One of the things I loved about self-publishing after being traditionally published was the fact that I had control over my own book cover design. I think a lot of indie authors enjoy that!
Although I have strong opinions about covers, I’m not a designer. I hired a professional to design my self-published book cover, and I’ll do that again in the future. Unless you have strong design skills, I think this is the way to go if you can afford it. (Here’s a breakdown of self-publishing costs, in case that’s helpful.)
Some writers have zero dollars in the budget for book cover design, and I’ve seen some covers created by authors who weren’t designers but who did a really good job. I also see writers fall into some common mistakes when they design a book cover, so I’m hoping this will help.
I’m not going to show real-life examples of bad book cover designs, because that would be mean. I did mock up a couple of fake bad examples, though!
Here are some common problems with indie book covers — and just to be clear, major book publishers also run with bad book cover designs now and again.
1. The type is too small.
This is the #1 problem I see with indie covers. Remember that most of your sales are going to go through Amazon, and shoppers will be scrolling past small thumbnails of books. If your title isn’t in large type, it’s not going to get noticed. Don’t be shy about your author name, either.
When I contracted the cover for my Master Lists for Writers book, I told the designer I wanted to be able to read the title from outer space. The cover really pops in a search of writing guides. You probably won’t do anything so extreme for your book, but you do want the title to show up.
2. There are two many layers of messages.
It’s fine to have one line that explains a book is part of a series. For instance, you could have:
ROLLING IN THE DEEP
A Mermaid Kingdom Novel
However, if you have more than one line explaining where it is in a series, like this:
A Mermaid Kingdom Novel
ROLLING IN THE DEEP
Book 1, the Golden Pearl Trilogy of Novellas
That’s probably too much going on.
There are a lot of extra phrases you can put on a book cover. A short quote from a reviewer, such as “Bryn Donovan is a master storyteller.” A tagline, like “She’s his worst enemy… and his only hope.” Don’t layer too many messages.
Make sure that taglines, quotes, and subtitles are small compared to your title and author name. Nothing else should compete with those two things. Advertising people call this “hierarchy of messaging.”
Don’t put a paragraph explaining what your book is about on the cover. That goes in the blurb, or on the back cover of a print version.
3. The fonts are gimmicky.
It’s totally understandable: a horror author finds a font made out of blood spatters, or someone writing a paranormal historical about Nikola Tesla discovers a font that looks like it’s made out of lightning, and they want to use it. Get a second opinion, at least. Novelty fonts can be difficult to read and can look amateurish.
4. The design doesn’t tell you what the genre is.
For instance, let’s say you have a thriller that looks like this:
The sunny wheat field image does not scream “thriller.” Even if the author puts this book in the thriller section, people are going to be confused.
Shoppers only take a couple of seconds to decide whether they’re interested in a book. You want the cover to say to them, “Hey, here’s one of those books that you like.”
As an example: soon, I’m going to be contracting a cover for a paranormal romance. There’s a good chance that it’s going to have a shirtless man as part of the cover design. This isn’t because I love covers with shirtless men — I don’t have strong feelings either way — but because it’s a quick way to let potential readers know that it’s a steamy romance (the title, The Phoenix Codex, will tip them off that it’s paranormal.)
5. There are too many images.
Again, because shoppers are scrolling through thumbnails, simpler is often better. For a novice designer, incorporating several images can also be tricky.
6. The artwork or photography is stolen.
Whatever you do, don’t just grab an image from a Google search and use it for your cover. This is theft. You could get sued for a lot of money, and it’s terrible behavior. I’m sure you wouldn’t do this! But I had to mention it for other people reading this post.
Do you have some advice on designing book covers, or about other things to avoid? Please share them in the comments! (Do not link to bad examples, however!) Thanks for reading, and happy writing!