Tuesday, August 13, 2013

16 Tips to Fake a Professional Book Cover

With the heightened popularity of self-publishing, it's become both clear and painful, that more and more authors are making the decision to design their own book covers. In 99.9% of the cases, this is a huge mistake. Sure, it might save them some money up front, but I'll guarantee you they'll lose money in sales in the long run.

Unless you have a known name, readers WILL judge your book by its cover before they buy.

You know how us writers shake our heads in pity when someone suggests that writing is so easy that anyone can do it? That little misconception has caused the downfall of many a wannabe. Don't fall into the same trap when it comes to art. There's so much more to design than drawing pretty pictures. Just because you were good at art in high school, or you own a snazzy drawing program, doesn't mean you'll be able to create a professional book cover.

With my nine years of graphic design experience, I thought I'd share a few tips to recognise and create a professional book cover which will give potential readers confidence your story will be just as good as the cover promises.

The Basics
1. In the very least, the cover needs to communicate the book's genre. An example of good design is Alex J Cavanaugh's CassaStar, CassaFire, and the soon to be released, CassaStorm. They so obviously belong to the Science Fiction genre. The covers promise an exciting read with lots of action, and the stories deliver exactly that.

2. Keep it simple. You might have grand ideas for your cover, but unless you're a professional designer, it's unlikely you'll be able to match what's in your head with what you can create. Simple is far more eye-catching than a fussy design anyway. Fussy will all too often turn to mud.

3. Make sure the design looks just as recognisable and eye-catching in a thumbnail size as it does full size.

4. Design the cover in a high resolution—300dpi is preferable for a sharp image in print. It's then easy to scale back for web images (72dpi).

The Images
5. Check cover trends. Does the trend lean toward photos or illustration for your market? Does it lean toward images of people or objects?

6. Only use recognisable images. There's no point using an image that's not immediately recognisable. Carol Kilgore's Solomon's Compass is a great example of the use of recognisable images.

7. Do NOT use clipart. I don't care if it's free. Do NOT use it.

8. Be aware of rights to images. You can't use anything you happen to come across. Also, free rarely means free for commercial use. If you plan to make money from the use of images or fonts through the sale of books, then that is a commercial venture and no longer falls under the rights of most freeware.

The Fonts
9. Use an easy-to-read font.

10. Do NOT use comic sans. It's a common font that comes with everything and it screams amateur.

11. Keep it simple and readable. Christine Rain's The 13th Floor series is another great example of a clean, easy to read covers.

12. Check what other professionally published covers use for title fonts in your chosen market. Not every market is the same.

13. Make sure there's a strong contrast between the font colour and the background it's on. Remember, the text needs to be readable.

14. Don't use special effects on the fonts. Just because your graphics program has these funky filters, doesn't mean you should use them. Leave that to the professionals.

15. Don't be afraid to break up a long title onto a couple of lines. One long title across the book's width just looks silly. Look for balance in the design.

16. Unless you've built a huge fan base over a number of books, make sure the title is bigger than your name.

There are a bunch of other tips I could share, for example colour psychology, but perhaps I'll save that for another time.

Which are your favourite book cover designs? What are your thoughts on do-it-yourself covers?

54 comments:

  1. Some great advice, amateur looking covers can definitely put readers off.

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  2. Hey, thanks for using mine as an example! Even if mine is from a traditional publisher. (My total input was five minutes on the phone with their illustrator answering questions.)
    A lot of publishers use clip art. I saw the same cover image on a professionally done book and a self-published book. (The self-published author changed her image.)

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    1. When I said clipart, I meant those nasty free illustrations. The same photos being used on multiple book covers is more common than you think and, because of the way they're available and licenced out, is also close to unavoidable.

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  3. I give out the idea and then let the illustrator go with it

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  4. Covers are SO hard. Actually, any photoshop work is really hard as far as I'm concerned. I can manage to get an image and put words on it...but that's about it. Thanks for all the awesome tips and examples! :-)

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  5. Yep, we've seen so many bad covers on selfpublished books. Most of them look unprofessional and done in haste. I'd say that most have the problem with bad fonts or the wrong usage of fonts with names of writers and book titles.
    That ALPHA book would be, for me, an example of a bad book cover - bad fonts, badly positioned and centred, too much empty space, off putting, it just shows a lack of professional touch.

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    1. Aw, I really like The Alpha book cover because of its simplicity and clean design AND it matches in with the rest of the series.

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    2. pfftt.... for other's people book's perhaps if they have low standards... but you are aware that I won't let you publish your own book with a book cover like that, yes? :PPPP You will need Dezzy's Intergalactic seal of visual greatness before you publish your cover :)

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    3. Ha! Even with my 9 years of graphic design experience, I probably woukdn't design my own cover if I were to self-publish. It's good to know, though, that I'll have Dezzy's intergalactic seal of visual greatness if ever needed. Hugs.

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  6. These are some great tips. It's awful when a cover looks amateur and ruins a good story.

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  7. Great tips. If self-pubbers would follow these guidelines, they'd end up with more professional covers. There are some good ones out there, however. I sheepishly admit judging/choosing a book by its cover, and have been known to buy a book largely by one. If a writer doesn't have an eye for balance and such, he/she should hire someone who does.

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    1. 80% of the books I buy from unknown authors are based on the cover, although these days with a lot of the dodgey self-publishing going on where authors skip the essential editing process, I'll now read the sample chapters first as well before I buy.

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  8. Thank you so much for using Solomon's Compass as an example of recognizable images. I had an idea for this cover, but it fell flat. The final result was the brainchild of my designer, Derek Murphy. He's awesome.

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    1. I truly love the cover of Solomon's Compass. It ticks all the boxes and does your story justice.

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  9. Very good points! I've seen some real travesties :) Have you ever given any thought to designing covers for people--you'd be amazing at it!

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    1. I have thought about it. Perhaps down the track I will, but right now I'd rather spend the time writing or editing.

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  10. Fantastic tips! And thank you for using mine as an example. My goal for the series' covers was to keep it as simple as possible, but to have drama in them.

    I buy my images from Dreamstime. They're a good site, and they're cheaper than a lot of other ones.

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    1. You did really well to keep the series as a whole recognisable and cohesive. And I too love the clean design.

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  11. Great stuff. Covers are hard. This advice helps.

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  12. Excellent points to consider when wanting to chose or have input for your book cover! You have boiled the obvious things we pass over during decision times. Covers attract readers - no doubt so they are vital to the success of your novel in my opinion! Well done! :)

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  13. Excellent advice, Lynda. Thanks so much. I'll remember this when it's time for cover art of my memoir about going to college with five children in tow.

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  14. I just wrote about covers myself for the IWSG posting. Very good advice, as usual, Lyn.

    M.L. Swift, Writer

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    1. Great minds! I wasn't sure what to post about this week and looked through my book of ideas and found I'd written most of this up months ago but just hadn't polished or posted.

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  15. Great tips. I especially think it is important for e-books (and avatars) to stand out as thumbnails. So often, as you're scanning through books online, that's all you get is that tiny little picture to draw your attention.

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  16. Lynda,
    Plenty of useful tips in this article. Thanks.

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  17. Fake it 'til you make it :). I think this should be bookmarked for future reference. It's great advice!

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  18. I personally prefer minimalistic book covers. Those look the most professional to me.

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  19. Working on a book, I'd never thought, would be so much of brain storming;now as I 'm going through it so many things are coming up. Everything needs to be worked upon with a different mindset while the prime thinking process roots down to the essence of the book!

    Thanks for sharing the do's and don'ts, huge help! :)

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  20. These are great tips, Lynda. I have seen some awful covers out there!

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  21. Sadly even some publishers aren't providing their authors with professional looking covers. I find it's usually the font that ruins a good cover.

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  22. Thank you so much, Lynda, I'm running around in circles at the moment.

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  23. Thanks for the amazing tips Lynda. I am a cover novice. Frankly speaking, I would be at a loss were I to design my book cover.

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  24. Thanks for the tips! My nephew is developing my cover art this week. I paid for a couple images from Shutterstock to incorporate into the overall cover. Together they cost $29.00. A small price to pay for what I'm looking for,

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  25. There are two things I just won't do because I know I don't have the talent or interest in trying. One is designing a book cover and two is singing Carmen. I'll let the professionals handle both of those.

    You've given those less intimidated by the challenge of cover design than I, some great guidelines.

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  26. Great tips! I "thought" I knew exactly what I wanted for my cover, but fortunately, I had the good sense to heed the designer's advise. She knew what she was talking about; what I had in mind would have been trite, and much too dark for the actual tone of the book.

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  27. Great post, Lynda. Excellent tips. :)

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  28. These are great tips. The last thing I want to do is have a cover that looks like I did it myself. My kids (who are all artists of various mediums) and I all joke about one overused font in particular. It really is worth getting someone who has the ability and an artistic eye to design, or at least help, with a cover.

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  29. Excellent examples! I know we buy books by the cover. I did as a bookstore owner. It's sad some of the awful ones that people do.

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  30. Wonderful advice. Thanks, Lynda.

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  31. Awesome advice, Lynda. I'm a novice and instead of using plain font used fancy on a cover. Which I don't like now...

    Nas

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  32. You're right, with so many covers out there you don't want your book to stand out in a bad way.

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  33. Very good tips! I always let a professional design my book covers.

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  34. Great advice:) I've been contemplating some of these very steps:)

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  35. All amazing tips, Lynda. Thankfully I'm married to a graphic artist, and really got into logo/artistic design when younger. If I had to, I could design my own cover, but the hubby does a much better job making it shine.

    As far as covers go, I think it's often better when the author has control, not necessarily to design it, but to direct the vision of where it goes. stellar.

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    1. It's interesting you should say that (about it's often better when the author has control). In the case of picture books, many traditional publishers will keep the author and illustrator apart. The reason being, there's a certain magic in the interpretation. The illustrator will often add more than even the author first realised when he or she wrote the book. Stories often have a life of their own.

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  36. I think making a cover takes more than just being a good artist, as you say. I would rather hire someone who knows about it than do a pitiful job.

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  37. Very useful tips, Lynda!
    I say, leave the artwork to the professionals!
    Writer In Transit

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  38. I'm so glad I have a crit buddy who is a talented cover designer because most of the amateur ones look exactly that!

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  39. It might be unfair, but you're so right. I do judge books by their covers, and I've passed on many, many, many books entirely based solely on the amateurish, cringe-worthy cover. When it's time for me to start thinking about my own cover, I'll be back here to re-read.

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  40. Great tips. I dislike comic sans and I don't want to see clipart on a book cover.

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  41. Excellent advice, some of it can be used on webpages too. The contrast of font to background comes to mind. I have come across too many backgrounds with a dark font that are beautiful and impossible to read. **sighs**

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

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  42. Great advice on covers. And you're right, unless you have a healthy following built up, its the cover that sells the book.

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