Self Publish Your Novel Part 8: Cover Design



This post is part of a series of posts about self-publishing. I’m revising my book Self Publish Your Novel and posting the chapters as I finish them. If you’d like to be alerted when the new version of Self Publish Your Novel is available, please click here.


City of Sand Cover - 300
The cover I designed for City of Sand

You can probably do most of the work of self-publishing your book yourself. One task for which you will probably want to seek outside help, however, is cover design. Being an amateur artist, I design some of my own covers (with acceptable, if not breathtaking, results), but graphic design is a specialized skill that requires specialized tools.

How do you find a graphic designer? One of the best ways is to find a cover of a self-published book that you really like and contact the author. Another way is to use a website for freelancers like, 99designs or There are plenty of designers on these sites who have a lot of experience putting together covers fast for relatively little money.

Most designers will make use of stock images that they have bought from another service, such as, Shutterstock, or Make sure that your designer surrenders all ownership of the cover design to you, and if they used any non-public domain images, that you have the rights to use the images on other versions of the book and on promotional materials. I know one author who has to get permission from his cover photographer every time he wants to use his own book cover in promotional materials, because he doesn’t own the photo outright. Bad move.

Alternately, you can use the cover design wizards offered by your POD company, but don’t expect it to be particularly striking. An amateur cover will probably end up looking like an amateur cover – and will likely cost you sales.

If you are feeling adventurous (or financially challenged), you can design your own cover. To do this, you need a graphic design application. The industry standard applications are Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. Speaking as a software developer and reasonably intelligent person who has dabbled in graphic design, I don’t recommend these applications unless you want to spend the next three years burrowing down seemingly infinite navigational menus. I haven’t used Illustrator, but I find Photoshop infuriatingly difficult and counter-intuitive. Even the LE (“Limited Edition”) version of Photoshop is far too complicated.

A professionally designed cover

Personally, I use Corel’s Paint Shop Pro. It’s got about 90% of the functionality of Photoshop, and you don’t need a PhD to use it. You can download a fully functional 30 day trial version, or buy it for $69.99. Another option is GIMP, a free, open-source image editing application.

I’m not an expert on cover design, but I do have some basic advice: First, if you’re not trained as a graphic designer (and even if you are, probably), have several independent people give you their unfiltered thoughts on your cover. Make sure the colors, cover image, font, and everything else about the cover communicate the style, substance and mood of your novel. Keep in mind that a cover can be both absolutely beautiful and completely wrong for your book. Like it or not, people do judge a book by its cover – and that applies to e-books as well as print books. Make sure that your cover looks good as a thumbnail on Amazon, because that’s how most people are going to see it.

If you’re serious about designing your cover, you will probably want to buy a book on design. Here are ten tips to start you off, straight from the blog of Jane Friedman, the former publisher and editorial director of Writer’s Digest (used with her permission):

  1. The title should be big and easy to read. This is more important than ever. (Many people will first encounter your cover on a screen, not on a shelf.) This is such a well-worn cliché of cover design that I have a designer friend with a Facebook photo album called “Make the Title Bigger.”
  2. Don’t forget to review a thumbnail image of the cover. Is the cover compelling at a small size? More people are buying books on a Kindle or mobile device, so you want the cover to read clearly no matter where it appears. You should also anticipate what the cover looks like in grayscale.
  3. Do not use the following fonts (anywhere!): Comic Sans or Papyrus. These fonts are only acceptable if you are writing a humor book, or intentionally attempting to create a design that publishing professionals will laugh at.
  4. No font explosions! (And avoid special styling.) Usually a cover should not use more than 2 fonts. Avoid the temptation to put words in caps, italics caps, outlined caps, etc. Do not “shape” the type either.
  5. Do not use your own artwork, or your children’s artwork, on the cover. There are a few rare exceptions to this, but let’s assume you are NOT one of them. It’s almost always a terrible idea.
  6. Do not use cheap clip art on your cover. I’m talking about the stuff that comes free with Microsoft Word or other cheap layout programs. Quality stock photography is OK. (iStockPhoto is one reliable source for quality images.)
  7. Do not stick an image inside a box on the cover. I call this the “T-shirt” design. It looks extremely amateurish.
  8. Avoid gradients. It’s especially game-over if you have a cover with a rainbow gradient.
  9. Avoid garish color combinations. Sometimes such covers are meant to catch people’s attention. Usually, it just makes your book look freakish.
  10. Finally: Don’t design your own cover. The only people who should consider designing their own covers are professional graphic designers—and even then, it’s not advisable.

Bonus tip: No sunrise photos, no sunset photos, no ocean photos, no fluffy clouds.


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This post is part of a series of posts about self-publishing. I’m revising my book Self Publish Your Novel and posting the chapters as I finish them. If you’d like to be alerted when the new version of Self Publish Your Novel is available, please click here.

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