Do you remember the feeling when you decided that you were going to self-publish a book? Aaah, the relief! No publisher screaming about deadlines day after day.
No one to trash your work with the same old excuse: “It had to be edited.” Nothing to do with promotional teams who force you to go to signings you hate. No graphic designer who doesn’t want to hear anything about your idea on the perfect cover.
Just you, your thoughts, your ideas, and your work.
That was a lovely feeling at first, wasn’t it? You could focus on your writing, without being distracted by irrelevant things. Somewhere along the way, however, you finally realized: being a self-published author also means you have a lot more work to do. Since you don’t have a promotional team, you’ll have to deal with the promotion. But that step comes later.
At this point, you’re mostly concerned about one thing: what exactly will you promote?
Ken Yin, a writer for BestEssays, sheds some light on the issue: “Your book is a product. Its visual appeal is extremely important for a customer. When they see it on a shelf with thousands of other books, there should be a factor of attraction that calls them before they read the description. That factor is the book cover.”
Can You Design Your Own Book Cover?
The good news: you don’t have to hire a book designer. There are various tools you can use to design your own cover, and it will perfectly grasp the essence of the book.
The bad news: you’ll have to do it yourself. It’s not easy. Book cover design is complex even for the pros.
When you use the right design elements, however, you can make it work. There’s no harm in trying, after all. If you do this well, you’ll save yourself a lot of money. You’ll save yourself some nerves, too, since you won’t have a stubborn graphic designer following their own instincts instead of your instructions.
Now, the only question is: how do you create a book cover that’s a total success?
We’ll give you 15 tips on that.
15 Tips to Design a Successful Book Cover
First of all, you have to know the main rule: you’ll work on the cover only after the content of your book is ready. That’s because the cover should convey the main point of your book, so it’s only natural for you to work on it after you complete the draft.
It’s best to start with brainstorming. What’s the book about? Write down the thoughts that come to your mind. Then, find few elements you’d love to reflect on the cover. The fonts, colors, symbols, images… all elements will express the vibe of the book, so they practically depend on this step.
2. Choose Your Colors
The colors you use will make a huge difference. It’s not just about the design; it’s about using the right colors for the message you want to convey. Will you opt for a dark scheme that evokes heavy impressions, or will you go for bright colors that give out a positive vibe?
The combination of colors is super important, so make sure your chosen shades blend well. You can use a tool like Paletton to choose the perfect color scheme.
Credits: Mike Smith
3. Don’t Make It a Spoiler
Be careful: the cover must not be too revealing! If you were designing a cover for Anna Karenina, for example, you wouldn’t feature a woman throwing herself under the train.
4. Focus on the Hook
You don’t want to reveal the major surprise of your book, but you do want to hint the hook. If everything started with a mysterious murder, you can convey that point by featuring a knife, gun, or drops of blood on the cover.
Credits: Tamara Saietkhanova
5. Don’t Complicate Things
A busy cover does not work. When you throw it on a shelf with tons of other books, it’s hard for the potential buyer to recognize the elements on the cover, so they will simply avoid it. Minimalism, on the other hand, works pretty well.
You want clean, sophisticated design that features just enough to convey a message and get the attention of the potential buyer.
6. Awaken People’s Emotions
Have you seen the cover for Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey? It’s so powerful! It shows a woman drowning, and you immediately sense her struggle to get to the surface. Somehow, you feel connected with this character right after the first encounter.
That’s what good book cover design is all about: creating a connection. You can do that by using design elements that awaken people’s emotions.
Credits: As the Bird Flies Blog
7. Make It Visible in Thumbnail Size
Even if you plan to publish the book in print, you still consider an eBook version, right? Even if you don’t want to publish it as an eBook, you’ll still sell it online, right? Even if you don’t want that, you still need Goodreads users to review it, right?
Whatever the case is, online appearance is absolutely inevitable. That involves thumbnail sizes of your book cover. The design has to be scalable and attractive in that size.
8. Don’t Feature a Photograph of People
Hey; no judgment here, but indie books with photographs of people on the cover just look… tacky. Yes; a photo looks well on an autobiography or any kind of non-fiction book, but the design still has to be masterfully done. When it comes to fiction, photographs or couples or lonely faces look just… tacky.
Unless you’re absolutely sure you can achieve the sophisticated design with a photograph on the cover, it’s best to avoid that idea.
9. If You Really Want a Photograph of a Person, Then Make It Exceptional
If this is an autobiography or another type of non-fiction, maybe you’re convinced that a photo is a must! Maybe you feel like you need a photograph on a fiction book, too. In that case, you should absolutely avoid stock photos!
The best decision would be to hire a talented photographer and collaborate with them. If you want to be fully independent on this project, get a professional camera and take the photo yourself. It has to be sophisticated, minimalistic, and absolutely perfect!
10. Know When to Stop
Even professional graphic designers make this mistake: they try so hard to create the perfect book cover that they end up overdoing the design. Remember: minimalism is the key to success. If you want a modern, attention-grabbing cover, you shouldn’t have too many design elements and you shouldn’t make them too busy.
Credits: Cristiana Meo
11. Follow the Resolution Guidelines
There’s a basic rule to follow for the resolution of your book cover: 6’’x9’’! Why? – Because those are the dimensions of a standard book. If you work by these dimensions, your book will be cheaper to print, and it will simply look good.
12. Make It Entertaining
Do you want to stand out from the crowd? Then you have to infuse some creativity into the book cover design! Use fun colors and unexpected elements. You can get inspired by some of the best recent book cover designs, but remember: you mustn’t copy.
Credits: Vinaj Goutham
13. Mind the Typography
There’s no book cover without typography. You do want the name of the book and its author featured, right? The typeface you use should fit well into the remaining elements of the design. The text should be big and readable enough when you see the thumbnail.
Credits: Mónika Rudics
14. Create Focus Through White Space
It’s strange to see how many book cover designers avoid using white space just because they have so many design opportunities. The white space, however, creates a nice focus for the title of your book. Check out the cover on this edition of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, and you’ll understand the power of white space.
15. Ask Your Readers
If you already have a solid base of social media followers and you have a good connection with your audience, why don’t you simply ask them? You may come up with different versions of the book cover, so you’ll let them choose the official one.
You may also organize a book cover design contest! You’ll feature the winner on social media pages and you’ll give them credit for their design. Plus, they will get your book as a prize. That’s a nice way to engage your audience and relieve yourself from the burden of designing a cover.
If you have a good eye for graphic design, then you should absolutely try working on your own book cover. It won’t be easy, especially if this is your first time, but it’s a really rewarding experience. Are you ready to make this step?
About the author: this is the guest post by Warren Fowler, whose lifestyle is full of hiking adventures. When he’s not busy with his guitar or enjoying the sunny day outside, he excels at blogging skills and leaps through social media. You can meet him on Twitter and Facebook.
Title image: Chris Vogt
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