I am so excited to have TerriblyBadBookCovers on the blog today! Their cover finds have had me in stitches, so I am so happy to learn tips on how to actually make a good cover! Please welcome them to the blog!
So you want to make your own cover for that book baby you’ve been nursing along, and you’re looking for some advice on how to do it well? Great! You’ve come to the right place.
You heard me: the first tip for designing your own cover for your book is “don’t do it” – and I’m not joking. Not to sound overly harsh, but the odds of you having the skillset, eye for design, and tools to execute your vision are slim-to-none. You are an author, not a designer, and though I hate to break it to you I can almost guarantee that if you try to design your own cover, it’s going to be terrible – or at least unprofessional.
Hire a designer – someone whose portfolio you look at and say “yes, this person knows what they’re doing.” Publishing a book is an investment, and in order to get a good return on it, you need to actually put some funds in to start it up. Hire a professional editor and pay for a professionally-designed book cover – your book deserves it. “Good enough” should never be good enough.
But… if you’re going to ignore Tip #1, at least try to stick with the rest of these suggestions, and maybe you won’t end up featured on my page. 😉
Author Cover Professional Cover
Use good artwork. Legally.
Now, obviously, this is tied to tip #1, but I can’t tell you how many covers I’ve featured that use either crayon drawings, pixelated photos, or really poorly done pixel-smash photo edits. Don’t have Aunt Janice or your nephew Kevin draw you a picture and call it a day.
If you can’t pay a designer or artist to make a good piece for you, there are a lot of inexpensive stock art pieces out there that already have all the editing is done on them, all you need to do is slap your title and name on it. Check out DepositPhotos or iStock, or even freebie sites like Pixabay or Pexels, and make certain that your image is high resolution, and not squished or stretched.
Just make sure you have the legal rights to use an image. Art theft is no joke, even if you don’t intend to do it. Always double-check that the image you’re using is either the creation of the person you’re buying it from, and/or a CC0 image that can be used without purchasing a license. Sites like Flickr are infamous for having reposted and stolen art – it’s a good practice to reverse image search your photo/art through something like TinEye to make sure that you’re getting it from a reputable source.
Author Cover Professional (still indie!)
Care about your fonts and typography.
Do not use system fonts. This applies most clearly to nightmare fonts like Papyrus, Comic Sans, Algerian, Blackadder, and other overused and abused fonts. But as a general rule of thumb: if it comes pre-installed on your computer, don’t use it. People get weirdly defensive about this, and I swear every discussion on the topic has at least three Needling Nancys going “But so-and-so used Trajan! Author XYZ has Harrington on his cover and he’s feeding a family five off his book revenue!”
Good for them. But just because there are exceptions to the rule doesn’t mean that you’re one of them – better to use a good font than hope that your book will surmount the hurdle of a bad one.
On a related note, avoid wild novelty fonts – you won’t find them on professional covers. Stick with clean, classy serif fonts like Lovelyn or Thirsk or Giveny – or even Cinzel, though that one is starting to show up too often. If you need something even more clean and modern, a sans-serif like Glacial Indifference, Josefin Sans, or Audrey will get you far. If you can’t afford to purchase a font, sites like FontSquirrel are your friend, along with the freebie pages on FontBundles, CreativeFabrica, etc. (Avoid generic free font sites, as they host stolen content and you run the risk of downloading a side of malware with your free font. Make sure any font you install comes with a commercial license.)
And while you can get away with just slapping a non-offensive font on your cover, a good design is going to have a bit more effort put into it. Read a book or a blog or five on typography, and know that professional designers often spend as much (or, from personal experience, sometimes more) time on the text elements as they do on the overall image.
A bad font can ruin a good cover. Typography is art.
Do your best to match genre conventions.
Most (if not all) genres have visual shortcuts that they use in their cover designs that communicate information to the reader before they even pick up the book.
-Urban Fantasy books use rich jewel tones, front-facing models, glowing magical outlines and elements, and strong (usually serif, though not always) typography.
-Thrillers often showcase a single (plot specific) item, with bold sans-serif text.
-Cozy mysteries are usually illustrated with cutesy scenes and often use quirky fonts.
Historical books have a look. War books have a look. Epic fantasy is going to look different than fantasy romance – which is then going to look different than billionaire romance. Know your genre and what it looks like.
If you’re stuck on this, or unsure what books in your genre look like, head down to your local chain bookstore (a physical bookstore, not just Amazon, you want to be looking at the pros) and pick up six or ten books that you could say “If you like these, you’ll like my book.” See what they have in common – are they all clean, bold fonts? Do they all use illustrated covers? Do they all have a character on them, and if so how do they show them (full body, face only, looking away, facing the reader, etc…)? Obviously you don’t want to copy other covers, but be aware of what readers are expecting, and use genre conventions as the style guide they are.
This is listed as a psychological thriller. This is an actual psychological thriller.
And I don’t just mean from Aunt Brenda, Mrs. Kirby from sixth grade art, and your two best friends who would never give you negative feedback. I also don’t mean post to a random Facebook group and hope to find some decent opinions amongst the trolls and the well-meaning-but-clueless commenters. Hopefully, you are cultivating a support network of professional authors who know their stuff (if not, do that!) and these are the best people to ask – especially if they’re a part of or experienced in your target market.
If you have friends who professionally design, you can ask them – but don’t demand extensive feedback, or for them to walk you through improvements unless you’re willing to pay them for their time. They’re professionals after all. Heck – send it to me through my Instagram page, and I’ll be more than willing to give you a few unbiased thoughts.
And be willing to change. Again: you are an author, not a designer. Just because you love a font or an image or think you absolutely HAVE to have an element… that doesn’t mean it’s best for your book.
What, an extra tip? 😉 Sure, I’m feeling generous.
Keep your options open.
If you come to a point where you realize you do not have the skillset to do your book justice, but you don’t think you can afford to hire a designer: you still have options. Some designers sell premade covers that are artistically high quality and can simply be customized with your title and name. (This works especially well for genre-fiction writers.) For custom designs, sites like 100 Covers, MIBL Art, 99 Designs and others offer affordable (even cheap) covers that look excellent. If you’re truly desperate, you can even venture into the wastelands of Fiverr, though I’d caution against it.
The point is: you deserve a good cover for your book. If you’re going to put in the effort to produce a good novel, don’t let it get ignored because the cover looks like someone blew their nose on it and called that a font.
But! If you do, know that you might at the very least get a bit of free promotion when I feature your cover on my Instagram. 😉TerriblyBadBookCovers is run by an eldritch being of pure salt and sass. 😉 I’m an Irish-American designer currently living and working in the continental US, and I keep my TerriblyBadBookCovers Instagram account anonymous because I never want anyone to feel like I’m knocking them down in order to build up my own business. I love to pan bad book covers, but even more I love to chat with authors about their covers in progress and give them some unbiased feedback before they go to press – every author deserves a chance to make their brainchild as shiny and professional as possible.
What are some of your favorite book covers? What are some of your least favorite books covers? Have you tried to design a book cover before?
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