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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Clemmer

Top 12 Book Cover Design Tips for Self-Published Authors

Designing your own book cover?

This decision is risky, and most authors who try to design their own covers fall short of the elegant designs in their heads. Book cover design is a unique skill set and not recommended unless your artistic and graphical talent matches your writing ability.

As seen below, there are a number of factors to consider when designing a good cover:

Doable? Yes, but easy? Not usually. Some writers have been able to give their books winning appeal by designing custom covers you couldn’t find in a pre-made store, and learning the skills yourself can save you money in the long-run.

If you think you have what it takes to put together a strong cover for your book, here are some of the key tips to designing something that will sell.

1. Pick one: typography or image.

With so many designs and inspirations to choose from, it’s tempting to want to throw everything on the page at once. The best book covers rely either on an image or on a typographical design, leaving the other elements to a basic minimum.

Usually, images are easier to compile because of the number of excellent stock photos available. Typographical designs are more difficult but can be more rewarding if they pay out.

2. Use simple fonts.

Most bestsellers on the shelf don’t use elaborately themed fonts but instead stick to basic, almost boring, alternatives. When you want your title to be readable even from a thumbnail image (more on this later), it’s important that you choose something clean and predictable.

On top of that, fancy fonts risk clashing with the image or typographical layout of your cover. Anything that doesn’t actively contribute to your unifying appearance should be cut or altered accordingly.

3. Use appropriate font variety.

Still on the topic of choosing a workable font and typeface, one usually isn’t enough. Most printed books will use two or three different fonts on the cover to play different roles.

These fonts need to be readable and work well with each other, but using a good variety will make your book look more professional. If you need help picking fonts that match, services like can help you decide.

4. At least two stock photos.

One photo isn’t enough. While two many images and designs can distract readers from the overall feel you want your graphics to give off, a single photo can betray itself. You don’t want to use the perfect image for your cover, only to find that three other authors already claimed it.

A combination of images that work well (such as background and foreground or setting and characters) will give your cover the unique edge it needs to stand out.

5. Learn the skill or don’t do it!

If there’s a graphic effect that you want to incorporate into your cover, like a magic swirl or metallic lettering, don’t guess at it. Guessing will take too much time and leave you with less than desirable results. Instead, find a tutorial to learn the skill you want… or leave it out of your design.

Sloppy work is the worst thing you can present. If there’s one look you can’t replicate perfectly, then you’re better off going down a different path entirely.

6. Try out multiple looks.

Your first cover idea probably won’t be your best. Professional cover designers often take the time to design multiple covers, sometimes with completely different looks.

Three different covers will give you a good sample to test with a street team or social media following. On top of that, readers will love to have a say in what cover you opt for when you do your long-awaited cover reveal.

7. Test your covers with the public.

As I mentioned earlier, testing multiple covers can give you great input when deciding on what cover works the best for your book. You can test your entire readership or just a handful of trusted individuals who are familiar with your story

8. Simple is (usually) better.

The biggest trap for potential cover designers is making everything too complicated. Many authors trying to create a cover for their own book will choose multiple images, flowery fonts, and graphics that pull away from each other instead of creating a unifying visual.

Your book might contain any number of characters, settings, and plot twists. You can’t fit all of that into a single cover, so don’t try. Instead, pick the one graphic that says the most about your book, and build off of that.

9. Check the thumbnail.

We’re talking about ebook covers in this post, which means that the first sight your readers will catch of your cover likely won’t be a full-sized graphic. Bookstores use thumbnail images to market your book, which means that you need to catch people’s attention and build interest from a distance.

Before you settle on a cover design, remember to check it out as a thumbnail size. Is the graphic clear? Can you read the title? You don’t need to be able to see and read every detail, but the nature of your book should be apparent even from such a distance.

10. Be competitive.

An Amish romance book won’t have a bright yellow background with bold black lettering, as attractive as the layout might look. Before you design a cover for your book, familiarize yourself with the covers already out there. Take inspiration from these covers and look for patterns. What colors are used? What fonts?

Studying more familiar covers can give you a leg up, even if you feel like the cover you’re making isn’t as unique and bold as you might have hoped.

11. Emotion over details.

There’s no way you can pack all of the details, graphics, and ideas of your book into a single cover. Likewise, narrowing your graphics down to a single visual can be daunting. If you can’t decide which one idea you want to go with, focus instead on what feeling you want to give. Is your book sensual? Gripping? Heartfelt?

This will help attract the right readers for your book instead of readers who simply like your genre.

12. Know your color scheme.

Maybe you already know what color or colors you want on the cover of your book, or maybe you haven’t given it much thought. Different genres often adhere to different color schemes, so it’s good to know in advance if you want a relaxed blue or a more seductive black and white.

When settling on a color scheme, make sure you include some contrast so that your title is easily readable and the pictures are more easily defined.

Have you designed your own covers? How did they turn out? Please share in the comments below or join the Pen and Glory Facebook group for added discussion!


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