Does your self-pub front cover look like a dog’s dinner, even though you paid for it? 12 possible reasons why.


You can tell the quality of a graphic designer by the fonts they use

The first question you’re probably asking is, as an author, what qualifies me to talk about front covers? What do I know? My answer is that I have a degree in graphic design and have been working in the business for 20 years.

An immediate caveat: I’m not looking for cover design work. This is not a pitch. I can do them, but as you can see from my portfolio: it’s not necessarily my thing. I do, however, have a professional opinion on them and I’ve seen some absolute shockers recently, hence the post.

OK, so here’s the problem: you’ve paid good money to have a book cover designed because you’ve heard that it’s a ‘must have’ when launching your eBook on Amazon, etc… But the cover isn’t working for you, no matter how many times you look at it. It simply doesn’t grab you, and somehow it doesn’t look as good as traditionally published front covers. So what’s the problem?

Here’s my checklist of what might have gone wrong (assuming you have paid a graphic designer to create the cover):

1. Ask yourself this: Has your designer simply downloaded a free font, slapped on a free stock image, tried out a few Photoshop filters on it, then finished it off with a massive lens flare?

Has your designer put any thought into it, or are they knocking out four or five similar covers a day? Does your cover look similar to thousands of others? Did you choose the right designer?

2. Has your designer or illustrator actually read your book?

If not, how exactly are they having any meaningful artistic ideas about your cover? Are they solely using your notes and direction for what you envision for the cover?

3. You are probably not a designer, so why are you giving out design tips?

If I was having keyhole surgery done on my knee I wouldn’t be offering my opinion to the surgeon, or making suggestions on how he could do his job better. I’d trust that he was a skilled expert with many years of experience and training under his belt and let him get on with it. Research lots of cover designers, find one you like, then let them do their job.

4. This sounds harsh, but I’m going to say it: Are you the real problem in the design process?

Have you interfered with the layout at every stage and gone against the ideas and suggestions of the designer you employed? Is that why the end result looks compromised?

Giving direction and notes on how you think the cover should look makes the designer’s life easier because they don’t have to read your 700-page epic, but in an ideal world the designer should be giving you ideas, not vice-versa.

5. You probably won’t get a good result out of a cheap online cover design company offering a quick delivery service.

You guessed it – the end result will most likely look cheap and quick. You pay for what you get.

6. Never use friends or family to create an illustration, or design a cover, unless they are a working illustrator or designer with a broad client base.

You might well think it would be a lovely idea if, say, your amateur artist cousin created you a lovely cover. Why risk it after all that hard work you’ve put in to create the novel? There are literally hundreds of thousands of excellent illustrators and designers out there, all quite reasonably priced, who will do a better job.

7. Colour/color palette

No lurid colours. The downfall of many covers are vicious, ill-considered palette. The smartest covers often have very limited palettes. Search color/colour theory online.

8. Less is more. In all things.

Do you have a large amount of clashing elements or ideas on your cover, or have you insisted on your name being ridiculously big?

9. Fonts:

There are surprisingly few good fonts; conversely, there are many, many thousands of dreadful ones. If you don’t know the difference, or can’t tell the difference, find a designer who can.

You can tell the quality of a graphic designer by the fonts they use. Make sure they choose typefaces from proper font foundries. These will cost more, but it is minor details like these that make all the difference. The temptation is to use a free face to cut down the costs. It’s free for a reason.

10. Fonts you should probably avoid having on your front cover:

  • Brush Script
  • Times New Roman
  • Papyrus
  • Arial
  • Comic Sans
  • Copperplate
  • Generic grunge fonts
  • Helvetica
  • Courier

 If you’re wondering why these fonts are not good choices, I urge you to reread point 3 above.

11. Typography:

Stretched type: No type should be stretched (horizontal or vertical scaled) in any direction. Ever. It is simply bad design. Fonts are beautiful things and should be treated with respect.

All fonts should be properly kerned; never trust a computer to do kerning, especially on something like a book title. If this is the first time you’ve heard about the dark art of kerning, then…

12. A good designer will cost you money, but the cover is your novel’s shopfront.

At the point of making a sale, the cover is clearly one of the key ingredients in your potential reader’s decision making process. If you believe in your story, have invested time and energy in creating a book, why skimp? The cover is the first point of contact with your reader. Don’t let a good book be ruined by a bad cover.