does it still convey the book’s genre?

Keep in mind that some ereaders only have black and white displays. Does your cover have sufficient contrast; would it look okay without colour?

When it comes to print publishing, you may have to pick paper type (matt or gloss) and also decide what to put on your spine and back cover. If in doubt, look to others for inspiration; I pulled down all the print books on my shelf and studied EVERYTHING — colours, fonts, text alignment, content, layout….

7. Don’t: Break the bank.

Be realistic about how much you can afford to spend. Book covers can be expensive, and while it’s worth investing in a good cover, there’s no point in making yourself go hungry. If you can’t afford a professional, negotiate with or beg your more artistically-inclined friends for help. Alternatively, find a designer just starting out who is looking to build up their portfolio; they might be willing to handle the work for a reduced (or free) rate.

8. Do: Break the rules.

I said it right at the start of this post: I’m no expert. I’m sure some of you could break every single rule above and create an awesome book cover.

What are your dos and don’ts for book cover design?

And for those of you with book covers already, which one makes you proudest?

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2 thoughts on “Book Cover Design: Dos and Don’ts

  1. Pingback: Three Very Cool Indie Book Covers | A.M. Harte

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