June 5th, 2017

SHOULD You Create Your Own Book Cover?

June Stevens Westerfield

A few months ago the lovely Laura Drake emailed me and said “I’ve got this book coming up, what do you think of the cover I am designing for it?”

Ooh, tricky thing here. You see, if you ask me my opinion on something, I will give it. Even if it’s negative. Especially if it’s negative, if it is about something that matters. And to me, anything that has to do with selling one’s books matters. I will always use tact, but I’ll still be honest. And, so, I was. Luckily Laura still loves me. After giving my honest opinion, I offered to help her out with the design. Once it was all done, she asked me to do this post for you guys discussing that all important question: “Just because you CAN make your own book cover, should you?”

Before we get into the pros and cons of hiring a designer, let’s first talk about the purpose of a book cover. Is it to tell the whole story in one picture? Is it to depict a certain scene? Is it to give an accurate depiction of the main characters? The answer to all of the above is a loud and clear NO. 

The purpose of a book cover is to catch a reader’s attention. That’s it, plain and simple. The cover is the bait that brings the reader in to nibble on (read) the blurb, and then the blurb (back copy, description—whatever you want to call it) needs to be tasty enough to hook them so that they click that “buy” button. 

You want your cover to be interesting and professional, fit the genre, and most importantly, intrigue the reader so that they take a closer look. When they are scrolling through Amazon, or their social media feeds, you want your cover to jump out at them and say, “Come read my blurb, you might want to buy me.”

So the question is…can you create that? Designing a cover that catches the eye is much more than just slapping a title on a picture. It may not seem like it with some of the covers you see, but there was probably a great deal more done to that picture of the couple kissing than you think. 

But I don’t want to give you a long lecture on the aspects of design. Nor do I want to say “Oh, you should never ever do your own cover.” The purpose of this post is more to give you food for thought, and to help you make the decision of when you might need a cover artist.

So, let’s just go right into picking Laura’s cover apart. (I’m glad this was her idea, or I’d be feeling nervous right now.) First I want to show you the two covers side by side. 

As you can see, the one designed by Laura isn’t awful. It’s perfectly “adequate”. (This was a mockup before she purchased the stock image of the guy, which is why it is still watermarked.)

So, adequate yes. It does the job, it’s a book cover. But it could be so much better. When she showed it to me, I sincerely felt like it would not do her story justice. I’ve pointed out some of the problems I found in the cover.

To sum up:

  • The title was “okay.” But it was small, and the plain white just didn’t “pop” out and catch the attention. 
  • The colors in the background were muddy and dark, and the guy just kind of fades into them.
  • There are bits and pieces of the image background still stuck around the guy. Laura had no idea how to get them off. That is a sure sign that a cover wasn’t professionally done, and could put readers off.
  • There is a gun in the guys pocket. It has nothing to do with the story, but Laura had no idea how to get rid of it or hide it.

I talked to Laura a bit about the book, what she wanted in the cover. I took several different elements and blended them together to get the effect we wanted.  Here’s what went into the final cover:

First, she absolutely wanted that guy, so I took out his background, and cloned away the gun. Then we decided on a more colorful background (the story takes place on a ranch in the Texas desert). Then using two different fonts and a colorful gradient I made the title large enough to draw the eye.

What we came up with was a cover that catches the eye, is accurate for the genre (cowboy romance), and makes a reader take a closer look. Laura could not have done this on her own.

So how do you know when to do it yourself, and when to hire someone? 

Well, when you looked at the cover Laura designed, did you see the issues with it? Could you have fixed them on your own? Did you even KNOW they were issues? If you said no to any of these, you probably need a designer’s help.

Does that mean you can’t ever make your own cover? Of course it doesn’t. But keep in mind, even though a professionally designed cover is more expensive, it might be an expense worth paying. The key is to look at what you’ve created, and then go look at the top selling books in the genre. Be honest with yourself about your skills. Can your cover compare to those? Does it LOOK professional? Or does it look like someone used GIMP to throw it together? 

It’s hard to be honest with yourself about something like that, but trust me, you and your story are worth it. Because the whole goal here is to give the thing that matters most it’s best chance…and that’s your book. As much as we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, readers DO. And if you don’t have a decent cover, they may never make it to the goodness inside.

There’s so much more to talk about with covers, that I’ll be doing another post about it my next time on WITS. So, stay tuned. 

Do you make your own book covers and graphics? What tools do you use? What do you notice most about book covers?

Laura here – I can’t tell you how easy it was, working with June. Highly recommend ABE’s services. Oh! And Cowboy Karma is part of  The Anthology, When Things Got Hot in Texas, and is available for only a few days more at $.99!

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About June

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June Stevens Westerfield is author of romantic fiction.  She has been in the publishing field one way or another for over decade. She has helped launch several small publishing houses, worked in acquisitions, editing, cover art, web design, as a blogger, radio host, and assisted many authors in their self-publishing journeys. Her particular expertise is in design and branding.

On a personal note, when not writing or working for ABE, she designs greeting cards.  She has a wonderful husband, a brilliant stepson, 6 fur-children, purple hair, and a chronically filthy house.

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About ABEFB_AVATAR-300x300

Author Branding Essentials is dedicated to offering comprehensive author centric branding and design services at competitive prices.  As an Author, your name is your brand. Building your Author Brand is key to success. Many agents encourage authors to begin building that brand long before they are published. At Author Branding Essentials we understand the unique criteria it takes to build an author brand, versus another type of business.  We can help you decide on the best options for your author brand and help you implement them. 

25 comments to SHOULD You Create Your Own Book Cover?

  • As an old-school graphic designer, I’ve been able to design all nine of my self-published book covers with the help of a technician who follows my mock-ups to the letter. Now I need to come up to speed on the technical front and complete the entire work myself. Even so, it took ages to get things right, and sometimes I’ve redone a cover after two years.

  • My eye was so drawn to the sky that I totally missed the desert! Nice job.

  • Thank you, June, for everything. And especially for telling me the truth! I can take it, after 317 rejections before i sold!

    I really thought I could do this, but my lesson was, just like I’ll always need a critter (critique partner), I’ll always need a good cover designer – you.

  • Fascinating post. Loved the new cover – I particularly like the way you did the title – I didn’t even realize it was possible to use a gradient on text.
    I can see it’s time for me to upgrade all my covers.

    • I took the liberty of looking at your covers, and if I may be so bold, this is my advice:

      Yes, your title fonts could be updated with a little splash of color. And the images themselves would pop more with a little enhancing. Contrasting, or other manipulation to change lighting and shading. What you have is nice. But they could pop more. 🙂

      Whatever program you use to create your covers (with the exception of paint) you should be able to read some tutorials on photo manipulation. If you don’t have photoshop, GIMP is a good free alternative.

  • colleen

    Nice illustration, June. After over 20 years of working with some great professional graphic designers, I have gained tremendous respect for their talents. We have to remember that when we, as writers, assume we can design, it’s no different than all those other people we talk to who assume they could write a novel too, if only they had the time. These artists have earned their chops. :O)

    • Exactly. Authors often want to depict a very specific scene or tell the whole story in the cover. Authors see very specific images in our heads and want the covers to look exactly like that. But that isn’t possible. Designers work in a more fluid way. I know I do. It’s not about telling the story… it’s about conveying a feeling. And designers do that not with words but with color and images.

      (oops something went crazy and I put part of my reply here on the one below… but here it is:

      Actually I could go way into this. My next post is about branding your books by choosing appropriate covers (or rebranding if need be) but I think I could do one at a later date on how to properly work with a designer to get the perfect cover for your book. Authors and designers literally see things differently sometimes. I’m both… but the designer part of my brain sees a cover coming together in a different way. So not holding the reigns too tight and trusting the person you hire can be KEY to getting a good product.

  • Thank you for the wonderful post, June! I didn’t see half of those errors, so obviously I will need cover designers too when it’s my time. 🙂 What is the average price we should plan to pay for a cover? I’ve heard anything from $100-350 as an average so I’m really not sure.

    • That is about average. But it also depends on cost of materials. If you are dead set on a certain image, the licensing fees for it may be higher than others. Actually I could go way into this. My next post is about branding your books by choosing appropriate covers (or rebranding if need be) but I think I could do one at a later date on how to properly work with a designer to get the perfect cover for your book. Authors and designers literally see things differently sometimes. I’m both… but the designer part of my brain sees a cover coming together in a different way. So not holding the reigns too tight and trusting the person you hire can be KEY to getting a good product.

  • Robert Doucette

    Thanks for the visuals. The first cover looks just fine to me, until I saw the revision. That one pops! Especially the font.

    Could we get a follow-up lesson on how to work with a cover designer? When should the designer be called in? How long does a “typical” cover take to design? Should we write a short description of what we want for the cover? Should we prepare a mock-up with our ideas? Should we try to avoid “falling in love” with a specific image or visual idea? Are there smart ways to reduce costs?

    • Yes, I think I will do a post in the future about working with a designer. Because no, I don’t recommend making a mockup, and I do recommend NOT falling in love with an image or an “idea”. You are much more likely to be happy with a designer’s work if you are open minded. What you might “visualize” might not be possible, or it might not be good design.

  • What a huge difference all those little changes made! Great job. Laura, you had a good eye picking out that model. 🙂

  • Wow, June. What a difference! And you are quite right; I wouldn’t have noticed the problems. But I wouldn’t have been arrested by the original cover.

  • This is a great post. Designing a cover is so deceptive – like you point out, that first one is okay, but the second one is an order of magnitude better. Having made some very duff covers, then had more talented people put together awesome ones, I’ve seen this process up close. The problem is, self-pubbing tends to put the accent on the “self”, and the urge is to save money up front to make the most of the profits later. Except, as I’ve proved, the profits don’t flow to books with ugly covers.

    • Exactly the lesson I learned here, Damian. As my ex-MIL used to say, ‘Too soon old, too late smart!’

    • Yes, that is a HUGE problem. I try to keep my rates reasonable for that very reason. I mean, I have to charge for my time AND materials…. but I so truly hate to see a book with a bad cover. The cover is your books face to the world, and if it LOOKS self-published, if it LOOKS unprofessional, as if the author didn’t care enough to get it done right, well… they’ll assume the inside is thrown together in the same manner and won’t even try reading it. It’s a sad fact. Last year I volunteered to re-do a friend’s covers for free, they were THAT bad. Within days of putting up the new covers her sales had increased exponentially.

  • […] June Stevens Westerfield asks: should you create your own book cover? […]

  • great advice…a friend told me the same thing recently

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