How To Design Your Own Professional-Looking Book Cover
When someone lands on your Amazon book page, the hope is that they’ll like what they see and click the Buy button. But what if what stands before them is a shocker of a book cover and, as a result, they can’t get off that page fast enough?
It’s unfortunate that many independent authors fall short when it comes to putting a great-looking cover on the front of their masterpiece. It seems almost criminal to spend so many days and months – sometimes years even – writing such beautiful words, when the thing that’s going to either grab a buyer or turn them off completely is rushed at the last minute or neglected so terribly.
So what can we do to correct that faux pas, and give us indie authors the credit and good name we so deserve? Can we, or even should we design our book covers ourselves? And if we try, how can we be sure our end product will appeal to our target market and help our book sell its socks off?
Should you want to go down the route of designing your own book cover – the following tips will come in handy, especially if you’re not a natural when it comes to graphic design.
1. Look At Other Books In Your Genre
The only way to know what is selling well in your genre or niche is to go onto Amazon and look at the top-selling books to see what they’re doing. I’m not suggesting for one minute that you copy any of those designs, pixel by pixel, because what use would there be in having a book that looked just like the rest? It would fade into the background and become an also-ran, which is not what you’re aiming for.
What studying other books in your category will do is enable you to spot trends and commonalities. Ask yourself why those books look as good as they do – what specifically is eye-catching about them? Is it the use of colour or imagery, is it the choice of font or the positioning of the elements that appeals? Most importantly, try to notice which of those covers stand out well at thumbnail size, because that’s how your audience will see them first.
Once you start to spot the common traits the bestselling books in your genre possess, you can start to imagine how your book could sit nicely within that set of top-sellers but how you might best help it to stand out too. Because after all, you are aiming to write a bestseller, even if it doesn’t always work out that way – aren’t you?
Once you have an appreciation of what good covers (and bad) look like, it’s time to start seeking the resources you’ll need to create your own winning design.
2. Find Suitable Images
There is no doubt that certain fiction genres have a certain type of imagery associated with them. Romance books tend to have a lighter feel to them, they often include a landscape scene and may also include people. Thrillers tend to be darker in nature, with mysterious images of shifty- or scary-looking characters appearing from the darkness. Of course, I’m hugely stereotyping here, but the idea is that you should be able to tell what type of book you’re picking up just from the cover, and that includes an image that speaks volumes for the genre it represents.
On the non-fiction side, many books use vector graphics on the cover, which are not the traditional photos we’re used to seeing on novels, but computer-designed images that are simple representations of real-world items. Some non-fiction books do use photographs on their cover, for instance, recipe books or DIY books, where the author wants to demonstrate a set of steps or a finished product. But many don’t and in fact, sometimes just the words are enough.
If you do want to use images, where do you find an appropriate selection? My first stop is usually one of the free stock photo sites, where you can download quality images and use them freely. The only thing to check is the licence for each free stock photo site as some of them say you can use the images for personal use but you must not use them commercially. So if you’re planning on making some money from your writing (I hope you are), you should just be careful what you use.
Some of my favourite free stock photo sites are:
- Pixabay.com (where I found the image used in the main title picture above – perfect for a fantasy book, don’t you think?)
- Librestock.com – this one searches 43 of the best free stock photo sites for you, so you don’t have to, so this might be your first and only stop
If you can’t find any interesting images on the free stock photo sites, or you’re worried that other people are also likely to be grabbing the same images to use for their project, you have two other choices.
Look on paid stock photography sites such as istockphoto.com, shutterstock.com or depositphotos.com and buy an image from there – you can even obtain an exclusive image that is guaranteed only to be sold once. These are more pricey but if you want exclusivity, it’s a justified expense.
Take photos yourself. If you’re a keen photographer or know someone who is, this might be a great option but before you set out, make sure you have a vision of what you’re trying to capture and a means by which to do it, or it could prove frustrating and fruitless.
You don’t need to stop at one image for your cover. Quite often, books use a combination of images to create something unique. So if you are using free stock photos, as long as you can put your own twist on their usage, it’s unlikely you will see someone else with exactly the same book cover as yours, even if part of the image is similar.
3. Find Suitable Fonts
When you see what your gut feeling tells you is a bad book cover, quite often it’s the style of the wording that lets it down. It’s as if the author Googled ‘cool horror font’, thinking that the first suggestion returned would be perfect for their carefully crafted horror novel. What ensues is a grotesque slime-ridden mess that just screams ‘cheap!’ And this is why you should be cautious when choosing fonts for your cover.
Again, it comes back to what is expected in your genre. Don’t risk letting your audience down by thinking you’ll be so different you’ll surprise them and they’ll think you’re super cool – they most likely won’t. And uncool doesn’t sell books. Familiarity sells books, so give your readers what they expect but not necessarily what they’ve seen a million times before.
If you want to tread the same path as the successful (bestselling) authors that have gone before you, Google something more useful, and that would be a phrase such as, “what font does [famous-author] use on his/her book cover?” or at least “best fonts for [genre] book cover“. Once you discover the fonts behind a few successful books in your genre, you’ll be able to choose appropriately for your book cover.
4. Use A Capable Design Program And Bag A Few Basic Skills
You have your images, you’ve selected one or two typefaces you want to work with, now it’s time to put everything together – it’s time to stitch together your design.
There’s no doubt that the best design tools for book covers are those that allow layering, masking and a certain number of subtle effects. Tools such as Adobe Photoshop or InDesign are completely suited to the task, and other photo editing programs such as Paint Shop Pro are highly capable on the whole. If you’re on a lower budget or don’t have any design software, you may even be able to get away with using Microsoft Word or Publisher, but don’t expect the results to be as good. At the
If you’re on a lower budget or don’t have any design software, you may even be able to get away with using Microsoft Word or Publisher, but don’t expect the results to be as good. At the
At the low budget end of the scale, you have online design tools such as Canva.com, which allow you to layer images and text into a design and then download your creation as a JPG or PDF file. Canva also comes with pre-made layouts, so if you really have no clue about where things go on the page, it’s easy to start with one of their templates and just change the images and text for your own. But as with the previous option, you won’t get as professional looking a cover as with the all-singing-all-dancing graphic design tools.
5. Keep Basic Design Rules In Mind
If you ever picked up on any rules of photography, you may be familiar with the rule of thirds. All this means is that our eye is naturally drawn to places that are a third the way in from the edge of the photo. And where the horizontal and vertical lines of thirds intersect, those are the ideal places to have the main focus of your image. This is why professional photographers don’t always put faces in the centre of the portrait, but put them off to one side, pretty much where those lines of thirds intersect. You can use this rule with your book cover too, and place the most intriguing part of the main image on one of these lines of thirds.
Having said that, many book cover designs are more symmetrical in nature, with the author name in the centre at the top and the book title centralised at the bottom of the cover (or vice-versa), and the upper or lower central portion left for a centred main image.
Again, it’s best to study books in your genre, see what basic rules other authors are sticking to and make sure you fit in with those guidelines to make your book feel like it’s meant to be added to your target reader’s collection.
6. Ask Your Audience Before You Publish
Whoa! Hold on there! You’ve designed your cover, employed a few clever tactics to make your cover look like it’s lived in that bestseller list for years, but have you asked anyone else what they think? It’s so easy to miss basic flaws when you’re too close to the project, so asking your audience is a must. This is an important step before you unleash your cover design
Ideally, if you have a few trusted readers who have volunteered to read and review your books in the past, these are ideal book cover proofers too. They know your genre, are keen to help and have been asked to give their honest opinions already, so you can expect a fair trial from this crowd. Email them or put up a Facebook poll and see what response you get.
If you don’t have a team of volunteers, ask your mum. Ok, I’m joking. You really need to try to find readers of the genre you’re writing in, because they will give you the most honest and valuable critique. Ask in Facebook groups, ask other authors, ask your friends, ask anyone who is willing to cast their eye over your cover.
This is a vital step before you unleash your cover design on the world, it’s imperative not to skip it. One little mistake could be the embarrassing moment you never let yourself forget, so make sure you give yourself the best chance of finding it before it’s too late.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, please leave a comment with anything else you think goes into a good cover or if you have any questions.