How to Do a Good Book Cover


Your book cover is your first impression—if you have any hope of selling the book to someone who doesn’t know you, it’s got to be a good one. People judge everything by appearance. They say to never judge a book by its cover (or anything else, for that matter,) but we do that all the time. You have one of two ways to respond: either change the way our culture things (which will take decades and a personal investment numbering in the billions of dollars) or you can play by the rules already set up by the internal psychology of consumers.

Let me just say a couple things about covers. Your cover is almost as important as what is inside the book—if you don’t have the talent to create an amazing cover, don’t fake it, skimp, or settle for something that doesn’t really pop. I waited almost 3 years to self-publish my nonfiction book because I wasn’t happy with any possible cover art pieces. Once I found what I’d always envisioned and made it happen that book became my bestseller. A cover is your first and foremost marketing tool, and most people do a crap job with it. I’m not mincing words here. Three quarters of all the Indie book submissions I receive for my review service have covers that are absolute garbage. (Just in case you want to ask about my qualifications on this matter, I’m loathe to admit that one of my early covers ended up on an award site for “bad covers.” I commissioned an artist to redo my cover with certain thematic elements and sales took off.)

You should know that there are some industry standards for covers that you ought to abide by. Most of these are touched on if you use the tools available in Createspace, but not all of them. For instance, Createspace and most other Indie presses will put a bar code on your cover graphic, but they will not automatically put the price next to that UPC code—some book buyers, services, and stores will not carry a book that does not have one (though many will) because it is considered an industry standard. Your cover artist will need to manually put that that onto your artwork if you want it included (just be warned that price changes won’t be reflected on your cover art and so you will need to keep your artwork current and change as necessary—which could incur charges depending on how you’ve set up your printing.

Below are the kinds of things on covers that make up absolute garbage (and have no visible appeal—or worse, make people want to avoid your book).

  • A tightly cropped image/extreme close-up meant to distract from the fact that an author couldn’t find/commission artwork that is relevant to a story… or an image resized with improper aspect ratio (making it squished)
    •Characters, faces, or CG images that look they come from a late 90s video game (or really anything meant for 3D but represented in 2D)
    •Bad fonts (I’m looking at you Papyrus)
    •No texture or depth to text overlays
    •Looks like it was assembled in MS Paint
    •Bad photo-manipulation
    •Unreadable and/or crowded text or improperly placed text
    •Bad image blending techniques (superimposed pieces look like a 1970s green screen, etc.)
    •Artwork that looks like it belongs on a refrigerator rather than a book cover (unless it’s a kids’ picture book)
    •Spelling errors
    •Design is either too simple or too complex (if a cover has just text on a blank background, or it suffers from too many inserted graphic elements or is too busy the book becomes unappealing—it’s the visual equivalent of a cover blurb that is either too long or too short)
    •Clashing art techniques (like a pencil drawing overlaid on a stock-image photo)
    •Rampant abuse of opacity/transparency overlays
    •…and my ultimate pet peeve that I see all the time: a stock scenery photo with text overlay (like seriously, this is about 40% of all the bad books that I see and accounts for most people who put zero effort into this critically important marketing tool.) The only real exceptions to this are poetry books and books about landscaping.

Some of the generally recognized industry standards that you should be aware of are
• Human readable BISAC code
• All text is easily readable at full size and as a thumbnail
• Spine includes author name, title, and publisher info
• Human readable ISBN on back cover
• Bar code on back cover with 13 digit ISBN

There are many services on the internet or individual freelancers willing to help with a book cover—but be sure to ask for examples of work before you commit money or enter into a contract for the work. There many other reputable services available online. For a DIY cover design, try to avoid the above list of bad cover elements if you are voyaging ahead with your copy of Photoshop or similar program. For a DIY designer, your biggest concern will be securing rights to quality artwork to merge into your greater cover design.

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