Why Authors Shouldn’t Try to Design Their Own Book Covers

Joel Friedlander recently published an article which poses the question “Should Authors Design Their Own Books?

Although the article focuses more on book design rather than cover design, the same question arises in the context of ebook covers: “Should Authors Design Their Own Book Covers?”

Here’s a quick answer.

No.

As Friedlander writes, there are a few reasons authors try to veer into the world of graphic design. He’s much more polite, but I am paraphrasing bluntly:

  1. They don’t want to pay for a professional book cover
  2. They are self-identified control freaks
  3. They feel that they should personally execute all aspects of their book’s creation, publication, and marketing (what I call the “One Man Band Syndrome”)

If the author in question doesn’t care about selling his or her book, any of these reasons are fine. If sales are important, it is short-sighted and a bad business decision to ignore one of the big ways readers choose a book.

Why? The simple truth is that when faced with a large selection of anything—be it cereal brands or books—consumers will make an initial decision based on packaging, which in the book business is the cover art. Every day between 300-500 Kindle books are offered for free on Amazon thanks to their KDP Select program. And according to the LA Times, thousands of new Kindle books are published every month on Amazon (many of them spam, by the way). That means readers in the market for a new ebook faces a vast multitude of choices. There are many factors which ultimately go into the choice to pick one book over another, including price, author familiarity, plot summary, and reviews, but we would argue that those factors come into play after potential readers judge a book by its cover.

According to Friedlander, “We’ve been buying and reading books most of our lives. Almost all of those books were produced by traditional publishers who hired professional designers and artists to create them. So we expect book covers to look a certain way, and whatever way they look, they need to look professional… A few of the tell-tale signs of amateur book covers include: bad font choices, confused graphics, colors that don’t work, meaningless or overused stock photography, and too much copy.”

The question for authors is: why would you want to limit your sales by offering your book with a cover that wasn’t created by a professional designer?

In the words of author and book marketing consultant Joanna Penn: “I believe you need a budget for your business as an independent author. You need to use some of this budget for professional editing and cover design…” Bestselling indie author and poster boy for the movement, Joe Konrath confesses, “A professional cover boosts sales. When I began using [professionally-designed] covers over my old homemade ones my ebook sales tripled.”

Bottom line: authors who want to sell their books should shed bad habits that hold them back. This includes designing their own covers. The only exception to this rule is if the author is a professional graphic designer.