81. Book-Cover Mistakes Every Author Can Avoid

Have you ever looked at a book cover and you instantly knew you didn’t want the book?

Maybe you didn’t know why, but something in your gut knew the book wasn’t for you.

Sometimes, a bad book cover can cause readers to miss out on a great book.

Tune into this week’s episode and easily avoid these common book-cover mistakes, follow a few best practices, and win your readers over with your eye-grabbing, yet visually pleasing, book cover.

For more writing tips and inspiration, follow me on Instagram @candiceldavis.

Mentioned in This Episode

Jump-Start: A free guide to help you jump-start your nonfiction book.

Complimentary Consultation Call

Episode Transcript

Hey there and welcome to Nothing but the Words. I’m your author coach, Candice L Davis.

How’s your writing going?

I hope your week and your writing are both going well.

Before we dive into this week’s episode, let’s be clear that while these mistakes are more common in self-publishing, because many authors just don’t know what to look for, they also happen in traditional publishing.

I really didn’t want to talk about this topic because it can get kind of depressing to see bad covers on books, especially when I know the author has poured their heart and soul on the pages.

But talking about it is the best way to arm you against these common mishaps (plus my husband called me out for chickening out), so here goes.

Here are 6 book-cover design mistakes you can avoid.

Mistake #1. Too many fonts.

You don’t need different fonts for your title, your subtitle, and your name. Mixing fonts can look cool, but only when it’s done with an eye for design. Done by an amateur, it usually ends up looking junky and, well, amateur.

Mistake #2. Illegible fonts. (too small, too fancy, too much overlay) Even if you only use one or two fonts, your cover won’t be successful if the font is illegible. If people can’t read what’s on your book cover at first glance, they’ll walk away or scroll away. If the font is too small or too fancy, you’ll lose potential readers.

Mistake #3. A book cover that looks nothing like you or your business brand. If you show up to the world as bright and sunshiny but your book cover is all black with beige fonts, people might feel confused, especially if you’re a speaker or coach and your brand is obvious to them. If you’re elegant and sophisticated, a cover with a cartoon-like caricature of you will feel misaligned. Work with your book cover designer to ensure your book looks and feels like you and your brand.

Mistake #4. Bad stock photos. Do I even need to say anything about this? I’m sure there are some brilliant book covers that use stock photos. But in most cases, it makes your book look homemade, especially when the stock photo ends up becoming a popular one and people see it all over the place. You’re better off having no image at all and letting the typography do the talking.

Mistake #5. Too many elements. If your book cover has a picture of you, the author, a 10-word subtitle, a patterned background, the title in 2 different fonts and colors, your name in another font, a stripe across the top, and an image of the seal for a book award you won, you might have too many elements going on. And yes, I’m looking at an actual book that has all those elements. In book cover design, less is often more.

Mistake #6. Lack of design. Sometimes I see books that come from the same self-publishing service and a high percentage of the books have the same layout and similar fonts. They may switch up the stock photo and the colors, but it’s otherwise the same design.

Lots of designers start with templates, but, friend, that’s not good enough. Nothing wrong with templates, but if you stop there, you end up with a boring non-design. Don’t fall into that trap, and don’t let any so-called designer drag you in there either.

Dwelling on the negative is exhausting, so let’s switch it up and talk about great book design,

Here are 7 examples of great book cover design.

When you have a minute, check them out on Amazon and see what you think.

They may not appeal to you personally because we all have our own aesthetic tastes, but take a step back and consider their effectiveness and appeal to their audience.

Redefine Wealth for Yourself, by Patrice Washington is a fantastic example of a well-done book cover that includes the author’s photo on the front cover, and it’s in perfect alignment with her brand. Patrice is just off center on the cover, which makes you feel like she’s the expert but it’s not all about her.

Take a look at Rachel Rodger’s We Should All Be Millionaires. This cover puts the author smack-dab in the center, which screams expert in a great way.

If you’re not so much into putting your face on the cover or that’s not appropriate for the kind of book you’re writing, you might consider an image that’s not a photo but more of an icon.

That’s the extent of my design vocabulary, so forgive me if that’s confusing.

But if you look at Breath, by James Nestor, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about and you’ll see it done with simplicity and creativity.

The rich yellow cover has a strong black font broken up by a delicate multi-colored abstract representation of a pair of lungs.

I really love this cover, and I have to believe the image was custom created for this book, but that’s not out of reach for self-publishers.

If you do some research, you can find a book cover designer who can do this kind of work for you.

You might want to start with a site like Upwork.com.

The Big Short, by Michael Singer, is a dark cover with an image of a fat roll of money caught on a fishing hook.

If someone described it to me, I’d expect it to be cheesy, but it’s so polished. It’s a perfect cover for a book about the 2008 financial crisis.

I have to give a shoutout to Will Smith’s new memoir. His cover is artistic and simple. The colorful front cover has 2 elements: 1) his first name and 2) his face. And because he’s Will Smith, he can pull that off.

But we’re not all recognizable celebrities. I love the cover of Glennon Doyle’s Untamed.

Yes, you might consider the paint-and-glitter-spill background a bit on the busy side, but it’s not distracting, and it’s definitely eye-catching.

Lastly, sometimes the right typography is enough. Check out Thick and Other Essays, by Tressie McMillan Cottom. The designer brilliantly uses a wide letter H to convey the meaning and feeling of the word “thick,” and that’s pretty much it. It’s so well done. Definitely check that one out, Thick and Other Essays.

All these covers look great in real life. Lined up next to other books, they’ll stand out.

They also look great in thumbnail size. People are buying books from their phones now. If they can’t make out your title, they’ll likely scroll right by your book.

The moral of this episode is that it’s really, really worth it to set aside some money and budget for professional cover design.

But as an author, it’s in your best interest to know what a good cover looks like and what mistakes you should stay away from so you can choose the right professional for the job.

That’s all for this episode, my friends.

For more writing tips and inspiration, follow me on IG @candiceldavis.

Thanks for listening to Nothing but the Words. I’m Your Author Coach, Candice L Davis. And I’ll see you next time.

Enjoyed This Episode?

Learn everything you need to know to write a phenomenal book. Subscribe on your favorite podcast player below.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Stitcher
Listen on Spotify
RSS Feed