I’ll just say it upfront: of all the cover design mistakes authors can make, the number one mistake is to design the cover themselves.

Mistake #1: Do-it-yourself Covers

If you’re looking for cover design tips, you’ve come to the wrong place. I know, affordability is the big issue, and you feel that doing it yourself is the solution. Authors who decide to design their own covers often don’t take into account what their time is worth; what is the cost of the time they are taking away from their job, their business, or their family? Affordability is easily addressed by researching the design services available, setting a budget, and saving up the money.

Believe it or not, fear that their book will not sell is another reason authors decide to design their own covers. Unfortunately, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if the author goes to market with a cover that looks self-published. An objective comparison between professionally designed covers and do-it-yourself covers is all the evidence anyone should need.

Mistake #2: Micro-management

The second biggest mistake is to hire a designer and micro-manage the process.

Designers need to know what the author wants to accomplish with the design (e.g., friendly, dramatic, authoritative, etc.). Getting there is where the designer’s research, skill, and experience should be trusted.

Suggestions from the author—and all the author’s family, friends and acquaintances—about the size, placement, and color of each cover element can quickly unravel any design. Too many cooks spoil the broth. If sales are the goal, a book cover should focus on communicating with the buyer, not satisfying the author’s personal preferences. That’s why we ask, “Which book would you buy?” rather than “Which cover do you like?”

Mistake #3: Wrong Cover Image

A third mistake authors often make with cover design is insisting on using a certain image or piece of artwork for the book cover, usually for sentimental reasons. We often spend time with authors talking them down from using a photo to which they have a sentimental attachment, but which has little to do with the book or is of really poor quality and would detract from the book. When it comes to cover art, indie authors should follow, not ignore, the best practices in the industry they are about to enter. Major publishers put a great deal of research and care into cover design…not because they have money to burn, but because they know their initial investment will be paid back via increased sales.
Having said that, we’ve also used client photos with great success. Personal photos make sense for memoirs. So by all means, show us your photos. Just be prepared to hear our professional opinion.

Should authors choose stock images? Absolutely. Millions of beautiful stock images are available. Care should be taken not to choose images that look like cheesy clip art, of course, but a skilled designer can choose, combine, and alter images to create a unique cover. It’s expensive and rarely necessary to commission a custom illustration.

Mistake #4: Ignoring the Thumbnail

The fourth mistake authors make is not taking in account how a cover looks as a thumbnail image on Amazon and other book seller websites. This is critically important because the cover thumbnail makes the person browsing through books stop to learn more.  The cover should be viewed at 25 percent or smaller to make sure the title is readable. It’s not as necessary for the subtitle to be readable at this size, especially if enlarging it destroys the balance of cover elements. Once people stop, they will click on the cover to view an enlarged image.

Mistake #5: Wrong Typeface

Mistake number five is choosing the wrong typeface. The author’s “favorite” font is rarely the most important consideration and some decorative fonts can be dead wrong. Typography “talks,” and the font should match the tone of the text and the book’s genre, be it a lighthearted children’s book, an authoritative legal reference book, or anything in between. The powerful first impression of any book is largely subliminal; book buyers don’t really have a conscious awareness of why a cover image or typeface is appealing, they just know. Make sure your cover is sending the right message!

Mistake #6: Making the Back Cover All About Them

The sixth cover design mistake is to make the back cover text all about the author rather than the buyer. Buyers of any product or service are asking one question, “What’s in it for ME?” Back cover text for fiction titles should arouse curiosity but not satisfy it. I recommend a headline on the back cover so the interested buyer gets an immediate, additional reason to read more. For nonfiction titles, just the opposite: specific benefits should be included, perhaps as bullet points. All back cover text should end with a call to action, some form of “buy now!”

In Summary

Should authors attempt to design and produce book covers? If the author is releasing a book only for friends and family, maybe, but I would argue that even then “good enough” is an excuse, not a standard. Professional book designers will produce a much more eye-catching and memorable product than an author using some free design software or generic online design service or template.

If the book is intended for sale, and the author has had little or no professional input, free tools can only put out what the author puts in. The reviews will be swift and brutal, and sales will screech to a halt—if they ever get off the ground in the first place.

If you’re self-publishing your book, work with 1106 Design on your cover design. We provide publishing services to discerning indie authors. Contact us today!