how to make a professional book cover {a comprehensive look}

I see a very sad trend in the publishing industry (mostly in indie publishing, some in traditional publishing as well) -- bad book covers.  I'm talking about the book covers that look like this: (do not fear, for these are not real book covers.  I designed them as examples, though the one for Death Like Sleep is one I made a long time ago for what is now The Clockshifter. I now hide in shame because of it.

1. Study covers around you.

Don't pick covers that you think look good, pick covers that artsy people love.  Famous bookstagrammers and designers. {Cait, Nadine, Kirk DouPonce, Seedlings Design Studio}  Books in X genre that are published by big publishing houses.  What trends in X genre do you notice?  How do the titles fit with the background?  Do the covers feature faces or people? {here's a video I did where I talked about trends in book covers}

2. "Take" ideas you like, and ditch ideas you don't.  

Do you like curly, artsy fonts?  Do you like gold text?  Do you like X color scheme?  Just remember not to copy another cover exactly.  Make it unique.

3. Pick an aesthetic for your book.

You know those artsy photo collages some really cool authors {Katie, and Aimee} make?  They all have a certain feel to them.  This is due to its color scheme and overall...well...feel.  Once you've picked an aesthetic for your book, you know what colors and style you want on the cover.  If you're still unsure of what your book's feel is, take a step back from the book and ask yourself a few questions.  (These are the questions I ask authors I design covers for.)  Read your answers as if you know nothing about the book:

  • -Back cover copy for your book.  (Brief synopsis.)
  • -Anything important to background/setting (including season story takes place)
  • - Main character Descriptions (Name, age, clothing style, eye color, hair color/length)
  • - Story conflicts
  • - Any symbols that are important to the story.
  • - A Pinterest or aesthetic board for the story, if you have it.
  • - Author name (as it will appear on the cover)
  • - Book title (as it will appear on the cover)
  • - Series name (if applicable)
  • - Any dislikes you have (color, style, font, etc.)
  • - Any other ideas/sample covers you like.

4. Find images.

This is probably one of the hardest parts of cover design.  You have to find an image that doesn't look like it came from Microsoft Word or an iPhone 2. Find images that will look good when cropped to the cover's aspect ratio,  Covers (and good art, really) follow the majestic Rule of Thirds.  This means that if you were to divide the cover into three congruent rectangles, the focus point of the image isn't in the direct center.  {a more comprehensive look at the rule of thirds}  Use images that don't violate copyright.

5. Crop the image and apply filters.

Do any photo manipulation that you need to.  Maybe add a texture as an overlay.  Now's your time to make this image fit with your book's aesthetic (if it didn't before).  Follow YouTube tutorials to learn GIMP or Photoshop.  Make your textures by using paint or your own images.

6. Add text.

This can be one of the trickiest parts of designing book covers.  A lot of designers, sadly, mess this part up.  When you do this step, remember to keep your aesthetic in mind.  Make the text readable.  Don't apply too many effects...simplicity is best.  Don't use generic Microsoft Word fonts...download cool ones (though still keep copyright in mind)!  {Behance, Dafont}  Make them the focus of the cover.  Match fonts (i.e. don't use 2 different curly fonts on the same cover) or contrast them (i.e. curly and sans serif). {a fabulous tutorial on contrasting fonts}

7. Ask people you trust for their opinions.

Family?  Friends?  Better yet, ask an artist and/or graphic designer.  See if a good bookstagrammer will give you feedback.  Be open to the criticism they may give you.  Fix what needs to be fixed.  The key thing to look for someone who is genuine.

Here's what my sister (she's an amazing artist) said about the cover I made above: I love the overall design, especially the double exposure(ish) bird. The simplicity is very appealing to the eye, and the cursive text flows with the curved outline of the bird. The only negative thing I have to say about this cover is the color of the title. It just seems a little off and doesn't pull out the colors in the flowers. Other than that... great job Alea!!!

Here's what Katie from A Writer's Faith said: Oooh, I love it! I think the main issue is the text -- I wonder if there's a way to make it pop more? My attention is drawn to the bird instead of the title, and it seems like they're fighting for the spotlight.

But the colors and background is amazing! Just a little re-formatting and I think I'll be even better.

8. If one draft doesn't work, do another and another until it's as perfect as it can get!

Have you ever made a book cover?  What was your process?  What are some of your favorite book covers?  I love to read and respond to your comments!


  1. Great tips, thanks for sharing! I'll definitely keep these in mind :)

    Amy @ A Magical World Of Words

  2. Aw these are great!!! Ah that bird one is pretty <3 (and thank you for mine)

    1. Thank you, Hanna! I'm glad you like it! And I'm glad you like your cover as well. :)

  3. This is such an excellent post, Alea! :D My favorite covers are probably the ones for A Time to Speak, The Evaporation of Sofia Snow, and The Girl Who Could See. :D What about you? What are your favorite covers?

    1. Thank you, Rosalie! Oh my goodness, I LOVE all of those covers! They're beautiful. Ugh...why must you make me pick? Hmm....I think my favorites are A Time to Die, Kingdom of Ash and Briars, all the ones you picked, The Color Project, and many, many others. (I'm the worst decision maker.)

  4. I've never tried making a cover for a WIP (and I've never had a WIP that progressed past drafts and therefore needed a cover), but now I think maybe I should try! (Making a cover, that is. Although getting a WIP past draft stage would be good too.)

    The 'author name' font looks really YA to me, I don't know why. ;) Did you think so? I wonder why some things (like certain fonts) just seem to feel like a certain genre...

    (And I've seen some double exposure pictures on Pinterest of faces with smoke/rough ocean/pine forests which would be AMAZING for a cover. Now I REALLY want to do that!)

    Jem Jones

    1. It gets me really excited about a WIP when I make a cover for it, so I usually create a cover before I start writing. :)

      I think certain fonts fit certain genres better. That's definitely a thing. :)

      I LOVE double exposure! One of the covers for a previous draft of The Clockshifter was double exposure.

  5. i hope every independent author sees this post tbh ;D

  6. Replies
    1. You're welcome! Let me know if you ever have any design questions. :)


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