How to Avoid Designing Self-Published Book Covers that Suck

One of the most popular posts I’ve written on this blog was on book cover design. It’s still the most viewed article since 2014! It seems to me that indie authors really struggle with book covers and graphic design. There is a clear disconnect between visual art and the written word for many writers which I can completely relate to.

Three years ago I was totally unversed in art and design.

Like many creative people, I considered myself somewhat knowledgeable on the subject because I could pick out bad designs easily. But that only gets you so far. Most people can tell when something is poorly designed, but ask those same people to create a good design and they’re left scratching their heads or creating bad book covers.

At the beginning of my author career I was very keen on learning how to make my own book covers because I didn't want to pay for one (I was cheap–still am!). I reasoned that if I found some amazing stock photos and fancy fonts to manipulate in Photoshop, I would have a killer cover for my book. This was my first attempt:



I uploaded this cover on Wattpad just before I published my book and I got some good feedback on it. But looking at it now, it’s really a half-decent attempt at creating an appealing book cover. It follows a common strategy that self-published authors use when designing  their own book covers . It goes something like this: download a cool Shutterstock photo, use an image filter, and slap on a fancy font for the title. Tada! Cool book cover!

Many times this strategy will work if you have a good eye for cover design. Unfortunately most authors don’t. There are entire sites dedicated to picking apart and making fun of self published book covers. Don’t add yours to the heap.

Plenty of experts say the best course of action is to hire a graphic designer to create an appealing cover for you. Then you won’t get lambasted on places like Reddit. But this can cost a pretty penny — we’re talking $300-$500 for something really awesome. And the truth is, most self published authors who are just starting out don’t have that kind of budget. Many new authors are just dipping their toes in the great ocean of self-publishing. And investing too much money at the outset of an uncertain author career is scary. So many opt to design covers on their own rather than a hire a designer.

And who can blame them?

Adding book cover design to all of the other costs of self-publishing (i.e. editing, marketing, formatting, etc.) is a tough pill for an author to swallow. Some estimate the costs of self-publishing a book can cost thousands of dollars (spoiler alert: it doesn’t). Hence the hastily designed book covers you see everywhere.

So what’s the solution to this dilemma of crummy book covers designed by authors without an eye for visual art? It’s simple really — authors need to be taught how to design good covers!

This is the part where most people scoff at the idea of having to learn a “talent” that is not part of their natural skill set. You see, there is a misconception that artists and graphic designers are born with the gifts of drawing, painting, or using Photoshop. Hogwash, I say.

It’s true that many artists have natural talents that allow them to excel at art, much like many writers are naturally gifted wordsmiths. But that doesn’t mean these skills are beyond the reach of people who do not naturally possess them. Graphic design skills can be taught and learned. Of course it will take more work to become a proficient artist if you don’t have a knack for it, but such is life.

I mean it took me three years to design something like this:



Into something that even Joel Friedlander (The Book Designer) thought was pretty cool:



But it doesn’t have to take you that long. I made a lot of mistakes along the way and I’m far from being somebody that is gifted at art. I’ve learned most of what I know through trial and error, researching design work, and hours of practice. I don’t consider myself a pro by any means, but I know a good book cover design from a bad one. And if you are an author who’s looking to design their own book cover — the next series of blog posts are for you.

In the next few posts, I plan to discuss topics like finding quality images for book covers, choosing the best typography for your genre and theme, and picking colors that set the tone of your design. So stay tuned for the next post or if you’d like to get a head start on some actionable tips, check out my free mini course below to dive right in!

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