The Importance of Book Covers for Self-Publishing Authors

Self-publishing has become so quick and easy that many authors are tricked into satisfying their urge for instant gratification instead of being encouraged to take a step back and look at their book as more than just a commodity to thrust into the marketplace with a computer-generated cover and a computer-generated interior. After all, it probably took you months or even years to write your book; don’t rob yourself of the satisfaction of distributing something truly amazing just because some sites allow you to “publish” it in minutes.  Computers don’t know what makes a good cover. Cover designers do.

When it comes to deciding on the cover for your self-published book, there is a simple rule of thumb: The easier it is, the worse it will be. If all you have to do to “generate” a cover for your book is click an “ok” button, you are doing your book and your writing career a huge disservice.  The cover of your book is arguably the most important element. It plays a role in your promotion and marketing. It entices buyers on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It attracts people at author events and book fairs. But it only does those things if it’s good.  And a good cover is never created by simply clicking an “ok” button.  

Most self-publishing service providers offer authors a choice when it comes to book covers.  They typically provide “free” cover options, and they typically provide “custom” cover options for an additional fee that ranges from $400-$1200 depending upon your service provider. Most of the “free” publishing websites don’t offer custom cover designs, but instead, point you in the direction of 3rd party cover designers. Their “free” selections are typically limited to words on a plain background. You may be able to customize the font and the background color, but that’s usually it.   Full-service self-publishers typically offer “templates” that can be customized with colors, fonts, and even images, usually for free. They all offer custom cover design options, too.

A custom cover is always the best option, but if a custom cover design is outside of your budget, there are still some important considerations when it comes to using one of the “free” covers provided by your publishing provider.

  1. Never accept the default.  Just about every self-publishing provider will provide you with a “free” cover that you can accept without lifting a finger.  Don’t! Remember the simple rule of thumb a few paragraphs up? The easier it is, the worse it will be. That’s not to say the default cover is bad – it might be very nice.  But hundreds or even thousands of authors have already selected it. You want to make sure your cover stands out. Change the background cover. Choose a different image. Change the font.  
  2. Speaking of background cover, give it some thought.  In all likelihood, the majority of your sales are going to occur from Amazon. Do some competitive research.  Go to Amazon and type a keyword or key phrase into the search box that someone might type to find your book. Look at the results.  Look at the colors of the books that appear in the results. Is there a common color? Do you notice any books that really stand-out?  What color could you choose that would increase the chances of browsers noticing your book among all those competitive books? That’s the background color you want.
  3. If your self-publisher allows you to change the default image of your cover for something else, you should definitely do it.  Again, the rule of thumb is to avoid what is easiest. It may take some time to locate the image you want, but it is time well spent.  You don’t want your book looking like all the other books that were published by authors who chose the default cover, do you? Even if you feel the default image works for your book, it is worth the effort to find a unique image instead. In most cases, your self-publisher will allow you to swap the image without an additional charge, but even if you have to purchase the rights to an image on a stock photography site, it’s still worth doing.
  4. Most self-publishers will allow you to change the font on your free cover, and if they do, you should take advantage of that option (since most authors won’t).  Look at the font choices that are available and select a font that represents the genre of your book. Romance book covers typically feature flowing script. Sci-fi fonts, on the other hand, are typically large and blocky. Conduct another search on Amazon to see the types of fonts that are used on books similar to yours.  Stay within the vein of your genre while still being unique.

These concepts are second-nature to most professional book cover designers, which is why a custom designed cover by a professional is always the best option.  After all, what’s the point of publishing a book if your cover isn’t going to attract anyone to it?

book cover design

brent sampson
In 2002, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Semi-Finalist Brent Sampson founded Outskirts Press, a custom book publishing solution that provides a cost-effective, fast, and powerful way to help authors publish, distribute, and market their books worldwide while leaving 100% of the rights and 100% of the profits with the author. Outskirts Press was incorporated in Colorado in October, 2003.
In his capacity as the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Marketing Officer, Brent is an expert in the field of book publishing and book marketing. He is also the author of several books on both subjects, including the bestseller Sell Your Book on Amazon, which debuted at #29 on Amazon’s bestseller list.

From the Archives: “Self-Publishing Advantages Out on the Table”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.


[ Originally posted: November 10th, 2009 ]

This posts and blog exists to help you make the best informed choices for the future of their books. Whether you’re still in the conceptualization phase or searching for a publisher, these are tips, each worthy of careful consideration.

For example, take a moment and write out your personal publishing goals…

For many authors, these 7 are the most important:

1) Keeping 100% of your rights and creative control to your book
2) Keeping 100% of your author royalties
3) Unlimited wholesale and retail availability
4) Additional marketing support and services
5) Publishing imprint and ISBN flexibility
6) High-quality book design
7) Complete print-run flexibility (1 to 1000s)

What would you add to this list?

I don’t know about you, but when we first published this piece on Self Publishing Advisor, we created a bit of cognitive dissonance; while the seven items listed are indeed advantages, they’re not necessarily advantages which show themselves on a shelf (unless you’re filling a shelf with 1000 copies of your book, which is quite a shelf indeed). Instead, we gave you a list of seven fantastic, but more general, advantages to self-publishing.

So, what are the advantages a self-published book might find on a shelf against other, more traditionally published books?

Many people are accustomed to thinking of self-publishing books as at rather a disadvantage, rather than an advantage, on such a shelf. This is because yes, once upon a time, the cover designs available to indie authors were far more limited in customizability than those available to their traditional competitors. After all, traditionally published authors have the full weight of their publishing houses behind them, with their marketing teams, their graphic designers, and their many other well-financed technical experts on staff.

But things have changed. So even if in terms of covers, the playing field is rather more level than tipped to advantage either traditional or indie authors, there are other ways at which indie books can–and often do–rise above the competition. First of all, there’s the local angle. Many bookstores and libraries privilege local authors over the general horde; all you have to do is bring this to the proprietor’s attention. This “local advantage” also works on potential readers, too. Don’t underestimate the immediate impact that this one simple factor can have on your ideal readers!

There are other advantages your indie book can have “out on the table,” of course! Because you control the price, you also control the price tag. The appeal of an affordable number should not be underestimated. But most of all, your book’s cover is your avatar in the world, a representation of you, and a truer one than any publication company could create. That alone is enough to make it stand out.

book cover designs

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠


ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog,

In Your Corner: The Proof is in the Pudding

Get it?  We’re going talk about book proofs this week as a part of our ongoing series about choices–the choices you make as a self-publishing author in the midst (and mist!) of an often long and complicated process.  Previous entries in this series have included “Choosing a Self-Publishing Company,” “Choosing a Trim Size for Your Book,” figuring out how to “Know Thyself (& Thy Genre),” “Settling on a Price,” “Choosing a Cover,” and last week’s exploration of what we called “The Guts of the Thing” and which essentially boiled down to interior design–illustrations and formatting.  The assumption with last week’s post was that if you struggle to summon up the skills, time, or energy to worry about the graphic design components of your book, you can theoretically find assistance from exterior (and even paid professional) sources.

But what about proofing your book?

Proofing Your Book

That thing we all hate and try not to think about.

book proofing

Here’s the deal with proofing:

It’s not really something you want to outsource, even to a professional.  Copyediting, yes, but proofing … less so.  This is because the proof is the final step before actual publication, and it’s important that you be the last person to lay eyes on it before it goes to the presses.  It was your vision, after all, that led to its creation–and you want to make sure that it is your vision, in the end, which guides it to completion.

This is the moment of truth.  So how do events unfold?

The printed proof arrives on your doorstep, or in your mailbox, or perhaps you’re overexcited and actually show up at the printer’s to get it.  The point is, it’s in your hot little hands and ready to go.  Almost.

Up to this moment, the book you’ve been dreaming about and actively shaping has only ever been real to you in the way that pixels and Microsoft Word documents are real.  Maybe you’ve printed off a copy, to get a better look at layouts and formatting and illustrations and typography–but that’s not really the same thing as a finished book, is it?

And trust me, after that initial shiver of anticipation passes, it’s time to pull out the red pen, because there’s always something that’s slipped through the cracks and that needs addressing before you click the final keys or give your Publishing Consultant the final go-ahead.  Your proof is, as its name implies, the evidence that you’ve done everything correctly.  Or it ought to be.  As I said, your first proof is usually an exercise in addressing little errors that were invisible on your computer screen or in printouts but that, in printed form, pop off of the page.  It could be an incorrect font, a weird space, typographical errors, a misaligned paragraph–anything.  As perfect as your last manuscript was in digital form, sometimes it doesn’t translate perfectly to the printed page.




What should I watch out for?

First of all, take a deep breath.  Now, let it out.  Proofing can be painful in some ways, mostly because you’re having to spend more time obsessing over the minutiae of your book, but it’s worth it.  A few tips and tricks and mistakes to watch out for, and your book will look and feel as good as if it had gone through the entire rigmarole that traditionally published books have to.

  • Step One: Read your book like a book.

Just go for it.  Read the whole thing through, start to finish, checking for common typographical errors and inconsistencies as you would in reading a normal draft.  Check that the text is complete, and that no paragraphs are missing or sentences cut off by a page break.  Only you, the book’s author, are going to catch omissions like that.  And while you’re reading, keep an eye out for odd or inconsistent use of fonts, punctuation (particularly hyphens and the “curled” version of quotation marks), as well as line and word spacing.  You can pass the book on to someone else to double-check your impression on these last points, too–that never hurts.

  • Step Two: Squint and stare.

Once, in college, I was taking an illustration course and my professor gave me one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve ever heard: “Step back from what you’re working on, squint so that everything is just a touch blurry, and see what’s missing.”  By stepping back and letting things get a touch blurry, you as an author and artist are ignoring the content of the text and seeing it for what it is in addition to being a story: a collection of visual components.  You’ll be better able to spot orphans and widows (single lines at the bottom or top of a page), inconsistencies in running heads and chapter or part titles, and the dimensions and placement of graphic elements like illustrations, page numbers, chapter openers, and so on.  Double check that odd-numbered pages are on the right hand side of the centerfold.  Double check your references and footnotes if you have them–that they’re there, and that they’re on the right page–as well as the consistency of your paragraph indents and other alignments.

  • Step Three: Turn it over. And over.

Try it.  The front and back covers of your books should look exactly as you requested or input them to be, and they should meet your exact specifications of color, contrast, clarity, and placement.  The barcode, ISBN, blurbs, description, biographic information, and other nuts and bolts should all be in place, attractive, and correct in spelling and form like the rest of your book.


Proofing your book isn’t simply a matter of going through the motions.  It’s vitally important that you care about this stage of the process the same way you care about every other stage–if you go through the trouble of correcting a proof and upload your revisions, you’ll have no doubts when it comes time to send your book out into the world to its new readers.  You’ll face whatever comes next with confidence, pride, and a sense of intrepid adventure.  And next week, we’re going to look at what some of those steps might be!

You are not alone. ♣︎


ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

The Book Beautiful: Hard vs. Soft Cover

When self-publishing, one of the aesthetic decisions you’ll have to make is whether or not to publish your book as a hard or soft cover. The decision is one that will mainly affect your readers, so when exploring the pros and cons of this decision, we will be considering the experience and opinions of your potential readers.

books on display India

First let’s consider what the pros are to publishing a hardcover title?

  1. Hardcovers are just plain nice to look at. They are sleek.
  2. You don’t have to worry about the pages getting ‘flappy’ or folded at the edges.
  3. They absolutely last longer–I can’t tell you how many paperback books I have with torn off or taped on covers.
  4. No need for a bookmark, just use the handy-dandy book jacket!
  5. Look great as additions to a bookshelf or coffee table.

And the cons to publishing a hardcover title?

  1. They are heavy as can be; i.e. not ideal for travel.
  2. They are undoubtedly more expensive which will deter a lot of potential readers. This also means a higher publishing expense which is important to those of us self-publishing authors.
  3. A lot of readers find book jackets annoying and simply remove them, which means all that time you spent designing a cover may go to waste.
  4. It can certainly be more awkward to handle and read a hardcover; they are bulky and not easily wielded with one hand.
  5. Readers tend to only buy hardcover books of authors they are already die-hard fans of, so if you don’t already have a fan base, it may be more difficult to create one if your book is only available in hardcover.

Now to consider to pros of publishing a softcover title:

  1. Relatively speaking, softcover books are cheaper, both to print and to purchase.
  2. Softcovers are easier to travel with, they are also easier to read on the go.
  3. They are more widely purchased, so you have a better chance of people buying your book, especially first time readers of yours.

And then cons of publishing a softcover title?

  1. They are semi-easy to tear; the cover may fall off.
  2. Not long lasting, especially if you travel with them.
  3. Depending on printing costs, they may not have as high of a profit margin.

With those things in mind, the decision is now yours! (I won’t further complicate things by discussing the pros and cons of adding an ebook to your publication artillery. 🙂 )

Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠


ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog,

The Book Beautiful: The Cover

While the old adage “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” is one all too oft repeated, we all know that we’ve been in a bookstore and picked up a book with an author and title we weren’t familiar with simply because the cover appealed to our senses in some way. That’s not to say that the heart of the matter isn’t what happens to be inside the book; I can just as easily recall how many times I’ve put down that same book with the interesting cover after scanning a few pages and deciding it wasn’t for me.

When you’ve completed a book that you’ve poured your heart, your soul, and countless hours into, it’s important that your piece physically reflects how beautiful of an accomplishment self-publishing can be. While the traditional means for designing a book cover happened to be very time consuming and left a lot of authors underwhelmed with the result, luckily for today’s authors, we live in a digital age which makes designing a book cover more exciting and involved (especially for a self-publishing author)!

Nowadays, you can ‘pin’, ‘Like’, and ‘Share’ graphics; better yet, you can share your potential book cover ideas on social media and get feedback from potential readers. You can get readers involved and have them vote on their favorite cover, or even host a contest that allows readers to submit cover ideas of their own! But perhaps we should backpedal before we get ahead of ourselves and ask what message do want your book cover to send?

As the author, you of all people know best what audience it is you are trying to target and the essential theme your book most embodies, be it: inspiration, achievement, mystery, romance, revenge, etc. etc. Once you’ve nailed down your audience and theme, the visual metaphors that you have to work with will become more obvious.

No matter who your audience is, you want them to be excited when they see the cover of your book. You want to stop people walking by the bookstore, or walking by the bookshelf, and you want to evoke their curiosity and pique their interest. If we take a look at the covers below we will see captivating images that begin to non-verbally communicate the scope of the story the author has also artfully fabricated:

When a book cover is able to explain the scope of a book, it allows the reader to save precious time wading through the myriad of titles in libraries and bookstores.

Remember when designing a book cover that sometimes less is more. The title, your name, and a striking image are often enough. Don’t feel the need to crowd the space with over-thought or crowded typography and definitely avoid stock images that could hurt your book’s credibility.  Need I give examples of cheesy, godawful book covers? No, but I will anyway.

I won’t annotate any further, as a picture is worth a million words.

Make sure the cover of your book, no matter how many words are inside of it, has a picture that is worth all the hard work you put into it. Remember that human beings are visual creatures and that the cover of your book is an important marketing tool. Be professional, be thoughtful, but also be bold!


Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠


ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog,