January 9, 2023

4 ways indie authors go wrong designing book covers

By BlueInk Review

oh no u diddntA book’s cover serves as its advertisement. It tells readers what to expect inside, and hopefully sells that content with visual sizzle. Think of it as a mini billboard: It’s purpose is to catch the reader’s eye and convey a message in the time it takes someone to speed on by.

But too often, self-publishing authors squander this important opportunity with covers that mislead readers or look embarrassingly amateur.

At BlueInk Review, we’ve reviewed nearly 5,000 self-published titles – and looked at nearly 5,000 covers. We often find ourselves frustrated and baffled by what we see. Among the many common mistakes we run across:

1. Cover designs that obscure type: It always stuns us when authors use design elements that make it impossible to read the text on their book covers. Amazingly, we receive many covers that are so dark – often with black and brown backgrounds—that the type is completely unreadable. Equally offputting are the covers that use such fancy fonts that it would take a detective to decipher the meaning of all those squiggles and curls.

It’s fine to have an interesting cover design, but if that design obscures the print, you might as well spend that design money on a new trash can – one big enough to hold 1,000 copies of your newly printed self-published book. The most basic job of a cover is to convey information. Make sure that information is readable without someone breaking a sweat trying to de-code things.

2. Books that look like the wrong genre: Publishers have developed distinct looks for various types of books through the years. You’ll notice that each genre uses similar art on the covers: a beautiful, classy woman on upmarket women’s fiction, a hot male on a romance book. Suspense novels often have silver, red or yellow covers, with the author’s name in black type. Business books are often navy blue and green. This way, readers can quickly recognize the type of book they are looking for, even if they’re breezing through an airport bookstore minutes before their flight boards.

Too often, self-publishing authors produce books that with covers conveying the wrong genre. We have received fiction books that look like textbooks, textbooks that look like young adult novels, young adult novels that look like adult romance. This makes it that much harder for authors to connect with their target audience.

Moral of story: Study the current books in your genre, and then design a cover that mimics those successful titles so readers of the genre can quickly recognize its contents. Otherwise, at best, you’ll miss your target readers. At worst, those who buy your book thinking it’s one thing will feel cheated to discover that it’s something else — much like someone picking what they think is a caramel from a box of chocolates, only to find it’s the dreaded coconut they were trying to avoid.

3. Misplaced author bios and story descriptions: Readers shopping for books follow an age-old browsing routine: They check out the title, then flip the book over and look at the top of the back cover for a description of what’s inside and below that, a brief author bio. Some self-publishers seem bent on frustrating these potential buyers, often foregoing the description altogether or burying it at the bottom of the jacket, underneath an author bio that’s as long as the Gettysburg Address. This immediately exposes the author as an amateur.

When positioning your back cover copy, follow the convention that nearly every traditionally published book uses: Write a crisp, enticing summary of the book and place it at the TOP of the back cover. Keep your author bio brief and anchored near the BOTTOM of the back cover.

Your potential readers will be thrilled they were able to find both without a GPS device.

4. Amateur cover images: Is your grandson an aspiring artist? That’s nice. But that doesn’t mean you should use him to draw your cover art. You might as well ask a kid who likes to tinker with electronics to design your next car. If you want your book to be taken seriously, make sure it looks every bit as professional as any book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.

Which brings us to our main point: If you want to play on the same field as traditional publishers, you have to know the rules. Study book jackets from big publishers, particularly books in your genre, and do your best to imitate them. Traditional publishers have spent millions in marketing money to discover what works. All you have to do is spend a couple hours at the bookstore. If you ask us, that’s a pretty good deal.

BlueInk Review is a fee-based book review service devoted to self-published titles exclusively. For more news and writing and marketing tips, sign up for our mailing list. And be sure and visit us at https://www.blueinkreview.com

3 thoughts on “4 ways indie authors go wrong designing book covers

  1. Patti Thorn says:

    Gordon: We feel strongly that a self-published book jacket should adhere to the same format as traditionally published books. This makes your project look polished and professional and doesn’t make it stand out as “self-published.” Also, people looking at the book may not flip through the pages to see the Author bio — and sometimes that information can help sell the book. When in doubt, stick with the format publishers use. You can’t go wrong with that.

  2. How does this approach strike you? I have elected to use a modified option re: the back cover content. And that is to include Author Photo at top left corner, then ABOUT THE BOOK, (actually says something) then at bottom, Publisher Logo and bar code. The AUTHOR BIO page shows up early in the front pages (page 6) after Inside Title page, Acknowledgements, and Highlights/contents.
    Granted a buyer has to flip through a few beginning pages, and I believe the tradeoff is that the Bio page is, again, one that actually says something to qualify me as the Author.
    I’m not a best seller with bragging rights (yet)!
    Your thoughts?

  3. #5 Templates, that make your jacket look like every other.

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