To go with our recently-published Self-Publishing Answers podcast episodes on great book cover design, we thought it would be cool to offer this guest post to sort of “round things out.” Enjoy!

Invariably the number one challenge for self-publishers is designing a quality cover for their book. The subjective nature of any type of design makes the process one full of doubt and second guessing. Couple with this the fact that many authors are not visual thinkers and it becomes clear why book cover design remains a source for procrastination. Professional cover design is an amalgamation of elements that must fit together like a puzzle to project the intended meaning and elicit the proper emotion in shoppers.

A good book cover should be a visual representation of the subject matter and provide a sense of what the reader can expect. This is not to say that every technical aspect of the story needs to be pictorially shown on the cover but rather condensed into one powerful image that will make complete sense to the reader by the time they finish the book. Before reading the book, however, the potential reader should look at the cover and receive an instant subconscious glimpse of what is to come and a mental association with the intended genre.

The best way to start this process is to go into a bookstore and look at books in the same genre. Does your cover concept fit in with the rest of these books? If not, then go back to the drawing board. The shopper should look at the cover and without reading any words, or even looking at the title, instantly know whether the story is mystery, horror, science fiction, etc. If this seems overwhelming, one tactic to try would be to gather or create a collection of images that conceptualize the major concepts in the book. This will get the creative juices flowing and before you know it all sorts of ideas will arise as to how best visually illustrate the content of the book.

Font is another element of this puzzle that is often overlooked. Though just text, font choice can make or break a book cover. Clean, solid fonts represent technology and science. Elaborate fonts such as Old English obviously project classical connotations perhaps appropriate to fantasy. Whimsical fonts may be best suited for a children’s book or fairytale. Fonts that appear handwritten often exude a sense of femininity. The hard part about font choice is the huge selection. The easy part is the ease with which fonts can be switched out, thereby making experimentation a breeze. While some creativity is fine here, the best advice is don’t break the mold. Stick with what works.

In addition to the subjective elements of design, there are also a few objective aspects to cover. Make the title stand out. Remember that in the internet age, the odds are that most of your sales will come online. This means your book cover will be a thumbnail on a webpage with many other books. Even at this small size the shopper should be able to judge the core concept of your book with only a glance. The image should be recognizable at this size as well.

Consider how the cover will tie into the spine and back cover. Will they be three separate images or will the image wrap around. Once again, look at other books to get a sense of what style will best suit your needs.

Avoid clutter. Follow the Navy Seal KISS model. Your book only has a second to grab attention so don’t blow that chance with a cluttered cover.

Be sure to adhere to technical specifications. We won’t go into specifics here but just be sure to check with your printer for any requirements such as file type, size, resolution, etc.

And finally, don’t be cheap! If there is one aspect of the book to not cheap out on, it’s the cover. If you are not a competent designer then let a professional handle the job. You may pay anywhere from $300 to $1000 but if you want your book to sell, it’s well worth it.

Whoever coined the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” was obviously referring to people. Books are and should be judged by their cover. It’s the first thing people see. Anyone who reads a lot can probably attest to that fact that more often than not the quality of a cover does equate to the quality of the content. Just go on Amazon and look at the plethora of garbage books written by authors more interested in making a quick buck than writing a good page turner. The vast majority of these books have a cover that looks like they were created by a novice in thirty minutes on Photoshop. Don’t let all the labor and hours that went in to creating your masterpiece go to waste with a lackluster cover that instantly transmits laziness to the shopper. Think of a good book cover as a punch in the face. Make it simple and powerful.

James Rose is a staff writer for, a full-service self-publishing company with 100% of all work performed in-house. We have been helping authors realize their dreams for the past 13 years. Whether you’re printing a novel, how-to book, manual, brochure or any type of book you can imagine, our step-by-step instructions make publishing your own book simple and easy.