9 Ways a Crappy Book Cover Can Sabotage a Marketing Campaign

by | Apr 12, 2018

By Joan Stewart

When authors consult with me on any topic related to book marketing and publicity, I ask them a question they usually don’t expect.

“May I see the book cover?”

“I don’t need your help with the cover,” the author says. “I want help identifying the types of stories I can pitch to the media.”

Why do I ask to see your book cover?

Because before you try to woo the media with a sizzling pitch, or attract potential readers with compelling free content, you must be ready to dazzle them with an eye-popping cover.

One that screams “HOMEMADE!” can derail even the most clever and expensive publicity campaign. If you’ve already published your book, especially if it’s print on demand, consider spending several hundred dollars to have the cover redesigned by a professional.

If you’re lucky enough to afford a publicist, don’t spend anything unless your cover is not only good, but excellent. Otherwise, you could be throwing away money.

How Crappy Covers Sabotage Your Efforts

Here are nine ways a crappy cover can sabotage your best efforts, and those of your publicist.

1. Magazine editors will be tempted to say no.

One of the easiest ways to convince a magazine to feature your book is to submit it for the “New Product” section. You don’t need a clever pitch, just a press release and a high-resolution image of the book cover.

Editors are often begging for images to accompany short items in this section. But the classier the magazine, the greater importance they place on an eye-catching cover that will draw readers’ attention.

A horrific cover can’t save even the most well-written press release. If you have a terrific story to tell about you and your book, the magazine will want to include the cover image, but not if the cover looks like it was designed by a fourth-grader.

2. Libraries won’t want to carry it.

Book distribution expert Amy Collins, whose guest posts appear here, says that acquisition managers pay attention to covers. With limited budgets, they want books that not only are well-written, but have covers that communicate to the reader what the book is about or, at the very least, the genre.

Because libraries display most books with “spine out” to maximize limited shelf space, your book’s spine must also be designed correctly. Amateur cover designers sometimes place the title of the book incorrectly on the spine: when the book is standing upright on a shelf, the letters on the spine are placed vertically and can be read from top to bottom. The title should be placed horizontally so that when the book is lying on a table, the title on the spine reads from left to right.

3. Bookstores won’t want to carry it either.

Cover mistakes that turn off librarians also repel bookstore owners. And if they won’t carry your book, don’t expect them to host you for a book signing.

Bookstores often decide whether to buy a book after glancing at the cover for just a few seconds. A shopper will spend an average of only 8 seconds looking at the front cover. Would you buy one of these?

4. TV stations won’t show the book cover on the screen.

You don’t necessarily need a book with kick-ass cover to convince a TV news program to interview you. But even if they give you a five-minute segment, they’ll be less inclined to show your unattractive cover on the screen. What a missed opportunity that would be!

5. Book reviewers will be inclined to say “no thanks.”

Whether it’s a Hall of Fame reviewer on Amazon or a local book reviewer at your weekly newspaper, the writer is probably inundated with a mountain of pitches from authors looking for book reviews.

Guess which books they choose? Books that look interesting. Even if they take a chance on a book with a less-than-perfect cover, do you really want to see them mention your bad design in an otherwise favorable review?

6. Sites like LousyBookCovers.com might mock the cover.

When someone searches online for your book, the cover might be shown in the images near the top of he organic search results. If someone clicks on the image of your cover and it takes them to LousyBookCovers.com, do you think your book stands a chance?

Some websites and blogs even publish lists of bad book covers. Here’s one from Buzzfeed, complete with giant photos, of 25 Hilariously Bad Book Covers.

Here are Worst Book Covers on Amazon.

Most of these are extreme examples. But attend any author event or book convention, and you’ll see at least several covers that are bad enough that they could have been included on these lists.

7. Big box stores won’t take you seriously.

One of my clients wanted tips on how to approach corporate book buyers for his book that would be perfect to sell to customers at the big box home improvement stores.

I told him that before he does anything, spend a few hundred dollars for a redesigned cover. The photo wasn’t too bad, but he used Comic Sans, an awful font for a book cover. Many of these big chains are use to dealing with publishing companies that will usually invest in beautifully designed covers.

8. You risk embarrassment at author conferences.

I speak at author events, and I’ve seen many programs where brave authors submit their books to be critiqued by a panel of experts. I give them a lot of credit for asking for feedback. But the time to do that is before the book is published, not after.

I’ve seen some authors slink away, after hearing the panelists’ biting comments about the ugly cover.

9. Meeting planners won’t buy your books in bulk for their audiences.

Public speaking continues to be one of the best ways to sell books. Some speakers will offer to speak for free if the event planner buys one book for everyone in the audience. Professional speakers will tack the bulk sale onto their speaking fee.

No event planner wants to be embarrassed by handing out a book with an ugly, boring or dreadful cover.

How to Learn About Cover Design

If you want an easy way to learn about what makes an attractive cover, follow the e-Book Cover Design Awards, some of the most popular blog posts presented here each month. The entertaining feature chooses winners in fiction and nonfiction categories, and the judges often comment about what elements worked – or not. These four covers are among the best.

Photo: BigStockPhoto

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  1. lavenda mithii

    l agree with jen. the book cover must look as though it belongs to the genre, this makes it look cool

  2. lavenda mithii

    this is a brilliant idea infact its helpful to me

  3. lavenda mithii

    this is a brilliant idea infact its helpful to me

  4. lavenda mithii

    thank you for sharing this infact many authors do overlook the cover page this is great

  5. lavenda mithii

    thank you for this important post it makes the book cover looks as though it belongs to the genre

  6. Pete

    Hello. This is a little off-topic, but here goes: I employed an artist with a good track record and great portfolio. I told her what I wanted, and she came up with a very good initial concept. I then paid her the $400 fee, which included the concept, four sets of tweaks, a title page, marketing display, and social media platform.

    However, she’s been very, very slow, and made several type/punctuation errors that she seems to have trouble fixing. I signed on with her on June 1, and it’s going on the fourth month (Sept.), and she still hasn’t completed the first set of tweaks. I’ve also not seen a title page or marketing display (I don’t care about the social media platform). I’ve been very patient, showered her with compliments, and kept my emails to a minimum. But I’m getting the impression she’s blowing me off, and I wonder if I’ll ever get my book cover finalized.

    What should I do? Can I use the initial design PDF she sent me for my paperback and electronic covers in CreateSpace? If not, should I go with a totally different CreateSpace cover, and just swallow the $400 (we didn’t have a signed contract; all have paper-wise is our email correspondence and a copy of the invoice. Also, she lives overseas).

    I really want to publish my book, but I can’t do anything without the cover art! Thanks for any suggestions.

    • Sharon Goldinger

      Hi, Pete,

      I always recommend having a contract for everything (editing, design, indexing, etc.) that includes details on the services being provided, the dates/deadlines needed/agreed upon, and costs. Since you don’t and the person is out of the country, I think you should cut your losses and go with someone else. You have lots of choices, including Joel’s book templates, https://www.bookdesigntemplates.com/#all.

      • Joan Stewart

        I agree with Sharon. She promised a lot for $400 and this sounds like a case of “you get what you pay for.” Find someone else who you can deliver.

        • Pete

          Thanks for your comments (both of you). Immediately after I posted this, she delivered the artwork, with title page and marketing display. However, the title page was just a rehash of the front cover, without the art (I did a better one myself, in about 10 minutes time). And there were still some minor mistakes. Although the artwork overall is very beautiful, I don’t plan to recommend her to anyone. Her portfolio looked great, but next time I’m going with someone I know better, and get a signed contract.

  7. Michael W. Perry

    Thanks for some excellent advice. I’ve been doing covers for just shy of twenty years, so I’ll toss in a three more.

    If your book is coming out POD, don’t forget that you get an excellent four-color cover with Ingram Spark and Createspace. Take advantage of that and consider using a quality picture for the cover rather than an amateurish drawing. And to get that picture, visit various stock photo websites and pour over hundreds of them to find the one that is just right in theme and appearance. And keep in mind that includes that the picture must fit right in portrait and that it must have areas where the title and author can be inserted.
    You mention the importance of the spine. One downside of POD is that spines can be as much as a quarter-inch off to either side. Take that into account in your spine design. Have a color (or image) that wraps from the front through the spine and to the back. You don’t want a differing color of the front or back intruding and looking ugly as part of the spine. And make the spine text small enough that it will still be intact and readable despite that misalignment.
    She mentioned fitting to genre expectations. Maybe and maybe not. I’ve being doing a series of books for medical and nursing students that I’m deliberately making look different from the typical textbook. When I was debating a recent one, I was inclined to make a “practical guide for doctors, nurse…” feature a doctor and nurse alongside a patient on a hospital bed. Every one I could find looked dull as dust. There’s perhaps nothing more boring that a middle-aged male doctor in a white coat. Then I had a brainstorm. Why not feature on the cover the only people in a hospital who’re not being embarrassed—two kids playing doctor. Here is the result.


    Cute kids. Who wouldn’t want book featuring them? And yes, being contrary has an impact. It’s like a book on World War One that shows fields of poppies rather than soldiers, bringing to mind the classic WWI poem, “In Flanders Fields.”

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

    That’s thinking out of the box and perhaps might cause potential readers to think, “With a cover this creative, the inside must be great.”

    • Joan Stewart

      Michael, thanks for mentioning all the potential problems with the spine, an area that authors often overlook. Regarding the cover you designed, I like the way the book description referred to kids playing doctor–exactly what’s shown on the cover.

  8. Jen

    I think the reason why you see so many book covers which look alike is because that’s one way designers communicate a book’s genre. For example, if you browse romance novels, you’ll see a vast number of shirtless beef cake guys. That instantly tells you what type of story you can expect (versus a “sweet romance” which generally won’t feature a beef cake guy on the cover).

    The four “best” covers included in this post all instantly communicate their genre and something about the tone of the story. They all also look attractive, slick, and professional. They aren’t “avant garde” and don’t break any new ground in design, but if you choose to go with something different/cutting-edge, you risk losing readers who have been trained to look for certain kinds of covers for that genre.

    • Joan Stewart

      That’s correct, Jen. The book cover must look as though it belongs to that genre. One way to find out if the cover you want to use looks like it belongs is to take a copy of the cover you had designed professionally—or not—to a bookstore. Take three books with attractive covers, in that genre, off the shelf and lay them on the floor. Put your book next to them. Does your cover stand out and look like it doesn’t belong? If so, it might be time for a redesign.

  9. Frances Caballo

    Thank you for this important post. So many times people come to me to handle their social media and what I end up telling them is that if they want to improve their sales, they need a better book cover and also a better description on Amazon. Those two elements are so important. Without them, what they do on social media won’t matter because the book cover and Amazon description are vital to book sales. BTW: I love the cover of Prophecy.

    • Joan Stewart

      Frances, your comment could be Reason #10 in my article: “Your publicist or social media consultant is at an immediate disadvantage.” Thanks for mentioning this.

  10. Glenda

    Honestly, three of the covers you chose as among the best are rather boring in my humble opinion. The only one I would pick up in a bookstore because of the cover is The Next Therapist Please. I’m not sure when the trend of plain jane bookcovers began, but I don’t like them at all. For me to take a second look, they must show some visual interest. The first three look like copycat designs that could be used for a number of stock photo book covers.

    • Joan Stewart

      Glenda, you say to-MAY-to and I say to-MAH-to. Beauty is, indeed in the eye of the beholder. I chose the four covers above based on the comments from Joel Friedlander, a book designer.

    • millicent hughes

      Strangely, it’s the one I wouldn’t pick because it make the book appear rather childish or superficial. Not even like the tell-all-my-disasters bok that it probably is.



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