Why DIY book covers kill your sales and how to choose a professional designer who will hit the mark

Our guest blogger, Milan Manko, is a senior book cover designer at MiblArt, a book cover design company for self-published authors. MiblArt believes that book covers are your number one marketing tool, so the firm’s cover designers help authors get the most out of them. Connect with them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

Why DIY book covers kill your sales and how to choose a professional designer who will hit the mark

By Milan Manko

According to a Written Word Media survey, 53% of indie authors work with a professional designer on their book covers. The data isn’t surprising because in terms of return on investment, covers remain one of the most effective book marketing tools.

Why is a book cover so important today? How can you find the best designer for your book?

Let’s answer both questions so you can better manage your book investments and get a cover that will help you reach your readers.

DIY book cover

Why is it important to have a professional book cover design?

A Panorama Project survey concludes that to target the majority of U.S.-based avid readers, authors should focus on online marketing, family-friendly book events, and distributing their books to brick-and-mortar stores. And it won’t be effective without a professional book cover.

Here are a few reasons why you need to hire a professional book cover designer and not design a book cover by yourself:

1. A designer knows how to create an unforgettable first impression.

The cover art should grab a reader’s attention even before they’re able to process the image. It’s all about the initial impulse that will urge people to learn more about the book.

2. A designer analyzes the book market and your genre.

Clear genre signaling is vital for marketing as people often look for new books by genre – and Panorama’s survey proves it. So, a cover that quickly conveys its niche will be ahead of the competition.

Each genre, each subgenre, and each particular author have unique audiences with unique preferences. And only with a professional book cover will you draw the audience you need.

3. A designer knows how to work with typography.

Bad typography can ruin even the most beautiful book cover art. DIY book covers often have inappropriate or unreadable fonts that clash with the art. A book cover designer knows how to make typography pop.

Bad typography can ruin even the most beautiful book cover art.Click to tweet

So, a professional book cover requires good knowledge of typography, composition, color theory, and industry trends, and the ability to create immersive visual storytelling.

In other words, finding a beautiful stock photo and slapping a book title on top doesn’t cut it. You need an experienced book cover designer for this job.

How to find a good book cover designer

One of the most reliable ways to find a good designer is to ask your fellow indie authors with covers you admire who designed their covers. They won’t leave you hanging!

One of the most reliable ways to find a good designer is to ask your fellow indie authors with covers you admire who designed their covers.Click to tweetIf you have nobody to ask, research is your only option. Create a list of companies or freelancers to choose from. And here’s what to do next.

Check customer reviews.

Experienced designers should have at least some customer reviews or testimonials from authors. If reviews are on social media pages, you can easily check whether the people who left them are real.

View examples of book covers in your genre.

A designer who makes amazing romance covers may struggle with science fiction or fantasy. Or a designer can make dull romance covers but create gorgeous nonfiction designs. Ensure the designer’s portfolio proves their savviness in your genre.

Ask about their book cover design process.

The quality of the design process determines the quality of the result.

For example, a good cover design process can look like this:

  1. A call or a questionnaire to determine the author’s requirements, references, story concept, and visions of the cover
  2. Negotiating payment terms
  3. The first draft
  4. Several rounds of revisions
  5. Final cover art

A good design process is systemic and deliberate.

Ask about the number of revisions (and whether they’re included in the fee or extra).

Like it or not, revisions are an integral part of the design process. Ask your designer about the number of revisions included in your fee and specify in what cases you have to pay extra for them.

Also, find out what exactly counts as a revision. For example, some designers do only minor revisions for free (such as changing the font, adjusting the text position, etc).

In most cases, designers are okay with more complex revisions too, as long as they come during first drafts when they’re easy to make. So, it’s your responsibility to spot any inconsistencies early.

Ask about copyrights, license, and source files.

To avoid legal troubles, ensure that designer uses official sources for their visual materials so your future cover doesn’t violate copyright laws.

In addition, you should ask what type of license you’re purchasing and how many e-books and print books you can sell.

Also, ask if the designer gives you the source files. Note that most of the designers don’t give source files or if they do, they charge a fee for them. Some designers can provide you with flattened source files with editable text in PSD format.

Agree on deadlines and payment.

There are a few things you should ask about pricing policy and deadlines:

  • Does the designer charge in advance, and if so, how much? Half of the fee is a comfortable maximum in case of complex works with illustration, for example.
  • What about a refund? Is a refund partial or complete? In which cases does a refund apply? Ideally, you want a refund if the cover is bad quality or doesn’t meet your initial requirements.
  • How long will it be before you receive first drafts and a final design? You need to ensure you’ll get the design in time to launch your marketing campaign.

The designer and author synergy

The rest is up to your chemistry with a designer.

You need to feel comfortable and trust their opinion. All in all, designing a book cover is a job for two people: You exchange ideas, experiment together, and share feedback without worries.

Designing a book cover is a job for two people: You exchange ideas, experiment together, and share feedback.Click to tweet

We hope you’ll find a cover design partner with whom you’ll have perfect synergy. Good luck!

Do you love your book cover? Tell us why in a comment!

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  1. Great post. Indie authors often insist on designing their own books or going the cheap route with predictable results.

    I couldn’t agree more with Milan’s advice that book cover design is a team effort. I love my book covers designed by Mariah Sinclair, and our ability to communicate was key to creating them. I have to admit I broke the rule about working with a designer with experience in the genre and, initially, she seemed uneasy about designing non-fiction covers. However, her experience in designing cozy mysteries and chick-lit was perfect for my first book, designed especially for women. Both covers won awards!

    Thanks for sharing your expertise.

    1. This is so interesting, Sonia. I like that you trusted your gut and it paid off. And if it hadn’t, you would have found a different designer, right?


      1. I looked very hard for the right designer and the moment I saw Mariah’s work I knew I had a match–even though I had to beg. Had it not worked out I would have tried elsewhere. I’m glad I didn’t have to.

  2. This is so very true. The first thing a purchaser sees is the cover, this includes the spine, if it happens to be spine out on the bookstore shelf. So, don’t forget to include the publisher logo, if you have one designed, and hire a professional. You can’t afford not to.

  3. I kissed a whole lot of frogs before I found Jelena Gajic. In quite a few reviews, the reader has mentioned they loved the cover(s). I’d love to kidnap her and lock her in my house forever, but I understand international law frowns upon that kind of thing. And I can’t agree more with having a professional pub logo. I write in various genres, so I have one for science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc. At any rate, the book cover is one of my biggest production expenses, and it’s worth every penny.

  4. What turns me off immediately about the thought of working with a designer is the exhausting and extensive amount of back and forth required to get ideas across. It was eye-opening to try to work with one and find that what I thought was obvious wasn’t even visible to her.

    I have zero energy, and none to spare from writing – and I know what I want.

    I would like to propose that if you can’t get someone to do what you want with a reasonable amount of effort, DIY is both possible and learnable.

    And as far from ‘conventional wisdom’ as it is, I don’t want a cover like everyone else’s cover only different. That may work for genre fiction, but not for mainstream fiction.

    I also like the idea that the cover is part of the story FROM the author’s pov. No one is as deeply into the characters, etc., and a cover designer can’t get there – it would take far too much time, unpaid.

    What might work for people like me is getting close to that final version ourselves, and then letting a pro take it to the final polished state – but it would require a professional to take a secondary role, and I’m not sure they would be amenable.

    In the professional publishing world, authors have almost no input. It is one of the advantages of being indie, however badly that advantage is often used.

    I would say that if you’re doing your own, you face a huge learning curve and you shouldn’t skimp on it. It will show if you do. And you need licenses for images and fonts – a good pro will know all that and do it for you; a bad pro will leave you a mess you don’t even know about.


  5. I agree – mostly. I don’t agree that any designer knows my genre and subgenre better than I do, though. If it were my first or second novel, that might be true. For someone who has been publishing for a while, it shouldn’t be.

    I also don’t agree that it is not possible for an author to do their own covers. Most who do so are bad at it and it shows, but an author who puts in the work for a very steep learning curve can do their own covers. I prefer to pay a professional, but I know a few authors who do a good job on their covers. (It is just not something I suggest as a good idea)

    1. JR, I think you’ve read into the messages here. Milan doesn’t say that designers know genres better than authors. But he IS suggesting that designers with experience creating covers for your genre will do a better job than those who don’t have that experience.

      He doesn’t say that authors can’t design their own covers, either. He’s saying that it’s not recommended.


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