Are you thinking about designing your own cover? If you have the graphic design chops, it’s not that tough to do, though I recommend hiring a pro if you really want to maximize your sales. A good cover is one of your most powerful tools in the modern publishing world. The mantra of successful self-published authors is “Cover, title, blurb, keywords, categories” and missing any of these important pieces makes it tough to stand out in a competitive publishing world.  

You can absolutely kill the other four items and have almost no sales if your cover doesn’t have the right elements. Many new authors just assume that they want a professional looking cover that stands out, but that isn’t even close and in fact may be completely wrong. Sure, you want your cover to look professional, but do you want it to stand out? 

It may feel right to want a cover that is different from what is typical for your genre, but this is almost always a mistake. Readers want to know that your book is going to deliver what they expect from their genre. The cover is the best way to reassure them that they are going to get what they want. 

If you are writing a thriller, your readers expect action, a big backdrop, and some people on the cover who are in potential distress. They will expect certain fonts and color combinations that they are used to. Including all those key items, and blending them together in a professional way, is the best way to assure them that they will be glad they spent money on your work. Doing anything different will leave doubt in their mind and they are likely to click on something else rather than gamble on your book. 

Little tips, like using different fonts for the title and author name, one with serifs and one without, can help an amateur designer create something more professional. You can also increase the letter spacing for your name, which makes you seem like a big deal author and further reassures potential readers that your book is worth buying. Using complimentary colors, lifting the words, and blending multiple photos smoothly, can all help you create a professional cover. 

But hiring a pro is still almost always a better option. You don’t want to grind out 100,000 words, go through multiple edits and rewrites, and put countless hours into your book, only to find that it isn’t selling because you designed your own cover to save a few hundred dollars. Your attempt to save money can be very expensive if your cover fails to generate sales. 

When I design a book cover, I start by researching the genre. What do the best sellers look like? What do the best selling self-published books look like? Those best-selling self-published works have almost always done everything right because they don’t have the backing of a big name publisher driving sales. A self-published book has to have everything done right to succeed, so they are a good way to find great cover ideas. 

This research gives me a list of traits that the bestselling covers all share. What kinds of fonts and colors they use, what kinds of photos are typical, and any signatures of the genre. An erotic novel needs people on the cover to succeed, while a memoir or a piece of literary fiction can do well with a simple setting. 

Then I look at the contents of the book. The cover doesn’t need to directly relate to a character or a scene, but it shouldn’t mislead the reader either. This is another common mistake that amateur cover designers make. If your cover gets someone to buy it, but the book doesn’t give them what they were expecting, they may leave a bad review even if the book is excellent. Just a small percentage of bad reviews can really hurt sales.

I use a subscription service where I can search hundreds of thousands of high quality photos and buy them to be used for commercial use. Don’t ever use a photo on your cover unless you are certain that it can be used commercially without attribution and can be altered. This can be an expensive mistake. It’s also a good idea to search the web and look for other uses of the image. You obviously don’t want to build your cover around an image only to find out that it has already been used for a book cover. 

Once I find a few images I like, I choose fonts, select colors for them that compliment the colors in the image but also stand out. Your title should be immediately readable in a small thumbnail image. Most people buy books on Amazon and they don’t click on covers that are unclear or that feature titles they can’t easily read in an image that is only an inch or two across. A good cover should be clear as a thumbnail and also look great when they click on it and see it as a much larger picture on the book’s description page. 

This article is just a brief overview of the things you need to know to design a quality book cover. I’ve put hundreds of hours of research into learning about cover design and how to create images that sell. For a few hundred dollars you can get a professional design that gives your book the best chance for success. To see some of my cover designs, click here.   

White Hat SEO

I have been optimizing websites for search engines for almost twenty years. I’ve learned a few extra tricks about what works and what doesn’t over that time, like using keywords in header tags and titles, effective slugs, things like that. But you can learn that stuff in a few days and most of it can be automated in any content management system. Those things are not the key to effective SEO, they are just tools. 

SEO best practices are fairly simple and easy to learn. You get some backlinks when you can, you organize your pages well, and you are doing fine. But if you are playing with cutting edge SEO stuff or trying to trick the search engines, I have bad news for you. Google is smarter than you are. 

The key is simple. Give Google what they want. If you do this, your SEO work remains evergreen. A well written article with a few keywords in it, a keyword or two in a title and in the slug, and a few backlinks, will always do well.

What Google wants, what they will always want, is to please the person who is searching. If you don’t do that, they will eventually dump you in favor of content that makes the searcher happier. So write quality content. Really good stuff. Check it twice and then have someone else check it. Then run it through Grammerly and Hemingway and consider their suggestions. 

Good content will stay in the search engines for years. It will generate more backlinks simply because people will find it useful. And it will keep people on your site longer. Anything else is just an attempt to game a system that won’t last and may not ever get you any boost in rankings. 

That’s it. White Hat SEO is the only way to win in the long run. With great content and lots of it. Every new article that appeals to readers will get you more credibility with Google. Look at what modern search engine “experts” tell you to do to catch Google’s eye. 


  • Use keywords in titles and in the article, but sparingly
  • Generate backlinks
  • Keep your site up to date and running fast
  • Create good solid content that will engage readers
  • Link to relevant information
  • Use domains and slugs that include keywords
  • Keep fresh content coming and update old content regularly


Now think about this list. Isn’t it exactly what you would tell a site owner to do to make their customers happy and increase traffic? Exactly. Because what Google wants is to find the right site to make their customers happy. If they aren’t providing search results that make people happy, they could lose them as customers. 

If you keep in mind that your goal is to provide content that offers exactly what the searcher is looking for, the rest is easy. Make that searcher happy by providing a clean, well organized site that is fast and easy to navigate, and you are most of the way there. Then add a few keywords to make sure Google knows what you are all about, and you have a solid SEO strategy. And it’s the same SEO strategy that worked twenty years ago. Just give Google what they want. 

So how do we give Google what they want? 

There are lots of rules for best practices for SEO these days, but those things change and they are easy to find. Just running a search for “best practices SEO” won’t make you an expert. I see search engine optimization in three phases. 


Keyword Research

Some keywords are much tougher to optimize for than others. And some will bring you traffic that isn’t particularly valuable for you. There are hundreds of tools to find the estimated search traffic for a particular word or combination of words. Pros use tools like, which help you find search terms and come up with the best estimates for how much traffic you would generate by ranking for that term and how hard it would be. 

If we use those tools to find search terms that are a good combination of easy to rank for and profitable, then we can create a list of search terms that we want to target. I know, I make this sound easy, but once you have access to the right tools it really isn’t all that tough. 


Content Creation and Optimization

Creating content that ranks for your chosen search terms involves lightly sprinkling those search terms into high quality content. And I mean a light sprinkling. Don’t overdo it. Google hates it when you pack too many search terms into a page, or keep pounding the same term for no reason. It won’t help. Why?

Because, as I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t make readers happy. If they found you by searching for “sequined baby shoes”, they want to learn about sequined baby shoes, not read the word over and over. Put it in a title, in the slug, and mention it every few paragraphs, but don’t cram it into every other sentence or it will actually hurt your ranking. 

I could go on for pages about how Google’s algorithm rewards, and penalizes, different content. But then they would change it again tomorrow and I would have to update this article again. I will give one example. If you put your search term everywhere, and create a long article with keywords related to your search term, but it isn’t informative and doesn’t make the reader happy, they won’t stick around for long. 

When your readers bounce back to Google and search again, rather than staying on your site to read the article, Google drops your ranking. The reader didn’t stick around, so they clearly didn’t find what they needed, so Google figures that your content is not a good match for those search terms. There are lots of examples of ways that Google knows if your site has quality content, and they find new ones quite often, so the best thing to do is simply try to make the reader happy they clicked on the link to your site from their Google search. If you can make the reader happy, everything else will work out fine. 

Remember, we use things like H1 tags, titles, meta data, and page slugs, to tell Google what our page is about. We will not convince them that it is good content for their customers unless it really is good content. So worry about making the reader happy, not spamming keywords everywhere or trying to game the system. 


Link Generation

Another big way that Google ranks your content is by looking at how many other people like it. If someone links to your content, that is seen as an endorsement. But if you generate that link yourself from another site you own, it will be seen as having little or no endorsement value. And google knows what pages you own. They see that you promote certain content on social media, they see that you are listed as the owner in a whois database (or that your mother or business partner owns it) or they just see that certain sites always link to each other. 

Getting links from people who aren’t directly associated with you is the biggest boost for your search rankings. You can do this by actively pursuing those links, or by creating great content that people will link to without your asking. 

If you are going to actively pursue links, gently approach sites that rank for similar terms and suggest a link swap. Or do some research on link building. There is ample information about it online. You can even buy links, though this can get you in trouble with Google too, and as you might guess, they have some clever ways of knowing that you are doing it. So don’t play that game unless you really know what you are doing. 

If you want people to link to you organically, congratulations, you are getting my point. Write great content that helps people, solves their problems, answers their questions, or entertains them. If your article is authoritative and thorough, people will link to it to educate others. If it’s funny, they will share the joy with others. What purpose it serves, make it great. One great page is worth ten fairly good pages over the long run because it takes a very strong piece of content to convince people to link back to you. 

In my recent career change (I’m a writer now, and I’m going to keep saying that until someone pays me to do it), I’ve had to take whatever job comes in. I know I’m good at what I do, but other people haven’t figured that out, so the cushy writing gigs aren’t rolling in yet.

I was recently approached by a representative of the murder hornets. I know, it doesn’t sound plausible. Leave me alone, I’m creating a writing sample here. The murder hornets have a really bad image right now, which is understandable. Very few people like murder, and no one likes hornets. In fact, hornets are one of the few things that have a lower approval rating than actual murder.

To fix this problem, the murder hornets needed a publicist. I was the only person who bid on the job, so they sent a shady looking little man in a trench coat to my house with a contract. Now, I’m not saying that this man was actually just four thousand murder hornets in a trench coat, but the only sound he made was a loud buzzing and I still see his face in my nightmares. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and I really didn’t want to piss off four thousand murder hornets. So I signed the contract and am now officially representing the most hated species on the planet.

In fact, I did a bit of research, and they are actually the most hated thing in existence. According to people who conduct fictional polls, the top five most hated things are…


  1. Murder Hornets

  2. Congress

  3. Junk Mail

  4. Twilight Fan Fiction

  5. The Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line


My first goal, after not getting stung, was to get them out of the top five. For that I needed some sort of silver lining. There must be something good about murder hornets right? No one is all bad. And the other things on the list were very unpopular. I just needed to find something to win people over, to show them that murder hornets might not be so bad. Or, I could just make the other things on the list look worse…

I considered letting murder hornets loose in the halls of congress or perhaps on the floor of the senate. This would certainly increase the popularity of the hornets and probably all stinging creatures. Even scorpions would likely get a small bump in popularity after such a prank. But a quick call to my attorney put an end to that idea. It also brought an end to my relationship with my him when he said, and I quote him exactly –

“I’ve represented the lowest of the low in my career. Cold-hearted killers, rapists, even insurance companies, but I don’t want anything to do with murder hornets. Don’t call me anymore and definitely don’t come anywhere near my office. I have a can of raid and a tennis racket and I’m not afraid to use them.”

I didn’t get a chance to ask about releasing them in the Dallas Cowboys locker room, but I have a feeling that wouldn’t be legal either. Without an attorney I was going to have to play this one straight. I needed to find something positive about murder hornets, so I did what I always do. I drank a glass of bourbon and bemoaned my miserable luck. Then I made a list of the good things about murder hornets.

  1. Intimidating

  2. Never back down from a fight

  3. Strong sense of community and family

  4. Excellent motor skills, including flying and stinging with great accuracy

  5. Fast and maneuverable

  6. Never give up, even if they are losing

I pondered this list for hours. There must be something in there I could use. I flipped on the TV to take a break and clicked over to ESPN to see which sports were canceled. The big news of the day was that the Washington Redskins were now just The Washington Football Team. They had dumped their mascot and become the NFL’s only generic football team. And that’s when it hit me. No one likes generics.

Sure, they might be just as good. At least that’s what my grandmother tells me while she puts a bottle of Pancake Syrup brand pancake syrup on the table in the morning. But no one really likes them. I had a solution for both the murder hornets, and the Washington Football Team.

Wait for it…

The Washington Murder Hornets!

Now go back and look at that list of things the murder hornets have to offer. Aren’t those all the traits you want in a football team? I’ve always thought a football mascot should be ferocious. The Ohio State Buckeyes, named after a nut for some odd reason, are the exception, but in general I find that teams with a strong mascot perform better.

And what creature will scare a lion, a bear, or a buccaneer? You’re damn right. A murder hornet. Look out Minnesota Vikings, your battle ax won’t do you much good against a swarm of angry hornets on third and long. Nobody would want any part of a team with an angry murder hornet on it’s helmet. We could even bring some of them to the game to hang out on the sideline! Okay, maybe having them at the game is a bad idea. But you see where I’m going with this. We put hornets on the helmets, we give the football team in Washington an identity again, we rehab the murder hornet’s image, and I get paid. It’s perfect.

Now I need your help dear reader. I’m going to get stung if this doesn’t work. A lot. It’s in the fine print of the contract. I was terrified at the time and didn’t read it carefully, but it’s in there.

We need to get this idea trending. So go to your twitter account, your facebook page, or just spray paint it on a wall. Let’s get #WashingtonMurderHornets trending. Please hurry. I hear buzzing…

Fairy Tales

While parts of this book are risque’, the stories are also charming and filled with wonder. This cover helps the reader get a feel for what they will experience in the book as well as comparing favorably with other top sellers in the genre. 

Book Club Fiction

This emerging genre fascinates me, so I designed a sample cover for it. I like the cover enough that now I want to read a book that doesn’t exist! 

Perhaps I should write it some day. With a different title of course. I’ll need to come up with something that fits the cover, like Words In The Clouds or The Storm Inside. 

A Mystery Indeed

The cover for a mystery novel must have some mystery itself. Dark patches in the photo, a mysterious look on the man’s face, and an indeterminate setting, all contribute to the intrigue. 


True Crime

This type of cover also works for the true crime genre, though a photo of the crime scene or one of the settings from the story would work better than this man in his snappy hat.

Poker book cover

My Poker Book

I designed the cover for my own book by researching the best sellers in the genre and which photos were popular with poker players. A hooded sweatshirt is associated with professional players, so that was an easy choice.


There Are Rules?

A friend wrote this book under the pseudonym Jack Spade. I helped edit it and also designed the cover for him.

A cheeky photo that just hints at what the book is about, without being obscene, overtly sexual, or too cheesy, helps this cover grab the attention of potential readers. 


I really enjoy designing book covers. Feel free to contact me about creating a cover for your work that catches the interest of your reader and showcases the content of your work.