Book Design to Sell: Tips for Self-Publishers

POSTED ON Dec 14, 2010

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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Ed: This article is an excerpt from the teleseminar I recorded with Laura Cross for her Expert-Entrepreneur program. This program has a great lineup of experts Laura chose to help educate authors about the publishing process. In this excerpt, we talk about book design and tips for self-publishers to make better books. See the link at the end of the article to hear the complete recording.

Laura: Let’s talk more about book design. What would be some of your top cover design tips for self-publishers?

Joel: I’d like to start off by saying that there are some things you can avoid. For instance, sometimes self-publishers see the cover of their book as an expression of their own personality or interests. That can lead to serious problems with the cover design because the cover really has to be more oriented to the potential buyer, not to what you feel, the colors you like or the designs you like but what the reader is looking for and what they expect to see.

Laura: Yes, it’s about the reader. It’s not about the author. Sometimes we forget that.

Joel: Exactly. If you expect to sell your books, you have to make it about the reader. If you don’t care if you sell any books then you can design it any way you like. You know, each approach is perfectly legitimate as long as you’re clear on your goal about what you want that book to do.

Another error that self-publishers make is thinking that the cover doesn’t really matter and they shouldn’t spend any money on it. They don’t want to get a stock photo or anything else because they feel their words are so valuable that that will just sell the book all by themselves, but unfortunately, that is very rarely the case.

We live in a culture that’s saturated with advertising. Book covers are a form of product packaging or advertising and so if you want to compete with other books, and if you imagine a reader looking at a selection of books and 3 of them have like really great covers that draw you in and the fourth one, looks kinda plain like nobody put any effort into it, very few people are gonna buy that book. They just won’t be attracted to it.

The best thing you can do to make a really effective cover and one of the biggest problems that self-publishers have in putting together their own covers is to pick one thing that’s going to be the central focus.

In other words, I see a lot of covers where there’s the title then there’s an illustration, then there’s the sub-title and maybe there’s a picture of the author, and everything has the same emphasis. They’re all about the same size and nothing really takes control of the cover.

There is no main focus for the reader to look at, so having one thing that’s really dominating the cover whether it’s the cover illustration or the title or if you’re a famous author, the author’s name, that’s really important.

If you’re going to put graphics on the cover, make sure that everything that you use on the cover actually counts, that it has some relevance. Don’t use something just because it’s a pretty picture of a flower if it doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the design and doesn’t relate to the content of the book.

Another really good tip is to avoid white backgrounds. A lot of people like books with white backgrounds, and I’m not saying they look bad. They frequently look very nice but the problem is when we’re selling books online, most of the online sites like Amazon or have a white background so when you put your book with the white background on their webpage with a white background, your cover kind of disappears and that is not good for selling books because you want your cover to really stand out.

Laura: Yes, you don’t want it to disappear.

Joel: Yes, and if you have any doubt about what to make large, to make the principal focus, make it your title. Here are some more tips:

  • Make sure your title is big enough so that when you take your design and reduce it down to about an inch high—which is the way it’s going to look on a thumbnail online—that you can still read the title, you can still read the author’s name and you get some idea or feeling of what the book is about. This is the most important thing for books that are going to be sold online.
  • Many designs look lovely when you’re holding them in your hand but when you get them down to about the size of a postage stamp, they’re completely illegible. That is not going to help you online. I would encourage you as a self-publisher to make that test. No matter how much you love that cover, shrink it all the way down and see if it still works.
  • For that reason, you also want to use fonts that are easy to read because if you use something that’s a fancy script, for instance, with lots of flourishes and a big contrast between the thick and thin strokes and then you try to reduce that down, it’s going to just disappear and you won’t be happy about that.
  • If you’re using images, photographs, illustrations, make sure that they have some relevance to the story that they actually help to clarify what the book is about instead of bringing in elements that just confuse the reader.
  • My last tip would be go to the bookstore. Spend an hour just looking at book covers. See what you think works well. Most of the books that you’ll find in a bookstore today are books that actually sell, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. What you will find are book cover designs that have been successful, and you can learn a tremendous amount just by looking at the books—particularly the books in your genre—and you’ll get a lot of ideas and you’ll see things you like and you’ll see things you don’t think work, and that’s a great way to educate yourself.

If you’d like to listen to the complete one-hour teleseminar, head on over to the Design to Sell recording at Expert-Entrepreneur. To register for further teleseminars in this season, head to the free teleseminar registration page. (affiliate)

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by laihiu,

Joel Friedlander

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Joel Friedlander

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