“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” right? If only prospective readers actually abide by that. The truth is, a good book cover matters. A lot.
For someone who’s just discovering your work, your book cover is their first exposure to you, and judgment are made in the blink of an eye. If your book cover game isn’t tight, you may be able to sway them with compelling copy, or the topic/title may be enough to overlook a cover that falls flat. But who wants to work extra hard to regain ground you shouldn’t have lost in the first place? What you want is to get your cover right to begin with. At the very least you avoid turning the reader off, and at best, you get them curious enough that they take a chance on you.
There are no guarantees in self-publishing, but a good cover can add a sheen of professionalism and trust to your work, and credibility in the eyes of your readers is necessary for them to invest their hard-earned money on an unknown quantity. So let’s get to the nitty gritty- what’s involved in designing a book-cover for your masterpiece?
Software to Use
A good image manipulation program is your friend here. The standard, and my own personal preference, is for Adobe Photoshop. At several hundred dollars, it’s an investment. One free alternative is GIMP, the Gnu Image ManipulationProgram. It has a similar interface to Photoshop with a comparable selection of tools to create just the look you want. Pixlr is another option, web-based and also free to use. Various other Photoshop alternatives exist art various price points, from free on up almost equal in cost to Photoshop, and a quick Google search should turn some options up. Do your homework and see what’s right for you.
My recommendation, barring Photoshop, is for Pixlr, just to get used to manipulating images, with a minimum of investment. You may later want a downloadable program for when web-access is unavailable, but you may also decide that design is not your cup of tea, and it’s easier to walk away from a free application than something you invested substantially in.
Got Your Design Program- Now What?
Now its time to begin the design process. Think about a concept or idea that appeals to you and resonates with your manuscript. Brainstorm on your own or with collaborators and write out a handful of possibilities. Think about the colors you want to work with, and also what they mean psychologically. What sort of feeling do you want to inspire with your readers? How can you leverage palette choice to create the desired effect?
Once you have a color in mind, find a specific shade, using something like ColorPicker. From there, you can research and find colors that complement your shade, and build your color sets so that the final product is balanced and pleasing to the eye.
Basic cover design includes the following two minimal elements:
- Author Name
Unless you have exceptional marketing behind you, you’ll want a little more than that, though. Usually images of some sort will do it. Make sure when selecting images that you have the rights to them. Best case is you create the image yourself, either by sketching/drafting/photographing it personally (or by commission), or you use a public-domain image. There are lots of stock photo companies around as well that provide royalty-free images in various resolutions for sale.
Once you have your images, you’ll want to manipulate them in your design program. That may be as simple as placing the image on the canvas and calling it a day. Or it may involve many hours of fine-tuning, adjusting light and shadow levels, removing some elements while retaining others, blending components into one another, re-sizing, changing texture, adding effects, etc. Image manipulation programs present scores of options, and it’ll take some time to figure out what works best for you and what doesn’t. But for the enterprising willing to put in the time, you can do it yourself.
Feedback, Tweaking and Finalizing
It’s a great idea, once you have settled on a design, to solicit feedback from trusted sources, preferably within the industry. Your friends and family are fine to consult with, but may or may not be in tune with the current market for your work, and may not be able to offer the most constructive feedback on what’s likely to sell.
One good tool if you don’t have a publishing consultant at the ready is to run simultaneous ad campaigns on Facebook for multiple designs. Minimize the variables of your ad, and find out what garners the most interest. And use the data collected to determine which is likely to be most successful.
Another option of course is to outsource the process. Whatever your budget, someone can produce a cover for you, from $5 on up to thousands of dollars. At Archangel Ink, we design covers, and work closely with you to execute a concept that will work for you and your manuscript. You brainstorm with us some ideas, and we’ll come up with mock ups that we can work with until they become just right. We’ll also format it for paperback, digital and audiobook editions, and provide an eye-catching 3D image for marketing purposes.
We’ll provide you with the original files as well, which you retain all reproduction rights to. Beware designers who refuse to hand over original files and attempt to handcuff their clients. We believe that when you commission us to do work on your behalf, the product of that work belongs to you. We retain rights for our own marketing and promotional use, but once our work is done, you can do as you please with the files we created, and need not go through us to make any future changes.
Those are the basics, and will get you started on what’s involved and what to look out for. It’s ultimately more an art than a science and the specific process varies from title to title. My partner Matt and I are happy to help answer questions or give you guidance on designing compelling book covers that help you reach your audience. Watch our welcome video HERE and fill out the contact form, and we’ll help you find your way. Good luck!
Rob Archangel is the co-founder of, and technical and design guy behind Archangel Ink. His goal is to help authors put their best foot forward and bring their ideas to market in the most polished and widely accessible formats possible.