Do it yourself book covers – Part One – Introduction

When I published my first book, I was lucky in that I knew someone who was a talented graphic designer. I gave him a brief and he came back to me with some wonderful images. This worked fine until the designer was no longer available and I was faced with a dilemma. Get a new designer or do it myself. I opted for the latter.

You might think that this was a bit presumptuous of me, after all I’m a writer not a designer. However, I had worked at the BBC for nearly fifteen years with some of the best designers around and a fair bit of it was bound to rub off on me. So, every cover since book nine – The Tiger’s Back – has been done by me. It’s not up to me to judge my own work but I get my readers, who sanity check my books before publication, to also comment on the covers. So far, so good.

But it’s a lot of work and what do I really get out of it?

It’s certainly cheaper than hiring someone but, for me, the real gain is having the cover say exactly what I want it to say. Some covers, especially with crime books, look like they’ve come off a factory line. You know, big letters, dark moody background with a solitary figure in silhouette. I actually wanted my covers to reflect the story inside. It’s my hope that, once someone had read one of my books, they will look at the cover again in a new light. Also, I think that having my covers look a little bit different might help them to stand out from the crowd.

So, do book covers help sell books? Well, one thing I have learned is that a poor cover can certainly depress sales as this is exactly what happened to me. To explain, I had a problem a few years ago with my first book, The Body in the Boot. I wanted to advertise it on Kindle lock screens but there appeared to be some problem with the font on the cover. I redesigned the cover myself (not one of my better efforts) and sales dropped like a stone. On reintroducing the original cover, they picked up again. I have never tried to alter a book cover after publication since. After that it took me a while to build up enough confidence to have another stab at it.

In looking at the two covers above, I’m struck by the fact that they are kind of related. For The Body in the Boot, I wanted something that might not look out of place in a 1940’s film noir poster. For The Tiger’s Back my inspiration was the lurid True Detective magazines that my mum used to read in the 1950’s when I was a child.

So, in this short series of posts, I’ll touch on –

  • How to compile your cover – some simple techniques for putting a cover together using basic software
  • Using images – some ideas around what you can and can’t use
  • Ebooks and paperbacks – the differences between an ebook and a paperback cover

However, the first step is to write your book. Once your book is complete, has been vetted by your readers and all the rewrites are done then that’s the time to start on your book cover. However, it will do no harm to at least think about your cover as you write and even jot down a few ideas but, spending a lot of time on your cover before the book is finished is, I think, tempting fate a little. Once you are happy with your cover then get your readers to comment on it too. If you get any dislikes or even lukewarm comments then be prepared to go back and design the cover from scratch. Remember, you are not the reader.

If you can make it work then you will have even more control over the very first thing your readers see when looking at your book and, hopefully, your cover will be both successful and a little different to everyone else’s.

In Part 2, I will be looking at How to Compile your Book Cover.

2 thoughts on “Do it yourself book covers – Part One – Introduction

  1. I think some genres are easier and more forgiving than others when it comes to authors designing their own covers.
    I’m glad to see you’re saying your cover isn’t for you (the author), however in general it’s also not for your existing readers either (unless it’s a limited special edition one) – they’ll buy your books on the strength of the story if they liked the previous one in the series – the cover is there to grab new readers in the genre who’ve never heard of you or your stories – to bring in that new readership that wouldn’t have found you otherwise – and that’s why I think it’s super important to understand the genre’s cover tropes rather than relying on what your existing readers like or don’t, because you already have them as readers. Just my 2 cents.


    • Karen I see that you’re a designer and I understand where you’re coming from. If I was say, a science fiction author, I think that I’d find it somewhat more difficult. I also think it’s good to understand a genre’s tropes which is why I spent days scrolling down search results for crime books in Amazon. TBH they all started melding together and I made a decision, with my designer, to go with something that was a little different, something that I hope I’ve carried on. The posts aren’t aimed at those authors who can afford to hire a designer, even I will admit that it’s usually the best way to go. It’s for those on limited budgets for whom not having a cover might be blocking them from publishing their books.


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