Select Page

An Introduction

In a previous blog post I wrote about how to create an awesome book cover design, where the focus was predominantly on choosing cover imagery, you can read that post here: Tips to Inspire An Awesome Book Cover Design.

In this post I wanted to cover the book or ebook cover design process in more depth, specifically on how to design a book cover for self published authors and those looking to self publish. I will be explaining step by step just how to create a book cover design as well as sharing some of the resources I use to create custom book covers. Creating a book cover should be fun, using this step by step guide will help remove some of the obstacles and enable you to focus on creating.

1) Research your genre
2) Download free design software
3) Choose your imagery carefully
4) Use no more than two fonts
5) Use contrasting colours if necessary
6) Adhere to the guidelines set by your publisher or publishing platform
7) Design for what inspires you
8) Test out your book cover designs
9) Alternatively, hire a professional book cover designer
10) Trust your designer

1) Research your genre.

When designing a book cover, preparation, research and inspiration are key.

Take your time to research covers in the genre of your book, as a writer I am sure book cover research is a passive activity you already engage in regularly if, like me, you like to linger in bookshops whenever possible.

Now is your chance to hang out in the bookshop with renewed purpose, grab a coffee, buy a book while you’re there, after all it’s research.

Take a good look at the shelves, it is worth noting that book covers within the same genre can often show shared design traits. Think of it as a kind of visual shorthand which tells readers who are fans of a certain type of book which books will appeal to them at a glance.

For example; Thriller covers tend to depict a stylised version of the setting for the story, like the mean streets of London, or the pillars of Capitol Hill. If figures are used in the design, they are usually in silhouette or facing away from the reader as a smaller element of the overall design. While the title of the book on thriller covers tend to be stark, dominating the cover image while the use of fonts tends to adhere to the sans-serif variety.

Horror covers demonstrate more variation, although there are still themes to be mindful of; horror covers can be more illustrative in nature, often with a macabre or gothic tone. Photography is still common however, although where photographs are used these tend to be heavily edited in Photoshop to give a more sinister, gory or eldritch feel (I just love the word ‘eldritch’). As you might expect, darker colours are most prominent, with the exception of zombie and body-horror titles, where colour choices vary wildly.

Examples of Thriller and Horror Book Cover Design

Genre book Cover Design

Understand who you are designing for.

Whilst it can be said that not all books adhere to the design styles dictated by their closest genre, and not always to their detriment (if they are marketed sufficiently), it is worth researching and understanding the design styles of your genre.  This is a key factor readers use to identify whether your book will appeal to them, and ultimately, whether to make a purchase.


2) Download free design software.

I use Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign when creating book and ebook covers. I can’t recommend Photoshop highly enough. As a Graphic Designer and A Book Cover Designer I have been using it since 1997 when it came on CD as Adobe Photoshop 5. However these days subscriptions for high-end design software can be prohibitive for those who just need the occasional ability to design for print.

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is free, open source design software which is available for MAC and PC users, and can be a suitable alternative to Photoshop for designing book covers.

GIMP is available to download, here:


3) Choose your cover imagery carefully.

As I am sure you are already aware, choosing the right image or images for your cover is of utmost importance. Within each genre you will find certain reoccurring visual themes which extend to the use of imagery.  As we have established for example; Thriller covers often feature a carefully framed aspect of the setting for the story; a building, a street or a scene.

It is worth taking note of the design commonality amongst books or ebooks of a shared genre, this is done to help advertise the story within to the reader as being of a genre they are both familiar with and enjoy.

Image Resolution

Any images you use should be of an image resolution quality that is at a native 300dpi (dots per inch), that is 300dpi without resizing. Using images of a lower dpi will result in a loss of image and cover quality.

Stock Images vs. Custom Photography

Many book covers utilise stock imagery as either a cover image or as an element within a cover design. Commissioning a photo shoot for your cover will produce imagery that is entirely exclusive to you.  However, stock imagery is often a more cost-effective alternative for those whose budgets do not extend to commissioning a photographer. I tend to create original book and ebook cover designs by manipulating and combining stock imagery into new artwork in Photoshop.

Image Licensing

Just like fonts/typefaces, most images require licensing for commercial use, for this reason you should never use images directly sourced from a Google search as part of your cover as it is unlikely you will be able to claim the rights for use for any imagery sourced in this manner.


4) Use no more than two fonts.

Okay, so this one is more of a guideline that is dependent upon the style of your cover design.  It is inadvisable to use more than two fonts in your cover design. Often this means choosing one font for your title and one for the rest of the cover text, like author name, blurb etc.

The reason for this is that each font is itself evocative of the tone or mood of your book. Use one too any fonts and you risk diluting the overall tone of your design and confusing the reader.

Because of this, like cover imagery, fonts for your book or ebook cover should be chosen very carefully.  As mentioned previously, text on thriller book covers tends to be stark, bold characters without embellishments such as serifs. Romance novels often employ serif, italicised or handwritten style fonts to evoke a softer, more personal tone.

Many cover styles marry both serif and san-serf fonts together into one design.  For example; where the title is rendered in a serif font and for the remaining text, such as author name, a less decorative, sans-serif font is used. If done right this can be very effective, though it is still good practice to adhere to the font style choices common within your genre. You may find further research is needed here, a quick trip back to the bookshop couldn’t hurt, right?

Font licensing

Like images, many fonts require commercial usage licenses for their use. In such cases a small fee payable to the designer to allow for commercial use. It is always important to check the usage rights for any font you plan to use as part of a cover design. If you are not sure it is best to use a different font.

There are many places that you can download new fonts that are free for commercial use, but again, it is important to check to ensure that the font is free for commercial use before you use it.

Some of the websites where you can download new fonts, some of which that are free for commercial use, include:


5) Use contrasting colours if necessary.

Whether your book is destined to be published in the bookshop or online, often one tiny thumbnail of your beautiful cover or a glance from a distance is all that stands between catching a new reader’s eye and becoming lost among a sea of other titles all vying for attention.

That is why, unless you have a particularly striking cover without adding extra contrast, it can be especially useful to add a complimentary colour of high-contrast to make an important aspect, or aspects, of your cover design, like the title of your book or ebook, stand out.

The contrasting colour can be used to enhance the cover imagery although often it is better applied to the title or author name text as of course this is what your readers will take notice of when browsing for their next great read.

When used as a method of highlighting important design elements a contrasting colour should be used sparingly, otherwise what is intended to stand out to the reader is again lost into the wider design.

With and without a contrasting colour – Example 1

Colour Contrast Example 1

With and without a contrasting colour as highlight – Example 2

Colour Contrast Example 2


6) Adhere to the guidelines set by your book publisher or publishing platform.

When starting your design, it is a good idea to be familiar with the cover requirements of your publisher or ebook publishing platform rather that have to correct your design format or dimensions at a later date.

Many book and ebook publishing platforms, such as Amazon KDP and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, provide cover templates that can help guide the design process.

Spine Width

The dimensions of your cover size are critical.  Often you will not know the final cover dimensions for a full wrap (front and back) cover until your manuscript is formatted and supplied, or in the case of ebooks and Kindle publishing, uploaded to the publisher.  This is because your final number of pages will dictate spine width.

The image resolution of your final cover file should be at least 300dpi (dots per inch), any lower and your cover may appear blurry when printed.

Cover Format

I tend to create final high-quality covers as 300dpi CMYK PDF files, using an adjustment layer to colour correct as required, but again it is advisable to adhere to the requirements of your publisher.


7) Design for what inspires you.

Just as it is said that you should write the kind of stories you would want to read, and you will find your audience, the same is true of design. Once the previous 6 steps have been considered don’t be afraid to have fun with the design process and create designs that you find exciting and which you feel best represent your book or ebook.

Create Design Iterations for Comparison

One of the benefits of digital design is that you can try multiple variations of each design, it is best to keep these iterations of your designs for the next step.

Perfect Your Design

Ultimately, this stage is the most important but also the most fun, feel free to take our time, you may need to revisit the previous steps more than once.  It may have taken you months or even years to complete your manuscript, it is worth taking the time now to make sure your book or ebook cover is the very best it can be.


8) Test out your book cover designs.

In this next stage you will test out your designs on your readers.  This is easier if you have a lively and engaged set of social media followers as you can share a small selection of your designs and ask them to comment on the one that speaks to them the most. Otherwise, family and friends can be called upon to give constructive input into which of your cover designs are most exciting to them.

It is possible to become too close to a design when you have worked on it for some time, this can prevent you from forming an objective opinion. This process of inviting feedback can provide a broader insight into which cover will work best for your target readers.

Of course, my advice is to not offer a cover concept up for opinion unless you would be fully satisfied in at least considering it as your final cover design.

Don’t forget however, regardless of the feedback received, your decision on the choice of final cover design is absolute.


9) Alternatively, hire a professional book cover designer.

If designing your own cover doesn’t suit you, or you are dissatisfied with your own design efforts, you can always hire a professional book cover designer.

Each book cover designer will have their own style, or may work slightly differently, but each one will be very happy to work with you to create a cover design that is engaging and fully representative of your book.

Your professional book cover designer will be able to take your synopsis and any thoughts, requirements or suggestions you may have and turn them into an engaging and original design for your book.

Custom book cover design does not have to cost the earth either, a small investment in hiring the services of a professional designer and commissioning an eye-catching, professional book cover design can be instrumental in the success of your book.


10) Trust your designer

A professional book cover designer will be familiar with steps 1 to 8 in this list, they will also know the rules and guidelines for highly effective design and book cover design by genre and when to bend or break them for best effect.

A great designer will be able to understand and accommodate any thoughts or suggestions you may have for your cover and reinterpret the visually in the most engaging way.

The more information you can provide to your designer regarding your book, its genre and the style of cover you would like the more likely it is that they will be able to produce a stunning cover which speaks to you and your readers.

Don’t Be Afraid to Request Revisions

The best book cover designers understand that revisions are necessary to perfect designs, they expect and welcome constructive criticism and suggestions regarding the draft designs they have supplied. Above all, for the designer it is critical that you as the author are 100% satisfied with your final book or ebook cover design.


As a self published author, having a stunning and effective book cover for your book is critical; it is an advertisement for your carefully crafted written work.  your cover is an invitation to the reader to take a journey with the characters you have created.  Take your time to design the perfect cover, one that truly represents your book, and enjoy the process, it represents the conclusion of the penultimate chapter on the road to publication and the seed of a new story as a published author.

If you have any thoughts or comments after reading this article, or any questions regarding book or ebook cover design, please feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This