What is Book Cover Design?

Once you’ve written your book and had it edited (or even before the editing process begins) you’re thinking about presentation. If you have any desire to get your book published, you most definitely will need a book cover at some point, but how do you pick who to design your book?

Book design is in the Design category of writing rather than the Editing category. This means that while a designer may read your manuscript or simply ask for details about the story, they are not here to help you with the way the story is told. Their job is to understand the premise of the story: its theme, what it’s trying to convey, how it’s told, etc., and portray that to an audience through an image and font. The cover is the first thing people see with any given book. There is a lot of hype built around cover reveals, and sometimes a good cover can make or break whether someone picks up the book at all.

That is why it is of the utmost importance to carefully select your designer through a multitude of factors: experience, genre, cost.

Why Go to a Professional?

The first question some people may have is “what do I want my book cover to look like?” but most often the author isn’t even in control of what the cover looks like. For authors with traditional publishing contracts, a professional designer is in charge of nailing theme, colour, and how the public will perceive the work. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” only applies to people, but books are always judged by their covers.

Some people may have a natural eye for good design, but most don’t, and it shows a lot in self-published books that I’ve seen. There are numerous websites I’ve found critiquing book cover designs done by amateurs who were simply looking to save money and were overconfident in their own abilities. Most of the time the books lack the proper theme, severely mispresent the book, or are just plain “bad” design-wise. There is a time and place for amateur design, and your book is not one of them.

Lousy Book Covers

50 Very Bad Book Designs for Literary Classics

Bored Panda’s Terrible Book Covers

As you are self-publishing your book, you get final say about what your designer creates, but it is more of a conversation between both parties instead of “I want the cover to look exactly like this.” The designer is the creator. It isn’t their job to make something that perfectly resembles your vision; it’s to create a cover to properly represent your book. Like how a script writer cannot dictate to a director how to shoot his film, or the designer cannot dictate to you how to write your book.

What Kind of Design Do You Need?

The first step in knowing who to hire to design your cover is to know the genre of your book. Like how you might specialise in writing a specific genre, cover designers also specialise. Some may only design children’s books, others may be experts on Thrillers or Mysteries or Romance. Capturing the theme of your book in an image and font is difficult for someone outside of your genre.

How to Choose a Good Designer

Choosing a good designer is something that may take you a while, especially if you don’t have an eye for art. The first thing you need to consider is the genre and reading level of your book. Once you know that, look for recommendations from trusted friends or colleagues. The best way is to go through recommendation.

Don’t ask for designers to advertise themselves; ask others for the designers they recommend.

You’ll always get people wanting to sell their skills to you, and unfortunately, not all designers have your best interests in mind. They may or may not understand if their work is best suited to your book, but they want the work, and not everyone is willing to say they can’t help you—especially if they’re desperate for business.


A good book cover can cost up to $2000, or it could be as cheap as five. Of course, some types of covers can cost more than others just based on genre, and complexity plays a major role. Keep in mind that to do their jobs as efficiently as possible, a designer may have to do hours upon hours of research on top of the actual photo manipulation or custom drawing of your cover. You are paying for their valuable time and supporting their livelihood.

It’s hard to say what cost you should be looking at, so be sure to do the additional research for your specific genre and what you’re looking for so you get a fair price for the work. If you have a short list of designers, look through their portfolios and read customer reviews to help you choose.

Some designers offer pre-made covers, which have a pre-set image with only a title that can be changed (if that). These are always cheaper than custom covers as there is far less research done for them to work.


Whether you’re buying a pre-made or splurging for a completely custom cover, know your limits, stick to your budget, and have a plan. Even if you have the best cover possible, if you don’t allocate cost to marketing, the right people might not even see it. If you know that you’re not the best person at recognizing quality art, ask a friend or consult someone you know with experience. Remember to ask other people in the community for recommendations, not from designers themselves, and take your time deciding. The worst thing you can do is jump into something and realize too late that you don’t want or can’t afford their work.

And above all—if you want the book to do well, match it to your audience!

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