7 tips for great book covers

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As much as we try to rise above it all and not be judgemental, we really do judge books by their covers. With thousands of English-language books published every month, competition is fierce—your book needs an amazing cover to compete for readers’ money and time.

Here are some tips for finding a great designer so that your cover can outshine (or out-gloss or out-matte) the competition.

  1. Go to your library or bookstore. Visit the section where your book will be on the shelf one day. It will only be in one section, so choose your favourite. Have a look at all the covers. (There are so many. I told you the competition was fierce.) Pick each book up, one at a time, take photos with your phone if you need to. What designs appeal to you? Which ones repel you? Which ones look like they would be worth your time? It’s not really about whether a book is worth the money, it’s about whether the book is worth your time. In a bookstore, the competition is even fiercer—you’re asking for people’s money as well as their time!
  2. Check the copyright page of the books with covers you love. See if the designer/cover artist is listed. Many traditional publishing houses outsource their designers. Jot down the names and then get on the internet and look them up. Many will have a website, and they’ll include their general rates and availability.
  3. Search online. If none of the books you love have listed the designers, that’s OK. It’s time to look online. Check out the monthly cover design awards for indie publishers. Scroll through the hundreds of covers and note which appeal to you. In most cases, you’ll find a link to the designer, so follow those links. Be prepared to pay for the work they do. If you ever utter (or type) the phrase, ‘you should do this for exposure’, I will sit you in the naughty corner.
  4. Ask your author friends. Have any of them brought out a book lately that has a stunning cover? Ask them who designed it and ask nicely for contact details.
  5. Consider pre-made covers. If your budget is stretched thin, you could try a pre-made cover. Put the words ‘pre-made covers’ and your book’s genre in a search engine and see what comes up. There are many sites that offer hundreds of covers in every genre you could think of. Many offer stylised looks—which you then personalise with your book’s title and your author name.
  6. Consider making your own cover. If all else fails, try out This website has many pre-made or half-made covers that could work. Either load up your own images or buy them from Canva for as little as $1 each. I’ve made several covers for short stories with Canva—but these are exclusively for my newsletter subscribers. They look home-made, because they are.
  7. Finally, get emotional. Your cover needs to convey an emotion, and that emotion must be, ‘Cancel all my calls, don’t disturb me for the next two days, I’ll be reading.’ It’s time to use the analytical part of your brain and think about yourself as a potential reader, not a writer. The cover needs to say to a potential reader, ‘Trust me, I am worth your time.’

A note of caution: self-publishing does mean doing a lot of the work yourself but when it comes to covers, it’s best to step back and get a professional to do the work for you.

Keep writing awesome books!

Ebony McKenna is a Melbourne-based author of seven YA novels and multiple nonfiction guides for authors. Her latest title is Get Your Book Into Australian Libraries. You can find her on Facebook or her website. If you find her wasting time on Twitter, tell her to get back to work.

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