Table of contents
- Can you design your own book cover?
- What is your cover telling readers?
- 8 Steps To Design a Book Cover
- 1. Look for Book Cover Inspiration
- 2. Choose Your Book Design Software or Designer
- 3. Select Your Cover Dimensions
- 4. Find Images for Book Cover
- 5. Pick Your Colors
- 6. Pick Your Font
- 7. Test Your Book Cover Design
- 8. Create a Mockup
- More Tips & Tricks for Designing a Book Cover
You can design the best book cover possible by hiring a professional designer… or following the tips and tricks I detail below.
If you want to know more about hiring the best designer for your unique needs, keep reading.
If you want to know the best free or paid software for designing your own cover, keep reading.
You’ve heard, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
People say that because everyone does judge a book by its cover!
Here’s a real-life example of the importance of book cover design:
A few years ago, Martin Lake’s book sales were dismal. As a first-time self-published author, he was selling just 15 books a month. Martin didn’t just accept those sales and move on. He changed the book cover design for his first book (in a three-part series), and his sales of all three books tripled.
Two months later, Martin hired a designer to change the covers of his second and third books to match the first in quality. His sales doubled again.
He didn't change his writing. He didn’t change his marketing plan. He simply changed his book cover design. (And you can probably tell why, comparing the two.)
Your book’s cover design will tell potential readers if your book is professionally made and worth their time.
The most magnificent story ever written will never become a bestseller with a cover that looks like it was designed by your middle-aged youth group leader.
In this article, whether you’re design-talented or a design-n0t-s0-inclined, I've got the steps that will work for you.
- Can you design your own book cover?
- 8 steps to creating professional, eye-catching book cover design
- Dimension requirements for your ebook cover design
- Tips, tricks, and tutorials to create book cover art yourself
- How to find the right professional book cover design artist for you
- Book cover ideas and inspiration
This article’s links may give me a small commission if you use them to purchase any services or products. And there’s no extra cost to you!
Can you design your own book cover?
Yes, you can design your own book cover. This is a good option for authors on a tight budget and authors with a strong design background.
However, your book cover is your number one marketing tool. If you are not a confident designer and create a subpar book cover design, your book sales will suffer.
If you don’t have design experience, I recommend spending the money to hire a cover design artist. It can cost a pretty penny, but your book cover is your #1 marketing tool, so you don’t want to mess it up.
What is your cover telling readers?
Your book cover should send a clear message and answer the following readers’ questions:
- What genre is this book?
- Is this book fiction or nonfiction?
- What age category is this book?
- What is this book about, generally speaking?
- What is the tone of this book?
- Is this book professionally made or thrown together?
Be honest. Figure out the most marketable elements of your book and display them on the book cover. If your steamy romance novel features a shirtless stableboy, put him on the cover, and the right readers will pick up your book.
Do not lie to your readers. Don’t put a dragon on your book cover if there are no dragons. This may lead to a month of increased sales, then trigger countless negative reviews and a swath of readers who will tell everyone they know never to read your books because you’re dishonest.
Want to design your own book cover? You can design your own book cover with intuitive programs like BookBrush or Canva. They both offer free and premium versions.
8 Steps To Design a Book Cover
Designing a book cover is expensive (or hard work, if you’re doing it yourself). But that cover is also the first step in converting a curious reader into your customer. In other words, it’s not wasted time — if you do it right.
Here’s how to design a book cover:
- Look for book cover inspiration
- Choose your book design software or designer
- Select your cover dimensions
- Find images for the book cover
- Pick your colors
- Pick your font
- Test your book cover
- Create a mockup
1. Look for Book Cover Inspiration
You should first look for book cover inspiration, whether you’re designing the cover yourself or hiring a designer. Some cover designers even ask for links to these inspirations.
Check out these 32 Book Cover Ideas!
Find Ideas on Pinterest
You can also find ideas for your beautiful cover on Pinterest.
Browse boards and pins of book covers and anything else that sparks an idea. Save the ones you like. There are plenty of cool book cover boards you can browse to see which covers you’re drawn to. Pinterest can inspire your book's cover but also its content, message, and genre.
Stick to Genre Expectations
When making a book cover, you need to stick to genre expectations. These genre standards are standard for a reason — they sell books.
Google the bestsellers in your genre and take note of the book covers, including their:
- Color schemes
- Common elements
You want your cover to stand out by looking eye-catching and well-made, yet ensuring it naturally fits your genre.
Fiction or Nonfiction?
Generally speaking, nonfiction speaks to the brain, while fiction speaks to the heart. Any reader should be able to quickly tell if a book is nonfiction or fiction.
Fiction book covers do great when they send an emotional message congruent with the story that connects with the right kind of reader.
Nonfiction book covers sell well when they are witty and/or intriguing.
When deciding how to make your perfect book cover, check Amazon’s online marketplace for inspiration. Look inside and outside your genre. This is just for pure inspiration.
As you browse Amazon, look for book covers that stick out or that you find appealing. When you find a book cover image you like on Amazon, just right-click and save the image as a file on your desktop.
Although you may not need a book cover for that particular genre or topic, it can be advantageous to look at book covers you find inspiring.
2. Choose Your Book Design Software or Designer
You must choose the best book design software that fits your needs or the best book designer who communicates well with you.
Are you going to tackle this project by yourself? Or will you hire a professional cover designer to do it for you?
If you have little or no experience in design, I suggest you find a good designer. High-quality book cover designers are expensive, but your book cover design is your most important marketing tool. So it’s worth the money.
But a lot of us are on a budget and can’t afford a professional designer.
Below are some of my favorite design software, book cover design templates, and places to find book cover designers.
I’ll outline a list of cover designing tools and services you can use to hire a designer. Then, below that, let’s talk about the pros and cons of creating a cover yourself vs. hiring a designer.
Designing a Book Cover Yourself
Here are 7 great tools for designing a book cover yourself:
- Book Brush — Unlike Canva, Book Brush is designed with authors in mind. Boasting unique templates and 3D image capability, Book Brush shines as a book cover graphic designer specifically for authors.
- Canva — This is a free, easy-to-use graphic design tool with tons of design options and book cover templates. It’s very easy to use but limited in what you can create. There is a more versatile premium version, though. Check out my article on How to Design a Fiction Book Cover in Canva.
- DIY Book Covers — This is my personal favorite. For a one-time fee of $197, you can design your own beautiful book cover. You’ll use templates and tutorials based on the principles that work for bestselling books. It’s taught by the go-to book cover design guy himself, Derek Murphy. It's a tool, a guide, and a template system all in one.
- Adobe — If you have Photoshop or InDesign software already, you can learn how to use it to create book covers. The learning curve is steep, but its advanced features do allow for impressive designs. Try this Photoshop tutorial or the InDesign Tutorial if you’re already somewhat familiar with Adobe design programs and want to dig deeper.
- MS Word — You can even use the classic Microsoft Word processor to create your book cover for free. Since many people already have Word installed on their computer, I wanted to link to this video tutorial on creating a cover in Word.
- Vexels — This is a newer design tool that is really ramping up their book cover design. Vexels offers print-ready book cover designs and patterns, perfect for Kindle Direct Publishing and self-publishing.
- Placeit — This site is different than the others; Placeit is better for mockups than strictly book covers. You can make professional mockups to use in marketing materials or your website. The monthly subscription fee can get pricey, but this is a neat tool to check out.
How can you design your own book cover for free? You can design your own book cover for free using the free versions of Canva or Book Brush. However, your book cover is your most important marketing tool. Every publishing expert would recommend you spend some money on your book cover.
Pros of Creating a Book Cover Yourself
- Creative freedom
- Freedom to experiment
- Cost efficiency
Cons of Creating Book Cover Yourself
- Fewer sales
- Lower quality cover
- Lack of experience
- Amateurish design that scares off readers
This is, of course, if you don’t have professional design experience. These cons don’t really apply if you have a strong design background.
Hiring a Designer
Here are the 9 best services for hiring a book cover designer:
- Ebook Launch — Professional quality book covers, affordable pricing. This is my preferred designer that I use for all of my books.
- Damonza — They are a professional cover design team with hundreds of books under their belt. Snag a 5% discount with the use of my coupon code: KINDLE5
- Jeff Brown Graphics — Jeff Brown is a book cover illustrator and designer specializing in sci-fi and fantasy. He has worked on 500+ book covers. Jeff has worked on covers for bestselling authors such as Steven Erikson, Michael Anderle, Ken Lozito, B.V. Larson, Glynn Stewart, Lindsay Buroker, Nick Webb, Dennis Taylor, and Craig Martelle. His prices are a little higher than other services, but his process is very collaborative. He likes to start with a video call brainstorming session when possible.
- 99 Designs — Through this Vistaprint service, you can initiate a design contest by telling them what you're looking for and get lots of options in return. At the end of the week, you get to pick your favorite design. If you don't like any of the designs at the end, you get your money back. You can also get design help for other parts of your author brand here, like logos and business cards.
- Author Packages — This service offers custom ebook and print cover designs as well as formatting and proofreading service. They are designed to help self-publishing authors and indie authors. Their pricing options are among the most reasonable on this list.
- 100 Covers — This is a very affordable option for those who need a legit cover on a shoestring budget. 100 Covers seeks to offer professional-grade book cover designs for only $100 each.
- Deviant Art — Artists post their creative work on this popular online community. There, you can find an artist with your kind of style and contact them about creating a cover design.
- MIBL Art — They are another high-quality yet affordable cover design service with a quick turnaround. They offer ebook and print cover designs, bookmarks, author logos, and even book formatting services.
- Reedsy — This is a marketplace for vetted book designers with high accomplishments in the industry. You're sure to find a cover designer or interior designer with experience in your genre here.
If you are hiring a designer, it is best to have completed Step 1: Look for Book Cover Inspiration. This will help give your designer direction. Some even ask for your inspiration upfront. Clear communication is the key.
Other designers also ask for your synopsis so they know what your book is about.
Check out How to Use Fiverr to Design your Cover. Although I don't recommend Fiverr, I believe the concepts from this article can be applied to working with any designer.
How much does it cost to hire a book cover designer? It can cost between $500 and $2000 to hire a book cover designer. Some services, like Ebook Launch or Damonza, offer extensive services for around $500, while others like Jeff Brown charge $2000 for a more hands-on, personalized approach.
How much does a book cover designer make? Most professional book cover designers make between $40,000 and $50,000 a year. Book cover designers typically do what they do because they love it, not for fame and riches.
Pros of Hiring a Designer
- Professional book cover
- Better marketing leading to better sales
- No need for you to master the art of design, or any design program
Cons of Hiring a Designer
- High cost
- Loss of creative control (but not really)
3. Select Your Cover Dimensions
Before you start designing your book cover, you need to select your book’s cover dimensions to meet each market's requirements.
Then you need to choose the right width to height ratio so that your design fits appropriately.
Book Cover Dimension Requirements
Each market has unique requirements and recommendations for book cover dimensions.
Here's a handy chart with the basic dimensions and file requirements for the most popular self-publishing book sites:
|File Format||Cover Size Recommended||Cover Size Requirements|
|Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing||JPEG or TIFF||2,560 x 1,600 pixels | Ideal ratio of 1.6:1||Between 1,000 x 625 pixels and 10,000 x 10,000 pixels – one side must be at least 1,000|
|Apple Books||JPG or PNG||1400 x 1873 or 1600 x 2400 pixels||At least 1400 pixels wide|
|Barnes and Noble||JPG or PNG||Rectangle height & width at least 1400 pixels||Minimum of 750 pixels for height and width|
|Kobo||JPG or PNG||1600 x 2400 pixels||Minimum of 1400 pixels wide|
|Smashwords||JPG or PNG||1600 x 2400 pixels||Minimum of 1400 pixels wide|
|Draft2Digital||JPEG||1600 x 2400 pixels||Must be a tall rectangle|
Amazon is pretty flexible about your book cover size ratio. They only ask that one side is at least 1000px long. This allows you to make your cover width/ratio different. This is very noticeable when searching the Amazon results.
Amazon recommends that your book cover height to width dimensions be a ratio of 1.6:1. What does that look like compared to a different ratio when customers scroll the results for a book search?
Choose the right ratio for your book and make sure it looks great. This is what the shopper is going to see.
Personally, I use a 1.5:1 ratio on my book covers by setting my cover dimensions to 1500 px height and 1000 px width. I feel it's the right combo.
However, if you're creating a textbook or something that should look thicker, you might want to use a 1.3:1 ratio. See how the ratio can augment perception?
4. Find Images for Book Cover
Contrary to what many people think, simple is better. Finding images for your book cover is a tricky but all-important step.
Make sure your cover is not too busy or a mix of too many colors. The cover image should trigger an emotional reaction when people look at it: suspense, lust, intrigue, innocence, etc.
For example, a bloody hatchet on a stump could really set the tone for a wilderness survival/slasher book.
If you're looking for images to use on your cover, you can find just about anything you want on either free or paid sites.
You need to have the rights to any images you use on your book cover. You should declare that you have permission on the copyright page.
Not sure where the copyright page goes? Read this article on Parts of a Book, where I talk about what goes in the front matter or the back matter.
There are 2 different types of images you can use for your book cover design:
Illustrations include graphics and graphic elements that designers create using various design software. This is the standard for professional book cover design.
You can also commission a professional illustrator to create an original drawn illustration for your book cover, but it may cost $1500-$2500. And that doesn’t include the actual design of the cover: typesetting, layout, mockup, etc.
But if you have the budget, a detailed illustration can really set the tone for your book. It tells readers that you spared no expense, you worked hard on this, and you’re going to deliver the best product possible.
There are plenty of free or paid photographs available on the internet. You can use photographs for your book cover for a variety of reasons.
The best use of a photo, in my opinion, would be for a nonfiction book. If it’s a biography, use an old photo of the famous figure before they got famous. Or display the author confidently smiling on the cover to help readers trust that they know what they’re talking about.
This can include stock images that you obtain the rights to use or original photography that you either commission or take yourself.
Many designers can digitally manipulate stock photos to create a professional photo feel without the steep cost.
Find Free Book Cover Images
The images on these sites are free for you to use and alter for your book cover, as long as you give the artist credit:
If you use an image for your cover art, check the attribution guidelines to see if there are specific locations (such as the back cover or title page) where artist credit should be given.
Find Paid Book Cover Images
Here are a few of the sites that have a cost per photo, or you can use unlimited photos with a paid subscription:
5. Pick Your Colors
The 2-3 cover colors you pick should help create the mood and message you’re trying to send. Complimentary colors (across from each other on the color wheel) tend to work well together, as do analogous colors (next to each other on the color wheel) of combined dark and light tints.
Many Blockbuster movie posters feature a blue/orange color palette or black/white/red one because these colors work well together. (I guess I was onto something when I created the blue & orange Kindlepreneur logo.)
6. Pick Your Font
Some authors only focus on the cover image, but the typography and title layout should not be overlooked. Picking a font for your cover is essential for conveying a clear message, invoking an emotion, and reinforcing the genre.
You should treat your title like a logo. Choose a font that stands out in people’s memories.
Hint: If you use a “fancy” font for your title, use a simple font for the author’s name. If the title is in a simpler font, you can use the same font for the author’s name.
It's so important that I wrote an entire post dedicated to book cover typography. Plus, there are specific fonts that are perfect for each genre, and there are fonts you should never use on your cover. (I’m looking at you, Comic Sans and Papyrus.)
Choose Cohesive Design for Book Series
If you’re an author of a book series, choose some element of your book covers to keep the same. This cohesive design can be a theme, image, or font to strengthen your branding as an author.
Here’s an example from Ted Dekker’s The Circle series (one of my favorite series of all time):
7. Test Your Book Cover Design
Finally, you need to test your book cover design.
Remember Martin Lake, who I mentioned doubled his book sales multiple times with a simple change to his cover design? He’s not the only author who has used book cover design testing for a better final product.
You can ask family, coworkers, and friends on social media which cover they prefer between a few different designs. But I would recommend asking your local librarian or bookstore clerk, too. They know more about what sells.
Or you can ask the Internet.
I recommend using PickFu to split test your covers and see which one people like better. This gets you honest feedback from potential buyers (people you don't know), so you can more confidently make the final decision about your cover.
PickFu's A/B testing is how Tim Grahl chose the best cover design for his uber-popular book marketing guide, Your First 1000 Copies.
8. Create a Mockup
You need a sleek mockup for marketing purposes. Creating a mockup of your book also makes your book cover feel more real to you and others.
Turn your flat 2D image into a fantastic 3D book mockup to produce more professional-looking advertisements for your book.
Some cover designers will include a 3D cover in the package you pay for (or will add it for super cheap).
Alternatively, you can download free templates or hire someone to create a mockup for you for super cheap (like $5 or $8), as I explain in this guide to create book cover mockups.
More Tips & Tricks for Designing a Book Cover
1. Check the Small Version of Your Cover
Don’t forget to check the small version of your final book cover.
When designing a cover, you must look at your design in the size Amazon (and other sites if you're using them) will show your customer when they are shopping. Your eBook has to make an impact, even if it’s thumbnail size.
One common book cover mistake is that the title blends into the background, or it’s just too small to read. (See examples of good thumbnails below.)
Before you upload your eBook, look at your cover in the size it will be displayed on the results page, and check that it still looks impressive.
2. Figure Out Your Cover Aesthetic
You need to figure out your cover aesthetic — i.e., simple or detailed, colorful or dark, modern or fantastical, etc.
This will impact who picks up your book. You want to attract the right kind of reader. If you mislead readers (even unintentionally), they will be dissatisfied before even reading the entire book and (God forbid) leave a bad review.
A clean and minimal aesthetic may be suitable for light-hearted memoir, modern comedies, or some mysteries.
A bold and bright aesthetic may work best for children’s books, playful novels, or inspirational stories.
A darker aesthetic may be appropriate for horror, fantasy, or very serious nonfiction.
Look up the New York Times bestsellers in your genre. Take note of what aesthetic they’re using. It seems to be working for them. I bet it will work for you.
3. Know Your Format
Know the unique requirements for the various book formats: eBook vs. hardback vs. paperback.
Most professional designers charge less for eBook cover design as opposed to paperback and hardback cover design.
For physical paperback or hardback, you will also need spine design and back cover design.
When you’re uploading eBooks to various marketplaces, most allow you to use a simple JPEG as your book cover.
Using print-on-demand services, always check their file format requirements.
Will you design your book cover or hire a designer?
If you can afford it, you should probably hire a book cover designer. If you’re on a budget or have a background in design, you might get away with designing your book cover yourself.
Comment below and tell me which you go with!
I love Ted Talks, so here’s one of my favorites from pro book cover designer Chip Kidd:
A simple change to your book cover design could increase your sales… by a lot. The truth is, people do judge a book by its cover. If your book cover design doesn’t follow the guidelines I’ve outlined above, your book — no matter how well written — will fail.
Does your cover send a clear message? Did you stick to genre expectations? Did you select a font that’s proven to be great? Does your cover make an impact in its small thumbnail size? Did you test your covers to see which is truly the best?
Using this article as a checklist, the answer to every one of these questions should be yes.
Implement these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to designing a book cover that’s perfect for your market. You may even double or even triple your book sales!