Derek Murphy is the bestselling author of several books including Book Cover Design Secrets You Can Use to Sell More Books. Derek has a wealth of experience in the publishing industry as a professional editor, cover designer, consultant, keynote speaker, and bestselling author.
In today’s show, Derek and Tom discuss what it takes to create a bestselling book cover for eBooks and physical books, and what to look for in a professional cover designer. You’ll learn some key insights, ideas, and strategies for getting the most out of your book covers using fonts, images, and designs that stand out from the crowd while connecting with your readers.
Derek started working in the publishing industry in college. During his senior year he worked as a freelance editor for several authors. He began designing covers around the same time. Derek knew the basics of Photoshop and began offering free cover design services for his editing clients.
Derek’s cover design skills were in such demand that he started a second website to offer his cover design skills to the market. It’s a very successful business because authors are willing to pay quite a bit for cover design because it’s the face of their book.
There’s not much competition for artists who are doing high-quality cover designs for books.
Why Your Book Cover Matters
A book cover is brand packaging for your story and author brand.
A lot of authors see the book cover as just one element of many that they have to get right to publish. A book cover is the packaging that goes on the digital bookshelf. If your book cover isn’t good people will just scroll by your book and they won’t pick it up.
Your book cover is the presentation of your story to the world.
- Attention grabber
- First impression
Having a professional cover is more than just one piece of the publishing puzzle. It’s the entry-level cost of putting your book on an equal footing in the indie marketplace. If you don’t have a good cover for your book no one will help you market it.
Think of a book cover like a movie trailer. If a movie trailer isn’t any good, chances are you’re not going to go see the movie. The same principle applies to book covers. If you don’t have a good book cover people, probably aren’t going to take a chance on your book.
Book covers are especially challenging because people make split second decisions about what they like and don’t like.
When you ask for feedback from friends on Facebook, they’re going to really look at and pay attention to your cover. But when your cover is on Amazon, people are just going to scroll by without thinking about it—unless it grabs their attention and makes them want to click it right away!
What a Professional Book Cover Looks like
A professional book cover:
- Looks like a book cover that fits the category the book is in
- Looks like one piece of art rather than random elements smashed together on the cover image
- Looks like the text was made to go on the artwork
The way you put text on the artwork, and the way the text looks on the cover is one of the most important elements of cover design.
A lot of authors get concerned about the details when it comes to cover design. Details are important, but the only thing that really matters is whether or not someone clicks on your cover. Once a customer clicks on your cover they don’t care about the cover design because they’ll be reading your description, the reviews, previewing the book, or buying it.
How Derek Designs Book Covers
A book cover should look like other bestsellers in its category. There is a myth in indie publishing circles that your book cover should stand out and look different than other books in your category.
The truth is you want your book to look similar to the top twenty bestsellers in your category. You want your cover to use similar elements of design, because readers need to be able to tell which genre your book is in just by looking at the cover.
If your book looks completely different than other books in your category, readers aren’t going to trust that your book is a book they will like. If you’re writing a paranormal vampire romance it should look something like twilight and other best-selling paranormal vampire romances. It should NOT look like a bloody horror novel, because that will turn off your romance readers.
“When designing a book cover, choose something that is a representative of that category or subgenre. Make something better but not totally different. Give the reader an idea of what the book is about.” – Derek Murphy
You Only Have One Second to Grab Someone’s Attention
It’s important to remember that book covers flash by in a second. That’s why you have to be sure that your cover represents the genre of your story. You want the book cover feel like it belongs in that category.
People aren’t making conscious decisions in one second or less. All those decisions are happening on an unconscious, instinctive level.
If you have a romance story and you put a cover on it that is dark and scary and has red the color of blood, romance readers aren’t going to buy that book. They won’t even click on it. And you’ll get horror readers clicking on your book and not buying it. That’s bad news all around for your book sales because it will lead to a poor conversion rate and your book will get lost in Amazon’s marketplace.
The purpose of the cover is to get the audience’s attention and get them to click on the product link. From there you can worry about convincing readers to buy your book.
Nonfiction Book Covers
Nonfiction book must have an image or design that grabs the attention of the reader.
One cover trope Derek has seen used successfully is to combine two images in a new and interesting way on your nonfiction book cover.
The purpose of a nonfiction book cover is to make your audience stop and think about what the cover means and what it represents.
One of the easiest tools cover designers have at their disposal is contrast. Visual contrast draws the eye of the audience. You can use a color wheel to find colors that naturally contrast with one another.
Orange and Teal is the number one contrasting color pair. Two thirds of all movie poster posters use some combination of orange and Teal because the contrast draws the eye.
Red is usually paired with black or grey because red and green make everyone think of Christmas.
Yellow and purple can also work but they’re less visually pleasing and so that color pairing is used less.
Another way to produce contrast is to have a dark border with a light center. It can get the image in the center a sort of 3-D look.
Design Techniques That Help Sell Books
Use Bebas Neue font for your nonfiction book and/or your thriller/action title.
It’s important you use a font that goes with the genre of your story. Derek has a list of three hundred fonts categorized by genre.
Most genres don’t require a stylized font. But if you’re doing a paranormal story or young adult novel, and especially if you’re doing paranormal young adult, it’s worth paying the money to get a font that fits that genre.
How to Choose Images for Your Cover
Some people say you should avoid using stock photos because everyone’s going to use them.
If you’re going to use stock photos, check the top one hundred books in your category and make sure they’re not using the same picture. People don’t generally search categories beyond the top one hundred, so don’t worry about using a stock photo if it’s the best image for your cover and it’s not already being used in the top books in your genre.
Don’t use the perfect photo. If you are writing a vampire romance and you find the perfect vampire romance photo, you don’t just want to use that photo without changing it significantly. A lot of authors in your genre are going to want to use the same photo, so you’ll get better results with a less “perfect” stock photo that you can edit and manipulate in Photoshop to create a unique design for your cover.
Consider hiring someone to change the photo that you buy from a stock photo site. You can buy a stock photo and alter it significantly enough that it’s not instantly recognizable as a copy of the parent photo.
You can also go the route of buying a generic photo that not everyone will want to use. When you do that, you’ll still want to alter the photo so that it’s more stylized and unique than the original that you bought from the stock photo site.
What you want to avoid is taking an image directly from a stock photo site and simply putting the title text over the image to create the cover. That’s what the majority of your competition will be doing, and you can tell in a second that it’s not the same as a professionally designed cover. You want to stand out.
Another technique that works well is blending two or three stock images on one book cover to make it unique.
If you’re just starting out do whatever you can to publish quality work cheaply so you can keep publishing. If that means using a stock photo with generic text over it to attract readers, that can be okay.
“It depends. Especially if you’re publishing a lot of stuff. A really amazing photo is probably going to be better for you than something you made that isn’t very good. So, even if twenty people are using the same cover art, even if they show up in your genre, at least it gets people to buy your book. And if your book is better, I don’t think readers really care. If the cover looks really good they’re not going to say ‘I saw this image on some other cover.’ They know it’s an indie published book.” – Derek Murphy
When you’ve built an author platform and have a fan base, and the income to spend more for cover designs, that’s when you want to invest in more professionally designed covers.
Your audience will expect that.
Wool: a Case Study
Wool by Hugh Howey is a great case study. The first cover of wool was really bad design-wise. There was a picture of a character staring through a dusty window with the word Wool written over a spring meadow.
That cover only make sense after you’ve read the book.
Wool’s new cover is just a solid background with wool written in big letters. It doesn’t have anything readers have to figure out. It’s definitely possible to change your cover when you have the means to do so. Changing a cover can help you sell more books.
Deviantart.com is a great place to go if you want to find unique art that no one else is using. It’s a community of artists that share art with each other. You can use the community to make connections and find cover artists.
Deviant art has a lot of photos of people posing as different things like vampires and fairies. If you find a photo that you think you can alter to make a good cover you just have to negotiate with the creator of the photo. Sometimes they’ll just want attribution. Often Derek will give the photographer $100 for an image.
A professional photographer would charge around two thousand dollars for you to be able to use their image on your cover. $100 for the right to use a photo is a good deal.
Derek has also made deals where he pays more money after they sell ten thousand copies. That makes it more fair for the artist.
Characters on Your Book Cover
A lot of authors want the model in their book cover to match their main character exactly. That’s not necessary. The main job of the book cover is to get someone to buy the book. If they buy your book and like it there not going to go back and make sure the character on the cover perfectly fits the description of the character in the book.
Changing eye color and hair color is comparatively easy. It’s harder to change the clothes that a character is wearing.
A lot of authors want to put the most important scene in the book on the cover. That’s not a good idea. You don’t want to give away too much on your book cover. People aren’t going to care about minute the details of your cover.
It’s much better to create a simple cover that evokes the genre and emotion of the story. That’s going to get you more sales in the long run.
What Derek Wants from a New Client
When you work with Derek he will need:
- Your Amazon synopsis
- A description of the characters who might be on the cover
- A list of items or symbols that might be in the book
Derek is trying to design a cover that gives readers a feel for the book.
Where the book takes place is really important. In most covers the setting of the story plays a role in the cover design.
You don’t always have to have a character on your cover. There are no definitive studies that say characters on covers sell more books. But, if you want to make that immediate emotional connection with a reader, the character can be a good place to start.
Your cover must grab the reader’s attention and look like a professional cover designed in that genre. If you do these two things people will buy a book to see what it’s about.
Cover Design Mistakes
Here are some of the biggest mistakes new authors make with their cover designs:
- Their cover is almost always too busy.
- It almost always has too much text.
- First-time authors don’t know whether to stress the author name, the title of the book or the series name the most.
- They don’t know how to handle awards and honors on the cover.
- Sometimes authors make all of the text the same size. You can’t do that. A book cover is about the art you use. If you put too much text on the book cover it will confuse the reader. Nobody is going to spend the time to read all the text on your book cover.
- Usually the title of the book will be really big and the text naming the series will be really small. A lot of authors think that they have to have the series text really big as a branding tool. That’s not necessary. You want to focus on making each cover standalone, and sell the book based on that story. Your fans already know who you are. They don’t need to be reminded.
- First-time authors often don’t edit pictures before they use them for their cover. That can lead to a book cover looking really jarring.
You can use a color wash to subconsciously indicate genre. A color wash is simply a layer of color that blends the image together. If you’re writing a horror novel you want to take all the color out of the image so that everything is in black and grey.
If you’re writing a romance you can use a blue orange or pink wash to indicate the romance genre.
Your font needs to look like it’s part of the artwork. A lot of authors will have a picture that doesn’t have a uniform color, and they won’t alter it in any way.
That can make choosing a color and layout for your font very difficult because the text on your cover won’t stand out in that circumstance.
Don’t put a strong bevel or drop shadow on the text of your book covers. Those image manipulation techniques make the text look like it’s separate from the image on the cover. That’s what you don’t want to have happen.
You want to put your text somewhere on the cover where there’s natural contrast, so that the text can be all one color and look like it naturally fits into the cover image.
One way to get the cinematic graphic look is to put a lot of space in between the letters on your cover. This can’t always work for titles because you want big letters for your titles anyway. But it works really well for subtitles and series names.
Advice for Authors
The only way to get better as a writer is to write and publish work. The work you publish now can’t be your best work because you’re still learning your craft. It’s tough in the early stages of your career. But anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.
You will get better as you get more experience.
You’re going to have to put out 5 to 10 books before you figure out what types of books you’re good at writing and what types of books make money for you.
“Everything gets easier with practice and I think that the biggest roadblock to success is publishing your first book.” – Derek Murphy
Focus on publishing shorter works. Twenty thousand word fiction or nonfiction works. Just get in the habit of doing it. Your practice will pay off and make success much easier to achieve in the long run.
The number one reason most indie authors fail is that they simply don’t have enough content to be successful. It’s really hard to be successful with just one book.
Links and Resources Mentioned in This Interview
http://www.creativindie.com/ – Derek Murphy’s website
http://diybookcovers.com/ – go here for free and low-cost cover solutions.
http://diybookformats.com/ – go here for free formatting help.
Use Bebas Neue for any nonfiction book. It’s also good for action and thriller stories.
https://www.deviantart.com/ – an artist community where you can find unique art for your book cover.
https://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/ – you can use some of these photos for free provided you give attribution to where you got it from.
http://www.creativindie.com/resources/ – a comprehensive list of resources to help you do anything you might want to do as an indie author.
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.