Thinking About Designing Your Own Book Cover?

Think again!

We’ve all thought it. ‘Fess up. Even you.

The book is finished. It’s been rewritten (numerous times). It’s been edited (numerous times). You’re ready to go. All you need is a cover.

It’s taken a long time to get to this stage and you’re tired of waiting. Really tired.

So why not throw together an image or two, slap on a bit of clever clip art, add the title, oh, and your name–can’t leave that out–and you’re done. You have a cool, totally unique cover and it didn’t cost you anything.

You can do that if you want to. Lots of people have. It wouldn’t be like you were pushing the envelop or anything. And best of all, you don’t have to wait anymore.

Before You Do That….

I just came from Joel Friedlander’s website, Joel’s background is in book publishing and goes all the way back to the early 1970s. He worked with letterpress and offset printing and now works with digital publishing. One of the things he’s done for us writers is create ebook templates for almost every kind of book you can imagine.

Beyond that, his website is a fount of information on indie publishing on a number of topics. Including cover design. Did I mention he’s a graphic designer?

Every month, Mr. Friedlander has what he calls the e-Book Cover Design Awards. Authors and designers at all levels submit their cover designs each month and each month, Joel chooses one winner for fiction and one winner for nonfiction. All entries are posted on his blog and he comments on most of them. Some for better, some for worse.

Before you design your own book cover, it would be worth your while to browse the submissions for February 2015, the most recent contest as of the writing of this post. There were 113 entries in fiction and 15 in nonfiction. You might also want to review January’s submissions.

Just viewing the various types of covers and reading Joel’s comments is an education in what does and doesn’t work when it comes to book cover design.

A Big Disclaimer!

I’m an artist. The first books I published detail techniques I use for colored pencil or oil. I currently have two colored pencil books and one oil painting book in my stable. You can see them here. The books are medium specific–either colored pencil or oil. They also highlight a specific drawing or painting. So I felt pretty confident in designing my own covers.

A Big Challenge

I’ve heard it said that if your home-made cover can stand side-by-side with a professionally designed cover and no one can tell the difference, then you’re good to go and have fun.

Cover image, Colored Pencils: The Direct Method Step-by-Step

So I decided to enter the cover for my second book, Colored Pencils: The Direct Method Step-by-Step, in the February cover awards on Joel’s blog. I thought it was worthwhile to get an expert’s opinion on my design.

Even if it stung.

And The Winner Is….

Not me.

But I didn’t enter to win; I entered to have my skills at cover design evaluated.

To be honest, I expected either no remarks at all or a negative comment. To my delight, Joel’s comment was positive and encouraging.

A beautiful illustration, and the cover tells us what we want to know about the book.

That’s exactly what I was aiming for with the cover. A design that would tell potential readers what the book was about even if they couldn’t read the title. So this cover is a successful cover.

Does that mean I’ll be designing covers for my fiction work?

No. Not on your life!

There’s a world of difference between the requirements for a good nonfiction cover and a good fiction cover. I know, as an artist, what art students and artists look for in how-to books. I’ve bought enough of them to have a solid idea how to design one.

Fiction work is an entirely different ball of wax.

And each genre is different.

A good cover designer knows more about all of this than I do and–most likely–more than most of us know. A good designer knows which fonts and images work best for sweet romances, dystopian novels, suspense and horror. He or she also knows how to fine tune a cover design to reflect the individual novel.

When it comes down to it, what you’re really paying for when you pay for a professionally designed cover is the expertise.


It’s okay to think about designing your own book cover. If you are well-informed on the requirements and preferences of your target audience and if you have some artistic ability, designing your own covers might be an adequate option.

But for the majority of authors, the best advice I have is to hire a professional.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *