Top 5 Reasons to Learn Book Cover Design
Many authors want to learn cover design at some point. It’s fun, artsy, and a great way to bring your mythos to a new dimension.
Unfortunately, book cover art demands more than a pretty picture. If you’re interested in designing your own covers, you’ll need to learn how to convert bystanders into dedicated readers—even if all they see is a tiny black-and-white thumbnail on an e-reader screen.
In most cases, I highly recommend that you hire a professional cover designer for your books. It’s one of the best investments you can make and critical to your success as a self-published author. However, there are still benefits to learning the basics of book cover design.
1. Creative Brainstorming
If you’ve ever bought a cover before you started drafting your book, you know how powerful this can be. Seeing a picture of your book—seeing your characters alive and well on the cover and your name underneath—is a powerful motivator.
Designing covers, even if you’re not especially good at it, can help as well. If you don’t have a title yet or are still looking for a good cover designer, you might spark some new life in your drafting process by throwing together something quick.
2. Evaluating Cover Quality
When you’re starting out, it can be hard to confuse good artwork with a good cover. Many authors settle for cover art that is attractive or that includes all the right elements over cover art that will actually sell.
When you take the time to study book cover art, you might find that a good cover is much simpler than you would have assumed but requires certain elements you wouldn’t have guessed from your writing alone.
Not only is this good to know when choosing an artist, but it will enable you to find better deals in premade covers instead of throwing hundreds of dollars away for a cover design that looks flashy, but that won’t actually be effective.
3. Last-Minute Emergencies
I buy my covers as soon as I can, but sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes a cover designer will retire from the industry, get sick, or be otherwise unavailable.
Sometimes the problem isn’t with the cover designer at all, but with the cover—you might decide after purchasing that you want to change a small feature or add additional text. In cases like this, the more you know about book cover design, the better suited you’ll be to revise your own.
4. Learning More about Book Marketing
When you’re self-publishing, you have to handle all of your marketing by yourself. There are many different ways to approach book marketing, but your cover can be one of the easiest.
Your book cover is the first impression you’ll make on readers. The more you know about what makes a good cover, the better sense you’ll get of what your readers are looking for when they check it out.
Ultimately, this goes beyond the cover. Catchy and reader-winning elements extend to your blurb and opening pages, and if you can match your text to a good image, you’ll have an extremely attractive book.
5. Developing A Profitable Side-Gig
If your skills are advanced enough to successfully advertise your own books, you might have a new side-gig on your hands.
Some authorpreneurs build their empires by helping other writers, and book cover design can be a part of that. You could do this either by offering custom-made covers for a price or by designing covers on your own time and listing them on pre-made cover sites.
This can give you a good excuse to learn more and develop your techniques further without risking cover design as a massive time-sink.
Interested? Here’s what you should focus on next.
If you want to learn book cover design, I’m not the best person to help you—but I can tell you a few of the areas that you should master if you want to take your design skills to the next level.
First is text. What fonts are acceptable? How much contrast do you want? Should you throw in a backshadow? The best advice here is to study the books that are already on your shelves or that you’ve already read. You can also browse any online bookselling platform and look for titles that stand out based on cover alone.
Many new designers make the mistake of falling for glamorous, elaborate text when simple print would work best. Don’t overdo it, and err on the side of making it subtle so that it doesn’t compete with the image.
Nothing screams DIY cover like a cover that doesn’t use a solid color scheme. While this shifts from book to book and genre to genre, you can count on one or two colors to dominate the aesthetics. Learning how to tint and adjust the layers in your book can unite the image into a single dominating presence that wows readers.
Bonus tip: Blue and gold are extremely popular colors for book covers. There’s no good reason for this that I know of, but it can be a good starting point if you don’t know where to begin. Otherwise, it’s always best to check out the covers in your genre to see what works for them.
Knowing how to use layers in your graphics software makes a world of difference. Covers can have any number of layers, but most can be split into something as follows:
Additional effect overlay
Why does it matter? Case Study
If you're reading this article, you probably already want to design your own covers. It sounds like a good way to cheat the system and pay less for production, and it's a lot of fun.
But be warned--bad cover design can sink your book!
I’ve been spending a lot of time over the year trying to learn cover design myself—specifically alien romance cover design, since my cover artist is often busy with her day job and there aren’t many others who can capture the right look while matching my budget.
Here’s my progress from the start.
This was an early attempt. I planted a cut-out of a foreground image into the middle of a generic space image and tinted the colors to match before putting on text. While I was watching for a color scheme, I didn’t obsess over it, and the bright green of the author name is far enough off to make me wince when I look at it now.
My background removal skills were lacking as well, a skill I’ve developed since, and it’s impossible to tell from the image what kind of science fiction story we’re looking at. That being said, most people who saw this cover passed the book by.
When I couldn’t stand that first cover anymore, I created a second. I was proud of the new space background (which took me a day or two to create from scratch) and focused on gearing the whole thing more towards romance readers.
Since the men in this romance series have green skin, I was too intimidated to learn how to do that, and settled for a silhouette instead.
My cover designer was unavailable for this book, though I will likely have it remade in the future. Here I tried to match her aesthetics with the layers, including the daunting task of turning the man green (with some, but limited, success).
The elements are all there (finally) and in the right place, but something about it feels off. Thankfully, since this book is only aimed at people who liked the others in the series, I wasn’t concerned about winning new readers over.
This is my most recent cover attempt as of this writing. It isn’t perfect, but I got serious about two things: the color scheme and the subtle brushwork I saw on the professional covers. Those effects both made a difference. I also matched the fonts more closely with what I saw and recreated the cover layer by layer.
Note: Some of the progress I made wasn’t out of a deliberate attempt to create a certain effect. I created other, non-alien romance covers during this time as well and got better at the software I was using and the techniques I wanted to learn. Sometimes you just need to practice!
Have you ever designed your own covers? What problems do you see in a lot of self-published covers that you want to avoid? Please sign in to share your comments below, or click the blue button to join my Facebook group for self-published fiction writers.