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A well-designed book cover accurately represents the book within in a way that is professional, engaging, and appealing to the reader’s eye. The design communicates genre and builds expectations in the reader’s mind about the contents. The main goal is to entice the reader into picking up the book, reading the back matter, and hopefully buying the book.
With that in mind, here are some mistakes you should avoid when designing your own cover or working with a designer.
Lighting – If one image was taken outside in direct sunlight, it will be hard to meld with an image taken in a studio. Bright images don’t look organic when paired with dark. Warm colors don’t always mix well with cool colors. The cover as a whole should feel cohesive, not a coloring book with stickers on top.
Color clash – Make sure the colors in your cover work together as a whole. If one color jumps out and grabs the eye, it should do so for a purpose; otherwise, it needs to be adjusted. At no time
should the reader be inclined to look away because a color makes them cringe.
Perspective – Placing images requires a sense of perspective. Objects in the distance need to be smaller than those up close. Nearer objects overlap over more distant objects. The sharpness of the focus cannot be the same for the foreground and the background.
Painful angles – Contorted bodies, twisted arms, and missing limbs all are disturbing to the eye. Make sure the placement of people and things doesn’t make the reader cringe in pain or flinch on the
Sizing – Don’t resize an image in only one direction (horizontal or vertical). It warps the image, giving it an unnatural appearance.
Busyness – Focus on the message and a few telling elements from your story. Don’t try to fit every element or character from the book onto the cover.
Eyesores - Floating heads, levitating objects, and anything that looks off should obviously be avoided and needs to be addressed before finalizing any cover.
Font – Choose a font that is highly legible. If someone who isn’t familiar with the book can’t read it at a glance, then you probably need to choose a different font.
Size – The title should be large enough to be partially legible when the cover is shrunk down to thumbnail size. If it isn’t, there has to be a good reason for the smaller size.
Coloring – The color of the fonts needs to work with the colors they are being placed on. For example, white will disappear on cream, and navy blue doesn’t contrast enough with black to be effective. On the other hand, the color chosen should enhance the whole and not scream at the reader.
Placement – Typography needs to be placed with consideration for the whole design, not just slapped on willy-nilly. When the words are placed over the background much like the prose, left-adjusted and starting in the top corner, there is a problem.
Too many fonts – The general rule is to stick to one or two fonts per cover. As usual, there are exceptions to every rule, but it is a good guideline to follow.
Spelling mistakes – Avoid these at all costs. Triple- and quadruple-check your spelling.
Series that don’t look like series – If a set of books is all part of the same series, they need to look like they go together. This is easy to do, using similar color schemes, elements, fonts, or
just title and author placement.
Overused images – If you do an Amazon search in your genre and encounter five to ten obvious instances where your image was already used, you need to reconsider your choice. Unless you or your designer are going to do something unique with your image, I would avoid using it for your cover.
Genre – It should be clear by looking at the cover what genre it probably is. The typography should agree with the genre, or at least be genre-neutral.
Nowthat I have completely overwhelmed you with things to consider, avoid, and do, I would like you to apply your new knowledge to my bad cover design below. How many issues can you spot?
Also, I would love to hear about any questions or pet peeves you might have.
About the Author
When Rachel Rossano isn't absorbed in writing and publishing books, she designs covers and other art for herself and other authors under the business name Rossano Designs. With over fifteen years of experience in the indie publishing business, she has seen and learned a lot. Always eager to help other authors, she loves talking shop, whether it is writing or design.
Author Rachel Rossano