We’re all familiar with they saying that a picture speaks a thousand words.

Even though the power of words is unstoppable, to design a good book cover we must follow this principle. It should be understood that it’s not just some image, or a random pretty image, and certainly not an over-elaborated image the one that should represent our work.

It is also known that a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover. This may be valid for many facets of life, but like every other rule, it has its exception; ironically, the exception in this case is found exactly when we take this precept literally.

Our book will be judged by its cover this time.

Here I’ll talk about how to successfully design a good book cover for self-published books, where a team of people working on the cover isn’t an option. The job of an independent writer includes having to involve in every phase of the process, and the elaboration of the cover isn’t to be taken lightly.

An excellent cover is the best marketing weapon. In a super competitive world, where every passing day thousands of books are added to the bookstores’ catalogs, the cover is the only element that can make your book stand out before the eyes of millions of costumers.

In the case of brick and mortar bookstores, the books with higher exhibition are the ones published by major publishing houses. But that’s another story. It’s likely that others factors come into play there.

On online bookstores we have more chances of exhibiting and selling our books, so having a good design is mandatory. We need our work to stand out among the books –millions of books- that are exhibited there to the scrutiny of potential buyers. And for that is fundamental to design a good book cover.

 That’s why the cover shouldn’t be less than brilliant.


It’s said that the difference between a cover made by a professional and one made by an amateur is the use of the typography. It isn’t only choosing the font, or the family of fonts, but also its size, color and positioning

Good opportunities are usually thrown away by badly designed covers. Authors tend to make the mistake of wanting to show something that only make sense to us, since we know by heart what our book is about. But that fails resoundingly in the reader’s eyes, who aren’t able to understand what we want to convey.

We also tend to think that once our book is read, the cover will become much clearer to the reader, who will appreciate and think we are “so clever”. But that isn’t how this works. That cover will never be appreciated for the simple reason that the book won’t sell in the first place.

Less is more to successfully design a good book cover

The concept of minimalism is vital for the process. Every book has an unique proposal. An element that sets it apart and gives life to the story. That makes it different in the case of non-fiction books.

Your job is to isolate this proposal, fill it with emotion, motivation, and then you’re done!

It sounds easy, doesn’t it? In fact, it is, but it requires more thought than action. The ideal solution would be to create a visual metaphor to express the content in a single image. That’s the way to successfully design a good book cover.

The importance of the genre

Regardless of the cover we want to create, there are certain parameters that need to be respected so that the potential reader (buyer) can quickly identify which genre the books belongs to.

It’s recommended to go through many covers within the genre of our book and identify common elements in them. Start with the bestsellers list, since those books got there for a reason. That should be the starting point for the creation of our metaphor.

Typography

It’s said that the difference between a cover made by a professional and one made by an amateur is the use of the typography. It isn’t only choosing the font, or the family of fonts, but also its size, color and positioning.

It’s the way in which the typography merges with the images, how it becomes part of that metaphor and makes the perfect harmony within the visual metaphor we want to portray.

Two examples

To illustrate how to successfully design a good book cover, I’m going to show you two books of my own and explain briefly the design process of their cover. I’ve chosen a fiction book and non-fiction one for this purpose.

For fiction, we have ADN Fatal, a book in the thriller genre. The cover depicts the body of a naked woman, covered by a torn blue screen, thus revealing the lower back of her body. A double-helix of DNA is shown on top of her back, and you can see several nanobots walking all over the helices. Some blood drops complement the design.

As you can see, it’s a minimalistic but powerful cover. The genre can be grasped immediately, and the idea is conveyed in a simple but effective way.


The second cover that I’m going to use as an example it’s from a non-fiction book: Kindle Scout Hot & Trending List. Again, we have a clean minimalist cover, where it’s easily graspable that the book is based on social media interaction.

Here the typography plays a significant role, where the subtitle of the book: How to Get (and Stay) There is blends in perfectly.

In this case, the visual metaphor is based on the fact that the book provides a method so easy to use that people can apply it from the comfort of their tablet. The emotion is transmitted through an image placed inside the device, where you can see the message being spread all over the world.

Should I design my own cover?

As it’s said before, independent writers must control every part of the process. Including, in many cases, usurping the functions of other professionals, for one simple economic reason: hiring them costs money.

If we are qualified, there are certain things we can do on our own, but unless you count with solid formation in graphic design, the elaboration of the cover shouldn’t be one of them. It’s too primordial to leave it to chance.

Hiring the elaboration of a cover can be expensive. It can even be over $900 (see CreateSpace services).  But there are always cost-effective alternatives we can take.

So, where should I look?

All of this is conditioned by the budget at hand. There are options like elance.com, 99designs.com, etc., where we can find excellent professionals to make our cover, at costs ranging from $100 to $300. There’s also fiverr.com, the service that’s been changing many things on the internet.

The problem with Fiverr is that, generally, you get what you pay for. At the beginning Fiverr only offered $5 gigs, and maybe it wasn’t a good choice then. But the service has evolved, nowadays it counts with many options, that while won’t be $5, they can range from $20 to $50, which is more than reasonable for a good cover.

Regardless of the service you wish to use, examine closely the works of the professionals when they offer their services. More importantly, make sure that the person you choose understands the concepts discussed in this article.

There are many gigs on Fiverr that ask you to choose the image in which you want to the cover to be based on. Avoid those at any cost. Your job is to provide a brief about the book, and whoever is designing the cover should work from that. Otherwise, there’s no use in hiring them. I offer a gig on Fiverr to design good book covers, in case you want to consider it. You can take a look at it here.

Validate it!

Once you have your cover and you feel happy with it, validate it with some people to confirm that you’re conveying exactly what you want. You can ask people in your own environment. Social networks can help a lot too, especially if you have two runner-ups. A quick online survey can set you on the path to choosing which one of the two is better.

Summary

The cover is fundamental for the success of your book. To successfully design a good book cover you have to take into account:

  • Determine the unique proposal of your work.
  • Incorporate elements to transmit emotion.
  • Create a visual metaphor.
  • Study the cover of the bestsellers in the genre of your book.
  • Hire a professional for the elaboration of the cover, unless you have a solid background in graphic design.
  • Validate the cover with friends to see if it’s in line with the expected.

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