Want a Cheap Book Cover Design? Think Again.

January 14, 2019

You know I'm all about the positive, but I'm going to go ahead and be snarky here. I can't help it, the material is just too good.

I ran across a video on a site that offers self-publishing services (including book cover design). They were basically saying that $500 is the max you should ever pay for a cover design. (I'm sure it was just a coincidence that their self-published book design packages top out at about $500.) That's quite a bit less than my base price for book cover design, so I had to see more.

What kind of a book cover design can you get for $500?

This image is from the samples page on the "pro" site I'm talking about.

If you're thinking about hiring a designer and their examples of previous work look anything like this, run away!

We’ve talked before about what not to do with the fonts on your book cover and here they are, checking all the boxes. Papyrus font: check. Bad spacing: check. No real point: check. Trying to force contrast with a bad drop shadow: check. Some words slapped onto a vaguely pretty picture, with no compelling reason to look deeper: check.

I’m actually a little offended that they charged a whole $500 for this crap.

I feel terrible for the author of this book. The book has a single review on Amazon. Just one. There's no Kindle edition, just a $19.95 print edition. Frankly, I'd be shocked if she's managed to sell more than a handful.

This is exactly the kind of thing that has given self-publishing (and services that help you self-publish your book) a bad name. And it isn't the author's fault - she was busy writing her book. She found an affordable service and went with it, like most of us would. But without a clear goal for the project, she ended up with something that didn't go anywhere.

Sometimes cheap is worth every penny...

Usually, when you think about paying for help to self-publish your book, it's because you’re uncertain about the technical aspects of how to get the job done, and/or your artistic ability. And those things do matter, but I promise you there's a much more important reason to get help: On top of the technical and aesthetic considerations, someone has to do the job of making sure your book design is well-suited to support your actual goal.

If you're going the DIY route, that someone will have to be you. If you're hiring a cheap designer, that someone will still have to be you. You'll be hiring the hands, but all of the mind work will still be on your plate.

Who is your target audience? What are they supposed to feel when they see this? What do they get out of reading the book, and why do they want that?

And also: what do the bestselling books in this category tend to look like? How can you instantly show readers who like that sort of thing that this is that sort of thing?

A designer worth paying for will ask the first three questions, and research the last one.

(Answering those questions might lead to a more compelling subtitle and a much better description, too, which could help this author’s sales. Really, what the heck did she hire these people for? Let’s look at the back cover and the description and you'll see what I mean.

No book cover design can save bad copy

From the back cover (and the Amazon book description):

"This book is a compendium of words - wisdom and wit - from diverse minds on a multitude of subjects and issues. Whether you enjoy it as a reference for speech or essay preparation, or simply as leisurely reading, you will find incredible intellectual, spiritual, and emotional meaning and inspiration in this collection of thoughts."

Ooh, a compendium of words. I've been wanting one of those!

Sorry, but, aren't all books a compendium of words? I guess coloring books aren't.

Yeah, I’m being snarky. I get that she means a collection. So it's a collection of quotes by a bunch of people about a bunch of things. And it's great for a bunch of purposes, for all types of readers.


When it’s great for everyone, it’s great for no one

Here's a thought: Pick one. I’ve said before that you need to go all-in on a particular direction for your book design. Waffling makes it hard for anyone to know why they need your book.

I think she might be on to something with the whole "speech or essay preparation" thing, especially since public speaking is one of the areas she teaches through her consulting service. Instead of watering that down with a more general “oh, but if you just want some light reading, it's good for that too”, she could present this as either a comprehensive resource for public speakers, or a really concise and targeted one, depending on whether this is a long book or a short one. Be specific: “Sure, you can look quotes up on the internet, but the number of results you get is overwhelming, and the quality & veracity is dubious.”

And ditch that empty "touch your heart" phrase! Instead, try “here's a resource that will save you hours, and help you use exactly the right quote to make your public speaking more impactful and powerful.” And oh, by the way, “if you could use more help with your public speaking, I offer x service here”, or “here's where you get on my mailing list”, or “read these 3 blog posts on related topics”, or whatever the next step is toward working together.

So much opportunity gets missed by going broad and appealing to no one.

And here’s the author bio from the back cover:

"Dr. Dina Giannet is the Executive Director of Giannet Consulting Services, Inc., an organizational and healthcare consulting group. She is a Certified Activity Consultant with over twenty-five years experience providing therapeutic and recreational services to the elderly. Dina provides lectures and training relevant to aging studies to health professionals and the public. She also teaches painting, public speaking, poetry, theology, and foreign languages to a variety of students.

Dina holds a Doctorate in Ministry and several diplomas in foreign languages. She is proficient in Greek, English, Spanish, and German.

Dina has an avid interest in language education, Alzheimer's disease caregiving issues, and therapeutic activities for adults who are neurologically impaired. She enjoys quality time with family, companion animals, painting, playing music, and writing literature."

Dr. Dina Giannet sounds like a smart, educated, and interesting person. And I still have no idea why I should care that she published this book, or why I would want to read it.

Contrast that with the "bio" portion on the back cover of a book by my client, Dr. Liz Powell:

"Join Dr. Liz Powell, psychologist, speaker, and coach, as she draws from her education, research, and life experience to bring you Building Open Relationships."

That's perfect. It establishes why she's exactly the right person to write this book, and switches right back to what's in it for the reader. The only other thing about Dr. Liz that's on the back cover is a mention that the book includes hard-won lessons (i.e. her own mistakes) to benefit the reader. To benefit the reader.

Cheap or not, a good book cover design serves a goal

The back cover of your book isn't a resume or a dating profile. Leave out the part about how much you love your dog, unless you can make it directly relevant to what's in it for the reader.

Dr. Giannet is probably really nice, and smart, and great at her work. I'm not trying to pick on her, really! I just think she was badly served, and I want to point out how so that you don't fall into the same trap when it’s time to self-publish your book.

Good design serves a purpose. For most authors, the goal of a good book design is to sell more books, grow your audience, build your platform, and maybe even help you secure speaking gigs, if that’s your thing. When you’ve got that much riding on the cover of a book, it’s worth it to shop around, save up, and invest in the best quality you can afford.

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