How do you know you have a bad book cover?

You never get a second chance to make your first impression.  Or, at least, that’s what my dad always told me.  And he may just be a landscaper/businessman, but his advice applies to just about anything.  Think of something, anything, out there that’s being sold.  Be it a Hollywood movie, a stapler, a cell phone, or even a book.  Everything relies on the first impression made with a consumer, at least if it’s a new product or new company trying to sell a new product/service.  If people don’t already have an opinion about who you are and what you are selling, then you need to make that good first impression in order to capture their interest and hopefully their business.

In the writer world, specifically the Indie author world, we HAVE to master our book covers.  They are literally our first impression to potential buyers (and yes, publishing your book is a business, so treat it that way!).  And I know this has been said a million times before, but I still keep seeing bad book covers out there, so obviously there are people who are not heeding this advice.  C’mon people, if your book is not selling, I’ll bet it’s because either a) your title (or book blurb) isn’t interesting enough, or b) your cover art is boring or poorly done.  Or maybe you are in a niche market and therefore you have a much smaller audience to capture anyway.  But if you have a book that is a fiction novel, maybe a thriller or fantasy or science fiction book, then there is no reason why it can’t blend in with the mainstream books out there that ARE selling well.  Our books as self published authors have every chance to sit alongside the best and the brightest traditionally published books out there (at least on Amazon they do) and the best way to get them there is smart marketing tactics.  And the first and foremost tactic is cover design.

Here is what I suggest to authors out there who maybe want to revamp their cover art or to those who are still finalizing their book for publishing and need a good cover image, but cannot for the life of them afford a professional cover art designer (and trust me, I hear ya! We all gotta start small and work our way up to stuff like that!).

First things first, browse Amazon and look for book covers you like.  Save the images into a folder for reference.  Look at not only the style and content of the cover (is there a person on the cover, an animal, a building, an illustration, etc) but also pay attention to coloring (do you want dark, light, bright colors, desaturated colors, sepia…).  Whatever you are drawn to, pay attention to that and take inspiration from others (don’t copy! but let them inspire you and send you on the right path).  Also pay attention to how other authors title their books.  Are the titles big and bold, soft and flowing, artsy?  And make note of how authors put their names on their books.  Top or bottom?  Bold and bigger than the book title, or smaller and less noticeable than the book title?  Choose your preference and make note of it.

Now that you’ve compiled inspiration images and decided on how you want your name and book title to look on your cover, go ahead and browse stock image websites.  My favorite to use is http://www.istockphoto.com/ because they have the best prices that I’ve seen.  Do a search for what you want your main image to be.  Be it:  brunette woman, bloody knife, light bulb…I don’t know.  But think about what your book is about and what you’d like featured on the cover, and browse for awhile.  For a long while, by the way, because there are lots of images to go through.  Save some you like as favorites (the watermarked image of course), and if you find one you really like, go ahead and buy it (the cheaper ones are usually $10 or maybe a bit more for the lowest resolution, which your book does not need something super hi-res because many covers are not usually bigger than 5″x8″ or around there).  When you buy the image, it comes without the watermark obviously and you now have full rights to use the image.  That’s the beauty of stock photography, you don’t have to go out and hire a photographer, they literally come to you with their offerings and you pick and choose and buy on demand.

I would recommend getting a couple of photos, but if you want a simpler cover then go with only the one.

You’re next step is to figure out what to do with your photo(s) now that you have it.  If you know Adobe Photoshop and have access to it, then good for you, you are already MILES ahead.  If you don’t, then what I suggest is seek out Graphic Design students at local colleges or through friends with kids in college or maybe just people you know who do know how to work Photoshop.  Proposition them to make the cover for you as a favor, and in the case of students they may want to use it in their portfolio and have their name on your Amazon page as cover designer or whatever.  It’s a win/win, and trust me, Photoshop is not very difficult to use, and so even entry level students should be able to crank out a decent looking cover (at least something WAY better than Paint will ever accomplish!).  So give it a shot.  Trust me, I know several people going to school for Graphic Design, as it is a VERY popular career path right now for people my age, so there’s got to be someone somehow tied to you who is going to school for it or who did go to school for it.  They shouldn’t be too hard to find.  And once they hear that you’ll credit them on your website/amazon page/blog/etc and that they can say to future employers that they worked on the cover design for a published novel (self pubbed, but whatever, they don’t have to mention that part lol) it will make them look very good indeed.

Once you find someone who will do the work, send them your inspiration images and the stock photos you purchased, and let them create something for you!  If they’re proficient enough, it’ll only take them a couple of hours if even to knock out something good.  And don’t forget that if you are also publishing hardcopies of your book through Createspace or whatever, send your graphic design person the book template from Createspace so they can design the spine and back cover too, along with your book blurb and whatever you want on the back.

All in all, this should cost you $30 or less (for the stock images), and your time.  And you will have a cover that may not be “professionally done” like the big name authors, but it will look good enough to sit beside the big boys on the Amazon page, and hopefully people will be drawn to it and buy it!

Here are my book cover images for reference, so you can see how I have done it.  I purchased stock photos, and did the Photoshop work myself (with my husband helping also since he’s more proficient at it than me lol!).  These covers did not take us very long to put together nor cost us very much, and I have received many compliments.

Let me know what you think, or if you need any help with ideas!  I’d love to help fellow Indie authors who want ideas on how to improve their covers.

Second of the Dryad Quartet

First of the Dryad Quartet

The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it. -The Lion King

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5 thoughts on “How do you know you have a bad book cover?

  1. I think the one for Firefight in Darkness is just brilliant. I really like it.

    And, yes, very good post, and it should be common sense. The cover is the first thing people notice, and if it’s just plain bad no one’s going to click on it to get hooked by that great blurb (the blurb part is one that I never really nail – I just don’t seem to be good at writing blurbs) or those 70 five star reviews you’ve got.

    • Thank you! My husband and I work on my book covers together…I do the designing and layout and he does the touch up/final editing work. Please, I thought your blurb for the short story was great. How much more should you really say about a short story? And I WISH I had 70 five star reviews! lol 🙂

  2. Your covers are very professional looking. I think the biggest factor in bad covers is skill and money. Most writers (including me) do not have the talent for visual design. And most writers also do not have the money to have it professionally done. And their work suffers. But I also find that most bad covers contain writing that is also less then the best quality. Maybe it’s good that some books have bad covers. It’s like a warning sign.

    I hope mine doesn’t turn people away!

    • Thanks Daniel! I worked very hard on them. Yes unfortunately not everyone has access to good image editing software or the skillset to use it, and unless you have a couple grand to spend you’re stuck using Paint I guess :/ Though honestly I would suggest that people just give Photoshop a try (you can download a free 30 day trial…). Just try it and out and see how it works (it’s so much easier than you would think once you get used to the tools and special effects). And hey, it doesn’t hurt to try!

      Eek yes it is usually a sign when you see a bad cover that the book itself might be poorly edited or something…but think of the literary gems that bad covers are also hindering! It’s sad :/

  3. Pingback: Covers « Cristian Mihai

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