Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers

This is the next post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction 
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers (this post)
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com 
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

Book covers are important, especially in the online world where a potential reader cannot pick up, examine, or thumb through the pages. While studies have shown that a book on a three-for-two table has about one and a half seconds to catch a reader’s eye, I have to wonder if when browsing a list of books on Amazon if a reader doesn't scroll past or click on 'next' in less time than even that. Even when a book is picked up, a reader may only spend "eight seconds looking at the front cover and 15 seconds looking at the back cover" (source: The Wall Street Journal). But, by that time, the book cover has served its purpose: it's caught the reader's eye, and he or she has picked it up.

In summary, that's why a book cover is so important. I'll take that further and say that's why a professional (and accurate) book cover is important.

JA Konrath, who's published a number of books and e-books, identifies five important aspects of book covers:

  1. Branding
  2. Genre
  3. Professional
  4. Reduceable
  5. Eye-catching

In fact, he saw sales increase dramatically when he went from his own home-grown covers to ones designed by a pro.

As a potential self-publisher, I see myself as having three options with regard to book covers:

  1. Don't use one
  2. Create my own
  3. Hire a professional illustrator

Let's discuss each.

1. Don't Use One

IMO, this isn't really an option, but let's at least talk about why not. We all know the old adage don't judge a book by its cover. But what about a book that doesn't have one? Do we judge it at all?

I don't.

Perhaps I'm superficial, but first and foremost I nearly always judge a book by its cover—the quality, the initial impact of the illustration, the colors. They're all important. Even more, the cover should reflect the content of the book, at least in part.

In terms of selling online in, say, the Kindle store, here is what potential readers will see if there is no image associated with your e-book:

imageNow, that makes does not make me want to click-through and read the book's summary.

2. Create my own

It's cheap, it's easy, but not going to win any awards. I have no illustrating or drawing talent whatsoever. But I've found an easy way to create a cover is to start with a photo. It can be your own or someone else's, but make sure if the latter that you have rights to use it.

A few places to find 'resusable media' not requiring licensing or royalties includes Wikimedia Commons, stock.xchng, and morgueFile. Always double-check the licensing on each image just to be sure.

Once you've got a basic image or photo, you'll need to fix it up a bit with the title of your book and your name at the bare minimum. I've learned it's best to keep it simple, though, especially considering that the image will be shrunk down for display on a product page. Make the font as big as possible so that when it is scaled down the words are still visible.

You don't need to buy something expensive like Adobe Photoshop, either. Check out Paint.NET. It's free and does just about everything I've ever needed.

3. Hire a professional illustrator

Seventy-five percent of 300 booksellers surveyed (half from independent bookstores and half from chains) identified the look and design of the book cover as the most important component.

If you think that, too, you might want to look into hiring a professional. JA Konrath saw immediate results when he went from covers he designed himself to ones a professional cooked up for him.

There are a lot of designers and illustrators out there. I'll leave it up to you to search for them least it look like I'm trying to endorse one or another, which I could only do if I had personal experience with that person.


I was a little hesitant about writing this post, mostly because I feel it's a topic that really shouldn't require much convincing. However, here it is. Hopefully I presented my case that a professional book cover is a necessity. Next, we'll move on to the first of the online eRetailers I want to cover, Amazon.com.

Further Browsing

Further Reading

Join my reader's group and get The Hall of Riddles (An Alchemancer Prequel) and The Assassin's Dilemma (An Assassin Without a Name Prequel) as a welcome gift.

Comments (2) -

  • Eric
    So is there a standard aspect ratio for eBook cover art?  With hard-copy books, obviously, it's a function of the printing process.  But do Amazon & co. expect an eBook's cover art to match a paperback's dimensions, or something else, or nothing?

    Thanks in advance!
  • Scott Marlowe

    Not really. Or, not that I've seen. Each publisher has their own requirements re sizing, usually stated in their guidelines. It's not hard to figure out once you're at the point in their process where you would upload your cover.

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