Self-Publishing: Creating a Book Cover

We all know the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, but it’s a truth that a lot of us do. They’re eye-catching and make us look, but they’re also a shortcut: they give us an indication of what the book is about, and what’s inside. Swooning lady not wearing much? I don’t do romance. Spaceships and lasers? Ugh, sci-fi. Plain text and plain color? Hmm, boring.

Unfortunately book covers are a major, major part of the marketing of your book. They’re also hard to get right, but you know when they are – or when they’re just not quite what you want! So, here’s some thoughts on how to make sure you’ve got an eye-catching and marketable cover for your writing.

A book cover needs to do two things:

  1. give information about the book
  2. make the reader curious

And that’s basically it. Simple eh?

Hard Information

This is definite, precise information that you need to have on the cover. There’s usually a place allocated for this – for example, you’ll look for the title in large letters, the author’s name in smaller ones, the ISBN on the back…although the format can be varied, it’s usually within fairly standard guidelines.

  • Your name

This is the name you want to be known by as an author, and the name that might be used elsewhere – for example, on your personal website, or in any promotional materials. It’s quite confusing if you’re calling yourself “Tommy Smith”, and the name on a cover is “T Smith” – I’ll be searching for books by “Tommy”. Make sure everything matches so people can find your work

You can add some optional extras:

  • Reviews or taglines: “the best book in the world!”
  • The publisher
  • If it’s part of a series

Soft Information

As we said previously, book covers are a shortcut to what’s inside. The cover tells the reader about the genre, the style, and possibly something about the plot – and all this information is much more to do with the design and the style used.

If you do any reading in your chosen genre, you’re probably already aware of some of the conventions. If not, go and have a look at your local bookshop or online for a selection of the latest titles, and you’ll probably start seeing similarities.

Creating your Cover

So, you’ve got two options: find someone else to do it, or do it yourself.

There’s plenty of cover creation services out there; a quick search will give you suggestions! Check out what exactly they offer, if they’ll just design the front and then the rest is up to you, or if you get a full cover, and what sort of timeframe you’re looking at. It’s also worth checking out what rights you have to the cover; usually the creator will retain copyright, and you’ll just license it for use on your book. That’s worth considering if you’re thinking about using it in promotional materials at all.

If you want to create your own, there’s a couple of steps:

Finding the image

  • free images; try Wikimedia Commons as a starting point.
  • DeviantArt or other artists’ sites; you can often pay a specific artist for the rights to use their image.

Although there’s a lot of temptation to go down the “find an image on Google, no one will know” route, it’s not worth it. Make sure you’ve got legal rights to your cover art; after all, it’s what everyone will see!

You also need to be careful about what rights you have to the image; very often (particularly with free images) the licences will only allow non-commercial sharing, and that means you won’t be able to make money off the image. Check what the rights are before you use any images.


The major thing here is to make sure it’s readable! While a twirly font looks excellent, if people can’t read the title, they won’t be able to find your book – or recommend it!

If you’re looking for a font yourself, Google Web Fonts or FontSquirrel are good places to start. It’s also worth trying out a few similar freebies, just to see what style works best, before committing to buying one.


While there are a number of software options out there (Adobe InDesign is the industry standard, but there are a large number of free or cheaper options) if you’re using a self-publishing tool, most of these will allow you to design your cover at the same time as uploading your text, buying an ISBN and publishing the book.

If you’ve got an image and decided on a font, then you’re set! Just remember to include all of the information from above, and you’ll have an eye-catching selling point to showcase your work.

Green Sky & Sparks

by Kate Coe


Find yourself transported to a different world. The author really draws you in with her descriptions. I felt as though I could picture the whole landscape.
Sara Ellis

Kate Coe
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