Top 8 Cover Design Tips for Self-Publishers

by | Jun 9, 2010

We’ve all seen them. The train wrecks. The art class projects. The cringe-inducing artwork. It’s the world of do-it-yourself book cover design.

Somewhere between the quirky “cover design generators” on author-service company websites, and the All-American view that everyone should get a ribbon because, after all, they participated, the cover design is suffering at the hands of self-publishers.

And no, I’m not saying that self-published books aren’t getting better—there are a lot of great-looking indie books out there. But I am saying that you don’t have to go far to find the ones that went wrong.

Book cover design, at its height, is an amazing commercial art. The best book designers continue to amaze and surprise us with their graphic design prowess.

But anyone who can write and publish a book ought to be able to avoid at least the worst mistakes in cover design.

So, here without further ado, are my

Top 8 Cover Design Tips for Self-Publishers

  1. Establish a principal focus for the cover—Nothing is more important. Your book is about something, and the cover ought to reflect that one idea clearly.

    One element that takes control, that commands the overwhelming majority of attention, of space, of emphasis on the cover. Don’t fall into the trap of loading up your cover with too many elements, 3 or 4 photos, illustrations, maps, “floating” ticket stubs.

    You could think of your book cover like a billboard, trying to catch the attention of browsers as they speed by. Billboards usually have 6 words or less. You have to “get it” at 60 miles per hour, in 3 to 5 seconds.

    A book cover ought to do the same thing. At a glance your prospect ought to know;

    • the genre of your book,
    • the general subject matter or focus, and
    • some idea of the tone or “ambiance” of the book.

    Is it a thriller? A software manual? A memoir of your time in Fiji? Your ideas on reform of the monetary system? Each of these books needs a cover that tells at a glance what the book is about.

  2. Make everything count—If you are going to introduce a graphic element, make sure it helps you communicate with the reader.
  3. Use the background—Avoid white backgrounds, which will disappear on retailer’s white screens. Use a color, a texture, or a background illustration instead.
  4. Make your title large—Reduce your cover design on screen to the size of a thumbnail on Amazon and see if you can read it. Can you make out what it’s about? If not, simplify.
  5. Use a font that’s easy to read—See above. There’s no sense using a font that’s unreadable when it’s radically reduced. Particularly watch out for script typefaces, the kind that look lacy and elegant at full size. They often disappear when small.
  6. Find images that clarify—Try not to be too literal. Look for something that expresses the mood, historical period, or overall tone of the book; provide a context.
  7. Stay with a few colors—If you don’t feel comfortable picking colors, look at some of the color palettes available online to get a selection of colors that will work well together.
  8. Look at lots of great book covers—You may not be able to mimic all their techniques, but the best book covers are tremendous sources of inspiration and fresh ideas.


  • If you’ve designed an eBook cover you’re proud of, consider entering it in our monthly eBook Cover Design Awards. These posts also have a ton of useful information about what works on covers, and what doesn’t.
  • There is lots of stock photography online to explore, and ways to find images you can use for free
  • Sites with color palettes can be helpful and just plain fun. Make up your own color palettes too.

Takeaway: Taking a little care with a book cover you’re designing yourself can produce big results. Look at lots of book covers for inspiration.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit



  1. Thirteen Sites for Making a Spectacular Book Cover (Updated) | The Digital Reader - […] Before you use any of these tools, you should read up on good cover design […]
  2. Why self-publishers need great book covers – Minute Fiction - […] Top 8 Cover Design Tips for Self-Publishers […]
  3. Research: Book Covers – Kelly Northwood - […] Source: […]
  4. Indie Publishing For International Writers, Step 2: Design Your Cover | David Gaughran - […] will find great tips on designing your own cover here, and here, but there are two important elements specific…
  5. Mastering Book Cover Design – Rassegna Stampa - […] because you’re designing for a book, as opposed to something like an e-commerce website or a direct ad campaign,…
  6. 14 Sites for Making a Spectacular Book Cover | The Digital Reader - […] Before you use any of these tools, you should read up on good cover design […]
  7. judge a book by its cover | Rod Walker, Science Fiction Writer - […] is traditional not to judge a book by its cover (though everyone does anyway) but MIT is developing an…
  8. Write Well, Write To Sell - Miscellaneous advice on self-publishing - […] BOOK COVER DESIGN TIPS […]
  9. Behind the Scenes: 7 Steps Authors Use to Launch a Best Seller - Business - […] looks like it was just put together. Thanks to Joel Friedlander of, here are nine tips to remember when…
  10. What makes an effective book cover design? | Tugboat Design Blog - […] Joel Friedlander has a great analogy: […]
  11. Marketing for Writers How to Make a Beautiful Book Cover That Sells Itself - Marketing for Writers - […] “Don’t fall into the trap of loading up your cover with too many elements, 3 or 4 photos, illustrations,…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.