There is no doubt that one way to push yourself ahead of the rest when self-publishing your book is to put a really classy, professional-looking cover on the front of it. I'm probably not giving away any trade secrets there. Hiring a book designer to create a winning cover for you is no doubt the best way to go ; ) but, if you're handy with a graphic design software package and want to try it yourself or if you're working with a (non book designer) graphic designer and want to collaborate effectively throughout the process, here are my top 5 suggestions of things not to do:
1. Don't skip the research
Great books aren't created in a vacuum and neither is great design. Unless your book falls into the narrowest and the niche-iest of niches, there will be other books out there with beautiful designs on their covers whose styles you must not ignore. Go look. I personally never need an excuse to go peruse a bookshop for an hour or so at lunchtime and there is always the internet if that isn't possible. You can derive a lot of useful information about what is already out there selling to the kind of reader you want to buy your book. Take some time to research these cues to discover the design features common to your book's genre and then incorporate them into your design process. Making your book fit into its niche while remaining distinctive is the goal. And no wholesale copying. That's just wrong.
2. Think marketing first, not art.
Great book covers are things of beauty and some even achieve cult status; plastered on posters and coasters and all over coffee table books everywhere etc. When they achieve this status, then they have earned the right to be considered art. By all means, aim for iconic with your design process but think marketing first. Primarily, book covers are not meant to sell art, they are meant to sell a visual message to the right reader. Talk to your reader with your design. Forget what you want and think about what they want. They may not be the same thing.
3. Don't forget to scale down
On Amazon, your e-book is your shop front and - exactly like a shop front - you will restrict your access to potential browsers if it is not immediately obvious what you are selling. You need to grab the viewers attention in a micro-second and that will not happen if they don't know what they are looking at. The most effective e-book covers look just as good as a thumbnail as they do in B-format. They are clear, defined and, above all, legible. Any hesitation in the viewer's mind and they'll already have moved on. This also applies to customers who read on black and white Kindle devices where the colour is not going to get the job done so make sure to ramp up the contrast so you don't turn them off.
4. No lazy typography
There are a lot of differences between 'typing' and 'typography' and, in this instance, the main one is: sales. My rule of thumb is that, on a book cover, with very few exceptions, if it looks like typing, it's not finished. If it helps, forget about the title and author name on your e-book as words and think about them as images instead. The style, positioning, scale and colour of these 'images' must work perfectly with the other elements in the design for it to come off properly. And I refer here again to my point above about legibility for both big and small scale renderings. Really look and be honest: if you can't immediately read it, it's time to find something better. Look for public domain and free for commercial use fonts on websites like dafont.com and 1001fonts.com. The choice is gigantic.
5. Don't use poor quality images
Avoid low resolution, amateur photography and substandard illustration. If you are a fantastic photographer and/or gifted artist, then that's definitely a massive bonus but, if you are not, I would recommend using stock images (NB. carefully read licensing agreements before buying). If you're on a budget, the good news is that there is a wealth of really good quality public domain resources (some favourites are The Commons/ Unsplash) available that are chock-full of beautiful high res images that, with clever manipulation, you can freely use to create really wonderful effects.
Please follow me on some of my social media channels for more news and advice about book cover design and please like and share this article if you found it useful. Likewise, if you are looking for a book designer and want to discuss your jacket artwork requirements, please do not hesitate to contact me for a free no-obligation consultation.