DIY Book Covers: A Primer

If you can’t judge a book by its cover, hire a better graphic designer. – Helvetica

In recent years, it’s become a trend for self-published authors to create their own book covers, and for various reasons. This allows the author to control their vision, many a writer has heard the horror stories of traditional publishers doing what they wanted or what they thought would sell instead of something actually reflecting the story.


And they will do whatever sells.

For some, it’s a financial necessity, many eBooks are published under a tight budget after all.

There are many reasons why hundreds of authors every day decide “Hey, I’m a creative person, I can just do my own cover!” But it’s not so easy and despite the old adage, far too many judge a book by its looks.

From my experience in the graphic design field, here are a few top tips for you. All of the examples came from best of and worst of lists and it should be fairly easy to tell which is which:

Contrast, Contrast, Contrast

I cannot stress this enough. No book cover should be made of elements  that are too similar, that’s boring and makes your cover look underwhelming. The last thing you want to do is undersell your hard work.

It also helps separate different types of information (title, author name, quotes or reviews, awards, etc.) which makes it easier for a potential reader to discern what is going on. The last thing you want is a confused customer, they will not pick up your book if they don’t know what it is.

There are a lot of types of contrast like color contrast:


Note how the one on the left has so much more color and style and is easier to read than the one on the left? Where is the author’s name located and how easy is it to find?

There’s also size contrast:


And font contrast:


Contrast brings covers to life and makes information easier to read, simpler to discern, and gives you a better chance of hooking readers.

But Don’t Overdo It


Oh, Time Ninja, you are a beautiful mess.

While this may be an extreme example, I strongly encourage authors doing their own covers to tone it down. This is one of the number one mistakes I see in self-published books.

Maybe don’t use that royalty-free model picture that almost looks like your main character. Maybe overlaying this-and-that-and-also-the-other-thing with transparencies is not to your best advantage. Perhaps that font would look better plain instead of with a drop shadow, gradient, and 2002-style bevel effect.

Don’t forget the KISS rule: Keep It Simple, Silly!


The visual equivalent of a three-chord song. Here’s Wonderwall.

If You Break the Rules, Break ‘Em Right

You may be saying to yourself ‘But November, I’ve seen a million book covers that don’t follow those rules!‘ And it’s true. There are many award-winning books and book covers that don’t conform to these guidelines.

But when you break rules, you have to know why and how, and break only one rule at once.


Here, there is no real contrast in size, color, or font type BUT the cover is incredibly simple. It’s easy to read.


This one is uniform in almost every way when it comes to the title and information, but that’s all there is aside from some colors and textures that don’t take away from the type. You still understand what is going on.

Above All Else, Be Clever

Clever isn’t expensive sets or difficult layering or “2001 Photoshop Tips You Have to Use RIGHT NOW”.

Clever can be simple. Clever makes you go ‘hmm’. Clever makes us snicker in the bookstore or flip over the back or the dust cover to learn more because the cover made you stop and stare.


Clever doesn’t ask much of your time because a second is all you get. But once you get someone interested in that second, the rest is up to you.



Need A Cover?

Maybe after looking these examples over, you’ve decided maybe it’s better to hire out. You could always go to Fiverr or Upwork or ask your cousin who is working on their BFA.

Or, since we’ve gotten so friendly, you can contact me.

Prices vary depending on your needs, but I am happy to work with your vision and ideas – I’m a writer too and understand what it means to have a strong concept brewing.

Here are a few examples of my work:

shape of love-1a


faehunter card-b



Feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss concepts or designs.



Crazy Beautiful Book Covers – Penguin Random House
The 50 Coolest Book Covers – Shortlist


26 Hilariously Bad Book Covers – BuzzFeed
40 Worst Book Covers – BoredPanda

Honorable Mention:



See Also:

Faehunter Prospective Cover
What to do With A Writer’s Block
Soundtracks to Write Fantasy To

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