Hi, writer! Welcome back to the Indie Publishing Roadmap series. This week’s topic is all about cover design decisions you’ll need to make for your novel.

But I’m an editor and writer, not a cover designer. So, I reached out to the team at MoorBooks Design and asked them a few questions to get you the more accurate information.

Let’s get started.

*Don’t forget to grab your free self-publishing guide at the end of this post!

Does your book cover matter?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of book covers, I want to stress how important your book’s cover is. Your story is important, no doubt. It should be well-edited, and you want the formatting to be easy-to-read.

But the cover is the first thing a reader is likely to associate with your book. And people do judge books by their covers.

If you have a boring cover or something that is clearly amateurish, readers are less likely to pick your book up off the shelf (or click it on Amazon). It’s sad, but it’s true. They’ll think your book is unprofessional and make further judgments from there, like that it’s been poorly edited or hard to read.

And if they never even click on your book because of a poor cover, they won’t know anything else about your story or want to read it!

Covers signal another thing to readers: genre. Readers have certain expectations when it comes to cover designs for certain genres.

In romance, for example, one popular cover design is to include a shirtless man against a soft background color. That alone tells readers a lot about what they can expect from the story! You probably wouldn’t want to put a shirtless man and a soft background color on a military sci-fi novel, which has very different cover standards.

So yes, your cover matters to the majority of readers. It’s your chance to make a first impression and tell the reader something about your story. It will entice them to click on it or pick it up off the shelf.

What should you look for in a cover designer?

When you begin looking at different cover designers, the MoorBooks Design team says you should look for, “good cooperation, availability, transparency in work, and of course, the author should look for a designer whose style of work matches their esthetical preferences.” 

A stack of books sit in the left corner of the photo, and transparent frame glasses sit on top of the books.

Let’s start with your design preferences. When you’re reviewing a designer’s website, look at their examples and portfolio. If the designer doesn’t match your preferred aesthetic or your genre’s styles, look at other designers. You need to find someone whose work matches your vision.

You also want a professional designer. Not only should the work match your expectations, but so should their attitude. That means someone who communicates clearly, respects your time, and works to understand your vision. That’s true of any freelancer you add to your publishing team!

“Permanent support is something very important in the process of self-publishing,” MoorBooks says. “The designer is supposed to be available if the author needs support in terms of design throughout their work. Unpredictable things can happen, and the designer should be there to help the author along the way.”

What’s the design process?

Once you pick a designer, they can tell you more about their specific process. But generally speaking, you can expect the process to follow these steps:

  1. Contact your designer for a consultation. “Inquire about their availability,” MoorBooks adds. If the designer is available in your time frame, they’ll set a deadline for the design brief, which is when you tell them more about your book and what you’re looking for.
  2. Fill out the design brief. How soon your designer needs the design brief back from you will depend on your first conversation with them. Make sure you send it back on time to keep your project on schedule.
  3. Review the design proposal. After you send the brief back to your designer, they’ll send you a design proposal based on your answers. Give feedback to the designer so they can make revisions and present you with the revised version.
  4. Wait for the design to be completed. Once you’re happy with the proposed design, your designer will make any additional adjustments. Then, they’ll send the files to you.

The MoorBooks team also notes that even though your designer may be familiar with your genre, “the author should send other posters, covers, or visual examples of the style they’re aiming for and that represent their genre the best. We communicate visually and that is the easiest way we can understand the author’s desire, taste, and preferences.”

So, before you contact your designer, collect a few examples of what you like. This will help your designer as they draft the proposed design.

Some designers include their design process online, but always check with your specific designer for more information.

How soon in advance should you contact a cover designer?

“It all depends,” the MoorBooks team says, “but in our case, the best option for the author would be to contact us 2 months in advance.”

That’s a good rule of thumb to follow. In fact, as soon as you’ve finished up your second draft and know it’s a project you want to publish, I would say it’s a good time to start researching designers. It’s better to get on their schedule early than have to seriously postpone your book launch.

Should you use the same designer for your whole series?

The short answer is yes, use the same designer for your whole series if possible.

“It is very important because the designer who did the first cover will do all the other covers in the same manner and style if we’re talking about book series,” MoorBooks explains. “Cohesion and attention to detail [are] essential when it comes to [a] series, as well as a unique point of view and a vision of the hired designer.”

Just as your book’s cover design should match your genre, your covers should match each other in style and overall design. Use the same fonts and other elements to visually represent to readers that they are in the same series, from the same author. Traditional publishers also stick to this best practice.

How much can you expect to pay for your book cover?

If you read the other posts in this series, you know that the average self-published book needs an investment of between $1000 and $5000 USD for production. Though the bulk of your budget goes to editing, you should also plan to set a few hundred dollars aside for your cover.

For example, MoorBooks has fixed package rates that range from $199 USD to $299 USD depending on what additional materials you add.

Check out what the designer(s) you like offers. You may need more or less of your budget for the cover depending on the designer you choose. Do some research and ask for a project quote.

If you need or want to save money on your cover, you might look at pre-made covers. These are covers that the designer has already made, and they can change the title and author name for you. Some designers can also adjust the colors on pre-made covers, but don’t expect too much customization.

Can you DIY your own cover?

I know it’s tempting to DIY aspects of self-publishing to cut down your up-front investment. Budgets are important and should be respected.

As I mentioned in the first part of this blog, readers really do judge books by their covers. Design is a very specific skill set, and if you don’t have it, it’s hard to DIY. Because your book’s cover is the first impression, a boring or amateur cover won’t get readers to click on your book.

A person holds Your Soul is a River by Nikita Gill in front of the camera. There are blurred out lights and a bed in the background.

If you don’t have any design skills, you need to bite the bullet and designate part of your budget to hire a designer. You’re more likely to make the money back (and more!) if you have a cover that entices readers to click on your book in the first place.

If you do have the design skills and make book covers, great! Put your own design skills to good use making your own beautiful covers. Just remember to research aesthetics popular in your genre.

If you really need to save money, get a pre-made cover or look for a designer who is running some kind of promotion/sale.

It’s better to have a professional, eye-catching cover than to spend money on a publicist or social media manager. You can DIY your marketing far more easily than your cover.

Can you change the design later?

While you should get covers that you like, you may find that your genre’s aesthetic is changing. You may also decide you want to freshen things up after your books have been out for a while. You might even find that your old designer is no longer accepting clients, and you may need to switch designers.

No matter what, don’t worry! You can change your covers.

Traditional publishers relaunch covers all the time, and you can do the same. Just be prepared to invest in new covers for the whole series so you can roll out the new covers at the same time.

Wrapping It Up

There’s a lot that goes into choosing a designer for your books: your preferred style and aesthetic, genre expectations, professional design, and even budget.

There’s a designer out there for you! Do your research, ask questions, and of course, give your designer plenty of time to create a beautiful cover for your book.

Thank you to the team at MoorBooks Design for taking the time to answer my questions and giving great advice for indie authors! If you want to learn more about MoorBooks, check out their website, or follow them on Facebook or Instagram.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Indie Publishing Roadmap series to learn more about self-publishing your novels. You can also grab your free self-publishing guide below.