How to make an ugly book cover: a guide for the visually impaired

The temptation to make your own book cover and saving money is strong. And it can be done.

There are no inherent drawbacks to doing it yourself; but without the experience you are likely to make amateur mistakes that scream “self-published!” to would-be readers.

Actually, the truth is, nobody cares about that anymore, so instead you’re announcing, “I’m too cheap to invest in producing a quality product!”

Most readers will assume that, if the cover is ugly, the rest of the book isn’t very polished also.

But how do you know if your homemade, DIY book cover is ugly? This simple how-to guide for making ugly book covers should steer you in the right direction (if you’re doing any of these things, you’re on the wrong path).

1) Use a personal photo, not a professional one

Even though you can get cheap, high quality professional pictures on 123rf.com, bigstockphoto, and dozens of other places, you should take one yourself of your backyard.

The image doesn’t have to say anything about the book, content, plot or characters. Bonus points if it’s washed out, unclear, boring or blurry.

images-backyard

 

2) The picture doesn’t have to cover the whole thing

If the picture isn’t the right shape or size, it’s fine to just leave a big chunk of white space. White is clean and easy on the eyes. Lots of space is good, so it’s not too crowded.

3) Make a long, rambling title with no meaning

Avoid any keywords that people would actually search for. It should be a bit pretentious and try to be poetic and literary. It still doesn’t need to say anything about what’s in the book or what the book is about (readers love surprises!)

4) Make your author name really small

It shows your humility. Besides the author isn’t that important, and you’re not famous… and it makes you feel safer somehow. So make it little and unnoticeable. You can even change the color so it doesn’t stand out so much.

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5) Use the basic fonts already installed on your computer

It’s looking good, but let’s change it up with some fun, fresh fonts! You are drawn to Mistral and Rage Italic. Or maybe Comic Sans.

6) Add some text effects to make the text stand out more

You can use bevel, drop shadow or add a stroke/outline to make the text “pop.” In fact, do everything you can to make the cover “pop.” Poppiness is good!

 

ugly3

 

7) Add “Bestseller” because you  know it’s going to be one…

People are going to love this book, and it’s going to sell a million copies. Soon. Plus you’ve chosen an obscure Amazon category and got 10 of your friends to buy it at the same time, and it was #1 for 5 minutes. So why not just write “Bestseller” now? It’ll save you work later. Make sure to use all-caps and a heavy drop shadow to make it “pop.” And use a lot of exclamation points, because you’re awesome.

8) Add all your book award seals

You know, the ones for those book contests that you paid to get into. Use anything, even “runner-up” or “finalist” or “7th place.”

Don’t be choosy, they’ll all fit.

ugly4

9) Super! Now email it to everybody!

You’re ready! Your book isn’t finished yet, you’re about halfway done, not sure if you want to get editing. But that’s no reason you can’t start to market your book and raise awareness. Plus you need to find beta readers. So start emailing your cover to everyone you know, add it as your Facebook profile pic, and Retweet it every 4 hours with a few catchy excerpts or links to your “coming-soon” page on your unfinished website.

 

PS) #8 isn’t a slur against book awards contests, although they can be scammy and are definitely for profit, and I don’t think they have much business on a book cover. Some are respectable. Feedback can be valuable. Some readers like to see them, even if they don’t know the organization. In my opinion they are part of the cerebral/rational buyer response and should go on the back of the cover, rather than the instant/emotional response you need to make with the front.

Why I disagree with Amazon’s recommended book cover dimensions

star-new      porn-newdimensions

An author I work with recently asked me to modify her book cover to comply with Amazon’s size and ratio recommendations. I was happy to do so, and I’ve faced this issue in the past, but I’d like to share why I don’t just make all my book covers at Amazon’s recommended book cover dimensions.

Consider the two book covers above.

The one on the left is Amazon’s recommended height and width dimensions; it’s a ratio of 1.6 with 2500pixels on the long side.

1.6 is the same ratio as a 5″x8″ book, so if you designed a cover for 5″x8″, you’d be done – just use the same front cover. But most of my authors are choosing 6″x9″ books, which is a 1.5 ratio (the one on the right).

Personally, I think Amazon’s preferred ratio is too tall and thin, and a ratio of 1.5 looks more like a traditional book to me. My guess is Amazon wants books to look good on smartphones, especially iPhones, and the deviously tricky iPhone5, which has a very tall, narrow screen.

Maybe Amazon is expecting all digital devices to copy the iPhone 5, but that’s probably not going to happen. Maybe they are pushing to get people reading on their smartphones instead of Kindles devices, because millions and millions of people use only their smartphone and will not buy a digital book reader.

iPhone-5-Guide-300x288

But for the people who do have Kindles and other e-reading devices, Amazon’s preferred 1.6 ratio is an ill-fit, leaving too much space on the sides. And even on cell phones, where the display size is already pretty small, the 1.6 ratio has drawbacks: to fit in the extra height, the book cover displays even smaller, making the text more difficult to read.

This is probably why most traditional publishers and major bestsellers ignore Amazon’s recommended ratio.

1.5, or even wider, almost square-shaped covers, are far more common.

Interestingly it seems self-published and indie books are more likely to use Amazon’s 1.6 standards, because they are concerned with doing everything just right, and have less confidence to ignore recommendations.

This paradoxically means self-publishing authors are making their books appear self-published by following rather than flouting Amazon’s advice.

And it really doesn’t matter!

Amazon’s recommended book cover ratio doesn’t really matter at all, because Amazon is not the only player in the ebook publishing wars. This means that all devices need to be able to handle all different kinds of books. So what you actually see on ebook readers is that they automatically adjust to display covers of a variety of sizes and ratios.

IMG_7922

In this picture, the 2nd book “Trust the Process” which is one of the thinnest book on my Kindle, is still not quite as thin as a 1.6 ratio. “The Business of Belief” is probably 1.5, and most of the others look even more box-shaped, and may be 1.4 or so.

On the bottom row, “Amazon Secrets Exposed” and “Fortune Cookie Principle” are 1.6.

And actually, they all look fine. I don’t think you can argue that one dimension ratio looks better and will sell more books.

IMG_7921

Does the book cover matter?

I’d like to say, “absolutely!” but my actions disagree. I bought Michael Thomas’ book (above) even though the cover is unattractive, because it has a bold, compelling title and subtitle. The next two books (Websites that Sell and the Fortune Cookie Principle), I bought for the content, not the covers. (Even though the covers are nice, I didn’t buy them for the covers, but for what I hoped to learn).

On the other hand, I rarely buy a fiction book that has an ugly cover.

I think the reason is: a non-fiction book can provide useful material even if the writing isn’t great or there are typos. But a fiction book is all about the writing. There is nothing else. And a book with a great cover is probably more likely to have been carefully written and professionally edited (although I would still read the reviews before buying).

What’s all this mean for you?

If you’re a fiction writer, get a great cover and excellent reviews. A  nice cover alone can drastically improve sales.

If you’re a non-fiction writer, focus on the title and subtitle by promising benefits. Do the best you can with the cover, but recognize that the title and subtitle are probably more powerful than a beautiful cover design.

In both cases, focus on designing a great cover for the book size you plan to print at (8×5.25, 6×9, 5×5 or whatever) and just use the same ratio for your Kindle book. Don’t worry about the ratio and specifications, because it totally doesn’t matter: what matters is a strong, clean cover design (and of course a great book, excellent reviews, and high-conversion book description.)

Why I’m jealous of other book cover designers (but shouldn’t be)

I’ve been designing covers for a couple years – and in that time I’ve done a few hundred. I love the work. And I’m getting better all the time. But I still feel insecure when looking at other book designer’s portfolios. I see a lot of amazing work that I like. I’m hoping to improve my skills until I’m up there with the very best. But I still get a little jealous of other people’s awesome work.

Here are the things I tell myself when that happens:

1. Everybody has a different style

I’m a messy person. I tend to be careless about the details, so my covers can seem more visceral, raw, and rough. Usually what I like about other cover designer’s work is how clean and polished and pretty it is. And I can work on being neat and tidy. But… I also need to embrace my own personal design style. I make a ton of rough samples (usually more than ten – sometimes pushing fifty!) until the final idea is hammered out. Other designers spend a lot of time making things pretty but may not give as many options (which is not necessarily a bad thing: I often feel I give authors too many choices and they get paralyzed, or choose poorly).

2. I build scenes

The covers I like are also usually just using one big picture. That means very little Photoshop work. If they’re using one stock photo, all they did was add some text and maybe some design elements. So even if it looks awesome, it was pretty easy. Oh how I wish I had more projects like that (and I probably would, if I made fewer samples and didn’t listen to my authors).

My authors are usually very descriptive about what they want, and I try to do it. I know that other designers say “That’s a bad idea, it won’t make a good cover, let’s do this instead.” I know that those designers are probably helping the authors more than I am – because really busy, complex covers don’t usually sell as well as simple, powerful covers.

I make some simple strong ones as well, but most authors push on towards their vision, and we get into scene-building – which means, constructing an entire 3D reality with all the objects, locations and characters and magical powers and what-not. It can take dozens and dozens of hours to get everything right, and make the authors happy. Why are my finished covers not as neat and pretty as other designers’? Because I’m still listening to my authors. Maybe I need to stop, but it’s fun and they’re happy with the work, so…

PS) I just noticed an author I worked on a brilliant cover for, and we spent a long time on, has gotten a redesign and gone with something very bold and simple. One large image rather than a scene. The new cover looks great. Bold and simple is almost always best. My portfolio is full of ‘scenes’ because that’s what the authors chose, rather than what I favored.

3. Lots of variety, and they appeal to different folks

People have different tastes. I look at my portfolio and there are some I like and some I’m not fond of. I feel the same about other people’s portfolios. I’m tempted to clean out my portfolio and just focus on what I consider my strongest work, but every time I get a new client I’m surprised by what they say they liked in my portfolio. Everybody likes different stuff. There’s no accounting for taste.

So at least I’ve got a ton of variety.

4. It’s not all about pricing

I’m especially jealous of cover designers that charge about the same as I do. We all package our services differently. They may throw in free bookmarks, Facebook banners or posters and other stuff. It’s hard to comparison shop for book cover design because – regardless of the extras in the package – what matters most is having the best cover for your book: the one that’s going to appeal to your target readers and suck them in enough to read the description. It’s got to be beautiful and bold and fit the genre well. I was about to say something like “how well you work with the designer” is also important, as in you should feel comfortable with each other… but I’ll admit I’m not as positive and supportive as some other cover designers. I want you to sell books. I want your investment in me to pay off. I want you to earn a return.

So I’ll give you straight up opinions and advice, and push you in a direction I think will be most successful, but I’m brief with my words and pragmatic in my direction. I’m not a hand-holder. I’m not cheery and garrulous. I know it can come off as rudeness sometimes; chit-chat is not a skill I find useful, as I’d rather be making things that will help you achieve your goals.

Do you have feedback for me?

Like I said, these are the things I tell myself. I like to be aware of my shortcomings so that I can improve, and I’m constantly seeking to be more helpful to authors. I’m open to any critiques or suggestions on how I can make this site, my services or my covers better.

When book covers copy: the ugly truth about plagiarism in book cover design

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

Right? But it may not seem like that when, after all your hard work, you find another book cover that looks too much just like yours. About a year ago I made a cover for a book called “Lust Boat.” I was contacted because my cover designs looked like somebody else’s earlier covers. The other book was also called “Lust Boat” and (as you would expect) also had a big boat in it, as well as some lovers. Sure they were similar.

TheLustBoat-179x300

 lustboat4-205x300

I posted a rebuttal, after researching no less than 6 other books also called “Lust Boat” going back to 1978, and suggested that the authors – who’d written similar books that would appeal to similar readers – should work together in promoting… but due to the inflammatory comments I removed the post.

Here’s what you need to know about plagiarism in book cover design.

1) It’s probably accidental.

It’s your job as the author (not the book cover designer’s) to research your title and make sure nobody else is using the same title. Google it or search for it on Amazon. Notice similar titles and make sure they aren’t directly in your genre.

Usually – don’t use a title that has been used. Except, if it’s an older book that wasn’t very popular, or if it’s way outside your genre, and it’s really the perfect title… Go ahead with it. Search for anything on Amazon and you’ll find 5 books with the same title. It happens.

2) We’re all using stock photography.

Extremely few authors or publishers are staging their own photoshoots anymore. Everybody buys stock.

If you see another cover that used the same image, they didn’t “copy” you – they just bought the same pretty picture.

Be careful about using stock photography of people’s faces, they are more easily recognizable.

Don’t just take a nice picture and add text: the nicer the photograph, the more authors are going to use it. Get creative. Make some changes. Just use half of the picture. Pay someone on fiverr.com to make it amazing in Photoshop (yes, for $5, it’s incredible what they can do).

I routinely see photos I’ve used in book covers show up on magazine advertisements and billboards around the world, as well as on other covers. Focus on being the best and having a great book, the rest won’t matter.

3) Very few authors would deliberately copy.

You think another author wants to copy your design? Doubt ful. They, just like you, want their book cover to be unique. They may be inspired by it; they may want to use the same fonts (fonts are fair game – that’s why you see the same genres using a handful of fonts over and over).

4) What to do if it happens anyway?

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Take a look at these two books, with the same title. One is business, one is Christian. It’s hard to believe the closeness in design is accidental. I’m still not convinced that they aren’t written by the same author using a pen name. Taking a second look – all they really have in common is an orange background, and white and black text. If it weren’t for the fact that they have identical titles, I could pretty easily pass this off as just my brain seeing similarity where there is none.

If Chip’s book, which came later, is a copy, it’s not really a big deal: how do you copyright a style? How do you copyright the color orange? Readers in one genre probably won’t find the other book in the other genre (although searching for either one will show up the other).

Under free trade laws, technically designs should be different enough that no casual observer can see the resemblance. Law Suits are uncommon, but they do happen, especially if you’re using a photo you haven’t bought the rights for. In this case, there’s little grounds for a case. Jim Collins could make a big fuss, but he probably doesn’t care, since this book isn’t a competitor – and it actually may mean that more people are searching for the name of his book, which can only increase sales.

Jim’s book cover design matches the genre (business) while chip’s (inspirational/religious) is probably too plain and dry for his target readers.

 

How to be productive during a typhoon and on other days you don’t feel like doing anything.

995184_10153175169850790_491888439_nDear Authors – given my decade of living overseas and moving around pretty regularly, I didn’t think relocating to Tainan (Taiwan), a city I’ve already lived in for many years, would eat up too much of my productivity time. It only took a day to find an apartment, another day to pick out and order furniture.

What I didn’t count on was the raging typhoon outside, which is making it hard to hear myself think. We also don’t have a fridge (or shelves) yet so there’s nowhere to hoard the snacks I like to have available. My office is a folding chair in an empty room. Luckily I’m not feeling overwhelmed with orders yet (I’ve got about ten right now, most of them I’ve already started), although I don’t like to put things off when I could keep working.

Anyway, things should be pretty settled in a few days when the damn rain stops and I finish making my apartment comfortable and conducive to creativity and productivity; until then I’m reachable by email (thank goodness I already had a phone contract and my iphone can be used as a portable wireless hub).

The next 12 months are going to be life-changing for me, and for you too I hope. Good luck to us all in finishing our projects, creating something brilliant, and reaping success!

How to design your own book covers in MS Word

I’m finally getting started on my 100 DIY book covers in MS Word project. The idea is to design book cover templates that indie authors can easily edit and change to make their own.

I was pretty sure I could make great covers in Word, but I’m only really beginning to figure things out.

Here’s one I made this afternoon. I took a picture of the whole workspace.

designcoversword

 

Here’s another one I made tonight, in about 30 minutes.

witchnight

Is it just me, or are these pretty freaking amazing for book covers made in MS word? And they aren’t even finished yet. It’s crazy that these covers are taking me much less time than ones made in photoshop, because with Word I can really easily strip out the background, change colors and contrast, make cool wavy text like the one above.

It’s both incredible and humbling, exciting and depressing. Maybe I’ll just stick with Word for book cover design. 🙂

My new plan is to come out with 100 templates a year, and sell those as a big package alongside client work.

 

UPDATE – you can now get a bunch of free book design templates at www.diybookcovers.com and make your own awesome book covers in Microsoft Word!

 

Cover design secrets that sell books

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.

New thriller book cover design for Joanna Penn

Man I love designing book covers. Here are some samples for an upcoming thriller by Joanna Penn. Like all my projects, designing a book cover is a process of experimentation and elimination. The final result can’t be predicted.

 ROUND ONE

budapest6budapest2budapest1budapest8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROUND TWO

budapestnew3 budapestnew4 budapestnew7 budapestNEW2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FINAL COVER

budapestfinal2

 

Can you use Indesign to format books? Want more clients and extra income? Job opportunity for book formatters!

Hi there. Are you an interior book formatter, who helps self-publishing authors layout their books in InDesign?

Want to find more clients and increase your income?

I’m developing a package of InDesign templates and requesting submissions from talented book layout experts.

First of all, I’m not asking you to work for free or spend a lot of time.

All I need you to do is take some of your previous, finished client work, strip out the original story, and change the fonts/unique decorations.

I don’t need a full book, just the basic elements and 2 chapters.

“Why would I do that? What do I get out of it?”

First, I’ll choose the best submissions and put them together in a package of 50 InDesign templates, with bonuses, hundreds of graphic elements, and extra perks. I’ll make a high conversion website, get lots of rave reviews, and sell it online for $50. I’ll set it up as an affiliate product that you can sell from your own site and get 51%.

You probably know only a fraction of your website visitors order your book formatting or layout services, and that many indie and self-publishing authors aren’t ready to invest $300~$500 to get their book ready for print and publication.

Tons of indie authors are searching for ways to make their own books; they’re downloading free InDesign book templates. Even the use of Word book templates have become popular, simply because it cuts costs.

Having a lower priced product on your site for $50 will let you earn something from those visitors who land on your site but aren’t ready to order your services.

Save time on book layout and design

This package will be most useful to other book formatters (like yourselves). You can do light customization of the 50 templates (change some of the fonts and graphics) and show them to your clients, which will greatly speed up the design process. As a graphic designer, I’m also going to add in hundreds of ready to use dividers and decoration images; you can just ask your client to pick one and match the chapter fonts with the cover, and create a quick and unique layout that your client likes.

And it will also turn into more client work because…

Authors who buy the package will probably not have InDesign themselves, or it will be frustrating for them to use.

They will need to hire a book designer or layout expert to customize the template for them. One of the package’s selling points will be a list of talented interior book formatters that can help authors customize the templates.

If any of your submitted InDesign templates is chosen for the 50 book layouts, I’ll add you to the list.

I’m not asking you to work for free

I’m asking you to partner with me, earn the majority share (51% of sales sold from your website), and get your website listed in an exclusive list of interior book layout specialists.

All I need you to do is take some of your older work, spend 20 minutes tweaking it, and send it to me. I won’t use it myself. I won’t put it in the package unless I’m also promoting your website.

My own time and investment will be more significant; I’ll design the website, create all the product graphics, prepare bonuses, find partners, advertise heavily, and offer it on my book cover site (which is getting a ton of traffic already).

I do book cover design, so I’m not a competitor, but I can be your ally.

One more thing

I would like to set up the package with a coupon for customization; so that they could buy the package knowing that they will also save some money if they need to have an interior book formatter finish it for them.

I’m hoping you’ll agree that, if they already have the package (which includes graphics), on the condition that they’ve already chosen which template, fonts and graphics to use, that your work will be greatly reduced.

I think giving a $100 discount to authors who’ve already bought the package and know what they want, is reasonable.

I’d like to offer this discount along with the list of interior book formatters, saying that the designers on the list have agreed to finish books from the templates for $100 off.

I believe the discounted rate is fair for the time saved… and if you want to sell the package on your site you should be making extra income anyway, but please tell me when you submit if you are OK with this.

If your submitted designs are not chosen for the 50 layouts included, or you don’t think this is worth your time, you’re still welcome to sell the product as an affiliate to make some extra cash (you’ll be seeing it everywhere once it’s done; I’ll make a bunch of stylish adboxes, it won’t take any effort to sell). I’m putting a lot of time and resources into developing this, it’s going to look amazing and get a ton of traffic, but I understand if you’re not interested.

If you want to participate, I’m putting a very simple layout below of what I’d like to see (front matter, dedication, TOC, 4 Chapters, About the Author, etc.) It’s very short (about 25pages). You can use the same dummy text (Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet). Here’s the template: creativindie-indesigntemplate.

I’m doing them all at 6″x9″ but please change the margins, location of the chapter headers and page numbers however you want (they’re in the top in the sample, but the bottom is fine too). Would like to see lots of variety in layout: font size, line spacing, indents vs. no indents, some with drop caps, some without. Simple changes, nothing fancy. I’m sure you already have several designs from past projects that you can use, just copy/paste the dummy text and you’re done.

Don’t worry about decoration or dividers, you can just use the  * * * I’ve already added under the chapter titles and the section breaks. I will go through later and replace them with decoration choices from the large collection I’m including with the package.

The only problem is the fonts: I can’t include fonts directly in the package.

You’ll need to use free fonts, or Google fonts, and then provide download links to those fonts (you could add those to the end of each InDesign template?) I’d like to see a variety of nice, fun chapter fonts (even though authors will probably change them later). I’d like you to send 10 variations if you can, with different genres in mind (horror, romance, fantasy, etc.) That way I can select unique ones from all the submissions and make a strong and diverse collection.

You can tweak the template, save as “number1”, tweak for 10 minutes, change the fonts, save as “number2” etc. You could finish 10 variations in a couple hours.

I could pay for someone on Elance to do it for me (and I will if I have to) but that’s such a wasted opportunity, when you could be getting a ton of free publicity and marketing for your business. I wanted to make it a community project that we will all benefit from.

PS) You may think using a template is cheating, and you prefer to do everything from scratch. That’s understandable… but authors almost always prefer to look at several samples, and with no basis, you’re just guessing and trying things until you get lucky. Starting from a template, just to get the basic layout right, and having hundreds of dividers and graphic elements for them to choose, saves a lot of time. And when you change the fonts and decoration, it will be 100% unique (depending on the project, you may find something more specific to use for the dividers anyway).

No hard feelings if you pass on this, like I said, I’ll get it done anyway. I’m just trying to spread the wealth and encourage collaboration between artists.

If you’re ready to put some of your old designs to good use, spend an hour or two, and get more clients and a ready to go product you can sell and increase your income, just send your tweaked designs to me: [email protected].

PPS) I’m only going to accept designs until August 15th, so that I can try to finish the product and have it selling by the end of August. So please send them in the next 2 weeks.

PPPS) If you still don’t feel comfortable contributing, and would like to email me a bid for paid work (just in case I don’t get enough samples) that’s fine too.

On Elance I would put this project up, probably for about $100 for 10 variations (since they’re small and very simple; 10 variations should take maximum 5 hours). The email link to your business in the package would be worth much more than that. If you need the cash, let me know, and I’ll contact you if I still need more designs after the other designers have sent in their work.

Regardless of whether you to decide to join, I wish you well in your business, and I’ll keep your link/contacts on my resources page.

UPDATE: I changed the template file, so it has 4 chapters and an automatic TOC:

Here’s the template again, excited to see what you come up with!

creativindie-indesigntemplate.

 

Why self-publishing authors are their own worst enemy

I just redid my website design. Pretty slick huh? I also rewrote a lot of my “sales copy.” I’m realizing that my tone often sounds harsh, judgmental, critical, rather than loving and supportive.

But after working with self-publishing authors for several years, this is why:

Traditionally published authors don’t have control over the final product. This means that the publishing company can hire book editors, book doctors and book designers to polish everything up and make it into something that will sell. The publisher spends a lot of money. They want a return. So obviously, they don’t ask the author, who has no experience in design, marketing and sales, for his/her feelings or opinions.

Self-publishing authors, on the other hand, have total control. They can hire the best designers, formatters, and then tell them exactly what they want. If they’re lucky, the person they hire will give them something different, but much better, than what they asked for.

If they’re unlucky, they’ll get someone who listens to them and does whatever they want.

I’m somewhere in the middle: after all, clients are my customers. They tell me what to do, I recommend something else. I tell them what I would do, or the cover design I would choose. Some listen, some don’t. But as a whole, self-publishing authors are by far their own worst enemy. Their book is a vanity project: they trust their own judgment and wishes and feelings more than the cold hard facts of market research, testing and professional experience.

I don’t hate authors. I love authors. I want to help them succeed. That’s my job, my duty, my passion: to make your publishing journey successful. I do the best I can… but sometimes you oppose me. There’s a conflict of interests. Not always. Some authors are brilliant marketing strategists who know everything about publishing and make smart, purely pragmatic, decisions.

Just be careful you know which kind of author you are.

See? There I go sounding harsh and judgmental again! Apologies. 🙂

What should I put on my book cover design? Characters, scenes, etc?

For the past year I’ve been super busy working on book covers. During that time I’ve struggled, often, with competing visions for the book cover design. I want something that looks awesome and sells like hotcakes. The authors usually want their main characters and a specific scene. The requests I’ve gotten have verged on the ridiculous, but I always try to make it work. It’s frustrating for me to know I’m making complex but subpar covers when I could be making stuff that blows people’s minds. It’s frustrating to see a very happy author who loves the cover and know another cover would have moved more books off the shelf.

So I felt some solidarity and happiness when I read this post over on Damonza Covers, “Write a Great Book but Leave the Cover to a Professional.” Damonza’s work is beautiful and you should definitely consider him as well for your book cover design. And his work flow is a lot different from mine. He’ll make 2 sample covers and if authors don’t like it, keep going. This lets him present the two strongest options first.

In contrast, I present about 10 very rough samples, including several stabs at the scene the author described, and we work up from there. My process gives the author more control and involvement, but that’s probably not a good thing. I tell the authors which ones are the best, and they routinely ignore my advice.

I love my job and hope to see my author’s succeed, so I’m not complaining about them, just a challenging situation – and a situation perhaps that is critical to the success and failure of indie published books that nobody else is talking about.

As a side note, and this is kind of depressing, I’m noticing I get a ton of work, even though personally I find Damonza’s work equally awesome. Is this because many of my covers have the scenes and characters that he urges against using? Do indie authors see in my work what they want, because I try to listen to and use their ideas, even if they aren’t the best from a sales and marketing perspective?

(I don’t mean to denigrate my covers, most of them I’m very happy with and they’re all selling quite well.)

Anyway, I know this is a complex and uncomfortable subject, but deep down I want you to succeed, and for that you need to be informed and aware of all of these elements.

Some tips before you get started on your book cover design:

1) Characters rarely work; especially because everybody is using the same stock photography, so your model will end up on dozens of other books. On the other hand… they are usually more engaging and emotionally than a cover without.

2) Bold, beautiful and simple is best.

3) Specific scenes from the story are nearly impossible to recreate with accuracy using stock photography. Try to boil a scene down to one, specific element or item, a symbolic representation of what’s going on in that scene.

4) Sincerely listen to your book cover designer’s advice. His/her opinion should be given preference to what your family and neighbors like. They have more experience than you do, and they are trying to help. They also want to see their best work out there.

5) Don’t hire a cover designer who will just give you what you want and listen to your ideas. Your book deserves more than that. Hire a designer that pushes back, tells you what will sell better, and advises you towards greater publishing success. As an indie-published author, the team you put together to publish your book is as close to a professional marketing team as you’re going to get, and their advice may be invaluable.