The reason most authors fail at book cover design (even when hiring an expensive designer!) is because their approach to cover design is all wrong. Make sure you don’t sabotage your cover-design process with misguided and uninformed decisions.
I put together a free video series for DIY Book Covers based on some of the talks I’ve given at publishing and writing conferences. Even if you’re hiring a designer, learning more about how to design covers that SELL will make it easier to get an amazing cover that readers love.
Here’s the original video series!
Learn the basics of bestselling cover design.
Start with this one: it’s the presentation I gave for the Willamette Writer’s conference in Portland, OR. It’s a good crash course to the fundamental issues and mistakes indie authors make, and how to fix them.
These videos focus on the basics of using book cover design to sell more books, and may go against conventional wisdom or your presuppositions of what a book cover is actually for, but try to keep an open mind. All that matters is that your cover gets your target readers to want to learn more about your book, and hopefully start reading. It has to appeal and attract, not explain.
#1 Cover Power
What can a good cover do for you? Double your success. Cut your marketing budget in half. Your cover isn’t one piece of your publishing pie; it’s the whole basis. It’s the front door. It’s the first and often only part of your book that a majority of people are going to see. Take it seriously.
#2 Ground Rules
A great book cover helps a good book succeed faster. But it also helps a bad book fail faster. It isn’t a fix for a story nobody wants to read and can increase expectations, and with it, disappointment.
#3 What makes a “Good” book cover?
- It sells the book
- It hooks attention and interest
- It looks professionally made
- It fits in with the genre expectations and conventions
#4 What makes a “Bad” book cover?
1. Authors tried to put in too much stuff. (You should also read this post.) 2. They focused on conceptual, symbolic representations. 3. They focused on matching details more than overall effect. 4. The text is poorly done (usually with heavy dropshadow or bevel – we’ll talk more about that later). 5. There’s a bunch of colors rather than one predominent color palette.
#5 Market Research
Before you start thinking about your book cover design, you need to do some research; find your specific category or genre and compare the bestselling books to see what they have in common (similar fonts, colors, images?). They won’t all be exactly the same but you’ll notice 3 or 4 dominant patterns or cover types. Pick the one you like and see if you can create something similar. Don’t start with a blank canvas – take a look at the competition, find out what’s working and what isn’t. Be better than anything else in your category, but you should still look like you belong.
#6 Watch out for…
When doing your research, watch out for these tricky issues…
#7 Fiction book cover samples
Fiction covers need to make an immediate emotional impact, and this is usually done with colors and contrast. Possibly also scene/setting, and a human element (except literary fiction, which are often abstract, almost barren). It has to appeal to target readers and make them want to find out more, and should not try to explain or convey everything about the novel, like the key relationship between protagonists or their ambitions or conflicts, or all the places and objects.
#8 Nonfiction book cover samples
Nonfiction almost always has one central image, often something clever – but this depends on the genre. Keep it clean and simple. Focus on strong photography that fits the mood and genre. Nonfiction is usually about benefits: so make sure you have a powerful, keyword rich subtitle that’s also clear and easy to read (don’t cram in too much stuff, or multiple taglines and subtitles.
#9 Common Mistakes
Don’t show a whole scene or lots of details with lots of specific movements, actions, and interactions. Don’t try to get all the details just perfect. A close and rough indication of the genre that’s powerful and beautiful will work 1000 times better than a very detailed, accurate cover that represents your exact story. Don’t worry about being a cliche – better a cliche that people buy than something that fits your book and also makes it impossible to sell.
#10 Ugly Book Covers
#11 Where to find fonts (and best fonts to use)
Using the right fonts is an easy way to indicate genre and attract the right readers, but you can also screw it up by using too many. Almost always, pick a more decorative or stylish font for the title, but keep all the subtext (author name, subtitle, tagline, reviews) in very simple serif of sans serif fonts. I also made a PDF of best fonts per genre – these are just a starting point, but will give you an idea of what font styles to look for. http://diybookcovers.com/BestFontsByGenre.pdf
#12 Where to find stock images
Here are some of the sites I find images and pictures for book cover design. This video is way too long and a little rambling… but it also shows the process. Spend a lot of time searching, it’s much better to use one or two brilliant pictures than to use something mediocre and trying to ‘fix’ it. On the other hand, don’t just grab something really great and use as is. Make sure to change it enough that it won’t be identical to other covers that use the same image.
#13 Stock photo rights
Want more tips and some free design templates?
I have more free stuff – templates and an email series on cover design.
Do you have a writer friend who needs cover design help?
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