There’s no more excuse for bad book covers

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I must start by saying that I am neither an author nor a graphic designer. Both require skills that I don’t have, and I admire people who do. That being said, I a m a reader, and I have opinions about book covers – as I think most readers do.

We are experiencing a boom in self-publishing and small presses, allowing all kinds of stories to reach the market that otherwise might not have arrived. However, these can be difficult to reach their audience, and covers are a major way to grab a reader’s attention.

Obviously, small presses and self-published authors don’t have access to the same design budgets for a cover as large publishing houses, and that’s completely understandable. A decade or two ago, that was a huge hurdle. The skills required for designing book covers were specific and most people would struggle to do it.

Times have changed, however, and graphic design is the most accessible it’s ever been. It still takes a lot of skill and practice to get it right, but it’s easier to hit the “acceptable” threshold now. There are many free programs and websites that allow you to use templates to put together stock photos and fonts in a nice way. It won’t be the same as a thoughtful design by an artist, but it’s perfectly usable.

So why are there still so many bad book covers?

I’m not talking about the fact that some people like graphic novel covers and some don’t. I’m not talking about boring book covers, or ones that could use a little more polish. I’m talking about BAD book covers. Covers with fonts that are difficult to read and do not match the image. Store photos that are overused, irrelevant, or just plain annoying. The kind of covers that hurt to look at.

This isn’t just the domain of self-published authors. I’ve seen a few small presses that have been around for decades that consistently publish poorly designed covers (just as I know plenty of self-published authors whose covers could rival traditional publishers).

I’ve never been an artistic or particularly visual person, but with the tools available for free online now, even I can create a passable book cover. Not an incredible! But one that, at least, won’t turn readers away from a book.

Canva is a graphic design platform that even offers book cover templates. They have both free and premium options, but I stuck with the free options including free graphics. Someone who spends more time on it and has more talent for graphic design could definitely do better, but these took about five minutes each and were free.

With the premium option, you could do even better (and it would be easier, since you don’t have to sift through which options are paid and which aren’t). You can even design one during the premium free trial period if you want. For a little more money, you can hire someone else to design your book cover, and again, it’s cheaper than ever. There are plenty of people on Fiverr with great examples of their work designing a book cover for under $50 (with more options, including Etsy, if you’re willing to spend more). Similarly, you can hire an artist to do the cover art and add the text in Canva.

With so many books to choose from, covers are extremely important in getting your book noticed. Especially on visual platforms like BookTok, Bookstagram, or BookTube, people can choose to include your book (or leave it out) based on how that cover looks on camera. It doesn’t matter how amazing your writing is if no one gets a chance to read it because the cover hijacked it.

If you are a self-published author or a small press, please invest in the bare minimum of graphics for your cover. Find people who are willing to give you harsh feedback and ask them to tell you what they think. See if it is readable as a 1 inch high thumbnail. Browse other book covers in your genre and see what the visual shortcut is for your audience.

I don’t expect all writers to be equally great artists, but there’s no reason to stick your book with a bad cover when 15 minutes on a free platform can make it acceptable. Play with the tools. Read a blog post on the tips. Give your book a fighting chance in the visual landscape of the internet. Because readers definitely judge books by their covers, and there’s no excuse for having a bad one anymore.

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