12 Dos and Don’ts When Designing Your Book Cover

Every book needs a cover. That goes without saying. And in today’s world where around 600,000 to a million books are published each year, competition has never been tougher.

Your book cover is (usually; this obviously doesn’t apply in a verbal pitch) the first thing a potential reader sees and you have about three seconds to make a first impression. A book cover has to be striking, professional, and tell you what it’s about in these precious few moments.

There are many gorgeous covers out there… and some terrible ones. There are even websites out there shaming bad book covers. The thing is, when your friends and family won’t tell you if there’s a problem with your cover, how will you know until it’s out in the world?

So how can you make sure you don’t end up on a shaming website and making sure the outside of your book is as good as the inside? Here are twelve dos and don’ts when getting a book cover made.

1. DON’T Do It Yourself (Unless You’re a Professional Cover Designer)

A homemade book cover can be spotted a mile away. There’s nothing wrong with going indie, but your book cover has to be high quality if you want people to take your work seriously.

Unless you’re a qualified professional with extensive knowledge of what makes a book cover work, don’t create the cover yourself. Hire a professional and you (and everyone else) will see what a difference it makes.

2. DO Hire a Pro

Even if you’re on a tight budget, hiring a professional cover designer is essential. I highly recommend Ana Ristovska on Fiverr; she designed all the stunning covers below; she’s flexible, friendly, and her prices are reasonable.

3. DON’T Use Your Own Art (Unless You’re an Artist and Your Designer Agrees With You)

If you’ve drawn or painted your own picture, it’s easy to imagine it on the front cover of your book. However, things that look good as a single picture don’t always translate well onto a book cover. Unless your designer whole-heartedly agrees, don’t push for your own painting or picture to take up those precious few seconds of a first impression.

4. DO Use Free Images (Preferably Paid For)

A lot of indie book covers are a combination of stock images that, when edited professionally, can look stunning and original. This goes for items, models/actors, and backgrounds.

There are plenty of places to get free-to-use copyright free images, such as Unsplash and Pixabay, but it’s better if you can get images that you have to pay for, to ensure your cover doesn’t end up looking the same as other people’s, or contain an image people have seen on the internet a hundred times already.

The good news is that many professional cover designers have their own subscriptions to various copyright-free image websites, and their prices for design cover that. The cover below used a stock image of a tiara.

5. DON’T Rip Copyrighted Pictures From the Internet

Whatever you do, do not search an image in Google and then copy and paste unless it’s free to use. Most images on the internet are copyrighted, and you could get into serious trouble if you use licensed photos, fonts, or images without permission.

6. DO Double-Check the Dimensions and the Page Count (For Paperbacks)

Save everyone a headache by knowing the size of your paperback book (the Amazon standard is 6″ by 9″), the page count (including the introduction page, table of contents, etc.) and whether the design has bleed (the design runs off the page). This will make life a lot easier for your designer as they’ll know the ratios of your cover design from the get-go.

Check out the video by Rory Marles below for a guide on trim sizes.

7. DON’T Use Bright, Garish, or Clashing Colours

There’s eye-catching and then there’s an eyesore. Don’t have clashing colours on your design; it’s supposed to catch the eye and also be beautiful. Disgusting, overly bright colours can make people want to look away, not draw them in.

The Dune books below by Frank Herbert are examples of bright covers that work well. They’re striking and eye-catching without being garish.

The Dune series by Frank Herbert

8. DO Make Sure Everything is Centred Properly

Your cover designer should do this, but it’s up to you to double-check; make sure the title, author name, and any images included are centred perfectly on the cover. If something is off, it’ll be easy to spot, and make the work look unprofessional.

9. DON’T Just Have Text on a Plain Background

Some of the most boring book covers are just plain text on a plain background. They look like little more than a document on a computer, and why would anyone be interested in that?

Text-based covers are amazing; I’m talking about covers where nothing at all is included except a solid colour, the title, and author name.

Below is an example of a beautiful cover which is text-based. [Credit: Brown Books for Young Readers.]

10. DO Make Sure the Author Name, and Other Important Elements, are Visible

The prospective reader should be able to tell four things at a glance:

  • The title
  • The author
  • The genre
  • A little of what the book is about

If the author name isn’t there, the cover will look incomplete. The name can be at the bottom, the top, or the side, wherever it looks best; just make sure it’s easy to see (but doesn’t steal attention from the title). Your image, should you choose to use one, should also tell someone in just a few seconds the genre and theme of your story.

11. DON’T Have Too Much Going On

A busy book cover can be an eyesore. Too much text (a tagline or subtitle is OK, so long as it’s properly placed and not too long), too many pictures or colours, or too many elements can make the cover a busy, overcrowded mess.

Below is an example of a cover that has a lot on it, but it works. The eye is drawn to the title and the central main character, with the zombies in the background telling us exactly what to expect. [Credit: Nicole Baker.]

12. DO Use an Attractive Typeface

There are many free and paid fonts you can use to immediately draw readers to your book. Your cover designer will ideally have an idea of what to use, but it can’t hurt to pick out one yourself too. This article on CreativeIndie recommends some great fonts for various genres.

Your font choice can tell readers about the genre just as powerfully as a picture can. The title of Stephen King’s It below drips with horror.

With these twelve tips, you should be on your way to getting a stunning cover for your masterpiece! Be sure to hire a professional, make sure your font choice and images are perfect for your genre and themes, and that everything is properly centred and formatted.

If you’re still not sure, you can ask book readers and authors in various Facebook groups for honest feedback before publishing. Best of luck!


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