How to Reinvent a Book with a New Book Cover

by | Sep 5, 2011

Recently I was contacted by an author who had just won several awards for a book he had self-published. Ed Morler, a psychologist, is the author of a number of award-winning books, a real contribution to his field.

The author was getting ready to issue a revised third edition of one of these books—Finally Growing Up—but he was unsatisfied with the original cover. Since he had also decided to change the title of the book to more accurately reflect the direction of the new edition, he contacted me about re-designing the cover from scratch.

Although the author had contracted with a local artist to produce the original edition, the cover showed many of the flaws common in self-published books. I’ve written often about these cover design mistakes and how to avoid them, and this cover gives a good way to look at a number of problems all at once.

Here’s the original cover:

book cover design for self-publishers

Click to enlarge

(By the way, the artist who produced this book may be just fine at all kinds of graphic design. Books are something of a specialty, although to the unaided eye they look dead simple.)

Here’s what I saw:

  • Amateur typography
  • Questionable use of stock photography
  • Lack of relevance to the target reader
  • Almost zero impact on a casual browser
  • Confusion of elements on the cover

The luckiest thing that happened when I began the re-design was that the author decided to change the title. This was a huge benefit, since the old title contained almost no useful information and did not seem very relevant to the potential audience of this book, a serious work of psychology.

The new title was much better at communicating the offer of the book. After spending some time looking through the book and thinking about the new title, Leading an Empowered Life, it seemed to me that the most powerful word in the new title was “empowerment.” I wanted to show the transformative power of the ideas in the book, and somehow imply the changes a person could experience by adapting them.

I wanted a clean and refined look for the book, which would also now have the imprimatur of three separate book awards on the back cover.

Using images from, I created a series of designs that attempted to express what the book offered, while also drawing the viewer in visually.

Here are the initial designs I came up with for the new edition:

book cover design for self-publishers

book cover design for self-publishers

book cover design for self-publishers

book cover design for self-publishers

As usual, during the design process there was a lot of going back and forth and trying different things. Eventually we narrowed the choices down and started to concentrate on what looked to me like the strongest cover of the four. The most powerful images are usually of the human face, and the direct eye contact of one of these images was striking. Eventually, all the elements fell into place. Here’s the final version as it went to press:

book cover design for self-publishers

Click to enlarge

What’s interesting to me is that the “before” and “after” versions of this book cover contain exactly the same elements: Title, subtitle, author name, blurb, photograph of a man.

Yet what a difference.

Investing in your book by getting a professional cover design is one of the best things you can do for your long-term success. This is especially true now that so many hundreds of new self-published books are coming out every day.

It’s even harder to make your book stand out. You’ll want to have an outstanding book, the best you can produce, of course, to start with. You’ll make sure your book is properly edited.

The next thing, and maybe the most important in terms of marketing and sales, is to get a cover that will help sell the book.

You know, it doesn’t cost any more to print your book with a great looking cover than it does to print an ordinary one. The design cost of your book cover is a one-time expense that can potentially be repaid quite quickly with increased sales.

Add to this the increased confidence you gain as you market and promote your book, and the advantages of a cover re-design can be quite real and very effective in helping you get your message out to the greatest number of people.

More on Book Covers

Book Cover Design, Fiction and Nonfiction: What’s the Offer?
15 e-Book Covers: Success and Failure in the Kindle Store
Top 8 Cover Design Tips for Self-Publishers
Complete list of all Cover Design Articles
Ed Morler’s Sanai Publishing Website

Photo by iStockphoto

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Sher A Hart (@SherAHart)

    I liked the blue with clouds myself, but that would better fit an afterlife book, a good reason an author should not to go entirely with personal tastes. I also liked the jumping man over the face close-up, yet I thought the Venn diagram in the head did the best job of conveying the message. Bottom line is book sales. If this cover increases those, it did the job intended.

  2. Gordon Burgett

    Very informative, Joel.

    I laughed when others felt disappointed that the gent on the cover wasn’t the author. I know hundreds of authors and most of them, if their photo appeared plunk in the middle of the cover, would create panic in the bookstore and alarm to the viewer. Real sale-killers, bless them.

    Even the few who might add to the cover are invariably too old, too young, too mottled, or too something else.

    I suppose that sounds cruel but the authors’ genius is between the covers.

    Thanks for another good blog.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Gordon, I had a similar reaction. There are a lot of books on the market with pictures of people on them, and I don’t think most of them are the authors of the books.

      In fact, to peel back the curtain a little more, we did try this cover with a photo of the author, and got the results you predicted. Everyone agreed that the one shown above was superior in every way.

      Thanks for participating.

  3. Roger C. Parker

    Dear Joel:
    Thanks for a great post, taking us for a behind the scenes look at the book cover design process.

    I especially enjoyed the way you showed the alternate covers and–equally important–provided a context by listing related posts.

    This is also one of those posts where the comments are as important as the post, itself.

    On my part, I’m a bit uncomfortable that the photograph was not the author; I felt sort of “short-changed” when I learned it wasn’t the author. It’s an extremely engaging and “trustworthy” photo.

    Also, as a “visual process” type of guy,I was really surprised that the cover with the Venn diagram against the black background wasn’t the one chosen; to, the diagram instantly communicated “how” the desired change would be described inside the book.

    But, the purpose of a blog is to leave readers a little smarter than they were when they started, as well as involved in the discussion, and this post certainly achieved both goals!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Roger. I try to be as objective as possible when I send these designs out for client review, and I’m quite disciplined about not expressing opinions at that stage. In fact, I probably would have picked the black and white venn diagram version if it was my book, so now we know the “professional designers'” choice.

      On the other hand, I had no hesitation at all about using the stock shot of the non-author. See Gordon’s comment below.

  4. Ryan Bradshaw

    Love the cover with the author on it and the one with the silhouette and the primary color circles. Leaps and bounds over the original cover. Great job Joel! – Ryan

  5. James

    Ah. It turns out the photo is *not* the author, which feels odd to me. If I were seeking this book out, and saw the photo but later learned it’s a generic model photo, It’d put me off a bit. I’d want to know why it was done, and would pause when buying a self-help book.

  6. James

    To me, the “after” cover diffuses and confuses the book’s purpose–and puts the focus on the face, which doesn’t seem to convey the message the words do. Is this the author? A guy who’s empowered? Somebody else? And, is the message of the book the photo caption, or the subtitle? In fact, the cover says the book’s about either (a) leading an empowered life, (b) integrating integrity, maturity, and personality, or (c) recognizing and releasing patterns of limitation.

    The person in the “before” cover does convey the message, however–and it’s uplifting (literally). The best part of the “after” is the pop of the title, set boldly in red. But red and yellow are the go-to colors for covers, it seems.

    • Joel Friedlander


      It’s true I don’t recommend having two subtitles, as this book does, but often clients know their own markets quite well and have a sense of what will sell. I can offer advice, but in the end it’s the client’s book and he will have the final say.

      • James

        What makes the person on the “before” cover much more compelling to me is that they’re unambiguous in who they are (a person who’s done what the book suggests) and what they’re doing (leaping with joy, being happy, being “released from patterns of limitation”). The reader’s invited to join in the enthusiasm. The person demonstrates results, success.

        The person on the “after” cover is unsmiling, ambiguous, and in a way uninviting. More simply, I can’t for the life of me understand how his face and look communicate any of the three different titles of the book.

  7. Barbara Techel

    What great designs, Joel- and what a difference they make. So much more professional looking, as well as fits with the title of the book.

  8. Kelly

    I read your post on cover design mistakes, and one of them is using a white background. I find it interesting that the most powerful examples you provide here have white backgrounds. Could you clarify the difference? What am I missing? Thanks.

    • Joel Friedlander


      You are absolutely right. You’re not missing anything, but clients also have preferences. Maybe they haven’t read all my blogs? Anyway, the only way around this is to use a border, as I have on the sample covers, to make sure you keep the integrity of the cover on a white background.

  9. Marcie Lovett

    Dynamic cover, Joel. Just goes to show what putting some extra thought into the cover image can yield.



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