publishing tips

You’ve heard it before: Don’t judge a book by its cover. But let’s be real, we all do it. A book’s design plays a crucial role in grabbing readers’ attention and driving sales. Traditional publishers hire the best designers and keep their secrets; they depend on self-publishing authors screwing up their book covers, so that their quality covers stand out. But indie authors have a big advantage if we can get great covers for our books, so I’m peeling back the curtain to reveal some book design secrets that top publishers know but rarely share.

Point 1 – The Influence of Genre

The first secret? Genre matters – a lot. Top publishers know that each genre has its own set of design conventions that readers subconsciously recognize. A mystery novel looks different from a romance, which looks different from a self-help book. When you’re designing your cover, take note of the common themes in your genre and find a way to incorporate them. Your book should look like all the other books in your genre, but better and slightly unique or new (not completely new and different, or nobody will buy it!)

Point 2 – Balancing Originality and Market Expectations

While it’s important to stand out, top publishers understand the value of meeting reader expectations. They know that readers are attracted to what’s familiar. So, they strike a balance between originality and sticking to what works for their market. When you’re designing your book cover, aim for a design that’s both unique and familiar to your potential readers. Readers want more of the same; they want books that remind them of other books they loved. Your cover is the easiest and fastest way to say, “hey check this out, you’ll like it!”

Point 3 – Budget Allocation

Top publishers often have large budgets for book design, but they also know how to get the most bang for their buck. They invest in quality images, professional designers, and often multiple design iterations. As a self-publishing author, you might not have a huge budget, but you can still make smart choices. Spend your budget where it matters most: a professional cover design, a readable and attractive layout, and a well-formatted, error-free text. Pro designers charge an average of $500, and hopefully they’re pretty good at that price, but they don’t always deliver. Educating yourself on the basics of book design will ensure you recognize a great cover when you see it.

Point 4 – The Power of Branding

Top publishers understand that book design isn’t just about a single book; it’s about creating a recognizable author brand. They often maintain a consistent design across all books by the same author to build recognition and loyalty among readers. As a self-publisher, think about how your book design can reflect your unique author brand. I recommend branding series, not all books by the same author – but you should have a certain style and way of presenting your books for a consistent online platform.

Point 5 – The Importance of Adaptability

Publishers also know that a design that works in one format or market might not work in another. They often adapt book covers for different formats (hardcover, paperback, ebook) and different international markets. As a self-publishing author, it’s essential to keep this in mind, especially if you’re targeting a global audience. We’re nimble and in control – if a cover isn’t working for you, figure it out before you waste money on marketing.

Book design is more than just creating a pretty cover. It’s a strategic tool that top publishers use to attract readers and boost sales. By understanding and applying these secrets, you, as a self-publishing author, can create a book design that not only looks good but also works effectively to reach your readers.

Stay tuned for more insider tips on writing, publishing, and book design. Until then, happy designing!

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.