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: Choosing a Cover

Welcome to the fifth entry in our current and ongoing series–a series in which we examine some of the many choices which you will have to make as an author entering the world of self-publishing: choices ranging from the all-important “Choosing a Self-Publishing Company” to the nuts and bolts of “Choosing a Trim Size for Your Book” to figuring out how (and when) to “Know Thyself (& Thy Genre).” Last week, we felt our way through the topic of “Settling on a Price,” but this week we’re going to take a slightly different tack.  We’re going to look at the book as a physical object–and in fact, we’re going to look at the most defining feature of a book as a physical object:

Choosing a Cover

Piqued your interest yet? Good.

Here’s the thing about covers: we know a good one when we see one, and a bad one too, but we don’t often know the reasons why–we just … do–and knowing why a cover design works or doesn’t work is a crucial skill to develop as you yourself set about designing a book cover of your own.


Take a look at these, a few of my favorite covers from my time working at Outskirts Press:

Does anything jump out at you?  They’re all rather different, which makes sense given the fact that they’re appealing to different audiences.  Remember talking about audiences when we talked about genre?  Book covers are all about expressing the essence of your book’s content, and doing so in a common language shared with your ideal readers.  And readers are smart.  They’ve been reading a long time, and they know the visual cues that indicate a book’s atmosphere, or aesthetic.  Books of a self-help or nonfiction nature, for example, often present uncluttered, minimalist covers with people enacting some behavior connected to the theme (see Surviving Divorce God’s Way and Do You Know the Story of Superman?, above). Young Adult (YA) books, on the other hand, are targeting an age group interested in adventure and often romance, so the rich colors and exotic lettering of The Avant Champion are attuned to these expectations.

So much for expectations–what about execution?  A good book cover is more than just the sum of its parts, isn’t it?  There’s something to the way the parts are put together visually that matters.  That matters a great deal.


Everyone loves a bad book cover–the same way everyone loves a terrible audition for American Idol–in that we only enjoy witnessing someone else messing up badly.  When we mess up as authors, sales do not go well for us.  And sales are important.  And so, without being uncompassionate or trite, take a look at these covers:

Pretty bad, right?  But why?  Is it the hazy images or the busy backgrounds or the lack of contrast or the obnoxious font choices or the general impression that someone put these together using Microsoft Paint?

The thing is, we get it.

Making covers is hard, and not everyone has an eye (or software program) to make a brilliant, eye-catching, solidly designed cover.  So we’re not laughing behind our hands at bad covers; we are, however, wiser for exposure to some of the ways in which we might go astray.  Using a sub-par program or manipulating already poor quality images can never give us the perfect cover, and not having the time or expertise to download the perfect font can put us under, too.

The critical components to an eye-catching cover don’t come naturally to most of us.  But if you see yourself in this sentence, I have good news.  There are actually quite a lot of resources out there to help you, from self-help guides built in to self-publishing website like Amazon to the professional services offered by companies like the one I work for.  I’ve even known a couple of authors to make personal contact with illustrators and graphic designers on their own and see some success that way.  The key is to know your strengths and to be realistic about your weaknesses, and to accept help when you reach the end of your own capabilities.

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: 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,

6 Self-Publishing Don’ts

Unfortunately, some people have a negative perception of self publishing. This is because some self-publishing authors make detrimental mistakes that prevent their books from being taken seriously. If you want to be seen as a professional author with a successful book, be sure to avoid these six self-publishing don’ts:

1. Don’t attempt to create print-ready files if you don’t already possess that particular skill set.

You’re a writer; not a book designer.  Leave this task to the professionals and focus your time on writing and promoting your book.

2. Don’t skip the professional copyediting.

No matter how great of a writer you are, you cannot edit your own work! It is too easy to miss mistakes because you are too familiar with your work. This task requires a professional.  It is worth paying for professional editing services .

3. Don’t skip the custom cover design.

Most readers judge a book by its cover, so having an eye-catching, quality cover that professionally represents your book is essential. Most template covers will look and feel like a cookie cutter design, even if you make small changes to it.  Invest in a professionally designed, dynamic custom cover unique to your book.

4. Don’t forget the back cover text.

Once you are ready to self-publish your book,  one of the first things you’ll be asked for is your back cover synopsis and author biography. Don’t just throw something together without much thought!  Readers will look at this and determine whether or not they should buy your book.

5. Don’t rush.

Sure, you are excited to self-publish your book, but don’t rush. Producing a quality book  takes time. Be patient now, and you will be glad you did once you have a book to be proud of.

6. Don’t give up.

Some authors get so overwhelmed by all the options available to them when choosing a self-publishing company that they just give up. That doesn’t have to be you. Do your research, spend some time thinking about the decision, and then trust your gut. Don’t let fear stop you.

There are many great self publishing success stories! You can be one of them by avoiding these mistakes.

ABOUT JODEE THAYER: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Jodee Thayer works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order 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, Jodee Thayer can put you on the right path.