OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
People really do judge a book by its cover so you need to know what is most effective and what your options are when it comes to book cover design.
Anthony Puttee is a designer, co-author of YA novel Dream Raider and founder of BookCoverCafe.com. He specializes in helping authors with book cover design and other aspects of marketing. [Video interview at the bottom if you prefer to watch]
In this interview, Anthony goes through:
- How he personally got started in design with TV commercials and advertising materials. But he moved into publishing as co-author of YA novel Dream Raider and then started BookCoverCafe.com to help other authors.
What people get wrong with book cover design
- Design is subjective so its never clear what exactly is right, but there are some things that are wrong. Lack of impact is a general problem. There's nothing that stands out and grabs the reader. It usually comes down to a couple of core things. Poor use of titles and typography e.g. wrong choice of font and also the placement of the author name.
- Clutter is also a very bad idea. Don't put all elements of your story, you don't need characters, the ocean, the farmhouse, whatever. You can't make out a clear message. So consider what might be symbolic and represent the whole story and just use that one strong element.
Covers for genres and series
- Rules around genre covers. There are some considerations to keep in mind. Readers of certain genres expect to see certain images or moods on the cover e.g. science fiction uses deep colours and images of space. For font and typography it might be chiseled and industrial vs a contrasting romance chick lit cover with fun, bubbly, curly typography. All these things convey the message of the book. (Check out the story of the author who dumped her publisher over disagreement on covers)
Research other books in your genre and use that for ideas. Deconstruct the covers and how it makes you feel. Break down the elements and train your eye to what you see. You can get free fonts or cheap fonts online if you can't find a standard.
- On covers for series.How can you make covers consistent or matching? Are there consistent themes or images that you can use across multiple books. Example being The Diary of the Wimpy Kid series. The font is the same as are the stick figures but the colors and drawings are different. So for your book, consider an element to be consistent. Keep the same font on the titles. Other examples for non-fiction would be the Dummies guides where the black and yellow becomes part of the branding. You can also re-release books with new covers, as per China Mieville's seen in a British bookshop.
In re-releasing your books, you can also add testimonials and quotes to the cover if you upload a new one for print on demand.
Ebook Covers vs Print Covers
- There has to be an impact at a thumbnail size. The title needs to be readable. Colour plays a huge part. Use the glance test. Look at it and look away. Can you tell what kind of book it is? This is important for it standing out. But make sure the cover is also good at a large size e.g. for fliers, posters if you are doing live events.
Tips for DIY book covers
- For a usable cover, you want something better than Windows Paint. You can find good stock images e.g. at istockphoto. Find the main elements you want to include. It's the research that takes a lot of time. Find the images, the font and the elements that will work for your cover. You can use photo-editing software e.g. Photoshop Elements which costs but good if you're doing lots yourself. You can also get free software Gimp but there is a steep learning curve (From Joanna – I tried this, very frustrating!)
- For fonts, check out these typography sites recommended by Joel, The Book Designer
How do you work with a designer?
- Give them any ideas you have, any images and guidance you can which will start things off in a good direction. You also need to allow creativity from the designer. You will discuss who is your audience and what are the ideas the designer has for the book. Once you set up a project, the designer will come up with a couple of designs. You can also use movies or music videos as inspiration. Anything to help you set the tone.
- The designer will also produce a print ready file including spine for print book. CreateSpace or other online providers will set their guidelines or you can provide from your local printer.
- The designer doesn't hold the rights to your cover design, that's import
- There are obviously different price points depending on what you want. Cover packages would be $200 upwards for a good quality product. If you need more time, more drafts etc, it will be more expensive.
- If you want a custom design, it will be more money again. We mention Ant's design for Dream Raider here (see left) – an amazing piece of artwork with brilliant colours that looks great at thumbnail size and also full-size poster that shops request because kids love it. It is hand painted and is expensive, e.g. $700-$1000. It's an awesome cover.
- To finish, Ant gets excited about what a great time it is to be an author! and we both agree our prime driver is helping people save money, time and energy on the journey.
What are your questions about book cover design?