Journey of a Self-Published Author: Lessons About Cover Design

Sara Marks
3 min readNov 27, 2020


Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

Every person I know what told to not judge a book by its cover. I think we all know that we do judge a book by its cover every time we consider reading a book. If a cover is our first draw to a book, it’s critical to make sure you have a cover that communicates the important information about your book. Today I want to share my tips for cover design.

1- Even if you aren’t writing to a market, your book cover needs to communicate the genre and what readers expect to see. For example, romance readers don’t always respond well to illustrated covers. They assume it’s Chick Lit. Science Fiction readers want to see space, planets, or spaceships. Thriller readers want a foreboding aura on their covers. Look up the other books in your genre and see what those covers look like.

2- Never use Amazon’s templates! Templates aren’t bad. Canva, the graphic design app/webpage has some amazing cover templates to use. Amazon’s are… lacking. They look amateurish and that’s the last thing you want a reader to think. Your self-published book is just as good, and sometimes better, than traditionally published books. Make sure your cover communicates that.

3- Low budget? Consider a pre-designed cover. I’ve used a pre-designed cover twice. The prices are typically under $150 per ebook cover. The creator posts the cover with filler text and when you buy it, they will personalize it for you. Make sure they aren’t going to sell the cover to anyone else. These designers usually understand the needs of the genre.

4- Be careful if you hire a designer on Fiverr or similar gig sites. I would suggest buying your own cover image from a stock photo website. This ensures you have the license to use it as a book cover. I’ve done this three times, with short story collections related to my chick lit novels. I know what type of image I want so I buy it myself. People have often discovered problems when they rely on the designer's collection of images. There is a low profit margin for these designers so expect to see reused cover images.

5- Hire a cover designer, not just a graphic designer. There are best practices and genre preferences. There are cover designers who specialize in different genres. They will know what readers are looking for. Personalized book covers can cost about $250 each. Make sure they won’t use the same cover for someone else.

Photo by Victoria Bilsborough on Unsplash

6- If you’re going with an illustrated cover, make sure that you’re genre readers will expect an illustrated cover. Not all illustrators know the rules of cover design but if you really want this make sure you go over the rules with them. Are there margins between the edge and any lettering/words (the answer is yes for paperbacks and maybe for ebooks)? I love illustrated covers for my chick lit books, which is a genre that expects a level of illustration on book covers. They can be expensive, like $700- $1000 depending on who the illustrator is.

7 — What does your cover look like as a thumb nail? Can you read the title and recognize the elements on the cover. Many of your readers are going to be buying online so its important that they be able to see cover details on their phone and vendors webpage.

I hope these seven tips help you with the cover design process for your book. If you have others, feel free to share them in the comments!



Sara Marks

Sometimes I have a plan, sometimes I fly by the seat of my pants. Curious Unicorn, Librarian, Author, & Knitter.