Banish Bad Book Covers!

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
-Edgar Degas

I haven’t written a blog post in five months. FIVE. MONTHS.

Let me preface this by saying I am not claiming to be an expert in cover design. I am most definitely an advocate for people to purchase book covers from actual professionals when their budget so allows–hell, even the ready-made book covers are giant steps forward for pretty much everyone.Cover DesignAlabama Rain

That said, I made my own cover for Sex, Love, and Technicalities and also for my current WIP, Alabama Rain.

Admittedly, the cover for AR is extremely simple. It’s a stock photo with text.

SL&T is actually several elements that took me at least ten hours in Photoshop to blend just the way I wanted them. But, how much did they cost me? Because let’s be honest, people who can afford to have covers made generally do so. I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of people who create their own covers do so because they want to do it for free.

Subtracting the cost of Photoshop (Because my husband already had it), the cover for SL&T cost me a whopping $3. Alabama Rain? $1.

Are they perfect? No. But, I have had a surprising number of people tell me they thought SL&T was done by a pro. I chalk it up to flattery.

So, you’re a self-pubber and you need a cover. Your dream designer costs hundreds of dollars you don’t have, even if you committed yourself and your spouse to eating nothing but ramen for the foreseeable future. You’ve scanned at least a thousand pre-made covers, and even though they’re much more affordable, they just don’t seem very you. The one you did find you actually liked was already being used by another self-pubbed author and they’re in the same genre as you. You don’t want that Amazon taboo on your conscious.

You’ve given in to the fact you’re going to have to create your own, but where do you even begin? Stock photo sites are a bit pricey and some seem kind of shady. If you could afford Photoshop, you’d just buy a cover. Gimp is confusing. You could make it in MS Paint. (Tip #1: Don’t.)

There are plenty of places to create covers (Think Amazon’s own cover designer) but allow me to again mention my love and devotion to Canva. If you haven’t tinkered around with it, I suggest you do. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this post teaching you how to use the plethora of its features. Perhaps I’ll save that for later.

Author Name HereFor this experiment, I concocted a very quick story idea just so I could think up of a cover design. Our fictional novel is called Murder at the Lake, and it’s setting is in the late 1970s. Let’s look at the really bad, terrible, horrible cover design that I slapped together in about 45 seconds.

Let’s just go from top to bottom. What’s with the band of gray? If you’re adamant about a dark cover and a light font for the title, that’s fine… it doesn’t require a block of color to set the title off. In fact, with them so close in color, it’s very difficult to read. Also, the font… it’s a bit cliche, right? Let’s just not.

Furthermore, I’m fine with stock photography. This was a free image in Canva’s vast library, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. This could quite possibly be the cabin in which the murder took place. But all too often with people making their own covers, the stock photography winds up having very little significance for some strange reason. So when people keep reading and realize a cabin just like this doesn’t exist in the actual book–they’ll be quite confused about the author’s choice. (Hahaha…okay, so with a cover like this, who would actually ever get that far?)

And yes, we’ve got more awkward blocking at the bottom to set apart the author’s name…but also, look at the size of the font for the name vs. the title. I’m sorry to say it, but this author is no Stephen King, and their book isn’t going to sell just because of their name… For self-pubbing authors, your title and cover design are paramount. Your name isn’t getting you placed on bookshelves just yet.

Total cost of this self-made cover: $0 and many, many missed sales

Author Name Here (1)Alright, now let’s glance at a cover I spent just slightly more time on to show a few improvements. This is by no way a perfect cover or a saleable cover, but it is better and a step in the right direction. How has it improved?

It feels like a novel set in the 1970s, for one thing. The lake is at the center visually as we can assume it will be the center of the novel. The text is easy to read and in reasonable fonts and at appropriate sizes. It would be decent in thumbnail size.

It’s just so… blah. Better than the first, yes. You’d definitely get more interest and more people willing to take a chance on it. But not many, I’m afraid.

Total cost: $0, and missed sales.

On to #3.

THE LAKEIn this example, I hope you’ll agree we’ve got something potentially workable. Instead of reworking the whole thing, it may require minor tweaks here and there, especially if you’re publishing in multiple formats.

With this cover, we’ve eschewed the whole notion of using a photo of a lake. Instead, we see a fingerprint, something synonymous with a crime scene investigation. It’s minimalistic and will translate nicely to thumbnail size.

We’ve fancied up the title just a bit, but it’s still plenty readable and is a good size in comparison with the author’s name. It still only took me about 15 minutes to design but is leaps and bounds better than the first, and a huge improvement on the second.

Total cost: $1.

Truly, I hope you’re able to work with a professional designer who can create the cover of your dreams. You’ve [hopefully] worked very hard on your book and it deserves a cover befitting the best-seller you know it to be in your heart.

If not, I hope this post has helped you think and rethink some of your choices. Designing your own cover is not impossible. Just keep these guidelines in mind:

•Keep it simple.
•Look at it as a thumbnail. (This is how 90+% of potential customers will view it)
•Ask for feedback from Beta Readers.
•Know the copyright laws on any images you use! (Sometimes you must give credit, sometimes purchasing a license may only cover you for the first X-number of sales, etc.)
•Check Amazon for books in your genre, be mindful of trends. What looks good to you?

That’s all I’ve got for you today, friends. I promise it won’t be five months until we meet again.

Happy writing! xoxo




2 thoughts on “Banish Bad Book Covers!

  1. thomasjast says:

    Great post… and more importantly… welcome back! The thumbnail advice is solid. The world has changed from “standing out on the shelves of [insert out-of-business retail book store here]” to “standing out when Jane McJanerson scrolls through 20 pages of books about talking cats that have hidden political agendas.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s