book cover design tips

In case you don’t end up reading Cover Design Secrets or watching the videos tutorials, here are my TOP TEN TIPS on book cover design that will help you create your own bestselling book covers designs while avoiding rookie design mistakes.

1. Focus on the emotion, not the details.
Authors get too caught up in the exact details of the book, and they want their cover to match. But readers who haven’t read the book yet don’t care about those details. It’s much better to use a strong, powerful cover that gets them reading the book than to use a less powerful but more accurate one.

2. Find the best picture you can.
Start with a beautiful picture and the rest will be much easier. Get a picture that represents the emotional experience your book is promising – if it’s a thriller, the picture should be dark and scary; if a romance, it should be light and romantic.

3. Use the right colors.
You can easily change the color scheme of any picture by adding a color wash or gradient over the top – easy to do in Photoshop or with my online design tool. Each color evokes certain universal emotions, which is why certain genres will usually use its own palette. Take good images and make them even more powerful by adding strong colors.

4. Use contrast.
Use lots of contrast between light and dark, but also color contrasts – take a look at a color wheel to see color opposites that harmonize well. Green and red and hard to pull off without looking Christmasy – but teal and orange are always winners, and purple and yellow can also work. Red only goes well with whites and blacks. You can use a vignette effect around the edges to get that extra “pop.”

5. Avoid bevel and dropshadow.
The #1 indicator of an unprofessional cover is heavy bevel or dropshadow effects on your text. Amateur designers usually add it because they don’t know how else to make their text stand out against the background art.

First of all, your cover text doesn’t need to be as bold as you think it needs to be. Professional book designs have text with natural contrast but still with patches where the text may not be super clear. That’s fine. “Needs to be legible as a thumbnail” is a myth – your cover will also be displayed online right by its title in clear print. Having an impactful cover is more important than having text that is easy to read.

6. Choose your emphasis.
A lot of authors aren’t sure whether to stress their series title, book title or author name. You can’t stress everything. Almost always, stress the title and have the series title very small. You can’t give readers so much information that they’re distracted from the images – because the image is what should be causing that emotional gut reaction. Hook their interest first, then they’ll click the thumb to read all the details. But they aren’t going to try and figure everything out if your cover hasn’t already hooked their hearts somehow.

7. Don’t convince them to buy.
Book awards or “#1 Bestseller” or “on sale” help close the deal, but only if the reader is already interested. In that split-second first glance, readers aren’t going to care about any of that stuff. All they want to know is, “what’s the genre, what’s it about, is it like other books I’ve enjoyed?” You can communicate that immediately with the art and fonts alone. Don’t let other stuff get in the way and break that connection. The cover’s job is to get the click – to hook their attention so that they want to learn more. It can’t project everything, all the information, at once, and it shouldn’t try to. (The cover’s job is not to sell the book; people making purchasing decisions based on information – the cover’s job is to attract readers on an emotional level. You want them to feel something).

8. Don’t be interesting.
A lot of authors think they need to be novel, different or interesting to stand out or surprise readers. For almost all genres, that’s a big mistake. Readers have developed genre expectations; they’ve gotten used to how books in their favorite genres are ‘supposed’ to look. For non-fiction, it’s OK to have a very interesting central image, but that’s because it’s expected for that genre. If you’re famous, and have a million people ready to buy your book, you can do whatever you want with your cover. But for the rest of us, your cover is the advertisement – it’s probably the first and only thing potential readers will ever see of your book; and if it isn’t good enough to punch them in the stomach or pull at their heartstrings, they’ll never even read the summary. Don’t take risky chances. Make the cover tell readers very clearly the genre, setting and major conflict.

9. No collages.
Authors usually think in terms of a “scene” – so they ask designers to make them this specific episode from the book. That’s very hard to pull off with stock photography and Photoshop, and will probably look bad. It’s also hard to match characters exactly. Don’t cram in 5 characters all doing something with their unique superpowers and pets and clothing, being chased by their nemesis. It’s almost always better to go simple, with one or two main characters (or none) with one main background behind them for setting.

Remember, it’s always better to make a powerful emotional impact than to be accurate.

10. Should you use stock photography?
In my opinion, yes, always, because it’s usually good quality. Illustration or art doesn’t work well except in some non-fiction, children’s books or chick-lit. The danger is that other authors are going to use the same photo – that’s true, but in my experience it’s better to use a great photo that sells more books than it is to use something unique but weak. Just search the top 40 or so in your categories to make sure nobody else is using the photo you chose. Also, you shouldn’t really use a stock photo exactly as is, with no changes, especially if it’s something special like a vampire image. Especially if it’s amazing, a lot of other people are going to use it. It’s better to find a model and turn them into a vampire with Photoshop (you can hire someone to do that for you).

If that’s too much to remember, just use our simple templates.

Derek Murphy
Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a cover designing indie author enthusiast, finishing a PhD in Literature and shopping for a castle in Europe.