Self Publishing Book Covers

A few thoughts on designing a book cover

I won’t pretend to be an expert on this but I have been involved in the process of designing book covers for quite a lot of books now, and I think it’s a subject that I am qualified to discuss and one which is worth discussing since the cover is the single most important part of your book.

You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover

YES YOU CAN! In fact, if you can’t judge a book by its cover, then you need a new cover design. As a metaphor for assessing human beings this phrase is quite correct, but when it comes to books you really should be able to work out what genre the book is at the first glance.

What are the rules for Book Cover Design?

Aah, now we hit a stumbling block. There are not so much rules, as guidelines, and even these are fluid and mutable. Every rule can be broken if there is a good enough design reason to break it. But here are a few rules that you would be advised to consider when working on your cover art.

  • Do not use copyright images unless you own the rights
    • I’ve put this first because it’s often the last thing people think about and it is the one that could cost you the most money. There are a number of ways you can avoid copyright infringeent. The first is to draw or photograph something yourself. Or you can pay someone to use their copyright work. And lastly you can use an image that is free for commercial use. (This last route has hidden risks but it will take a whole article to address them).
  • Title and Author name should be legible including when viewed in thumbnail
    • Making the text legible means thinking very carefully about your choice of typeface. Especially when using cursive and decorative fonts it is easy to end up with words that can be misread at first glance, sometimes in hilarious or embarrassing ways. It may also mean you need to add a drop shadow, or an outer glow, or blur the background or any number of other tricks, to get it to stand out.
  • Keep cover text to a minimum.
    • Title & author name are essential. Anything else needs to work hard to justify inclusion. If your book has just been made into a blockbuster movie, then fine. If you have a quote from the New York Times, or the Guardian, by all means. If there is a sub-title, fair enough. Other than that; I suggest you don’t. “A Novel” is frankly, pathetic. If the potential reader can’t work out that this is a novel, I suggest you get a new cover design.
  • The text should not obscure important features of the cover art
    • Ideally, if you can get cover art that includes a lot of sky, or grass, or sea, or just a blank wall… any area of fairly nondescript space where the text can go is ideal. If you are comissioning an artist you can tell them exactly what size you want and where to include blank features, but from past experience that does not guarantee anything.
  • Cover art should be eyecatching
    • Not much to add here. It should be fairly obvious if the overall look is dull or it leaps out at you.
  • Cover art should be genre appropriate
    • The usual advice here is to look at as many other books as possibel in your genre and get a feel for the common features. Try to focus on current big name authors, and not Agatha Christie, or your friend who self-published their book last month. Neither of these is going to be representative. You could publish a classic book in a white cover with black Comic Sans and people would buy it. And your friend, much as you love them, is no more qualified than you are
  • Important elements should not be closer than 5mm to the edge of the book
    • Or 10mm is sometimes the advice. Suffice to say, do not place the title right on the edge. (unless this is a brilliant avant guarde design trick and you can pull it off. Printers do cut surprisingly accurately, but nevertheless, a mm off either way could totally ruin your clever and cunning placement.
  • Design elements should be centred on the page
    • This is simple common sense, but when laying out your cover (if you are doing it yourself) you need to remember that the bleed (that bit that will be cut off) is not part of your cover.
  • The spine text should read from top to bottom (horizontal when the book is face up)
    • Yeah, I did this wrong the first time, but caught it before I went to print. I’ve seen it done plenty of times since and corrected it because of my onw mistake. unless your book is really thick, the spine text will be vertical. As you are laying it out, it should read down the page, not up. Centred on the spine with 2-5mm to spare either side. (don’t put text on any spine less than about 8mm)
  • The blurb on the back should be easily legible and not too long
    • Blurb is a topic in its own right, but when designing a cover warp for a physical book you need to be able to fit in on the page, with enough room for logos, and barcodes. The font should be large enough to read comfortably and not confused with the background image (if using one). There are several ways to make the writign clearer on the back but they also require another article.
    • Another mistake I made was to repeat the title on the back. I never thought about it before, but nobody actually does that.

O.K. if yo know me, you will know I am a bit haphazard about things like this, so I’ve probably missed off some important stuff.

Comment if you want me to add anything.

More articles on this to come.

Second Suns – Chapter 2

Continued from Second Suns – Novel

In Limbo

George slammed the door of the van shut, stomped into the house, slammed the front door, then stomped up the stairs towards his room.  

“You’re back early.”

George stopped and stared angrily at his mum. 

“Coffee?”

He grunted unintelligibly but stopped stomping up the stairs.

“Coffee with a drop of something in it?”

George exhaled like a stabbed bagpipe.

His mum disappeared and came back waving a nearly full bottle of whiskey. “Or you could forget about the coffee and just have the drop of something?”

She poured out two generous shots and handed one to her grown-up son. He downed it in one, and emitted a frustrated sound like a cross between a groan and a roar.

“I take it the gig didn’t go as well as you might have hoped?” She poured another large shot.

“They kicked me out of the band.” He took a more leisurely sip.

“Oh. Well… You’re still in Cthulu though?” She was one of those supportive mums that people who don’t have supportive mums would wade through burning napalm, and throw puppies into a shredder, to have. But when you’ve grown up with constant positivity and encouragement it can get astonishingly annoying.  

“Cthulu haven’t played a gig in months. Not having a drummer will do that to a band.” He paused to savour the single malt, briefly. “That bitch Sandra!”

“George, I would prefer you moderate your language at home please?”

“Sorry mum. But she is. She’s got her feet under the table and Mike wrapped around her little finger. She said, ‘If you love Surrogate Suns so much why don’t you start a tribute to them?’ ”

“Well, why don’t you?”

“I don’t love them that much. Anyway, I’ve had it with bands. Too much grief.”

“Last time you said that you spent six months getting more and more depressed until you joined three bands in one week. I’d sooner you focussed on your job, made some money, and bought a place of your own. How many twenty-year-olds still live with their mum?”

“Price of houses these days, I’d say nearly all of them.”

“Well whenever you’re not in a band, you turn into the most insufferable moron. Would it kill you at least to put an ad on that band-maker website?

“Oh blooming heck mum. Don’t go on… Alright, I’ll stick an ad on, for all the good it will do me.”

* * * * *

“Any joy with the website?” his mum asked a few days later.

“Had some loony call me saying he’s been planning on putting together a tribute just to play the ‘Ra’ album in its entirety.”

George’s mum looked both shocked and sad at once. ‘Ra’ was almost universally acclaimed as Surrogate Suns worst album, although there were a small minority of fans who believed it was the greatest work of recorded art ever produced.

She said, “Care in the community has got a lot to answer for. My dad had that album, but I only ever listened to it once. He played it to us as a warning about what would happen if we ever started using drugs. Scared the willies out of me and your uncle. I think it ended up being melted down in the oven to make a plant pot holder.”

“Mum! An original vinyl of that is worth a fortune now!”

“Not to me it isn’t. Now, anyone touches my copy of ‘Sol Invictus’ they had better like hospital food.” She opened her laptop. “What did you put in the ad anyway?”

“Can’t remember.” He flipped open his laptop and sipped his whisky while waiting for the site to open. “Here it is. I wrote ‘Anyone up for putting together a Surrogate Suns tribute? Singer with own PA and van seeks band.’ ”

“Well, no wonder you just got one loony. Who’s going to jump at that awful effort? You got to make it enticing. Like this one. ‘Singer wanted for Surrogate Suns tribute. Must have own van and P.A. Paid gigs waiting. Only serious applicants. Professional attitude required.’ ”

“Yeah right, that’s on the band builder site right now is it?”

She turned her screen around. “See for yourself.”

“Oh.”

“So? You gonna apply then?”

“I dunno. What if I don’t get it?”

“Oh for pity’s sake! Show me a man who’s never been turned down and I’ll show you a man who’s never gone for anything.”

George uttered a non-committal grunt. Having a helpful mum was a right pain in the bum.

“George! At least give it a go. You’ve got nothing to lose.”

“It says professional, paid gigs waiting. They’ll have a queue of blokes round the block with the right hair and top-quality gear and a van that isn’t falling to bits.

George’s mum stood up. All five feet of her. “Now you listen here. I’ve put up with you and your bloody music because I believe in supporting my kids in achieving their dreams. But there’s only so much a mum can do and if you won’t at least call the bloody number on here then I’ll wash my hands of you, I really will.” And with that, she handed George the phone.

“Arrgh!” Cornered, George dialled the number.

Hello?

“I’m phoning about the ad for the Surrogate Suns tribute band on Band-Maker?”

“Yeah man, great stuff, you a big fan of the Suns?”

“Yeah love ‘em. Apart from maybe Ra? Not the greatest album. But Sol Invicta, and Seventh Son?”

“By far the best album is Supernova in my opinion. Massively underrated. That and Second Sun are the best two.”

“Really? I haven’t listened to them that much but yeah. I mean ‘Wild About Love’ I do that in my current band.”

“Cool well what are you up to next weekend? I can book the rehearsal studios and we can get together and play some stuff. Email me on that address on the advert, and I’ll email you over the details and a list of songs to have ready.”

“OK.” George ended the call and smiled weakly at his mum.

“There that wasn’t so difficult was it?” She topped up both glasses and lifted hers ready for a toast.

“To Surrogate Suns!”

George added, “Tribute.” And the glasses clinked.