6 tips on professional-quality book cover design

Tip #1: Genre

Who are your potential readers, and what does your book cover tell them about your book? Design elements such as imagery, typography, colors, and textures all carry signals to readers, and professional-quality book cover design means making sure that those signals add up to the right message for your book.

If your cover sends the wrong message to potential readers, you miss out on readers who are searching for books like yours, and risk poor reviews from irate readers who expected—based on your cover—to read something different.

Your cover should reflect the intersection of your story with its genre. Because your cover is a form of advertising for your book, staying aware of conventions and trends within your genre will allow you to choose a cover that will attract more readers.

Before you choose your book cover designer, think about what kind of design you intend to request, and ask yourself these questions. What kinds of imagery dominate within your genre? Do covers tend to be light—or dark? Are they colorful—or muted? Are some types of fonts preferred over others?

Tip #2: Branding

Creating a consistent brand identity that resonates with your readers builds trust and reinforces the writer-reader relationship.

This isn’t to say that your paranormal romance series should look the same as your dystopian romance series, or your standalone romantic comedy—each should have its own sub-brand within your overall branding strategy—but the implicit promise of thoughtful, consistent branding is that readers who purchased and enjoyed one of your books can trust that purchasing additional books within the same brand or sub-brand will deliver a similar reading experience and level of quality.

If you have a book or series that you consider to be underperforming, it may be time to rebrand that book or series. Take a look at some bestselling books in your category, and compare your cover to theirs. Is your cover in line with current trends?

While designing new book covers requires an investment of your time and/or money, rebranding and running fresh promotions can make a difference. If your rebrand succeeds in raising sales, you will both gain new readers and recoup your investment over time.

Tip #3: Stock images

Commissioning custom illustrations or photoshoots can be expensive, which is why many book cover designs use stock images.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with using stock images, but it’s unwise to choose a single stock image, add text, and declare your cover ready for release. Any compelling stock image has probably been used on other authors’ covers. And if other authors haven’t used it yet, they will.

Fortunately, there are a million ways to transform stock images. You can combine two or more stock images into a seamless composite to create a fresh, unique image. You can tint, shade, brighten, or crop—the possibilities are infinite.

Tip #4: Typography

Skillful typesetting distinguishes professional designers from amateurs. While amateur or less experienced designers may be equally talented, seasoned professionals have honed their talents to a higher degree, usually through a combination of study and/or work experience on a broad range of design projects.

In the course of their experience, professional designers have been exposed to a wealth of critique and suggestions from teachers and colleagues. Over time, critique and suggestions enable designers to grow professionally and to enlarge their design toolbox.

There’s nowhere that experience—or the lack thereof—shows more vividly than in typography. Too often, inexperienced designers reach for their favorite fonts, drop text onto an image, do a bit of moving and resizing, and call the end result good.

To create a professional-quality book cover design, fonts should be chosen with both genre and legibility in mind, all text should be carefully placed, sized, and aligned, and larger text should be kerned. The final text treatment should create a clear visual hierarchy and sense of flow as your eyes move across the image. A well-designed book cover should feel effortless to read.

Tip #5: Presence and contrast at thumbnail size

When prospective readers first see your book cover, what do they see?

Often, they’re looking at a tiny, low resolution thumbnail image. On the websites of the major vendors, even the cover image on your book page is relatively small and low-resolution.

Fortunately, it’s easy to check how your book cover design will look in thumbnail—just keep zooming out until the cover is around the same size that it would be displayed online.

Does your cover retain a strong, competitive presence at thumbnail size? If you zoom out, make your image window small, and drag the window on top of an ebook vendor web page like the Amazon Top 100, how does it stand up to the competition?

Color contrast, tonal contrast, and font choices are all key to making sure that your book cover looks stunning at full size and retains its impact all the way down to thumbnail sizes.

Tip #6: Less is often more

It can be tempting to try to depict a specific scene from your story on the cover of your book, but this design approach rarely turns out well. Being overly specific and/or rigid in your goals when designing ebook covers can lead to dense, cluttered layouts that fail to communicate a clear message. Overwhelming potential readers with too much detail can be a turn-off.

A better approach is to think about the emotions in your book. If you’ve written a romance novel, maybe your story is about the excitement of first love or the hope of a second chance. If you’ve written a thriller, perhaps your characters experience danger or terror. In either case, fiction covers should evoke a sense of the emotions that you expect readers to feel when they read your story.