Cover Design Is Key

Indie fantasy author Ty Johnston’s 2012 blog tour is running from February 1 through February 29. His novels include City of Rogues, Bayne’s Climb, Ghosts of the Asylum and Demon Chains, all of which are available for the Kindle, the Nook and online at Smashwords. To learn more about Ty and his writing, follow him at his


Indie authors are all different. We write in different genres and styles. We each have our own unique plans to increase our readership. We each have different things to say, and different goals for success. Some of us want to be household-name authors like an Anne Rice or Tom Clancy, while others simply want to be able to make a career at our writing; some of us just enjoying the creative aspects and aren’t worried about the financial end of things.

 But we also share a lot of similarities. One such similarity is that each of us has to have a cover for our books and e-books, and we all want to have good covers.

Some might argue covers are not important, that what is behind those covers is what’s truly important, but they are missing the bigger picture (quite literally, when you think about it). Even if you believe good covers are not important, you would be hard pressed to argue that a bad cover can be helpful.

So why do we want good covers? Honestly, some of it is hubris. Writers like to brag about their covers and the cover artists. More importantly, writers who have even a drop of marketing sense in their blood realize the worth of a good cover.

A solid cover can catch a reader’s eye. This is important for obvious reasons. If readers never notice your books or e-books, then they will miss the opportunity to consider further whether they wish to read your book or e-book.

A good cover can hold a reader’s attention. Even if a reader passes on your book the first time around, a solid cover might draw them back again. A great cover can stick in a reader’s mind, and that can propel a reader to pick up your book at some future point.

Also, while there are those who might believe covers do not sell books, the truth is a good cover could be the tipping point for customers. If a reader is on the fence about whether or not to purchase your book, a good cover might just be the thing to convince them.

Traditional authors have the bonus of publishing houses behind them and the art departments that go along with them. Indie authors, however, are often on their own when it comes to creating good covers.

The most obvious choice for indie authors is to hire out their covers. There is a growing number of cover artists and designers on the market, and many of them offer quality work for a fair investment.

On the other hand, many beginning writers simply can’t afford to hire an artist. What to do?

Well, you can save up your pennies until you can afford an artist, which is not a bad idea, or you can create your own covers.

I can hear some of you screaming now, “But I’m no artist!” Perhaps that is true, but basic cover does not have to be fancy.

The first thing a beginning cover designer often asks about is the various software for creating covers. I prefer Photoshop because it does everything I need and then some. Obviously, if you can afford to buy Photoshop then you can afford to hire an artist. But there are other program available which can be used. I’ve known some authors who use Powerpoint for their covers; while this option sounds odd tome, whatever works works, right? Another option would be to download some free online software like GIMP, which is somewhat similar to Photoshop.

That’s the technical aspect. Use whatever you feel works best for you. If you have the chance, experiment with different software.

But what about the actual design itself?

Okay, I’m going to jump in here for a moment to tell a little about my own design background. I was a newspaper editor for 20 years, and publication design was a daily part of my job during that time. Sure, it isn’t the exact same thing as book design, but there are similarities and I did spend a fair amount of time over the years designing special publications and magazines, which are more like books than are newspapers when it comes to design. I tell you this so you will know I am not and do not consider myself a book design professional, though I feel I do have a leg up on design when itcomes to many of today’s struggling indie authors. What follows are my opinions, and someone who has been designing books for 20 years might suggest think I’m full of it.

First of all, you need to keep in mind you are not designing only a book cover. You are also designing an e-book cover and an icon that has the potential to be seen by millions across the Web. Remember that word “icon,” because what you want your cover to be is iconic. You want it to stand out from the crowd, to draw the attention of customers and readers.

In my opinion, simple is better. Yes, there are plenty of complicated, artistic book covers out there that look good in a bookstore, but how many of them look good on Amazon or Smashwords? How many of them are even legible on a website? Most aren’t, so simple is better.

As an example, take the cover of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. No, I’m not here to argue about the worth of the novel itself or the movies, so forget the snarky comments. But go take a look at that cover. Stark black background with a pair of pale hands holding a bright red apple. The title is a little small, in my opinion, but it is spotlighted by the arms at either side. The author’s name is somewhat small, but that was appropriate when the original cover was created because Meyer was not that well known then.

Now, look at the cover of Twilight again. Study it. Putting aside your love or dislike for the story itself, isn’t that an awesome cover? Here is a simple cover scheme with an iconic image right in the middle of all that black. This is a cover that looks pretty good in the bookstores, but it also looks good online, even when seen only as a small image. Now tell me that cover didn’t draw the eye and help to build the author’s following?

Okay, I’ve talked about simple cover design. What does “simple” really mean? It can mean several things, but I’ll stick with a few of the most obvious. Simple colors, for instance; the fewer the better, in my opinion. Bold colors, that contrast with one another and stand out on a computer or handheld device. An iconic image, something fairly simple that pops out at the viewer. Remember that your name does not need to be large, at least not unless you become somewhat famous, and this will give you a little more working room. However, I am a fan of larger titles on covers because I believe they help to stand out more in the viewer’s eyes and mind.

Also, when it comes to e-books, you don’t really need a lot of small, extraneous type on your covers. I know authors love their blurbs, but unless you have one from Stephen King, it’s really a waste to put it on an e-book cover because it won’t be seen. Any type on an e-book cover beside the author’s name and the title should serve some purpose that helps the reader make up their mind whether or not they want to read the e-book. Information I deem relevant would include a blurb by the likes of Stephen King, obviously, but also could entail whether or not the e-book is part of a series, whether it is a short story or novella, etc. Skip putting a price on the cover, because prices can change.

One last thing. When working on e-book covers, remember that the image is going to initially be seen by viewers in a very small size. Allow this to direct your design for an e-book cover. If you want a more extravagant design, by all means consider doing so, but I’ll suggest perhaps having two different but similar covers, one for the book and one for the e-book.

Okay, I lied. Really this time, one last thing. If you continue to be stumped by book cover design, always remember to study the basic design of books you like. I’m not suggesting you outright steal, because that is wrong, but you can study the creativity of book covers you find interesting and learn from them.

I hope I’ve helped at least a few indie writers who struggle with their covers, and I’d like to say a big “thank you” to those behind the scenes (hi April!) at Publetariat for allowing me this space on the site today.