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How do I choose a cover for my self-published book?

6 Simple Steps to Finally Finish Your First Draft

a book coach's secrets to generating ideas, organizing chapters, & writing productively

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Choose a book cover

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

It’s a common phrase for a reason – we DO judge books by their covers!

Some studies have shown that up to 80% of people are initially interested in a book because of its cover, and up to 60% of people will choose whether or not to buy a book (even after they’ve read the back cover) based on the visual design of the cover itself.

One of the key aspects of choosing to self-publish your book is the joy of being able to maintain creative control over your interior and exterior design, which most publishing companies will quickly take from you.

Whether you’re still considering self-publishing or you’re fully committed to it, many authors find that the book cover design process is even more dreaded than the editing process.

“How do I condense the meaning of my book into one visual design?”

“I can’t even draw a book, let alone design one!”

“How will I know which cover is the right one?”

Add in the fact that when you’re selling your book online, the cover matters EVEN MORE than it does in a physical bookstore. When people can’t get the experience of holding your book, they depend that much more on the design of your book cover (and the book’s title) to make their purchasing decision.

So … how do you choose a cover for your self-published book?

1. Think Like Your Reader

People buy non-fiction books to learn something they don’t know. Whether it’s a solve a problem or expand their current realm of knowledge, people buy non-fiction books for a purpose.

When they’re browsing through a bookstore or online store, they’re going to head right for the section that has the types of books that will solve their problem.

Spend at least 30 minutes on Amazon.com, searching for the key topic of your book. Since your book isn’t on the market yet, browse around to see what books people are buying NOW to solve their problem.

What do the covers look like?

What do you like about the covers?

What do you NOT like about the covers?

Which covers draw you in and make you want to click?

Take notes on colors, photographs versus graphics, placement of the title, and anything else that catches your eye (or immediately turns you off).

Bonus: Start saving the images of the book covers that really grab your eye – even if they aren’t the same topic as your book! These covers will be an inspiration for when you start the book cover design process.

2. Understand the Emotions of Color

As a means of survival, your brain operates mostly on split-second judgments.

Is it safe? Is it not safe?

Is it familiar? Is it not familiar?

Is it friendly? Is it not friendly?

You’re making these decisions all day, every day, including when you’re looking at book covers.

One of the key factors influencing your split-second judgment is color. If you’ve ever watched a multi-colored sunset, encountered a poisonous creature, or been instantly drawn to a product in a store, then you’ve experienced the emotional power of color.

While the specific emotions and split-second judgments of colors can vary from culture to culture (America sees red as dominating while Japan sees red as good luck), there are some overarching emotions that each color can trigger:

Red = passionate, powerful, confident, aggressive, important

Pink = feminine, innocent, young, sensitive, nurturing

Purple = deep, creative, luxurious, mysterious, unconventional

Green = growth, balanced, generosity, stability, good judgment

Blue = inviting, ambitious, serene, trustworthy, modern

Orange = warmth, optimism, freedom, energetic, playful

Gray = neutral, formal, gloomy, calm, balanced

Black = sophisticated, edgy, mysterious, strong, authoritative

You’ll notice that some of the emotions are listed in more than one color, lending to the variation in how people perceive a color individually based on their personal experience.

While these are not hard and fast rules, if you’re looking to publish a book that is comforting and supportive, using red or orange wouldn’t be the way to go.

You can use the emotions of color as an overall guideline when considering options for your book cover to help elicit the natural reaction you hope people will have to your book cover.

Bonus: If you already have an established business, compile your branding information to share with designers – colors, fonts, graphics … etc. When your book cover matches your already established branding, it will be much more recognizable to your followers (and new fans).

3. Keep It Simple. Keep It Simple. Keep It Simple.

You don’t want an ugly book cover, right? An ugly book cover is a cluttered book cover.

Ugly book covers also include:

  • Tiny text
  • Fonts all the same size
  • Unappealing colors
  • Too many pictures and graphics – or none at all

You don’t want an ugly book cover.

What does a successful self-published book cover look like?

Here are a few of our best-selling covers to-date:

  

Heidi’s book focuses on relieving pain at home and work due to sitting for long periods of time. She chose calm, relaxing blues and a powerful graphic image that speaks directly to the topic of her book.

Joey’s book is for millennial entrepreneurs looking to start and run a successful business. He chose a strong, authoritative black background while adding bits of innovative color in a design that speaks directly to his young, creative audience.

Mercedes’s book is for parents who want to have a healthy, communication-filled relationship with their kids without shame. Mixing warm, energetic orange with inviting, trustworthy blue, the large graphic on the cover symbolizes the many ways a family can be healthy and shame-free.

Successful book covers include:

  • Modern, clean fonts
  • Only 1-2 fonts
  • A variety of font sizes for emphasis
  • Striking, contrasting colors
  • 1-2 images or graphics

Bonus: Return to that collection of book covers you created in Step 1 and see how those covers that caught your eye compared to the ugly versus successful book cover elements.


When we work with authors, we set aside an entire month to work on the book cover design. From getting an initial pool of possible designs to narrowing them down, asking friends and followers for their favorite choice, and tweak it until it’s publish-worthy.

With an experienced Project Manager supporting you through the entire book cover design process, choosing a book cover for your self-published book may actually be your favorite part of the process.


Bio: Victoria Klein is a two-time published author and the VP of Productions for Paper Raven Books. Formerly PRB’s Book Project Manager, Victoria has helped numerous authors through the book publishing process from start to finish. Through her monthly posts, she’ll reveal the biggest concerns and mistakes of self-publishing authors, and how to solve them.

6 Simple Steps to Finally Finish Your First Draft

a book coach's secrets to generating ideas, organizing chapters, & writing productively

GET THE GUIDE NOW