The Design Department (Part 4)

Cover Design
The Design Department (Part 4)

A book’s cover introduces the reader to the content even before they peruse the first sentence. A good cover will convey the subject, tone, and genre of the work upon first glance. Plus, it’s got to stand out among thousands of other books that are also trying to catch a reader’s eye. That’s a lot of work for one image!

When you begin to plan your cover, consider:

  • Genre. Look at other books in your genre, especially those that are similar to yours in style and tone. The answers to these questions will provide you with a good starting point.
    • What do their covers look like?
    • What type of fonts do they use? Serif? Sans serif? Script? Block?
    • What type of images?
  • Mood. Within a broad genre, there are several different moods a book can strike. Select images that reflect the mood of the book will help readers know what to expect. Think about your book’s overall mood. Is it:
    • Dark?
    • Playful?
    • Business related?
  • Thumbnails. The vast majority of book sales today are made online. Thumbnails will likely provide the first exposure to your book as potential buyers scan genre lists or search results. So think small as you plan your design.
    • Use large fonts. The title and author name should be readable in thumbnail size.
    • Use legible fonts. Limit use of fancy and fine fonts. Again, as a thumbnail, these loopy or skinny fonts are difficult to read.
    • Use a clear image. View art options in full size and thumbnail size. Ensure that you can easily tell what it is in both sizes. Very busy images or those without much contrast sometimes are difficult to see when small.
  • Background. Most booksellers’ websites have plain white backgrounds, so take that into consideration in your design.
  • Branding. You can spot a book by J. K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, or Janet Evanovich from across the biggest bookstore on earth. Why? Because you know what their covers look like. You know the color palette, the type of art, and the fonts. You don’t have to see details to know their work even from a distance. They have branded their series, and you should consider branding books in the same genre even if they aren’t technically a series. The goal is for readers to be able to pick your books out even if the title and name have been removed.

Options for Cover Design

If you are serious about the book business, your cover should reflect it by looking professional too. There are three main choices for cover creation:

  • Premade Covers. Premade covers are available from many designers. Most sell each cover only once, and they offer options for creating a series theme. As part of your purchase, the designer adds your title and author name to the cover. This can be a good choice if budget is a concern.
  • Custom Cover Design. Many designers who create premade covers also offer custom designs. You choose the design direction, fonts, images, etc, but the designer does the work. They may also offer custom art or illustrations. This is a more expensive option, but it offers more customization.
  • DIY. This can be the most cost effective choice depending on your choice of art and font and the cost of design software. If you are already acquainted with graphic design software or you are willing to learn, go for it. You will need to purchase commercially licensed art and fonts.


Because you intend to use photographs or illustrations on a product that you will then sell,  you must use art that is licensed for commercial use or that is already in the public domain. Just downloading an image from the internet without compensating the artist can leave you open to lawsuits.

  • Custom Art. Genres that require extensive world-building, like fantasy and sci-fi, can beg for original art. Check out sources like Deviant Art, which provide places for writers and artists to meet and do business. Make sure you get a signed contract in writing when you commission a piece.
  • Free for Commercial Use/Public Domain Images. If you’d like to use completely free art, it’s got to be licensed as free for commercial use or in the public domain. Be certain to research the piece before you use it to be sure it is, in fact, in the public domain. Trust, but verify. You don’t want to get sued later.
  • Royalty-free Art for Sale. There are various online resources for royalty-free art. There are several sites that have millions of images to choose from all all categories, but some sites have a smaller, curated selection of a specific type of image (such as romance or fantasy images). Once you purchase and download the image, you can alter it to suit your cover. It’s also possible to purchase exclusive images, which means no other book will have the same image, but they tend to be more expensive. Be sure you fully understand the terms of use before purchase.

Sources for Art


Think of fonts as little works of art. They’ve got licensing terms of use too. Be sure the fonts you choose are licensed for commercial use. Some fonts are licensed for personal use only. Just because a font is free to download does not mean it is licensed for commercial use. 

Sources for Fonts

Remember: you only have once chance to make a first impression. In the bookselling world, it’s not your writing that makes the first impression. It’s the cover. Do not skimp on it. Do it right.