Tips for working with a book cover designer

I learned an interesting lesson today from Terra Harmony at Basically, Terra knew exactly what she wanted from a book cover, and told her cover designer what to do… the end result was awful; so she found another book cover designer and tried to start over with the same idea – but the new designer said “no.”

 The second cover is a product of the artist’s imagination.  I gave her all the same instructions I gave the first artist, and she plain out said, “No.” Well look at the big balls on this chick.  I tried again, giving her the simple instruction of, “Water.  Fantasy.  Go.”  And….voila.

The first cover doesn’t work – I’m not sure who the cover designer is, but I don’t blame them entirely for the result. Although I really don’t like the choice of font, if I needed to follow the same directions (central figure inside drop of water?) I may not have been able to. The second cover design is by Keary Taylor (author of the FALL OF ANGELS trilogy, and maker of some excellent covers – this being one of my favorites).

The issue at hand is complex: in general, the more specific the author’s instructions, the less likely it will be able to be done well. This is both because A) simple covers almost always outperform and B) each cover designer has their own style and skillset – they know what they’re good at and what they can make look good. If you chose a designer based on their samples, let them come up with what works.

That being said – I usually prefer to be given some direction and ideas, rather than “surprise me!”. When authors give me extremely vague directions like “it should look like a best seller” or “it should be magical/professional” I have no idea of what they really want/like. So, although I may make a very decent cover, it wasn’t what they had in mind.

The moral of the story

Have some ideas in mind, but be flexible. Nearly all of my finished covers started out as something very different. Sometimes we abandon what we’re trying to do and go in another direction.

Also, don’t settle for a “just OK” cover. There are plenty of amazing book cover designers working for peanuts. Just about every indie author should be able to afford a kick-ass cover. (If you can’t, mow some lawns or deliver papers for a month).

Finally, don’t assume you know what’s best for your book cover. Give the designer some space, and if possible get some early drafts of the cover out to your fanbase/facebook friends/network/blog and get some real reactions.

Lulu book cover design options: choosing a cover designer

If you plan to publish with, you may be trying to decide which of their book cover design packages to buy. Here’s a breakdown:

Basic Book Cover Design: $130

For $130 you get a very simple template-based cover. The templates look very similar to Createspace’s free cover generator though; so I’m not sure why you’d pay when you can make one yourself at Createspace.

Premium Book Cover Design: $450

For $450 you get two nice book cover designs to choose from. Hopefully you like one of them! They are probably pretty decent.

Full Custom Book Cover Design $999

For $999 you get 3 great covers to choose from.

Is it worth the money?

I won’t say that all Lulu covers are ugly – they have some good designers working for them and can produce good covers; however as a big company, is taking a cut and paying the designers less (so you’re paying extra for the middleman). Comparatively speaking, these prices are about average in the industry. But that doesn’t mean that they’re a good deal!

The biggest drawback is that you only get to see the finished covers; if you don’t like them you’re screwed. It’s a big gamble. That’s why when I design covers, I get the author to help me choose colors, styles, photographs and fonts in the beginning, and keep them involved in the process – that way I know they’ll love the finished cover.

As for price – my $199 full print ready cover is comparable to their $999 cover design package. Although there’s no middleman and you get to deal with me directly, $199 is still too cheap for what I provide. I’ll be raising the price steadily, aiming for a comfortable $399 (still below average!)

If you’re looking for fast and easy book cover design services, don’t care about the finished product, and have no idea what you’d like on the cover, Lulu can probably handle it all for you. If on the other hand, like most Indie Authors you like to be involved and are looking for a designer to work with you (rather than for you) – and you also want to save loads of money, check out my book cover samples.

Free book cover design critique and makeover for indie authors

I’ve started a section of book cover critiques and makeover; if you have a cover already but aren’t sure if it’s good enough, or are thinking of getting a new one or fixing the old one, please send it to me to critique. I’ll do a “makeover”, which may include a free book cover that you can use if you like it.

The advantages for you: I’ll post your cover in a blog post along with comments on what I like/dislike about it, as well as some suggestions for improving it or possible cover ideas. Besides the obviously tangible benefit of free advice from a book designer, you also get the priceless ensuing free publicity. (There is no such thing as bad press – Your goal should be to get your name and the name of your book into people’s minds as many ways as possible).

Book cover critiques will not reflect on the actual book or writing – only on its superficial (but powerful) face. You can send me the cover in an attachment or give me the link to your blog/amazon page. I’d like to do a few every week, so if I get tons of requests, I may not have time to post them all.

Don’t let the review hurt your feelings. Knowing graphic design doesn’t make you a better person (as opposed to being a good writer – which makes you totally awesome.) A harsh critique about your writing may demand tissues and alcohol. After all if your writing sucks, there’s very little you can do about it (except for years and years of tooth-gritting practice). If your book cover sucks, however, just buy a new one.

On the other hand, if your book cover is totally awesome and you want to share it, here’s your chance.

Why I would give away free book covers

It’s actually pretty fun to be able to redesign a cover without having to please the client (since you’re not paying, I won’t need to take your opinion into account). I’ll just “play” and do whatever I think “feels right” – this freedom usually lets me make an awesome cover very quickly, so I get some more practice and might add the cover to my portfolio if I like it. If you like it, you’re free to use it.

Book cover makeover CONDITIONS:

1. I’m not able to makeover every cover request, I try to do a few every week but if I’m swamped with work or getting tons of request, I may not be able to do a makeover. However I’ll still post a critique with suggestions.

2. I’m very sorry if you don’t like what I come up with. Try to keep in mind that I’m doing this for free, and I try not to spend more than 30 minutes on makeovers; makeover covers will almost certainly not be as good as the covers in my portfolio. Also, since I’m just guessing based on the original cover, there’s a good chance I may not capture the reality of your book.

3. These are not meant to be totally redone from scratch designs – but simple fixes anybody could do to quickly improve a cover. This will help others learn to identify (and practice) better book cover design.

4. If you like the new cover but you want to make changes, then I’ll have to charge something – probably about half price of my normal book cover design fee. (But this offer is limited to making simple  changes in color, font, placement or maybe background image – not starting from scratch with something totally different!)


Check out past book cover critiques and makeovers HERE.

Use the form below to submit your cover

You can attach an image, or send a link to your cover. PS) if you have the original photo/designed you used for the background, without text, please send it too. (Or attach the photo and link to the current cover… also please include the title, author name, and a tagline.)

    Your Name (required)

    Your Email (required)

    Your Message

    Upload File

    How to make your own book cover in Adobe Photoshop

    If you have access to Adobe Photoshop and have time to play around, you can make a pretty amazing book cover by yourself. Making book covers is fun and – if you publish a lot of books – learning how to design your own book covers may save you a lot of money.

    Here’s a short step-by-step of the book cover I just made for James Carter’s Scandalous.

    1: Where to find pictures

    Most book covers have some kind of photo-manipulation or collage, use one main image, or have a flat color background with a few small images. You need to find high-quality, high-resolution pictures to work with. To make sure they are copyright free, it’s usually better to look on paid stock image sites (my favorite is

    For Scandalous, we were looking for a Victorian-looking woman who looked broken or sad; at first we were thinking a portrait with some cracks in the face… but then I found this great picture of a statue…. very dramatic. But I wanted to bring it to life a little. So I found another picture of a woman to merge in.


    2: Using layers and overlay

    Open both images in photoshop. Make a new document that’s the right size of your book cover, and copy+paste both images into the new document. You’ll need to move them around until they fit together right – to do this you can set the transparency of the top one to %50, then use “edit: free transform” to resize or rotate it. For this picture, the eye and the mouth wouldn’t quite line up right, so I actually had to double the blonde woman layer and then delete everything except around the eye, for one, and everything except around the mouth, for the other. That way I could move each piece independently.

    When things are in the right spot, you can change the blending options (lower right, under layers… or else top tab “layer”+blending options). Change from normal to “overlay”.

    To get the colors and shadows to really pop out, you should download some free actions files. “Actions” are automatic series of processes – for example you can find a “300 action” that makes your picture look like the 300 movie. Or, just change the hue, saturation and contrast.

    3: Photoshop Gradients

    Whenever possible, I try to place text somewhere with the picture rather than in a ‘text box’, but this picture has too much variation of light and dark (unless I put the title on her face, which I didn’t want to do). So I copy+pasted a section of the background that’s the size I wanted, then went to “layer: layer styles: gradient overlay”. You can download tons of amazing gradients; so at this point you’re just trying them all, changing the orientation, colors, etc until you find what works best. It was so tough to decide here; I ended up with a bold red banner and a soft pearl one.

    4: Best Fonts for Bookcovers

    I’ve read a rule that a book cover shouldn’t have more than 3 fonts. That may be true (although I don’t like rules). But fonts are hugely important. Luckily you can download thousands of fonts, many of them for free. Try not to use something to messy or dirty or creative – the more unusual they are, the easier it will be for them to become overused and not cool anymore. For most books, a very simple, elegant serif or sans serif font will work best. Make sure it has a strong contrast so that it stands out. A lot of novels and literary books have very small, simple titles – that may be fine for bookstores but if you’re mostly selling online, big and bold will be easier to read.

    For Scandalous I ended up using “Doulous”. My favorite other fonts include:

    Serif: Perpetua, Dante, Sabon, Justus, Portland, Trajan pro

    Sans Serif: Epitough, criticized, Telegrafico, Helvetica Neue, Ebrima

    Once you get the size and font right, go to layers again and play with gradient options or color overlays. Sometimes you need a drop shadow to push the text out a bit, but don’t go to heavy and avoid it if you can. Plain white text on light blue is cleaner and more stylish than the same with a drop shadow (again – this is one of the areas that differ for print books; print books will be picked up and held so they can have a stylish look without worrying as much about legibility.

    Before you finish, you need to kern your letters (adjust the spacing between each letter) by highlighting the letter and changing the spacing in the “characters” tab.

    5: Final Touches – Eyes that Pop

    I used a photoshop “teardrop” brush to place the drop – make sure you download as many photoshop brushes as you can get your hands on, you never know what you’re going to need.

    To make amazing eyes that pop out, you need to use the “pen” tool to carefully outline the iris – then right click and “make selection”. Choose 4-6 feather. Then with your new layer, you can set blending option to “overlay” and layer style to “gradient overlay”. Changing the gradients will change the eye color!

    Here are two of the finalists… I prefer the white/blue one – but I think we’ll use the red one instead (for an ebook, the red will grab a bit more attention and interest.)




    If you need help, make sure to download my free guide!

    I’ve helped design over 1000 book covers, including hundreds of bestsellers – download my free book to learn all the insider secrets I use to sell more books. Click here to get it now. I’ll also share some of the advanced book marketing tactics I’ve used to make a full-time income with my writing.

    Book Marketing Made Easy – Virtual Book Tour

    Recently I’ve been working on a cover for D’vorah Lanksy’s “Virtual Book Tours Made Easy”.

    She’s an established author and the book is excellent, so she gave me a shot to make a very professional cover. As you can see in the development (some of these samples started as not very good, but got better) we came pretty close; in the end she decided to go in a different direction. If you’re an author looking to sell more books, you should definitely search for her books on amazon.

    Photoshop generated 3D book covers for book promotion and marketing

    I use (and recommend) Cover Action Pro to generate the awesome 3D book images you see on this site; I make them for all my clients’ finished book covers to use in book marketing and promotion. If you can use Adobe Photoshop already, you might want to think about getting the $247 software.

    But if you have a book cover design already and just want me to make it 3D for you, I can do it for $49. This price includes 3 different 3D book images, which could either be ebook/paperback/hardback (like on my homepage), or three different views of the book from different angles. Even if you have an ebook, presenting the book as a “real” book is important to raise its perceived value.

    Below are the main choices for hardcover and softcover 3D images I can make; in addition to these I can put your cover on a 3D e-reader like the Kindle or iPad. (Or if you want to be really creative, I can add your cover to just about anything – like the side of an elephant or hanging behind the president.)


    Hardcover book covers


    Paperback book covers


    If this is what you’re looking for, you can send me a message or just get started by paying and then sending me your cover (make sure to tell me your three choices; if you look at the pictures closely you can see each image’s #…PB1, PB2, etc.)

    Heck ya I wanna 3D my book for only $49! Let’s do it!

    The indie advantage in book cover design for ebook readers and web sales

    If you’ve looked at my covers you may notice that I love special effects, texture, 3D letters, gloss, shine and sparkle. Normally, all that stuff is bad – because even stuff like drop shadow rarely prints well. To keep things reliable in print, most designers stay all from special effects on go with plain, clean and simple. And that’s fine – if print is your primary market.

    However, most indies focus on ebook sales and will sell most of their books through kindle, smashwords, ibooks, nook and other ebook channels. This gives indies a huge advantage: if you’re not focused so much on print, you can play more with your book covers because the special effects do look good on the screen. Especially with most ebook readers turning to color, and getting only a tiny, tiny thumbnail image of your cover to grab attention, you need to use whatever you can to stand out.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean your book cover won’t print well, either; printing technique is constantly improving, and I doubt you’ll really notice the slight loss in quality when your cover is printed.

    Which is better, a complex book cover or a simple minimalist book cover?

    Book cover design is changing. Recently, especially among top book cover designers, there is almost a “minimalistic” competition to see who can do more with less. But how little is too little? A book cover that won several awards awhile back was “Killing the Buddha” – which featured a blue sky covered by a big red X:

    The image sums up the title nicely, and got a lot of attention to the book because it is so revolutionary. But what about an action or thriller with a complicated plot? How do you explain what a novel is about when fiction titles are usual brief and enigmatic? Don’t you have to show more?

    As an exercise, here are two versions of a book cover I’m working on. Actually I have five versions but here are the most complex and the most simple.

    The first cover is pretty simple. (If I really wanted it to appeal to designers, I would have changed all the elements to white so they look nice but are hard to see). It reminds me a little of the mockingjay covers for the Hunger Games series – a complex series about killing, war, revolution, death; but you can’t get any of that from the simple and stylistic covers…

    A simple cover like this will probably appeal more to young adults. It seems a little more friendly, light, fun. Maybe humorous. The second cover has a bit too much, but I’ve tried to make it all look nice anyway. The book is actually about the apocalypse, zombies, vampires, aliens and religious history – so that’s a lot of stuff to try and convey. For the genre, I’ll probably stick with the more serious 2nd cover (even though the first appeals to me more).

    Which one do you like?

    Why you can’t afford a free book cover

    Self-publishing is hard work, and expensive. With the costs of writing, editing and formatting text, aspiring authors are probably feeling pretty broke by the time they start thinking about their book cover. And if publishing on Lulu or Createspace, using their free online cover generator tools may seem like a bargain.

    But the truth is, using a free or cheap cover is the quickest way to sabotage your book’s success. Reviewers will pass it up because it looks cheap and tacky. Readers will give it a miss because it looks unprofessional and homemade. And bookstores will slam their doors in your face.

    After all the hard work, time and money you’ve invested in your book, you’re committing the cardinal sin of publishing: thinking that you can get readers to buy what’s on the inside without caring about what’s on the outside.

    Packaging is everything. Everybody cares about how a product looks. You are creating a product and putting it out into the world. You are competing with multi-million dollar publishing industries that spend thousands of dollars on each book cover.

    If you can’t afford a book cover – save up until you can.

    There are lots of designers who can create a nice looking book cover for under $100, shop around for them. Post your project on or and find talented designers who work cheap. You could probably even find a neighbor or facebook friend that knows how to use photoshop and can make something better than the free templates on Lulu or Createspace.

    While getting a “free” cover may feel good right now, you are sacrificing an untold amount of income from lost book sales.