Joanna Penn: Crowdsourcing Your Book Cover Design

by | Oct 29, 2010

People do different things when confronted with choices for their book cover design. As a book designer, I like to present clients with real differences. This starts a dialogue between us that will eventually end in the final cover design that goes to press.

But how do people pick between the options they are given? I often ask authors about this after they’ve made their selection, and I’m frequently surprised by their answers. Colors are very important to a lot of people. Some designs seem jarring or inappropriate. Sometimes they just can’t say.

And some people like to get others involved in the fun. Authors frequently bring sample covers to our publishing group meetings, asking for opinions. Or they post them to one of the publishing discussion lists and solicit input, which never fails to materialize.

Joanna Penn Finds Another Solution

Joanna Penn The Creative PennI’m working on a book design for fellow-blogger Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. Joanna has published three nonfiction books herself, and is now getting ready to publish her first novel. It’s called Pentecost, and it’s a thriller. I can tell you it’s an exciting read, and its title tells you that it’s somehow connected to the observance of the Christian holiday.

After going through a few rounds of designs and revisions, Joanna had succeeded in narrowing her design options to just a few choices, each of which conformed to her requirements.

Being a web 2.0, social-media savvy author, (and the author of the popular Author 2.0 program) Joanna decided to use her popular blog to make the last decision of all: which cover would be the final selection?

She posted the four finalists and invited reader’s comments. In addition, she set up a proper poll at the bottom of the blog post so she could generate statistics for objective guidance.

Within 24 hours there was a clear winner, and that’s the one Joanna and I are working together on now. Not only that, but there were plenty of suggestions in the comments, and several readers went so far as to design their own versions of the book cover.

But cleverly, Joanna had gotten her readers to tell her what they wanted to see in the book cover—which book was the one they would buy. With over 125 responses so far, I think that’s a pretty good marketing test, don’t you?

An Interactive Publishing Event

Joanna has used the publication of her book as the springboard to greater engagement with her readers. She plans to follow the whole process of creating, launching and marketing the book so her readers can learn by sitting alongside at each stage.

I think that’s a great model for teaching. If you’d like to follow along on Joanna’s journey, click on over to her blog and check out the cover competition. Here’s a link:

The Creative Penn: Designing and Choosing a Book Cover

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

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Stephen Tiano

    Thanks, Joel.

    I’m in the frame of mind–seems to happen at he end of each year–where I’m hoping to either dream up or find some new way to find and approach potential new clients.

  2. Stephen Tiano

    Now that’s crowdsourcing I suppose I can get behind. Typically, I would think of crowdsourcing a book cover as getting unpaid volunteers to create the cover. (Or almost totally unpaid help in the case of running a contest.) But this is more like getting together a focus group of readers, people likely to have a love of, and interest in our writing and making, good books.

    I’m just coming out of a combination involved-elsewhere/sleepy-from-almost-const-work phase and I hope to see you folks around and exchange with you on the blogs, forums, and Twitter.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey, Stephen, great to hear from you. Glad you’re digging out and hope to read more book design wisdom on your blog.

  3. Victoria Mixon

    It’s nice to see Joanna here—she’s always a pleasure to cross paths with out here in the blogosphere.

    Good luck with your novel, Joanna!

  4. Roger C. Parker

    Dear Joel:
    I just want to say how pleased I am that I discovered your blog on the Amazon Kindle. I’ve gotten into the habit of reading it first every day. It rarely fails to inform or spark ideas.

    Your combination of information plus style creates a voice any author would be pleased to have. Glad you’re working with Joanna–her blog, too, is state-of-the-art.

    Best wishes–Roger

    • Joel Friedlander

      Roger, it’s just a pleasure to have someone with your background and experience here participating in the conversation. Thanks for your kind words and maybe you’d like to contribute a post on book marketing—readers are always asking for new insights into how to get the word out about their books.

  5. Joanna Penn

    Thanks so much for mentioning the book cover design Joel – your designs have been a big hit! The survey itself now has nearly 500 votes so I hope to get it up to 600 before I close the voting next week. It’s been brilliant for me as people have shared some great comments and made me see many different points of view. I wanted thoughts based on the cover only without reading anything. The next thing will be putting up some sample chapters. Thanks so much for your help, Joanna

    • Joel Friedlander

      Wow, Joanna, that’s fantastic you’re getting so much involvement with the process. It’s fun for me because I’ve never “designed in public” before, so hearing people’s reactions is great. Thanks for the opportunity.



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