Grabbing Reader's by the Eye

There are things you don't want to skimp on when it comes to publishing. Your book cover ties  with editing for the #1 spot on that list. If you can't immediately grab a potential reader's attention with your cover, chances are they'll never read your book. It's that simple. I usually recommend that anyone who doesn't have an art background, preferably graphic design like me, shouldn't attempt their own covers. If you really feel like you want to or have to, though, here's some tips to get you started.

What are the first things you need to know?

  • Look at other covers in the genre that best fits your book so that you get to know some of the commonalities between covers in that genre. But don't copy other covers.
  • Don't mislead people with your cover. You never want to confuse a reader into thinking they're buying one thing, but you give them something else. That is the fast road to a return and a scathingly bad review.
  • Knowing some color theory and understanding typography is helpful. What do many buyers like? What do many buyers hate?
  • Free stock photos seem like a great idea, but you want to dig into a site's selection before picking one. I strongly discourage you from picking one on the first two pages of the "popular" pics. Why? Because your chances of using a stock photo that appears in 20 other places is very high with those photos. Do a keyword search and then scour the results for a photo you love and know for sure you've never seen anywhere else.
  • Are you doing a print cover and an ebook cover, or just an ebook cover? If you're doing the former, I recommend you start with the print cover and then do the ebook cover later. Why? It's the harder one to do. Ebooks just need a title and an author name attached to the cover. Print books need a title and author on the front; a title, author, and publisher logo on the spine; and a blurb, logo, author bio, and a barcode on the back.
  • Most sites ask you to supply an ebook cover image that's at least 1000-1500px wide. For good measure, I make mine 1600px wide.
  • Most sites also want a JPEG cover. I also make my ebook covers in the PNG format, because it scales better on the web. I use PNGs on my websites.
  • The size of your print cover front and back are dependent on the trim size you select. The spine width is dependent on your trim size, paper choice (white or cream), and the number of pages in your manuscript. Consult with your print on demand service to get the correct measurements.

What tools should I use?

  • The most professional tools for book cover creation are Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, but these require some learning in advance. They are also expensive. I use InDesign.
  • Gimp is an open source photo manipulator that's a happy medium between Photoshop and InDesign. There's still a learning curve to it, but much smaller.
  • For ebook cover layout, Canva is a good standby for the above programs. I don't recommend trying to create a print layout, however.
  • For image manipulation, you can use Photoshop or Gimp, but I like using Pixlr. The web-based version is free and does a lot of things that Photoshop and Gimp do, but with an even smaller learning curve. Try to mobile app, too, for added features. I usually use a combination of the two to achieve the look I want for my covers.

How do you know when you have a good cover?

Ask complete strangers to critique it for you. I usually do at least two variations and then pit them against each other on Facebook groups. Whichever one people like best is the one I use.

If no one likes the covers, don't get defensive. Remember that you can't explain to every Amazon or Barnes & Noble customer why you made the cover the way you did. Listen to the feedback and adjust your covers accordingly.

You want to shoot for most people liking at least one. Everyone will not love your work. That's just the nature of art.

When do you know it's time to hire a professional?

  • If any of the terms, like JPEG or PNG or even px are unknown to you, you might need a pro.
  • If you aren't computer savvy, you probably need a pro.
  • If you pitched six different covers and you got a negative reaction each time, definitely seek out a pro.

Professional cover design can range anywhere from $100 to the thousands of dollars. What you pay is based on what you're asking for. But there's no shame in deciding cover design isn't for you. It's better to turn the job over to a pro than put out a book with a bad cover.


Any of the above covers look good to you? Sign up for my mailing list, and I'll let you test drive Into the Darkness's first 8 chapters totally for free. There's a 50% off coupon in the offing if you want the whole book, and I think you will.