Top 5 Book Cover Design Tips for Indie Authors

So, you’ve written your book, and you’re ready to self-publish. You’ve got an edited manuscript and a killer blurb. Now you need an outstanding cover to draw those readers in. It’s the cover they’ll see first, and if it doesn’t grab them, they won’t even get as far as your blurb, never mind your expertly polished prose!

The easy option is to hire a cover designer – but it’s not always within everyone’s budget. Great cover designers aren’t cheap and hiring a cheap cover designer can be a false economy if you don’t get a cover that sells well for you. You can minimize the risk by sending them examples of covers you like to give them an idea of what you want, but it doesn’t always go to plan. You can find pre-made covers for a reasonable cost, but sometimes you find you’re compromising and they can be a little… samey.

So, what if you’re an indie author on a shoestring budget? Have you thought about creating your own covers? DIY cover design can be a lot of fun –  but whether you DIY or you hire a designer, it’s not enough to have a book cover that looks pretty, or that you think reflects your book’s content really well. There are a few key things you need to make your book more successful – i.e., sell more self-published books!

Top Book Cover Design Tip #1 – It Doesn’t Matter What You Like

This can be the hardest one to accept at first, but your cover has nothing to do with you and everything to do with your readers. Forget what you like, or any fantastic ideas to make your cover unique. Put them to one side for now and look at which covers actually sell books.

Research similar book covers in your genre and pay particular attention to top sellers right now.

  • What font do they use?
  • What kind of images?
  • What’s the overall ‘feel?’
  • What are the common themes?

Each genre has a core theme or maybe a couple of core themes that run through most of the top-selling books. Sticking to similar themes and designs signals to your reader that this is a book in the genre they like to read.

Top Book Cover Design Tip #2 – Choose the Right Image

Your image can make or break your book cover. Sometimes, what’s popular right now in your genre will be mostly text against a plain colored background, but the chances are that images play a big part in the covers you’ve researched.

There are a few places you can source your images. Unless you have a big budget, you’ll be using stock photos. There are free and paid stock photos available to use. I often choose the free images – and not just because they’re free! They are often royalty free and available to be used commercially with no restrictions which makes them very attractive. The downside is that they are very commonly used on book covers, so unless you’re tweaking them in some way they are not unique. When you use free images, check the terms on the website you download them from, as well as on the individual image to be certain you’re not breaching their terms.  One site that has a very clear usage policy and allows commercial use without attribution is Pexels.

You can also use paid stock photos. These are less common than free stock images, but still very common on self-published book covers. You need to be very careful with usage rights. Check the small print and email the stock photo company if you’re unsure.

A third cover image option is to buy directly from photographers or sites that specialize in images for book covers. For some genres, there are specific stock image sites that only sell each image once, but this is a much pricier option.

Again, check the usage rights no matter where you get your image. Some will require you to attribute the image, in which case you can simply place it in your book’s front matter. If you’re not 100% clear, then email the site that is offering the image.

Top Book Cover Design Tip #3 – Editing Your Images

Even using stock images, you can still come up with something unique, by blending two or more images. To do this, you’ll need appropriate software or an app.  You can use Photoshop, or GIMP is a free option with many YouTube tutorials available to show you how to use it. There are also various apps you can use on your smartphone or tablet.

There are various ways to blend images, and sometimes you may want to erase the background of one image entirely before you merge and blend them. It sounds tricky, but once you do it a couple of times, you’ll see it’s not so difficult at all! If you’re still struggling, then get a graphic designer to do it for you. Fiverr is a good place to start looking for inexpensive ones.

Top Book Cover Design Tip #4 – Choose Your Fonts Wisely

Now you have your stock image; you need to choose your font. You can use various tools to overlay the font on your image, but my favorite for ease of use is Canva.  They even have specific book cover design templates to get you started.

You can upload additional fonts into Canva if there isn’t a suitable one already there. My favorite place to find fonts is Creative Market. You can combine two or more fonts on the page, but make sure they look good together, and that the overall effect is signaling to your reader that this is a book in the genre they’re looking for.

Your font should also be easily readable. Ideally, you should be able to clearly read the title in a thumbnail-sized version of your cover.

An important note. People like symmetry, so try to make your layout symmetrical and don’t get too fancy with the word placements.

Top Book Cover Design Tip #5 – Check Your Translated Book Covers

If you have translated versions of your books, then it’s worth doing a little cover research in your translation countries if you want to maximize sales. Trends vary across countries, and what readers in the US or UK look for, isn’t always the same in Germany or Brazil.

It isn’t essential to have different book covers for different countries, but it’s another way to edge ahead of the competition.

If you don’t have translated versions of your books, then you’re missing out on additional revenue. Babelcube can help you get your books translated with no initial cost to you. It is super easy, and Babelcube provides a community of translators, formats your books, and publishes them to 100s of retailers. The only cost to you, the rights holder, is sharing the royalties from sales of your translated books.


The hardest part about writing a book is always the actual writing; so if you’ve got that far, you want to make sure that as many readers as possible get to experience your work. The book cover design and blurb are the two things a reader uses to choose a book, and the cover is the first thing they see. Use our book cover design tips to make sure that your self-published book covers look just as appealing as the latest bestseller. For handy tips on writing a blurb that grabs the reader’s attention, check out our previous article.


Babelcube offers authors and publishers the opportunity to sell their books in additional languages with a simple process and no upfront cost or financial risk.

Most books are only in one language due to the upfront cost of translation, struggles to find a translator, and complexities of working with retailers in different countries. Babelcube removes these barriers. Translators are paid via a share of royalties—creating a true partnership.

Babelcube is the easiest way to translate and sell a book in multiple languages. Book publishers and self-published authors team up with translators. The translated books are sold through 100s of retailers.

Check it out at Babelcube.


  1. Guido galeano Vega

    Felicitaciones, esto es un gran aporte para los escritores novel´s como yo. Uno de mis peores problemas es el tener que hacer mis propios covers sin tener la capacitación profesional apropiada y creo que ese detalle hace que mis libros pierdan valor e interes para los potenciales compradores. Hasta ahora no estoy satisfecho de mis propios cover´s.

  2. Derek Stephen McPhail

    all good suggestions. however, my original publisher and I put great thought and creativity into the design of the cover for “Outlaw Trail”, the English edition of my book. can I interest you guys in using the same background photo and design concept?

    I have immensely enjoyed working with “Yubisnay Sanchez” on the Spanish translation on “El Sendero Del Forajido”. we have just updated the original submission, which now includes an “Introduction”, “Afterword” and “About the Author”. she will be submitting this to Babelcube in both word doc and pdf. this is due to an ongoing problem with the spacing between text shuffling around with both these formats. this will necessitate further editing at your end. I hope that I will have an opportunity to see a draft of the finished Spanish edition before it is published. yours truly, Derek McP

  3. Ed McMahon

    1. Interesting, but instead of a lot of general comment, and to be more effective and easier to promote, why not include images in pairs of book covers that are well designed along side, say the generally same designs which are poorly designed or set out? Isn’t a picture worth a 1000 words?
    2. It is annoying how many advertisers, are shy about not being upfront about costs for their product early in their spiel. Even if its only a cost range. It seems all effort is to get someone interested in some promotion, and then having that potential customer wade through a lot of waffle to get to the bottom line.

  4. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

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