Cover Art Slip-Ups That Can Hurt Your Book Sales

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With all the new self-published books on the market today, it’s not surprising to run across a few cringe-worthy book covers. Some DIY authors opt to design their own book covers—and it shows in the results. Others hire graphic designers without knowing the difference between real cover artists and overconfident wannabes.

Your book’s cover is the very first thing potential readers see––it’s your brand and your hook!—so don’t let your book sales fall flat because you’ve used an amateur designer. Here are some tips on how to design a book cover that will boost sales:

Research book covers in your genre. If you’ve written a bodice-ripper or a western, you already have a good idea of the typical cover design elements for your genre. For example, distressed text is often used for horror; big bold font for nonfiction, pastel color palettes and handwritten titles for commercial women’s fiction. Check out books similar to yours and see which covers appeal to you—then determine why.

Create a vision board. A vision or mood board can help narrow your focus in creating a cover. Lay out the colors, images, and moods your story evokes to develop the book’s tone.

Determine the cover’s selling point. At a glance, can your readers tell what the book is about?

Think about images. Should you use personal photos, stock photos, cartoons, illustrations? Explore imagery that expresses the tone, theme, and/or time period of your book.

Don’t forget the spine and back cover. Whether your design wraps around the back and spine or is confined to the front cover, make sure to leave space for back cover copy.

Now it’s time to choose a graphic designer. Research carefully, ask for recommendations from fellow authors with book covers you admire, and examine designers’ portfolios. Do you like what they’ve created for other authors? Here are some design slip-ups that could signal a bad designer and cost you in book sales!

Design Mistakes That Minimize Your Book Cover’s Effectiveness

Amateur sketches, cartoons, or photographs. Your designer should use professional artwork only—not a subpar dragon drawing for a fantasy novel or a grainy, awkward family photograph for your memoir.

Clutter. If potential readers have to work too hard to find the title on a cover that’s loaded with too many distracting elements like pictures, maps, illustrations, and quotes, they’ll pass it up.

And on a similar note, edit your book title if it’s too long and takes up the entire cover, like Self-Esteem: The Things You Can Do to Boost Your Self-Confidence and Make More Money and Enjoy a Full Head of Hair While Getting in Shape.

Background. If your book cover has a white background, it may disappear on retailers’ white screens.

Title is hard to see in a reduced size. If your book is for sale online, the cover will be a thumbnail image. Make sure the title is clear when the cover art is reduced to the size of a postage stamp. Bold, clear fonts will stand out, while fancy, cursive fonts will be harder to read.

Too many different fonts. A good designer won’t make a mess of  your cover by using a variety of fonts. One or two will do.

Color palettes that don’t match the book’s theme. A soft, pastel color scheme is inappropriate for a thriller, and a bright orange background with bold black typeface doesn’t exactly whisper “Romance.”

Cover image doesn’t match the book’s theme. The image your designer uses should reflect your book’s theme and tone. A somber, black-and-white image of a leafless tree in winter won’t tell the reader your book is about the joys of motherhood.

Readers DO Judge A Book By Its Cover

You’ve spent months or even years writing your novel, memoir, or nonfiction book. But if you wrap it in a cheap, poorly designed cover just to save a few bucks, you’re basically telling future readers that your book isn’t worth a second look. Unless you are an experienced graphic designer, consider purchasing a predesigned book cover or hiring a professional—and don’t let YOUR cover art end up on Kindle Cover Disasters or Goodread’s Worst Cover Art!


One Response to Cover Art Slip-Ups That Can Hurt Your Book Sales

  1. “Your designer should use professional artwork only—not a subpar dragon drawing for a fantasy novel or a grainy, awkward family photograph for your memoir.”

    Nice, but what constitutes “professional”? I’ve seen some “pro” work that looks like the proverbial “five-year-old did it.” And what is one supposed to do with, say, a historical subject where the only imagery available is “grainy awkward . . . photograph(s)”?

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