Designing Book Covers

Set Yourself Apart

The cover is the first thing someone sees of your book, and if it’s terrible then they probably won’t even stop to read the description. We’re all guilty of it. It’s such a part of human nature that there’s even the old cliché, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ Unfortunately, people always have and probably always will judge. So if you want someone to not to pass over your book then you had better make sure you have a bloody decent cover.

If your computer skills are lacking, then you can hire someone to make the cover for you. I’ve read about plenty of people  hiring someone on to design their cover. The problem there is that the cover ends up looking like it was made by an amateur for five quid. Because that’s exactly what happened.

So unless you want to shell out the money for a real professional, you’re stuck doing the cover yourself. It’s easy enough to google around and find tutorials and guides if you have the time to invest though. And if you’ve written an entire book, then you owe it to yourself to put the time in to make a worthy cover.

Alright, so what makes a good cover?

I thought about the question for a while before I realised that I couldn’t answer it. Without a degree in graphic design, there’s too much subjectivity involved to come up with anything that isn’t just opinion. So instead I started thinking about it from the other perspective.

What makes a cover bad?

I’m sure everyone has seen their share of badly designed covers. Maybe I’m too harsh, but I can’t go thirty seconds on the Amazon Kindle Store without running in to something that makes me cringe a little inside. Overused stock imagery, hard to read fonts, awful layouts – it seems to be a common trend to get it utterly wrong. Many times I glance at a book cover in disbelief and just think, ‘Why? Did you just not like your book?’

So as a starving artist with semi-competent computer skills and a solid idea of what I think is rubbish, I’m probably going to end up designing the cover to my first book myself.

My brain is starting to think of ideas already. I’m a big fan of minimalist styles, as I think they’re timeless when done right. I saw Haruki Murakami’s UK book covers (Reddit source) and thought they were fantastic. The consistent colour scheme and simple shapes create something eye-catching and classy. I’m trying to exercise some control though, and not get too caught up in the process yet as I still need to actually finish writing my book.

If you’ve had any interesting experiences with creating a book cover, or just have some advice on how to get it right, let me know in the comments.

© 2015, Gavin Zanker. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Photo by Jeffrey Zeldman licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

6 thoughts on “Designing Book Covers”

  1. I know what I like but no way could I ever design it myself. If/when I self-publish, I’ll pay good money for cover design and illustration. I will not pay for editing — but then again, I’m an editor as well as a writer and I have writer-editor friends I can barter with. When I advise competent writers who are planning to self-publish, this is what I say: skimp on editing if you must but do not skimp on design and cover illustration. I’ve got an artist all picked out. I just hope her prices don’t go up before I’ve finished the damn novel.

    1. I find it interesting that you would suggest skimping on editing before cover design. I suppose it’s the world we live in that appearances have more importance than the content inside.

      I wouldn’t pay for editing either. It’s just part of the job of writing. Seems like a strange decision to pay someone to do it for you.

      Thanks for reading, appreciate the comment.

      1. I had no idea that writing and editing were considered separate skills — hell, I didn’t know what an editor was — till I got my first editorial job, as an editor in the publications office of a big U.S. nonprofit. For the 35 years since I’ve made most of my living as an editor, which leaves me free to write what I want. I still believe that a writer who puts in the time and develops good relationships with other writers can do a pretty damn good job of editing his/her own work. At the same time, if you’re dyslexic or just can’t spell, you really better find someone who can clean up your ms., even if you have to pay for it.

    1. It’s the sort of thing you can tweak forever isn’t it. Once you have something that you’re vaguely happy with, I think it’s worth stepping away for a while. My friend used the phrase ‘polishing pebbles,’ which I think sums up the trap you can fall in to quite well.

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