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.