book cover design mistakes blog title

9 mistakes to avoid for a perfect book cover



A popular axiom in the book publishing world is that buyers tend to judge a book by its cover.

We’ve seen it happen, especially when a buyer is browsing through a shelf and not looking for something specific or from her favorite author.

It seems science has an answer. Researchers at the 3M Corporation found out that humans process visual data 60,000 times faster than text.

So basically we’re visual thinkers and since we’re talking books, book cover design deserves more than a mention.

Indie authors work on a tight budget and sometimes tend to take it easy on the cover art aspects of their book.

Let’s not do that. This is your hard work and needs to be handled like glassware.

In today’s post we discuss 9 common mistakes you should avoid to come up with a rocking cover art for your book.

1. Skipping planning

Writing a book is a project and just like any other project you need to manage different activities related to publishing your book, especially if you are going the self-publishing route.

Your book cover design is an important activity which you may choose to do it yourself or hire an expert designer to help you.

If you don’t plan it early while you are in the middle of finishing your book, you are bound to hit a wall at some point.

For example, say you decide to hire a designer. Good decision but let us tell you that most of them, espcially the good ones have a pretty long queue of book covers in waiting.

Now if you approach them in the final leg of finishing your draft in all likelihood you maybe turned down or you’ll have to wait.

If you have a designer friend or a cousin who can help, great! It’ll save you the time to search and select but there is still some work you’ll need to do at your end which you’ll notice as you read further.

No need to signup for a project management software. Just open a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets and write down the activities at a high level and take notes, add/edit tasks as you work through the list.

An hour a week should be enough for managing your book cover design side project.

2. Leaving it to the pro

You made a wise decision and budgeted to go with a pro designer. Good decision.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking the book cover design is now your designer’s headache. There remains some work on your plate too. Besides what we’re already telling you, here are a few more:

Log onto Amazon > Shop by Category > Books > Your Genre. You’ll see something similar to the image below:

sample of book covers on amazon


Click on the image and visit the book page. Click on the book thumbnail on the left which’ll open the preview window.

Select ‘cover’ on your left (if available), then right click on the large cover image and save the file on your desktop.

Download a few covers, say 8-10 that match your genre and those you like. If you have a favorite author or a bestseller you love, include those too.

Study these covers. Is there some familiarity in the use of elements. Anything or any cover that is a standout? What about fonts, colors, text placement?

You don’t need to get into the micro details but get a sense of the visual pattern being followed across your genre.

This will help you if you wish to design your own cover, buy one from pre-made covers or working with a professional designer.

3. Ignoring dimensions

Every major publisher such as Amazon, Apple, Kobo etc have guidelines and requirements for book cover art.

It is good to know them upfront. Following are the cover art recommendations from a few online publishers.

book cover art dimensions


eBook dimension details for other platforms such as Kobo, Apple iBooks, Draft2Digital are available here.

If you hire a professional book cover designer, they may need to know the dimensions you want. It is good to check during initial discussions and agree to avoid any surprises later.

This is important if you plan to go wide and distribute your book to platforms other than Kindle.

Although, you can always scale the image as per your need if you are familiar with any image editing software such as Photoshop or GIMP.

4. Not budgeting for book cover art

Unless you are good working on Photoshop and GIMP, you’ll need a good book cover designer.

Knowing your budget will help you avoid wandering on the Internet. Book cover art can start from $5 and go upto $500.

$5 definitely sounds sweet but is it worth it? What about around $50?

What about around $50? In that case pre-made cover art can be a good choice.

One more thing we wanted to highlight for those going for pre-made cover art.

Before you zero in on a cover, we strongly suggest you test it. We have shared a few ways you can do that in the final section below.


Also read: How to write the front and back matter of your Kindle eBook

5. Ignoring Copyright

Get this absolutely right. A minor slip in this area, unintentional or not can cause a lot of heart burn. You don’t want that.

You need a separate post to cover the topic in detail but here are a few basics.

If you wish to use the free stuff from sites like Pixabay, make sure you download those which clearly displays Creative Commons license, like in the image below.

creative commons license example

If you are going with pre-made cover art, go through the FAQ pages of the website and understand the licensing / copyright part very clearly. Maybe also save a screenshot of the page.

If you’ve hired a designer, get a clear understanding, possibly under a terms of service from the designer.

Normally, this is how it goes when a book cover designer is involved.

The copyright to the images bought by the designer are under their ownership. You have the right to use and ownership of the final cover art but not the individual elements used in the cover art.

So for example, the cover uses a particular image of a falcon, you have the rights to use the cover but not the right to the image of the falcon.

It is always better to check with someone, preferably a copyright laywer friend before you take out your wallet when it comes to visual art.

6. Stopping at Fiverr

Yes, getting your book cover art at $5 a pop sounds too good to be true. And in our experience it is.

We are not suggesting that fiverr is a scam. No. There are indeed some really good designers there, but they most certainly won’t do it for $5 or even $10.

It is understandable to not have a big budget for a first time author but if you are willing to stretch a little you can get a good deal somewhere in the $100 range.

Having said that, what are your options? Here are a few:

  1. Upwork – hire a freelance designer from platforms such as this. Many of them are really good.
  2. FB Groups – Drop a request to one or more of the indie / selfpub groups you follow on Facebook. You are guaranteed to get a response.
  3. Twitter – Get active on twitter. Some of them are guaranteed to start following you. Start with a tweet chat.
  4. LinkedIn – Yes, many of them are employed and do cover art on the side. Search and ye shall find.
  5. Pinterest / Instagram – Almost all of them hangout here.
  6. Google Search  – Try our good friend Google or Bing. You won’t be disappointed.

7. Effortless design brief

You need to read this section only if you are considering hiring professional help with your book cover art.

If you’ve ever been in a job where you were expected to deliver a piece of work to a client, then you understand what we mean by design brief.

Unless you provide the designer with the right details, your cover art may not meet your expectations.

Providing the designer will a good design brief also helps the designer ask the right questions. Some of the details we suggest you include in a design brief can be but not limited to the following:

  1. Book title & subtitle: If you haven’t yet decided (which is unlikely), provide the alternatives you have in mind
  2. Author name: Your name as you’d like it to appear on the book. If publishing under pen name, mention that.
  3. Genre: What genre is your book in. If it is non-fiction, don’t just mention non-fiction. Try and be specific.
  4. Synopsis: Help the designer understand, in short the plot of your story.
  5. Character(s): Briefly describe the important characters and their role in the story.
  6. Audience: A short description of your ideal target reader/buyer.
  7. Dimensions: Remember we mentioned this? This is where it helps. If you don’t know the dimensions, mention the platforms you plan to publish. Most experienced designers will know this already.
  8. Formats & Size: Mention the file size (Kindle is < 50 MB), formats (JPG, RGB, PDF etc). For eBooks RGB is what you need. For print, you’ll need CMYK.
  9. Similar titles: Include few cover art from authors in your genre that you may have downloaded from Amazon
  10. Date: Date by when you need the final cover or what was agreed upon.

You may also edit this list to include anything you think is important or other particulars your designer may have asked for.

There are designers who provide their own design brief template. If yours does, use that. But go ahead and include anything you think is missing. Won’t harm anyone.

Having a formal design brief in place will help you and the designer to work effectively and end on a happy note.

8. Leading the designer

General George S. Patton said, “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with the results.

Leading the designer, is akin to telling them how to do things and it won’t lead to a pleasant working relationship for sure.

It is common sense and we’re sure you know it. But in my experience working with creative folks in different disciplines, stepping over the boundary is mostly unintentional.

So how can you avoid rubbing them the wrong way? Here are a few tips:

  1. Don’t dictate elements they should/should not use
  2. But if you don’t want for example, extreme deviation from the genre – mention it.
  3. Even better, inquire on any covert art from their portfolio in the same genre.
  4. Ask for permission if it is okay to share with them, your research.
  5. During the first review, ask to understand why they’ve taken the approach they have instead of just voicing your opinion.

9. Not seeking feedback

You may fall in love with the cover art for your book. Especially if it was you who designed it.

But your reader’s may not feel the same way. And they don’t need to. Therefore we suggest you go ahead and test it out.

How will you go about doing that. Few ways we suggest you do it.

  1. Share the cover art among friends or on FB Groups. We recommend Facebook but use the social network you are most active on.
  2. Going with pre-made covers? Take screenshots of covers you like (2-3 max), club them in a single image using a tool – Photoshop, GIMP, Pixlr etc. Label the option and share.
  3. Have budget? Try PickFu – a book cover design test marketing tool.


Let’s quickly summarize what you learnt today,

  • Plan your book cover design project well ahead of time.
  • Do your homework – research your genre, plan the budget, understand copyright and licensing.
  • Even if you have limited budget – evaluate alternatives to fiverr. Also considering increasing your budget – this is your book.
  • Spend time on preparing a good book cover design brief
  • Have an effective working relationship with the designer
  • Test your book cover art

We hope this post helps you cut to the chase and get your book cover design right the first time.

Happy writing!


Title photo credit:


Leave a Comment