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Self-Publishing Book Cover Design: A Guide to An Amazing Book Cover

When self-publishing book cover design is nearly as important as your content. The cover of your book is the first visual your audience will have of your book, and the old adage “first impressions” could not be more true when it comes to having your self-published book taken seriously. Every book, regardless if it came from a traditional publisher or an independently published one-book author, has to be wrapped in something that catches the reader’s eye and communicates the books message nearly instantly.  For your book, as an author who is self-publishing, your book cover design must be just as good as any book on the ‘shelf’ – even more so, since self-publishing book cover design is something that, if your book stands a chance at succeeding, has to match or, if possible, exceed what the best traditional publishers are releasing. Your book cover design should stand out, rise above, and simply not begin to warrant the pejorative label, “This looks like self-publishing book cover design skills were used.”

Dog Ear Publishing has been building book covers for both independent authors and traditional publisher for nearly 15 years. Our goal is to provide every author with the skills, knowledge, and resources to help us build an amazing cover that exactly matches your dream AND fits the bill of making your book jump of the shelf (or Amazon page) into the future reader’s hands.  The trick is to help you learn how to collaborate with the Dog Ear design team in creating a great book cover design.

The Basics of Self-Publishing Book Cover Design

Book cover design is far more than just slapping a title over an image and fitting it to the correct trim size. True book cover design is an art, balancing all the various elements that create a great book cover: art, text, and style. It requires a book cover design professional who understands how readers view a book cover, how the brain processes information when presented visually, and how to set the various ‘priority’ of each element on the cover.

Helping Your Book Cover Designer Build the Best Book Cover

There are several ways you can help the design team build your book cover. Each of them helps the designer visualize what you want and what your book needs. Remember, designers are VISUAL people – it may appear contrarian, but the person MOST responsible for getting readers to pick up your book is truly a VISUAL person. The see the world as interconnected images, all relating to each other, all communicating tone, quality, intent, value and many other adjectives.

Visually Inspire

The first role of a book cover is to immediately connect with the intended reader. This is done visually, in the first micro-seconds that the reader sees your book, and long before she or he has turned it over to read your book cover copy. Find images (and even other book covers) that you know immediately create the feeling you want the reader to have about your book. It doesn’t have to TELL the reader what your book is about, it just needs to create a visual connection.

Don’t be shy about mimicking bestselling titles in your genre and sub-category. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so the saying goes. In reality, you can borrow some of the millions of dollar worth of research that big publishers have put into their book cover designs. Just don’t stray from your heartfelt ideas.

But, make yours unique. What you don’t want is to create market confusion (or get sued) by copying a book cover design. You’re going for an overall impression or tactics to borrow, not stealing some book cover designer’s work.

Decide on cover format

Text only, front cover image only, full cover image wrap, illustrated, photographic – all of these terms describe different ways to use imagery (or lack thereof) on your book cover. Do you want NO image on your book cover? How text-heavy are your front and back cover? Is your cover copy more important than the cover image? Will you be adding an author photograph?

Creating a great book cover design is really more art than science, but some general rules apply. Non-fiction titles usually need more text than images – you need to catch the reader with the design of your book title. Fiction books rely heavily on the cover image to communicate what’s inside the covers.

How much text will you need on your back cover? Do you want the image wrapping all the way around or do you need more space to ‘tell’ the reader what is inside your book? Does your author photo really contribute to the sale of your book (meaning would seeing you on the cover inspire readers to buy the book, or is it just ego?) or is the real estate better used to give more details?

Choosing Type

After the cover image, the style of the type in your book cover title is the next visual trigger. Make sure you work with the book cover design team to get the typography set correctly. Choosing the right font, setting up the right sizes and position for your title and subtitle, are all things novices struggle to do correctly. Remember that fonts are so varied because they COMMUNICATE a feeling or impression of the text they are representing. Make sure the ‘message’ your font is communicating matches the impression you want the reader to have of your book.

Make sure that the font you use and the sizes you use for your text match with the importance of the information it is relaying to the potential reader. For example, Tom Clancy quite rightly puts his name on book covers even larger than the title – his NAME is what sells. In almost all cases, an author creating a self-publishing book cover design isn’t quite that famous yet. Your book title, then subtitle, will be what sells the reader on buying the book. Put your name somewhere that is easily seen, but not distracting.

    Don’t use more than a couple fonts – one for the title, maybe another for the sub title. Pick something that matches your text font INSIDE the book for cover copy.

Ask for more than a single round of design

Since book cover design is a visual and subjective art, it may (and probably will) take more than a single design round to get the book cover right. Use a ‘focus group’ to help you pick a book cover design that communicates. Don’t – just DON’T – get caught up in letting others ‘help’ you design your book cover. Just ask for opinions and what they like best. It’s almost always best to just ask them to point to the one they like. As contrary as it may seem, when you ask too many questions, you get too many answers – and book cover design by committee is NEVER effective.

Learning how a book cover design is best created, it’s time to discuss why Dog Ear Publishing’s book cover designers are exactly what an author needs. You can see nearly every book cover we have ever design on either Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Over 10,000 cover designs. Not all of them are from the Dog Ear Publishing cover design team – authors do, on a regular basis, bring along their own design. (I joke that if you like the cover you see on Barnes & Noble, then we designed it; if you don’t it came from the author…) Of our 10,000 plus titles, over 7,200 of those books had covers designed by the Dog Ear team. And, our cover designers have been with us for 15 YEARS. That’s a lot of covers per designer (there’s only 4 of them). They have, to say the least, a bit of experience. So take a look through our massive portfolio – and when you find a cover you like, we can point you right to the exact designer who created it, all to apply their skills to YOUR book.

The Book Cover Design Document

Helping your book cover designer understand what you want is an art unto itself. And it’s why we ask EVERY author to write down what they want for a book cover design. Asking an author to WRITE a cover design document forces him or her to truly think about what they want, then see it written down.

Use visual words, use bullet points, only a short paragraph to describe what you want. Getting into TOO much detail means YOU are actually designing the cover or forcing the artist to try and exactly implement your instructions. Usually not a good tactic to get the best from your designer. Often authors have specific ideas, but remember that the book cover design team has done this for many years – let them apply their skills and creativity to at least the first round. You might be very surprised at what comes back. Use a list of other book covers you find attractive – this visual cue will help the cover designer ‘see’ exactly what you like.

A word about stock images

Dog Ear Publishing’s book cover designers almost always work from stock images acquired from sites such as iStockPhoto.com. Even the vast majority of traditional publishers start with some sort of stock image. Unless you are looking for a custom (and expensive) cover illustration, this will be a cost-effective and very efficient way to create your book cover design. As a Dog Ear Publishing author, you will have access to a library of millions of images through iStock. Once you’ve chosen an image, we will license your chosen image  (or images – many covers are made up of more than a single image) and move onto your book cover design.

Using your own photography

As digital cameras and even cell phones improve the quality of image capture, many authors choose to use an image they have taken. If you feel your own photography communicates exactly what you want for your book cover, then by all means, use it!

The book cover design process should be an enjoyable and inspiring part of the book publishing process – and our goal at Dog Ear Publishing is to build exactly the book cover you want and that your book needs. Working together, we will do just that: creating self-publishing book cover design imagery that sells books!

Ray Robinson
Ray Robinson

When Ray first entered the publishing industry, authors relied on “vanity presses” to produce their work – many of whom would charge $15,000 or more and leave the author’s garage filled with hundreds of books. Ray, along with coworker Alan Harris, joined forces with Miles Nelson to create Dog Ear Publishing to provide the author community a self-publisher with a heart. The group’s application of new technologies and publishing on demand reduced the cost of publishing a book to a fraction of what it had been for previous generations; authors now have the ability to publish a book in as little as six weeks and print as few as a single copy.