How To Design Book Covers

by Don Dyer

Don Dyer
Don Dyer

As a writer and an artist, the next logical step was for me to digitally create my own book cover. For my first book I created what I wanted and what would attract readers to buy it. Then I sent my manuscript to the publisher. I also told him that I had my own cover to go with the book, he promptly informed me that they were the ones that would be creating the cover for my book. He told me that I would have no say in the cover design. Their cover was nasty clip art hastily and sloppily thrown together. They sent me a galley copy. I contacted the publisher and begged them to at least look at the cover I’d created. I received a hateful no, and was told that I didn’t know the book business or what the public wanted to see.

I, brokenhearted, let it go after a rant and some broken things around the kitchen. Then, a couple years later I was ready to submit my second book. I thought I’d be devious, so I sent the book cover instead of the manuscript. After a confused email, I apologized for sending the cover file instead of the script. I said it was a simple mistake, that they were named the same. I was talking to an editor’s aide, and I told her to compare the two book covers. She pulled up my file on her computer and I heard a short gasp. I asked for her help as an advocate of the cover I’d sent. She told me that she just started as an aide, and she didn’t have much pull. I asked that she help plead my case. Later, after many emails, I was allowed to use my artwork for my second book cover.

cover Book IIIWhen I get a client, my only concern is listening. When they’re finished telling me what they think and what they want, I ask questions. I take notes, I do thumbnail sketches and I give suggestions that come to mind. All of this comes from what my client tells me. But if a client doesn’t know what they want, I suggest that I read their book. In that process, I glean things from the text and make notes of things that might work or look good on their cover. After I’m finished reading their book, we meet to talk about what they’ll decide on for their cover. I’ve done it many different ways, they all work and in the end, I make sure that they are happy with the finished product. I’ve even done a book cover before the book was started on paper. It was for myself, but it still turned out great.

My advice to writers, as you know your book better than anyone, think about what will capture the reader’s attention and make them read the synopsis. Your customer may just look at the cover and decide to buy your book. I see it as a four-step process. The customer sees the cover and they’re intrigued, they are intrigued so they read the synopsis, then the synopsis draws them in and they buy the book. The fourth step is a little more elusive, but it still works great. Their neighbor or coworker sees, and is intrigued by, the cover and asks what their friend is reading, then they are compelled to buy your book. Smile, you’re selling another book. The cover and synopsis are very important, but the cover is going to give that visual aspect to your story. Use it to give color to the purple leaves of the creeping ivy, to give shape to the blade the killer uses, and to give shape to the crooked tree where your lovers fall in love.

You know your book best! If you were to hire me, I’d get the important aspects of the book from you, and then put them on the cover for you. The shadow of that cross falls over what? Think about this, your publisher may ask you what you think about the cover, but truly it isn’t economical for him to do so. It is easier for him to simply tell one of his in-house artists what he wants on the cover. The artist will do three covers for the editor to choose from. You might like the cover and you might not, but it may not even go with your book.

I know an author in Albuquerque whose book about bars, has a table on the cover. The cover doesn’t go with the book.

Contempt of Congress Cover copyFor you as the writer, think about your main focus, the background, the foreground and the title. Think about the placement of them all on the cover, and how they will interact with each other. Is the serif of the “H” behind the mountain? Now I want you to think about the spine, an icon for the spine, and the back cover.

The back cover is made up of five main things; your synopsis – this should be 150 to 175 words, your bio – this should also be 150 to 175 words, your all-important author picture – this should be no larger than two inches by two and a half inches, the UPC, and the printers logo will be there as well. But there could also be a subtitle added in, in larger print, to catch the readers eye.

Now I want you to think about the three basic markets for your book. You can sell them in a local and national brick and mortar, you can sell them online as an eBook and you can sell them as an audio book. These three markets can have the same cover, or they can have different covers. It’s all up to you.

I utilize several different programs and original artwork to create book covers for both clients and myself. It’s both work and fun for me because I enjoy all aspects of the process. I believe in old fashioned customer service. In that customer service, the customer always ends up happy before I’m finished with the work.

I hope this was helpful, and I wish you happy writing.

Don Dyer / Owner and Artist

Dyer Ink / or contact me by email at