How Your Book Cover has the Potential to Make Me Embarrass Myself

One of the thorny things about social media is just how wide open it leaves you to making a fool of yourself. Take today for example: a friend of mine posted on Facebook about a book she had just read and was very pleased to report it defied all the stereotypes of self-publishing in terms of story. Unfortunately, all I could respond to was the cover of said book, having not read it, and I was direct about the fact that I thought it was a shame that the cover on the book was not as professional as what my friend said was inside. This wouldn't have been such a big deal, except the author of the book was privy to my friend's posts.

So moments after I called the cover "unprofessional," the author chimed in, wanting to know what was wrong with it. I winced.

Now, to give myself a little credit, I don't think I was mean or unprofessional in the way I worded my thoughts on the cover, and I did get into specifics with the author. Hopefully that particular spec-fic enthusiast is not too slighted, even if my assessment stung.

Fortunately, the cover was nothing like the stuff you find at Lousy Book Covers. Otherwise I might have been snarky and eating major humble pie right now.

So, maybe you're an Indie Author and you need to get a book cover together without sinking all potential earnings for the book into an illustrator. If you don't want to join the hall of shame over at the above site, there are a couple of principals I admonish you to remember.

1.) The title of the book is the star.
I don't care how awesome the illustration is, your title will overlap some of it. Don't crowd your text into the corners or along the edges of your cover so you don't overlap any part of the image. If your cover features a large face, the title will cover a portion of that. Plan accordingly. Better yet, make sure your illustration has natural "quiet zones" where the title can dominate. If the text takes up less than 1/3 to 1/2 of the cover real estate, your title is probably too small.

2.) Too many fonts are bad design. As are fonts that are too whimsical. Choose wisely, and stick to one, easily-readable font. Maybe two, in rare instances, but it takes a very deft hand to make multiple fonts work. Trust me on this.

3.)Make sure people other than you can tell what the image on your cover is. There's nothing like someone picking up your book, squinting, and saying, "What is that?" It's almost as bad as when your 4 year old brings you a picture they've labored over, and a wrong interpretation from you has the potential to send them into a fit of tears.

4.) Free stock art tends to look like what you paid for it. Couple it with bad photoshop layering that accentuates every stray pixel around the heroine's studio-windblown hair, and you're sure to tempt the Lousy Book Cover people to feature you.

And last, a piece of general advice: the best design elements are out there, waiting to be reinterpreted. Look at book covers. Lots of book covers. From big publishing houses with large design budgets. Decide what you like in what you see, and then find ways to incorporate those concepts into your own book cover. I'm not saying steal anyone else's design. I'm just saying that there are established principals that make some images compelling, and once you figure out why something you see works, you can apply the principal to your own cover. The only way to grow into a master is to imitate one until you have the principals in your bones and can draw on them at will.

That's my rant for today. I imagine I will come back to this cyclically, since I can't seem to get this bee out of my bonnet. If Indie Authors and small publishing want the credit they deserve for good craft, we've got to make sure we're wrapping those words in top-notch images, because as we all know, people do judge a book by its cover.


  1. Heck yes!! Thanks for coming out and saying it!

    1. My dubious pleasure. Sometimes you just have to address the elephant in the room, you know?

  2. Cover art is such a monster, isn't it?

    I would add to your list of advice to keep it simple. Too many bad covers are created by trying to cram a slew of different images into one, and you end up with a chaotic jumble. I'd rather see one, really well-done and properly cropped stock photo with well-placed text than some photoshopped hot mess. It takes real skill to combine images properly, and if you don't have that skill just don't try it!

    The other thing I would say is to make the cover relevant to the story. It irks me to no end when a cover looks cool but has nothing whatsoever to do with the story. That's a huge issue in YA right now. There are trends in cover images, like the "girl in pretty dress" trend that hit YA a couple years ago. Most of them have no reason to have that on the cover at all.

    1. If I ever have to design a cover for a self-pubbed book, and I very likely will, I think I'm going to simply feature a blank white background with the title and author in Helvettica font. That way, at least, I won't get onto the bad covers site.


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