A blog about writing and self publishing

6 expert tips on designing a great book cover

By Scarlett Rugers

Yes people do judge books by their covers, and when your cover is the size of a postage stamp, as is the case in search results for eBooks, you need a clear message for maximum impact.

Coming up with the right high-voltage look can be tricky, but don’t be deterred. Here are some quick pointers to help with the process, specifically for authors with little to no design experience, and want to give it a shot:

Have a clear idea of what message you want to convey.

You can only make a first impression once.  Instead of three or four story lines, two characters, eighteen scenes and one plot twist clamoring for attention, pick one strong theme for the cover. What is the one constant in your story, from start to finish? What is the value, the lesson, the message you are passing onto your reader? For example:

  • A love story across the planet
  • An adventure in western times
  • Mysterious beings haunting a forest
  • Two animals who are close friends
  • A tough guy who won’t take no for an answer

Choose the main element you want to convey about your book and select your cover image to reflect it.

Use other book covers to guide you.

Search for books with the same theme you’re looking for and see how they lay out the text and images. You don’t have to try and know everything at once; learn how others have done it in the past.

Use simple typefaces and layout.

No matter how beautiful your cover image is, your book cover fails if the typeface is poor.  Type is often the element that is overlooked, and always the deal breaker. I have written a post about classic typefaces you can rely on, no matter the genre of your book. Decorative fonts run the risk of being outdated. And keep it to two fonts max – you want something stylish for your title, and something simple for your author name and tag line. Too many typefaces means too many people are at the party.

Seek Feedback.

Search out communities and forums involved in self-publishing and ask for feedback. Not from your family and friends who will always love what you create, but people who will give you an honest, constructive critique. My ego definitely gets too big when I feel like I’ve done a great job, and accepting criticism forces me to continue to be better, be open, and to recognize there will always be things that others can see that I can’t.

Keep it simple.

You don’t have to go overboard with design. Good design is all about balance, and ensuring your message gets across. You don’t need to combine four different images to tell your reader that it’s a sci-fi, romance with a lot of death and machine guns. You need one message, one that doesn’t have to be literal, and you need to tell it visually. To convey royalty we use a crown, for slavery we go with chains, for love we have hearts.

Have bold, easy-to-see visuals.

You may be ready to get really creative in Gimp or Photoshop, but remember that a lot of your readers are only going to see your cover in black and white on your Kobo. Did you know that pink comes up pretty poor on a Kobo?

Maintain clean lines and use images that are easy to distinguish if you’re going to blend them. If you have a Kobo then upload your cover and open it up to see how it looks! You don’t want to have done all that work only to find the name is barely visible because it blends into the background hue.

A lot of info? Let’s chunk it down:

A checklist for good cover design:

  1. Does your cover say what you want it to? Does it convey the genre, and theme?
  2. Is your text easy to read?
  3. Are you using a maximum of two font faces, one decorative (or maybe simple if you wish), and the other a classic type face?
  4. Do you have a simple image, or do you have a collection of images fighting for attention?
  5. Is the cover easy to view on Kobo?

If you are covering these points then you’re well on your way to having a good cover! I always encourage authors to hire a professional but sometimes, for whatever reason, it’s time to do it yourself.  And the beauty of eBooks is, book covers can be easily changed – you can keep experimenting. Be brave, be bold! Take risks! And above all have fun!


scarlett rutgersScarlett Rugers’ job is a book cover designer and a Publishing Identity Consultant. Her purpose is to empower you to be the best author you can be, and collaborate with you to improve the quality of the book industry. She is constantly working to inspire, strengthen and pursue the perception that self-publishing is professional publishing.

For an experience that will make you feel traditionally published you can email her at: contact (at) scarlettrugers (dot) com or visit her website and see her work. She is also on twitter at @thebookdesignr.

Scarlett Rugers is also offering a 10% discount on her design services to all Kobo Writing Life authors! Visit her site for further information about her services.

13 Responses to “6 expert tips on designing a great book cover”

  1. Self-Promotion – A Guide – Kobo Writing Life

    […] Many authors make the mistake of trying to design their own book cover with little training or artistic ability. This can result in an amateurish cover that greatly hurts your eBook sales.  If you want to be your own cover designer, go ahead and give it a stab, but be sure to compare your final product to bestselling titles in your genre to see how it measures up. Another possibility is to hire someone to design your book cover. For further advice on book cover design, check out professional book cover designer Scarlett Rugers’s article 6 Expert Tips on Designing a Great Book Cover. […]

  2. Timothy McIntyre

    This article has a lot of good tips but definitely don’t do your cover yourself unless you are a designer or artist! Most people make their purchase decision based on viewing your cover for 3 – 5 seconds, it’s much too important to DIY! My recently published book, “I’m a Type A — How the Heck Will I Ever Retire?” has a great cover designed by a veteran designer (Audria at DesignbyIndigo) and I have been selling a ton of books. Also, have her do an author’s website for you, mine is very original and cool and I get 100 – 200 pageviews each day, which allows me to sell even more books.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: