The fact is people DO judge a book by its cover. In my time, I have seen some great ones, creative ones, some out-of-the-box thinking ones, some I don’t get and some (quite frankly) shady or even in the abysmal category. The latter making me think, ‘what were you thinking?’ I have found all these categories both in the traditionally published books as well as self-published books. Focusing on self-published books, after speaking to many aspiring/new authors and self-publishers, the reason for some of the sub-standard or ill-thought out covers has been due to their presumptions of the costs of book cover design.

Owing to cash-flow problems, a trend amongst self-publishers or start-up publishers, many immediately rule out book cover design (which is a vital selling tool) seeing it as a luxury they cannot afford. As a result, many ‘knock up’ something in the back room and/or commission their kid sibling, who seems a whiz with the computer, to create one. In doing so, many shoot themselves in the foot and wonder later why they have not been able to sell beyond a few friends and family.

My people are ruined because they don’t know what’s right or true” (Hosea 4:6 MSG)

But thankfully, hiring a freelance cover designer is not so unaffordable. Many charge an hourly rate so it helps if you do your research and know exactly what you want. Others may have a flat rate but all things are negotiable, I believe. Before I approach one for a quote or to commission the work, I tend to do some research (see below) and send a specification document of what I want. This includes a synopsis about the book, market, sample covers I like (including best selling titles).

< I adopt the strategy of using the book cover as a selling tool as I realise I am competing with other titles. Book buyers make snap decisions in a few seconds and it starts with the cover and title. If convinced, they may ‘Search Inside’ and/or download a few sample chapters though some can make a decision based on the title and cover. I have had people buy my books simply based on the cover. Whilst some say it’s my smile that persuades them to part with their cash, I take the stance that having outsourced my book cover design is a huge factor in making the sale. Honestly speaking, I am a writer, not a designer!

So here is my advice regarding book cover design:

  1. Commission a book cover designer especially one who has experience in your book genre. Speak to a few and ask for samples or links to their work. Do you like their style, look and feel? Don’t forget to ask for their price!
  2. Show your draft cover to samples of your market (not just friends/family who may say they like it out of their excitement). Ask for constructive feedback and ensure you give them a brief synopsis of your book.
  3. Clearly communicate what you want to your cover designer all throughout the process until it works! Just keep an eye on the costs and endless revisions.
  4. Create a book cover strategy and be sure to take into account the following:
  • Who is your target audience/market (age, sex, etc)?
  • Will the cover appeal to this market?
  • Does the cover idea stand up to what my competitors are doing? (you may need to take a trip to your local bookstore or check online)
  • What images could you use (including a photo of you) to help you depict the message of the book? Will it help you sell your book?
  • Will your book cover idea turn people off? (I have seem some covers so far out there, so cluttered, confusing that I simply didn’t get the point).
  • (Most importantly) Would you be proud to show off your new book with the cover? (If it makes you cringe, it will make others cringe too).

Further Tips: Research similar titles by well known authors/publishing houses to see what they are doing. Your standards should not be any lower than theirs though you do not have to spend a fortune neither. Anything less than those standards and you short change your book from the opportunity to sell itself.


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