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Book Covers

Importance of Cover Design
Cover Production

Importance of Cover Design

by JD Smith

The importance of cover design for self-published authors, collaborative groups and independent press has become less of an argument as the competition and potential sales revenue from book sales has become obvious. Many writers now take seriously the need to package and market their books professionally, and pro covers are no longer considered ‘nice to have’; they are considered essential in the ever more competitive world of book selling.

Bookshops display books with their covers facing the reader. It’s the first thing a reader sees. It is the reason a customer picks up the book, particularly in a supermarket setting where every book is front facing. Even the author can be recognised not only by the letters spelled out, but by the font, the style of cover, composition, the look of a series.

Only when a reader has picked up the book do they actually read anything, and that includes the back cover blurb that you will have spent hours and hours honing – and if the blurb was worth all that effort, then the cover is equally if not more deserving. Of course reviews, recommendations and building an audience are also important, but I’m talking about a package, and that shouldn’t be compromised by any one element.

Not that long ago there was a general theory that book covers were less important for ebooks because the item wasn’t a physical book. But the rules that apply to bookshops are true of online retailers. You can search, or you can be emailed newsletters, but the first thing you will be presented with is a cover, or a series of covers, and instead of picking up the book to read the blurb, you click on a cover instead.

Even when, on Amazon and other online retailers, books are displayed as a list, the main thing your eye is drawn to is the cover, because the list of titles and authors are all presented in the same font, size, and colour. The new cliché today is ‘Does it work at thumbnail size?’ as online sales rise.

Because a book’s cover is its face, it generates expectation. If a reader sees an amateur cover on a book, they will expect the novel itself to be amateur. If it looks cheaply produced, then they will expect the inside quality to be cheap also, and that there has been little or no editing, proofreading, and that it contains bad prose. And if a reader sees a cover and has that expectation, why should they buy it? And it’s not just about someone buying a book, but about them investing their time reading it. A book takes a good number of hours to read. I make a decision to read a book less lightly than choosing a film or a TV programme to watch. My time is precious, and the more dubious the quality of material that is out there, the more discerning readers will become.

Big publishers spend thousands to ensure a cover is right, commissioning illustration and photography. It’s normal for big publishers to have 50 + covers designed for a single book so they get it ‘just right’. It’s the reason publishers design different book covers for different countries, different markets and so on.

That doesn’t mean to say that self-published authors and collaborative groups and so on can’t have covers that are equally as professional as those produced by major publishers. A close working relationship between author and designer can produce some intimate and spectacular results. The wrong designer and you can end up with something that will do more harm than good.

Cover Production

  • A cover design can be developed based on the conversations we have and a brief read through the manuscript (to get a feel for the tone of your book), or

  • Your suggestions can be used to create the type of cover you envision.

  • You may have images you would like to incorporate into the cover design, or

  • I can provide images from a large stock of photos and graphic images, or

  • An illustrator or photographer can be commissioned, if desired.

  • You will also provide the back cover (and dust jacket flap) text material (book description, testimonials, author bio, etc). I will create and place the barcode.

  • Cover design drafts will be sent to you for viewing as PDF files.

  • Your recommendations and changes will be incorporated into the design and new drafts sent. This process will continue until you are totally satisfied.

  • Cover spine thickness will be determined (dependent on number of book pages and paper thickness).

  • I can easily produce a barcode using your ISBN.

  • Different printers have different specifications as to how they want the final print-ready PDF files provided (crop & registration marks, bleed limits, live area boundaries, position on page, Adobe PDF settings, etc).

  • When you approve the final draft, the completed cover file will be prepared to printer specs and sent to you or the printer as a high resolution printer-ready PDF file.


  • In most cases authors want a print cover and an e-book cover. Once a print book cover is produced, it is a simple matter of capturing the front cover image and producing a proper jpg image for the e-book. An important consideration is that e-book covers need to look good when viewed on a screen, even very small ones.

  • The cost of producing your cover will, of course, depend on the work required.

  • Unlike e-book covers, print book covers also require a spine and back laid out to the printers specifications

  • A cover can be produced for as little as $200 if all the material is supplied at one time and in a manner that is suited to placement and ready for design and layout with no further modifications required. This is, however, seldom the case.

  • If all the material is supplied as above, there will likely be changes you would like made. This may add $20 to $100.

  • Supplying me with several images to choose from will allow you to take advantage of my cover design experience in selecting the most suitable image. This may take a bit more time, since I will likely need to show you my choice as well as yours.

  • Some images need to be modified for cover design; for example, the sky of an existing image may need to be extended upward in order to accommodate the book title without obscuring other portions of the image. This may add anywhere from $50 to $200 to the cost, depending on the extent of modifications required.

  • Most clients prefer to put in time themselves to find a suitable photo or image. Some prefer that I locate suitable images for the cover.

  • I have occasionally found appropriate images within a half hour of beginning my search. The image is incorporated into the cover and approved by the author.

  • Some searches have gone on for two or three hours without finding a suitable image. If and when I do find an image that I think will work, it may not be to your liking, in which case the search must continue. At $75/hr., this can become costly.

  • Here are some websites you might like to look at in your own search for appropriate images, if you do not yet have one:

  • If you need a unique custom illustration for your book cover, you may need to engage an illustrator or photographer to provide the images. I would incorporate them into a cover design which would include title, text on the back, spine, barcode, etc, then prepare files for a printer.

  • The illustrator should be in contact with you to make sure he/she was progressing toward a design to your liking. Custom illustration covers are usually considerably more expensive to produce, since illustrators may charge anywhere from $300 to $700 and more  for the illustration, depending on the work done.

Approximate costs summary

$200   base cost (all materials supplied, no modifications to material)

$50 - $200  modifications to material supplied

$30 - $100  additional cover samples using supplied material

$30 - $150  search for and supply stock images

$300 - $700 custom illustration production

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