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WritersServices Self-publishing Guide 6

Help for writers

Cover Design Know-how: Tips from a top designer on how to make your indie cover look professional and stand out from the crowd.

Joanne PhillipsFor this article, I asked designer Chris Howard for the lowdown on cover know-how.

What makes the perfect book cover?

"The cover should not give too much away but should evoke an emotional response and intrigue in the reader to make them want to pick up the book. The trick to a great cover is to either keep it simple with a powerful evocative image or have an elegantly designed illustration with close attention to colour and balance. However the image is only half the story. Designers should pay just as much attention to the placement of text. The author name and title is usually what lets most covers down and can be the difference between a professional or amateur cover."

What mistakes do self-publishing authors make when designing their own covers?

"Finding a great image is only the first step to a great cover. Authors who design their own covers, if they haven't the expertise or software, will often just place an image into a template, sometimes distorting the aspect ratio (the ratio of the book cover's height to its width). A raw photo is like a blank canvas to a designer and it is our job to transform an ordinary photo into an image that will jump out at you and demand your attention."

Other things to watch out for:

Text Size

"Most books you see on the book shelves do seem to have enormous titles and author names but this is generally because the author is so well-known and that is what is going to attract the customer. With indie authors this is not less important but new authors are not being searched for by name so we have to attract them with great eye-catching covers that also look great in thumbnail. Having said that text should always be clear and legible and of course a great title and author name becomes part of the design."

Image choice

"Choose a photo that is 300dpi, this essential for quality printing. Try and choose a photo that is already well lit and needs no extra work to make it sing. Think about whether the photo will fit into your book size as the last thing you want to do is mess with aspect ratio and squash you photos. Think about where the text can be placed so that it will not ruin the photo before you buy it!"

If you are planning to go it alone with your cover, don't, whatever you do, try to design it in Word! At the very least get yourself some proper software. As well as downloading the software, take some time to figure it out. There are video tutorials on YouTube for just about everything. Here are some software options:

Photoscape has fewer features than Photoshop, but it is free.
Adobe Photoshop is the programme most designers seem to use, but it's not cheap.
TBS Cover Editor is an entry-level programme with tons of great features, including making 3D images of your ebook cover. Judging by the screenshots on the website it's pretty easy to use, if fairly basic. Priced around £60, you can also 'try before you buy'.
BookCoverPro is popular on the forums, and priced at around £70 for the basic programme. There are lots of add-on services, but even at the basic level this looks like a good option. There are trial versions available too.

Remember, whatever programme you are using to design your cover, technical know-how cannot compensate for bad design. If you use a template, or if you don't think about your design in depth, it will look amateurish.

WritersServices Self-publishing offers a well-established assisted self-publishing service, as well as its highly-regarded copy editing and proof-reading services.

WritersServices Self-publishing Guide 1: What is self-publishing?

An explanation of self-publishing as it stands today, introducing the term ‘indie' and a brief overview of routes to market for indie authors.

WritersServices Self-publishing Guide 2

Choose Your Self-publishing Route

WritersServices Self-publishing Guide 3

EbooksDigital bookstore selling wide range of ebooks in 50 categories from Hildegard of Bingen to How to Write a Dirty Story and showing how the range of ebooks available is growing.: Formatting for Kindle

WritersServices Self-publishing Guide 4

How to format for Kindle

WritersServices Self-publishing Guide 5

Ebooks: Distributing to Other Eretailers

WritersServices Self-publishing Guide 7

Print On Demand for Indies

WritersServices Self-publishing Guide 8

Ebooks: Pricing Strategies for Indie Authors

WritersServices Self-publishing Guide 9

Marketing and Promotion for Indie Authors: Online

WritersServices Self-publishing Guide 10

Marketing and Promotion for Indie Authors: Offline


Joanne Phillips lives in Shropshire, England with her husband and young daughter. She divides her time between writing novels and freelance indexing. She's the author of commercial women's fiction Can't Live Without and The Family Trap, and the Flora Lively Investigates series of cosy mysteries. Can't Live Without was an Amazon top 100 bestseller in 2012 and her books regularly appear on category bestseller lists. Joanne blogs about writing and publishing at

Connect on:
Twitter: @joannegphillips

Chris Howard works as a freelance graphic designer producing a wide range of designs from logos, business cards, brochures, music artwork, large format designs for companies such as the Open University, and book covers for the e-book and paperback market.

Other articles by Joanne Phillips on the WritersServices site:

The Business of Writing
The Ins and Outs of Indexing
How to Market Your Book Online