You can probably tell from the title which side of the fence I fall on. But in actuality, it’s a little more complicated than that. Here’s the deal—for my nonfiction books, I design all my own covers. And for my fiction ones, I design most of the covers. I’ll explain more in a minute, but first, let me say something. Some people aren’t going to like what I’m about to tell you, but here’s the deal. According to Author Earnings, I’m ahead of the pack as far as yearly income on Amazon, so all those people who say you can’t sell books when you design your own covers? I have to disagree.
But that said, I will admit that there are some horrible DIY covers out there. So, what makes some DIY covers acceptable and others not? I believe it’s all in the approach to design, so let’s start this discussion there.
The Essential Design Elements of a Successful Book Cover
The job of your book cover is to pique people’s interest and get them to look closer at your book. Some people say that the job of the cover is to sell the book, but that’s just not true. The cover draws them in by piquing their interest, and then your description and reviews make the sale.
So what are the elements you need to pay special attention to when designing your cover? Here are the four things you have to get right.
We live in a world where color is the driving force behind most purchases. In fact, many studies have been done about color that seem to imply it can make consumers act one way or another. But if you’ve read my book, How to Brand Your Home-Based Business, then you know that most of those studies don’t have anything to do with brand. Instead it seems that consumers care more about whether a brand’s colors are in line with its “personality.” As an author, you have a brand, and your book covers are an extension of that brand.
What is a brand? In a nutshell, it’s the emotional experience consumers have with a business (or author in this case), and at the same time, it’s the promise that business makes to consumers. As an author, your cover should make a promise to potential readers, and that promise is that your book is what they’re looking for.
What does all of this have to do with color? Because each genre has its own color schemes and when readers look for books in a particular genre, they expect to see those colors. For instance, if I had made the cover for this book pink, would you have been confused by it? Probably so. And if I wrote cozy romances and designed the cover with black and orange, would it strike you as odd? It certainly wouldn’t cause a reader of that genre to take a closer look at the book, would it?
In order to select the colors of your book, you’ll first need to understand which colors are popular in your genre. It can be tempting to select another color to make yourself stand out, but that could hurt your sales. Instead, look at the bestselling covers of the books in your genre and identify which colors they’re using. You may have noticed that many of my books have white covers. That’s not an accident. I designed them that way because at the time, there are many bestsellers in the business genre that have white covers. If that changes and bestsellers begin to use different colors, I’ll likely redesign my covers.
As you look at book covers in your genre, pay close attention to how the colors contrast with each other. When you look at a color wheel, notice that contrasting colors appear on opposite sides of the wheel. You’ll want to use contrasting colors in order for your book cover to have enough of an impact on readers that it makes them stop to take a closer look. Colors on the Web offers an online color wheel you can use to find the perfect contrasting colors.
And in addition to contrasting colors, you’ll also want to use some colors that are light and some that are dark. This adds depth to your covers, which makes them appear more professional.
The fonts you use on your covers may seem like no big deal, but they can easily make your book look unprofessional if you don’t get it right. The goal is to use fonts that are interesting but not so over the top that they appear amateurish. The best way to accomplish this is to use one bold or unique font in your main title, and use a simple font for your subtitle and name.
For instance, you can use images that contain words like I do in How to Work from Home and Make Money, How to Start a Home-Based Food Business, and How to Brand a Home-Based Business, or a contrasting color like I use in this book. (I’m not being obnoxious, I used the hyperlinks here so you can easily get a visual of what I’m talking about.)
The same is true for fiction, but instead of being able to rely on word images to make it stand out, you’ll use only the fonts. For example, if you write romance, you will probably want to put the title in a cursive or flowing font, but if you write thrillers, a simple bold font will do well on your cover. Be sure that if you use an unusual font that you don’t use it on everything. Instead, use it on your title only and then use plain font for your name and tagline. Again, be sure to check the books in your genre and don’t try to reinvent the wheel. In other words, see what’s working well and imitate it.
Here’s where it gets tricky and where a lot of DIY book cover makers go wrong. Your main goal for selecting the right image is simplicity. But how that simplicity is defined is different for fiction and nonfiction books. But one thing they should both have in common is that the reader should be able to relate to the image.
Let me explain. This book is written for writers, or those who want to write a book, so I used a typewriter because I know everyone who fits the ideal reader for this book can relate to it. And in my branding book, I use a bullseye because people who are interesting in branding their business want to hit the theoretical bullseye. If you are writing a book about cake designs, a beautifully designed cake image on the cover will appeal to your target audience. Or maybe you’re writing a book about dieting. A sculpted stomach will likely catch the attention of your potential readers.
But what about fiction? Simplicity is still your goal, but in a completely different way. For this type of book, you’ll have to find a balance between setting the mood of the book and enticing the reader. It’s a mistake to put a lot of images on the cover in an attempt to try and convey the message of your entire book. Instead, you should try and convey the mood of the book in as simple an image as you can find. It’s why love stories often have pictures of starry-eyed women on the cover, and thrillers have images that imply action. The most successful fiction covers either have a setting scene as the main focus, such as a big sky or thrashing ocean, an interesting character in the forefront, with a muted scene behind them, or an up close photo of a face.
Now I realize that there is a debate about whether or not fiction writers should use photos of people on the cover because some are worried that another author will use the same stock photo on their cover. There are ways around that (I once hired a professional photographer for one of my fiction covers, so no other book will ever have the same model, which cost $250), but on my others, I use stock photos. And I haven’t seen them anyplace else.
My theory for using people on fiction book covers comes from a study about advertising I saw a couple of years ago. The researchers used software to track where people’s eyes went when looking at an ad. Almost always, the participants looked at the faces of people in the ads before anything else and for the longest amount of time. I believe that if a fiction book has an interesting face on it, it gets and holds the attention of those people looking at it more than covers without them.
But that’s just my theory.
If you’re going to design your own cover, you’ll need to look for just the right image. Here are some of the sites where you can find them. Keep in mind that prices differ depending on which site you find your perfect image on.
- Dreamstime.com. This site boasts more than 49 million stock images.
- Adobe Stock. Image prices start at just $9.99 and you’ll find many great photos to choose from.
- ShutterStock.com. This is one of my favorites. I always find just what I need on this site.
- Pond5.com. This site has media of all types, including photographs for Kindle covers.
- 123RF.com. Another great site with tons of affordably priced photos.
Finally, if your book doesn’t make readers stop what they’re doing and click on it, you haven’t done your job. You can do this with any of the elements listed above—the colors, font, or image, but ideally, the “pop” will come from the perfect combination of all three. The absolute best way to accomplish this is to study the successful books in your genre and then design yours as close to them as you can. Remember, your goal shouldn’t be to design a “ground breaking” cover, but to design one that fits into the genre you’re trying to establish yourself in. Those readers are “used” to what the covers in that genre look like, so your goal should be to fit in so they’re recognize your book as belonging to it.
Yeah, But How Do I Design My Own Cover?
I’m glad you asked. Now that you understand the four important elements of a good book cover and how to use them, let’s talk about the process. First, you’ll need to decide which type of DIY program you want to use. Here are some great places where you can design your own cover.
I use this site to design all of my covers. It’s simple, easy to use, and free. What more could you ask for? Here are the basics of how to design a Kindle cover using this site.
Go to canva.com and in “create a design” click on “more.” Then click on “kindle Cover” and you’ll be taken to the design page. Choose your background color, use the text application to add your title, subtitle, and author name, and then use “upload images” to upload your own image to put in the cover. Play around with the cover until you get it right, then download it to your computer. For kindle covers, I download a jpg image and it works just fine.
If you have Photoshop and know how it use it, you can design a killer book cover using it. If you need help with the process, there is a great video on YouTube that describes the process in language anyone can understand. The video is called How to Design a Book Cover in Photoshop by HowTech.
Derek Murphy over at CreativIndieCovers.com has figured out a way to create Kindle covers using Microsoft Word. He outlines the entire process on his site.
Gimp and Cover Creator
Many professional cover designers use Adobe Illustrator, but that can be cost prohibitive for authors. Luckily, there are some free programs that you can use if you want a more intensive program than Canva. For example, Gimp is a free image manipulation open software program that’s considered an alternative to Adobe, and CreateSpace offers Amazon Cover Creator, which you can use for your paperbacks and CD’s.
Are There Other Options?
Maybe you aren’t sure whether you want to tackle the process of designing your own book cover, but you don’t want to shell out a lot of money for a designer. Don’t worry, you have some options. Here are a few:
- Diybookcovers.com. This program walks you through book cover design with tutorials and an easy-to-use program that will allow you to create a quality cover. It was created by Derek Murphy, who is arguably one of the best cover designers in the industry.
- CoverDesignStudio.com. This site offers scores of templates you can choose from and customize. Templates start at just $30. You’ll also find interior page templates for your paperback books and stock photos that you won’t see elsewhere.
- Premade covers. You can find some pretty good premade covers at places like selfpubbookcovers.com, where prices start at $69, theBookcoverdesigner.com, where you can select from almost 8,000 premade covers, and goonwrite.com, where prices start at just $50.
- And if you don’t mind shelling out a few hundred dollars, you can hire professional book designers at places like 99designs.com, reedsy.com, and eBooklaunch.com, which offers both premade and custom covers.
Test Your Cover
You’ve finally designed the perfect cover, right?
Are you sure?
When you design your own covers, or pick a premade one, you should test it before uploading it to Kindle. Why? Because we sometimes get so invested in our own covers that we find it impossible to remain objective about them. Luckily, it’s quick and easy to test your cover before putting your book up for sale. There are two main ways to do this.
- Social media. If you already have a following, you can create a survey using a site like survey.com and ask your followers what they think of your cover. Don’t just ask a closed ended question about whether or not they like it, but ask for specific feedback or suggestions.
- PickFu.com. If you don’t have a following to query, you can use this site to test your cover for about $20. You submit a query and the site will quickly reach out to 50 US based people, who will answer your query within a few hours and give you feedback. You’ll also receive the demographics information of the people who were asked to better help you understand the feedback.
Just for Fun
Finally, if you want to promote your book on your own website, or on social media, it’s good to use a 3D image because it catches people’s attention. Most people end up paying someone on Fiverr to make this image for them, but it’s not necessary. Instead, head on over to online.boxshot.com and get a free 3D image of your new book cover, CD, hardcover or any other format.
Okay, let’s take stock. You’ve researched your book topic and come up with a bestseller, you’ve written the book, formatted it and then designed your own cover. Now it’s time publish your book on Amazon. But wait—before you hit publish, you’ll need to choose the right categories so it will sell.