One of the many perks of self-publishing a book is the opportunity to remain completely in control of all creative elements that go into your book design, including the cover. And while I advocate the DIY approach in many dimensions of publishing, I rarely think it’s a good idea to try to design your own book cover.
You know that age old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? While it’s true for a lot of things in life, it doesn’t apply in the actual book industry where — I hate to break it to you — your book will definitely be judged by its cover.
Covers are your first impression with a potential reader. Think about the last time you picked up a random book in a bookstore or clicked on a thumbnail while scrolling through Amazon. What drew you to it?
Unless it was recommended to you by a friend, a bestseller list, a podcast, etc. you were likely first drawn to the book because of its cover. Everything else — the storyline, the author’s credibility, the quality of writing, etc. — came second.
It’s especially important for self-published authors to have a great cover because you’re already fighting against the stigma of being, well, self-published.
So, it’s best to err on the side of caution and give your book a cover that will help draw readers to all of the hard work you put into its contents. And unless you’re an experienced graphic designer with a working knowledge of best practices for book cover design, it’s a bad idea to try to design the cover yourself.
A professional cover design will make you look like the professional author you already are, and is one of the most crucial points in our free ebook, 8 Common Self-Publishing Mistakes to Avoid.
Don’t believe me? I’ve been working with authors for over a decade, and found that people who try to design their own covers tend to make the following mistakes:
7 Common Mistakes Authors Make When Designing Their Own Book Covers
1. They use free book cover makers
Many self-publishing platforms like Amazon KDP, Lulu, and IngramSpark offer free book cover makers for authors to utilize, and it’s tempting to think these services can help you design a professional-looking cover. While it’s not impossible for that to be true, more likely than not, these covers end up looking templated. Templated designs aren’t inherently bad, but they won’t do anything to help your book stand out in the crowd, and they’re a far cry from the designs you would get from a professional book cover designer.
2. They make it too busy
In trying to counteract the over-simplified look of an amatuer design, many authors try to put too many elements into their covers and they end up looking heavy, confusing, or difficult to read. They add a busy background image that clashes with the title, or they design the various text elements to look jumbled. It’s best to keep it simple by choosing only one or two ideas that best convey the storyline or theme of the book.
3. They have limited or no design training
Most authors and amatuer designers have never had any design training, and they don’t inherently understand the important principles of design, such as emphasis, movement white space, etc. The principles of good design are nuanced and take time to learn. You can’t just take a quick course on the subject or read a blog post or two.
Furthermore, most of us aren’t skilled in softwares like Adobe Photoshop or InDesign, and we lack the technical ability required to accomplish certain design elements that might benefit the cover of our book. A talented designer knows how to create almost anything you can dream up, and make it look like it was meant to be that way, such as a subtle blur or blending technique. If you’re unskilled at Photoshop, it will show.
We recently worked with an author who wanted an image of a human riding a monster, and their initial design was quite clearly collaged together like one of those magazine collages we did in elementary school. Our cover designer was able to easily take their concept and superimpose a monster head onto a human body, add teeth, and situate a cowboy on its back in a way that looks like it belongs there.
4. They get stuck on one concept
Many authors have an abstract idea in their head about what they want on their cover, and then they try to force it into a cover design. This can often cause you to bite off more than you can chew and lead you to creating a very homemade looking cover. One major benefit of working with a cover designer is that you’ll get to see several concepts — perhaps a combination of your ideas with a few you never would have thought about — and be able to compare and contrast, and to combine elements, colors, fonts, etc. to arrive at something better than what you could have imagined yourself.
5. They don’t do their research
When we work with a new author, we always recommend researching other successful books in their genre or niche to see which covers work and which elements they like and don’t like. Most professional cover designers understand that certain design elements common to self-help books, for example, won’t work for period fiction, etc.
Here’s an example: We worked with an author who wrote a Civil War-era, historical fiction novel, and he wanted to feature reporters on the front cover. He thought it made sense to give the people microphones to make them look more obviously like reporters, but our clever cover designer did her research and discovered that microphones weren’t invented until 1876, so our 1860’s-era reporters would have been way ahead of their time.
6. They don’t design for the web
It’s important to remember, especially as a self-published author, that your book will most likely not be in bookstores or libraries (or at least not very many). That means people will find your book on the web by seeing it in their search results instead of browsing the bookshop shelves for their next good read, so your first goal is to make them want to click on your book. And that cover image is going to be very small. So, it’s absolutely crucial that your cover stands out, is crisp and clear, and the title is very easy to read in that thumbnail view.
7. They don’t think about advertising
Not all authors plan to advertise their book, but if you do plan to set up Amazon advertising to increase the chances of people “finding” it, then the previous point about designing an eye-catching, easy-to-read thumbnail image is even more crucial. To go back to our intro point, people will judge your book by its cover (in fact, it’s all they have to go on initially), and so your number one goal is to make them want to click the thumbnail to find out more. In this vein, the book cover is quite literally the most important part.
On a similar note, here’s one important thing (we learned the hard way): your book title cannot have any profanity in it if you plan to run ads. That includes words like “butt”, so make sure to read Amazon’s advertising guidelines thoroughly if you want to avoid having to redesign your cover later.
So, how can you hire a designer?
Most designers will charge anywhere from $300 – $1,500 and we suggest aiming for somewhere in the middle for good quality and professionalism that won’t break the bank. Just to give you an idea, we charge $850 for quality cover design and this includes working with our designer to give you 3-4 solid concepts, as many new concepts and edits as you need, and the final deliverables that include covers for all versions of your book, preformatted to the templates provided by your publishing platforms.
Alternatively, you can look on databases such as Fiverr, Reedsy, 99 Designs and others where freelancers list their design services. Often you’ll find they’re not as flexible with price (ie you’ll pay for revisions or new concepts, etc.) and you might have to work with a few designers before you find one you connect with, but these marketplaces can be a good place to see examples, check reviews and shop around for the best price/quality match.
In short, when authors learn how to design a book cover by reading articles online, watching videos and/or using a free book cover maker, their books end up looking amatuer and hindering their potential for success. Do yourself a favor and hire a professional cover designer. Many are very affordable, but a good one will make it look like you spent a fortune. You won’t regret it. Promise.