As self or indie publishing grows and grows, more and more of us compete for a buyer’s attention on the Internet on both retail and industry websites.

  • Amazon.com
  • Barnes & Noble.com
  • Kobo.com
  • Smashwords.com
  • Shelf Awareness.com

Nowadays authors are calling on CreateSpace, Lulu, and other places to design their own book covers. Others do it on their own, utilizing stock images and free fonts—I do a workshop for writers’ conferences on how to design a book cover for $50, and that includes sophisticated graphics software. Other indie writer/publishers utilize the services of independent designers such as me.

Cover design creative goals

I’m going to show you screen captures from how books are presented on the search pages of major online vendors but, before we get there, I want to give you some goals with which to judge the effectiveness of these covers.

  • Image, title, and author name are clear at small web sizes
  • Design helps the title give an idea of what the book is about
  • Design helps the title raise a story question
  • Design helps the title create an emotion or mood
  • Design helps the title create “fit“ by evoking the genre at a glance. Romance novels look a whole lot different from thrillers, thrillers are far from fantasy, and so on
  • Design helps create your brand– I’ve run into one thing with my indie writer and small publisher clients—the authors often do not want to see their name large on the book. If you ask me, that’s a big mistake if you’re going to keep publishing more books—when you succeed, your name is part of your brand and part of what sells a book. So why would you not want to give readers a key part of your brand in a way that they can easily read, remember, and recognize?

Yes, our books are judged by their covers

Here’s how bookstore owners and buyers see book covers on the Shelf Awareness website, a site that serves the brick-and-mortar side of book retailing.

books shelf awareness

Some are eyecatching even at this tiny size, some don’t make much sense. Some show both title and author clearly, some just the title, others neither. A bookseller will be scanning this page, and the covers that attract attention will get the click for a review and more information about the book. Which ones caught your eye?

Here are search-page result images from online vendors:

Amazon.com

amazon search books

Barnes & Noble

bn book search

Kobo

kobo book search

I think the author on the left flunked the name/brand goal. Compare the two covers from Kobo with the same covers on Amazon.com

kobo-amazon compare

Smashwords

smashwords book search

Here’s a comparison of a cover that I thinks works on the three big online stores:

comparison

However, note how the Barnes & Noble graphic (right) intrudes on the title at the bottom. Might be something to keep in mind.

Authors CAN design strong, successful book covers, but there are things they should do:

  • Research their genre in the online stores. Look for colors, type fonts, how graphics are treated to get an idea of how to both distinguish your book and to make sure it is a recognizable member of the genre.
  • Make your name strong and clear
  • After you finish the first draft of your cover, reduce the size to see how it plays. I recommend looking at it 100 pixels wide with a resolution of 72 dpi/ppi, the normal monitor screen resolution. If it doesn’t meet the creative objectives above, rethink.

A caveat for do-it-yourself writer/designers: when you design a book on your computer, you use a nice, large image, as you should. And high resolution for images and type, as you should. Everything is easy to see. But if you don’t look at it in miniature at screen resolution, you may miss your one and only opportunity to snare a new reader.

One more tidbit: if you’re working with a graphic designer, I came across this list of 10 words your graphic designer wishes you knew by Rebecca Swift, on iStock. She defines and explains

  • Swipe file or tear sheet
  • Proof
  • Negative space
  • Alignment
  • Serif
  • Copyfitting
  • Resolution
  • Raster image vs. vector image
  • Hero graphic
  • Color

For what it’s worth.

Ray

About Ray Rhamey

Ray Rhamey is the author of five novels and one craft book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. He's also an editor who has recently expanded his creative services to include book cover and interior design. His website, crrreative.com, offers an a la carte menu of creative services for self-publishers and Indie authors. Learn more about Ray's fiction at rayrhamey.com.