Despite these changes in the landscape, many aspects of book publishing remain virtually unchanged from what they were a century ago. A book still needs to be edited to meet professional publishing standards, and to get an appealing book cover.
What is a book cover?
Basically, the cover is what holds your print book together. It’s a reinforced piece of paper that’s wrapped around the pages of your book, that protects it but also introduces it. The cover is the first (and sometimes only) part of your book that passersby will look at. In other words, people generally judge your book entirely by its cover.
Why it’s important to invest in a good cover
A patron in a bookstore will spend on average 8 seconds looking at a book cover before moving on to the next title. These seconds are spent glancing at the book’s cover and perhaps, if the cover is appealing enough, turning the book around to glean the back cover blurb.
A book cover therefore has 8 seconds to convince a potential reader that it should be their next read. In these 8 seconds, the cover must clearly communicate what the book is about and whether it’s a good fit with the reader’s tastes.
It’s crucial that your book cover be properly designed, not only to be catchy but also to communicate the essence of your book—its theme and genre—in a matter of seconds.
To ensure that your cover does right by your book on the shelves, there exist a series of best practices that every indie author should follow. I’ll be introducing each of these best practices in this article, starting with the first: working with a professional designer.
Get a professionally designed book cover
Indie authors who plan to make a living from their writing don’t design their own covers. They work with a professional designer. What is a book designer? A book designer is a publishing professional who is specialized in cover design and interior layout. While interior layout is a subject in itself, here I will focus on the designer’s involvement in a book’s cover.
The professional designer offers:
- Technical expertise: book covers aren’t designed in Microsoft Word. A professional cover is created using Adobe InDesign or equivalent design software. This is to make sure your cover meets printing standards. The designer knows how to prepare a cover to make sure it is not only printable but will meet industry standards. This pays off once your book is on the shelf and is indistinguishable from traditionally published books. As we often, say, there’s no reason a self-published book cover should look any less professional than a traditionally published one.
- Professional advice: in self-publishing, the author is in charge. But it still helps to surround yourself with seasoned professionals who can provide feedback when needed. The designer is familiar with publishing standards, trends, do’s and don’ts of book design, and they will provide their advice. Follow this advice, trust your designer, and you’ll end up with a cover that really makes your book shine.
Your book cover is one of your main promotional tools. Working with a professional designer to create a quality cover isn’t just about having a nice looking book. It’s also part of your marketing strategy. A well-made cover will attract the right readers, while a bad cover can seriously hurt your book’s sales.
Two sides to every cover
A book cover includes two key parts: the front cover (C1) and back cover (C4). Connecting the front and back covers is the spine, which is the slim part of the book’s outer shell where the pages are glued to the cover. Typically a book designer hired to do your cover will be in charge of designing the entire cover: front cover, back cover and spine. This is ideal, since it ensures consistency of design between the different parts of the cover.
Many self-published authors looking to reduce costs will only get a front cover designed. This is fine if you only intend to sell your book in ebook format. But if you plan on having your book printed, the full cover including back and spine are required. Since it’s very easy to create a font cover for your ebook from the full cover, we always recommend that authors get the full cover designed first.
Let’s take a look at the different parts of the cover one at a time.
The front cover
Your book’s front cover should include:
- Your book’s title
- The author’s name (your given name or pen name)
Every book cover includes the title and author. Beyond this, other elements may be relevant depending on the genre of your book.
Genre of your book: depending on the title of your book and whether it immediately evokes the genre or not, you may want to indicate the genre directly on the cover (for example “A Novel”, or “An Autobiography”).
This helps the potential buyer to quickly situate themselves in relation to the book, and to know if the book fits the genre they’re looking for, without having to dig further.
Review quote: if you collected reviews of your book before its publication using beta readers or advance reader copies, then you can always add a quote to the front cover of your book.
Only include a quote if you have a really good one. If you don’t, it’s better not to have any at all. Also, the quote shouldn’t clash or compete visually with your title.
Publisher logo: some indie authors have a publisher name or company under which they publish their own titles. This can be included on the front cover of your book, as well as on the spine.
Note: only do this if your publisher name is registered.
The cover image
You know the old adage: “a picture speaks a thousand words”? If the goal of a cover is to catch the eyes of potential readers, then a well-selected cover image is one of the best ways to achieve that goal.
Having a compelling image on your book cover is a crucial part of closing the deal with your potential buyer in that 8-second window. There are many different ways to choose an image, each with varying costs involved.
Use an image of your own: if your book is an autobiography or family story, it could be interesting to use an image of your own. It will provide a personal touch. Plus, it’s free. However, make sure that the image you choose is suitable to be a book cover. Make sure to consult with your designer, and trust their judgment. It can be helpful to find three or four images you like and then present them to the designer to see which might be most suitable.
Purchase an image from an online image bank: most authors will go online to find their book’s cover. There are dozens of image banks with thousands of images to choose from. Here’s a list of the most popular:
Getty Images, iStock (owned by Getty Images), Shutterstock, Adobe Stock (formerly Fotofolia), Bigstock.
What about free images banks?
There exist many free image banks online, where you can download images for free. We don’t recommend using these for two reasons:
The quality and diversity of the images available for free is significantly inferior to the paid images banks. It’s nearly impossible to find an image that will feel uniquely tied to your book’s story and content.
Because the images are free, they’re being used by many more people (including authors). Using a free image for your book cover means running the risk of having the exact same cover image as someone else’s book. You want to avoid this at all costs.
Don’t rush the image selection process. Take your time to consider many options and to discuss these options with your designer.
Help your designer by showing them examples of book covers that you like.
Keep in mind that your book most likely has a portrait orientation (higher than wide), while 90% of photos have a landscape orientation (wider than high). This means that the image you think is perfect may not seem so once set into your book cover dimensions. Make sure to consult your designer to deal with this technical issue.
Your front cover will also serve as the thumbnail for your book on online retail sites.
Keep this in mind when choosing an image, to make sure it doesn’t hinder legibility and stays recognizable in a smaller format.
The back cover
The back cover provides an additional look into your book for any potential reader whose attention was caught by your front cover. Although it’s not as flashy as the front cover, the back cover remains a crucial asset to your book’s commercial success.
There are 6 ingredients to a well-designed back cover:
A design that’s a natural extension of your front cover: the back cover should look and feel similar to the front cover, so that it feels like an extension of the front to the reader. This can be done by having an image wrap around the book, or by using the same colour scheme as appears on the front cover. Your designer will be able to provide recommendations for this.
Readable text: text that’s too small to read or in an illegible font is a major turnoff. Make sure your blurb and author sections are in a sufficiently large and readable font (consult your designer for suggestions). Also make sure your blurb doesn’t exceed 200 words, while the author bio should be no more than 80 words (more on these below).
A hook: if you have a juicy review quote or strong sentence that might act as a hook, ask your designer to emphasize it at the top of the back cover. It should be no more than 15 words. The hook isn’t necessary. If you don’t have a review quote that really makes people want to read your book, it’s best not to include one at all.
The blurb: the blurb, or book summary, introduces the potential reader to your book. It should be 150 to 200 words. For fiction, the blurb is a summary of the story’s main lines: characters, key plot elements. Present just enough to get the reader hooked, while not enough to give the whole story away. It can be helpful to end with an opener in the form of a question or dilemma that the character must face. For nonfiction, the blurb should present a bullet-list (three to five)of the book’s features: what it talks about, what the reader will take away from it. The blurb should pull the reader in by asking questions, addressing the reader directly.
Author bio and photo: your back cover should also include a photo of yourself along with a short bio. The photo should be professional: a close-up of your face. Avoid using selfies or photos with other people. The bio should be no more than 80 words. For nonfiction authors, the bio is where you establish your expertise in the field: credentials, experience, etc.
Barcode: if you plan on selling your book commercially (in stores and/or online), then it needs a barcode. The barcode is a scannable version of your book’s ISBN. Once your ISBN is obtained, the designer will use it to create a barcode that will be included on your book’s back cover.
The front cover and back cover are connected by the spine, which is the thin part of your book’s outer layer where the pages are glued to the inside of the cover. To ensure that your book is recognizable when stacked on a shelf, its spine should display:
- The book’s title
- The author’s name
There’s no secret sauce to making a good book cover. Just make sure to follow the advice we’ve provided, and you’ll be guaranteed to have a cover that competes visually with any bestseller published by a major publisher. The rest comes down to genre and personal taste.
If there are two things you should remember above all others when it comes to making a book cover, it’s:
- Get informed: read this article and others like it to familiarize yourself with the ingredients to a good book cover. Then browse other titles in your book’s genre, focusing on the bestsellers, to see what works and what catches your eye. Take notes while you do this.
- Hire a professional designer: and trust their advice. Until you have published a dozen books and have some experience in the publishing process, trusting your designer’s advice is the best way to ensure the highest quality for your book.