Book cover design is NOT subjective

I see a lot of authors asking for feedback between a few cover design choices. This always has mixed results, since people on Facebook don’t know anything about book cover design, they probably aren’t your target market, they probably aren’t ideal readers of your genre, and they aren’t designers.

So what inevitably happens is, authors think, “The results are pretty balanced, so I guess it doesn’t matter, book covers are subjective, so I’ll just use the one I like.” So they pick the one they like best, the one they “hoped” would win.

But book covers aren’t subjective.

One will perform better than the other one. The only real test is to actually use both: publish with one, and when sales slump, try the other, boost it again for visibility and see if it sticks for awhile.

You can also use targeted Facebook ads to an optin offer, use one cover for one ad, the other cover for the other.

It’s hard to test accurately, yes.

But that doesn’t mean all covers are equal. One cover may significantly improve sales, which means the success or failure of your book could depend on this decision.

So don’t listen to a bunch of random people on the internet.

Don’t necessarily listen to your coach or mentor (especially if they’re an indie author, not a cover designer – a lot of indie authors are opinionated about cover design but use ugly covers themselves). And cover designers aren’t always right either. (I know some successful cover designers who aren’t actually that great at designing covers). But if they’ve been doing it for a long time and make awesome covers and have a good reputation, they probably have more experience to predict which cover will perform better, or which looks more professional at least.

Be honest with yourself, and don’t just pick a cover YOU like best.

Pick the cover that will sell your book.

I’m not being petty.

I’m just not disappointed that you didn’t go with my recommendation.

I’m disappointed that you’ll sell less books.

I’m disappointed the world will be subjugated to another unprofessional cover.

If you’re not sure whether your cover is unprofessional, get some feedback from a professional. If you publish your book and it isn’t selling, definitely rethink the cover (unless you have less than 20 reviews. If so, that’s probably your problem. Fix that first. If it still doesn’t sell, fix the description, because it’s cheap and easy. If that doesn’t work, it’s the cover.)


how to make a book cover design



Start with this one: it’s the presentation I gave for the Alliance of Independent Authors 2016 Fringe Fest. It’s a good crash course to the fundamental issues and mistakes indie authors make, and how to fix them.  


  • TariAkpodiete Posted

    very well-said.
    test, and test again.

  • Rena Hoberman Posted

    The problem is that many authors think they’re choosing the
    right cover simply because they don’t know enough about cover design and they have
    no idea that they don’t know enough. Maybe there should be a mandatory book
    cover design course for anyone who plans on self publishing.

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      Yeah! though it can be pretty simple… I made a super simple graphic, and tons of videos about this stuff. I can’t make it mandatory but I make it free and available… I’ll add links up above.

  • Melissa Yuan-Innes Posted

    Do you mind naming the fonts you used in the “after” side, especially in the third example? Love these and am watching the video. Thank you.

  • Keith Pearson Posted

    I run a web design studio (whilst also writing). The single worst phrase I hear when we show a client their new website design is, “I don’t like it”. Well, it doesn’t matter if YOU like it – what matters is whether your prospective customers are drawn to it. Clients want to impose their own tastes, no matter how outlandish they can sometimes be.

    People – you’re not designing the colour scheme of your sitting room or deciding on a new outfit for a night out – it’s a book cover. You absolutely have to park your own tastes and accept what your target market wants/expects.

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