The Ebook Cover: Graphic Design for the Under-Confident

Part two of two in a mini-series on ebook covers. The first part was about meeting marketplace specifications in the simplest way possible. Here we’re going to talk about the ebook cover design itself.

Graphic Design

Books get judged by their covers. One cannot over-stress how important visuals are for making a sale. Are you a graphic designer? How many clients have contracted your services? Unless your answer to this question is a non-zero positive integer, you might want to find someone else to help you.

Of all the aspects of producing an ebook as an individual who is self-publishing or as a small business, this is the one thing you really should consider outsourcing if you do not have the skills ready at your disposal. The human beast is a visual animal. It doesn’t matter what the inside of your book is like–nobody will see it if the outside screams unprofessional and low-quality product.

That’s an exaggeration. Actually professional publishers put out a lot of mediocre covers, and those books still sell. The cover is less-than-optimal because they are keeping production costs down, while the book still makes it into consumers’ hands because they have a great big marketing machine at their disposal. The difference between you and them is that you don’t have the goliath marketing machine. A great cover can only help you overcome this handicap.

The Blue Fox by Sjon (Bjartur, 2003)

A fine cover in my opinion. Anybody else get the sense Sjón is attempting to make a brand of himself? (Image: Bjartur)

For the bold DIYer who is not frightened by this attempt at intimidation, a few basic design guidelines can help you out. Like guidelines in any artistic medium, they are meant to be broken and fudged, but in general:

  • Title font = BIG. Want that attention? Grab it by the horns and look it in the eye. I don’t know why I am suddenly thinking about bull fighting.
  • Well, actually let me qualify that: whatever has the strongest brand (or branding potential) should be the largest / most conspicuous element. If that’s the title, make that the biggest type on the cover. If it is the author’s name, make that bigger than the title. (This happens with popular authors like Stephen King a lot.) If the strongest selling point is the series to which it belongs (think Harry Potter, Tweenlight, Fifty Tones of Dull Colors) then make sure that this element is very visible. Heck, if you are a periodical putting out an anthology or a special monograph, the name of the periodical or publisher could even be the most important element.
  • The color contrast between elements of your cover should be great enough that your cover is recognizable in thumbnail, because that is how people browsing an online store are going to first see it. The text should be readable against the background and “pop”–ideally speaking.
  • Avoid stock images when possible. And for the love of Zeus, stay away from clip art. You want images that are exclusive to your asset, not images that are associated with other products and services or which look like they could be. You want a distinctive cover, not one that is or could be used to sell antidepressants or a dating site or who knows what else. As for clip art: unless you are assembling a Power Point and the year is 1997, it is going to look unprofessional. Don’t do it. Yes, your database of Office clip art constitutes a wellspring of royalty-free content, but think of it as a desperate last resort. If you find yourself tempted to use stock images, the simple answer is to go out and take a photo of something. Doesn’t matter if you don’t have a pro camera or you aren’t a great photographer–it will still beat cheap stock images. At the very least it will be distinctive and not look like the worst kind of Internet sidebar ad. But if you find yourself guilty of these design crimes, you can feel better knowing even the big guys cut corners. See how even big publishing houses are guilty of stock image overuse.
  • Finally, if you are making your own cover from scratch, make sure it starts out at over 1400 px wide so you do not have to enlarge it later, which may compromise image quality.


As I mentioned previously, you must have a commercial use license for any font that is not in the public domain or which did not come with a license along with Office, Adobe Creative Suite, or whatever software. But importantly, you should avoid certain cliched fonts and choose a font that complements the look of your title and your cover image. The best selections will be distinctive without being too far out there…Unless that’s exactly what you’re looking for, of course. One may find numerous free fonts that allow for commercial use at

Composing a Passable Cover that Might Just Sell…

The best thing you can do is study book covers that you think are effective. Find any bookshelf and browse. Or just cruise Amazon a bit. Make a list, if only a mental list, of your favorite book covers. Consider how they did things. Consider how they are like your book and how they are different.

Book Covers

A selection of book covers. Notice Madame Bovary makes use of a stock image, both Bovary and Potter have muddy color contrast, and Annals of the Former World uses relatively small text. Design is an art, not a science…and one subject to a budget…

Most Importantly

A final tip: solicit feedback and take it with grace. Your cover should be a process, not a product until the moment of publication. 

One Reply to “The Ebook Cover: Graphic Design for the Under-Confident”

  1. Pingback: Sheridan Programmers Guild · The Ebook Cover: How to Meet Requirements–Size, Format, Legal

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