The 6 DIY Cover Tips You Need for Your Book

DIY Cover design tips Blog Graphic

Poll veterans of self-publishing, and you’ll likely hear the same advice from all of them: get an editor and get a professional cover designer. There are many factors to consider, but if you’re an author with aspirations for your book, you cannot forego an interior edit and a well-designed cover. But that doesn’t mean you can’t design your own cover. And if that’s the way you’re going, you need these cover tips to help make the best book cover you can.

Without an eye-grabbing cover, the book is likely to struggle just to get a reader to consider it. A bad cover can ruin a great book. I bet you’ve heard the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, the saying is true: you can’t always tell how good the book will be just looking at the cover. A terrible book might have an eye-catching cover, and a terrific book might have a bland and unexciting cover. But the terrible book will have a leg up in marketing and promoting with that eye-catching cover.

Don’t let a poorly designed cover hold back your book. It can be easy not to think too much about the cover if your focus is on writing, but if you plan to self-publish and want to earn readers, you will need an awesome cover. Learn more about the elements of a great cover with our Cover Design Advice.

I’m not trying to say you have to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a professionally designed cover either. If you can afford to do so, you should. You’ll be glad you did when your book is as visually pleasing and well represented as your content deserves. But you can use free and inexpensive tools to make a great cover too!

Methods

Lulu Cover Wizard, upload, themes

When self-publishing with Lulu, you’ve got two options for designing you cover. Our cover wizard is an in browser layout tool using a variety of templates to build your cover, while our one-piece tool is a size and upload option that requires designing the cover outside of Lulu and uploading the file directly.

1. Use the Lulu Cover Wizard

The cover wizard offers some basic templates and text options. You’ll have 18 different themes to choose from, and a range of layout options within each theme, providing customization for text and image layout. Even with our themes and layout options, you may find the cover wizard limiting. Text and image boxes are set to a standard size and cannot be moved.

But you can still make use of the cover wizard for the most critical piece of the cover – the spine.

One of the hardest parts of designing your cover will be correctly sizing and placing the spine. Our cover wizard has a very cool feature that facilitates using your own cover design, while assisting with the spine placement and sizing.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Design a cover for the front and back, using the software you prefer (Photoshop, InDesign, Word, etc.).
  • Get these files sized each to match the size of your book. For example, you’d size the front and back each to 6 x 9 for a US Trade size book.
  • Create your covers and save them as an image (JPG or PNG). Be sure the options for high quality are all selected when you export your cover.
Lulu Cover Wizard, upload, templates

Printed images should be sized to 300 pixels per inch (ppi) or higher for the best clarity. Remember that an image on your computer screen will appear clear at a much lower resolution. What looks your monitor may not look good when printed.

Once you’ve got your designs for the front and back created and ready as image files, use the Lulu cover wizard’s “Image Only” theme to upload. Our tool will set a spine for you, and you can easily adjust the color and text. This method will ensure the spine is correctly sized and located for you.

The front and back cover files will adjust automatically to allow for bleed and to ensure nothing runs over onto the spine area.

2. Use the One-Piece Cover tool

The One-Piece tool is less interactive than our cover wizard. If you are planning to create a one-piece cover, the information on our cover step provides measurements for the entire cover (front, spine, and back) as a single PDF or Image file. If you opt to build your cover this way, we’ll provide you the exact specifications and location of the spine.

Lulu Cover Wizard, one-piece cover, upload

The one-piece cover provides you the freedom and flexibility to design your own cover exactly as you’d like, but with that comes the added challenge of designing the cover. Because this method uses a file upload, you must create the cover outside of Lulu using software like Photoshop or InDesign, then bring the file to your project on Lulu for uploading.

Spine Width Calculator

Use this short guide to ensure your spine width is correct for your book!

Spine Width Calculator

The upside of creating a one-piece cover is the option to build a complete, wrap-around style cover. You can incorporate the spine layout directly into the cover file. And you’ll be in complete control over all elements and locations of images and text on the cover. Be wary when following this method though. Our system cannot verify the spine location, so you must position it just right.

Cover Creations Best Practice

1. Know your readers, know your genre

What kind of book are you publishing? Is it a science fiction adventure story set in the far reaches of outer space? Or is it an instructional guide for bicycle repair? Knowing what your readers like and expect will inform your cover design choices. Referencing the above examples, the Sci-Fi story will do well with an active cover. You want potential readers to see the action and technology your book will include. The bicycle repairs manual will want to be simpler, perhaps an image of a bike or a person working on a bike. A reader who picks up a repair manual has very specific needs; speak them with your cover design.

Go to a bookstore or perform an online search and hunt down books with similar themes. Do you have any direct inspirations for your work? Look at the covers those books use. Compare different books in your genre and use this to get inspiration. It’s important that your cover defines for a potential reader the genre and general theme of the book.

It boils down to knowing what your readers expect and look for, then working with that in mind while designing your cover. I suggest developing at least three designs. Though depending on your cover creation skills, you may want to stick with simple sketches. Know the other books your readers will be looking at. You want something that fits their expectations but still stands out.

2. Professional Design

Okay, you’re looking at other books, you’re taking notes and making rough sketches; you’re doing all the right homework to lead up to your cover design.

Now you’ll want to dive in and create a cover mock-up. How you go about doing so will vary with your individual software, the specifics of your cover, and the plan you have for promoting your book. The most important question should be “does this look professional?”

An example of a really bad cover design

“Professional” need not be flashy or complicated. Plenty of terrific covers exist that look professional, without using a lot of flair or graphic effects. Use the research you’ve done to get a sense of what “professional” design looks like for your genre and work from there. If you’re writing a piece of fiction, you’ll have a lot more leeway in the design, but if you’re a non-fiction author with a textbook or manual, you’ll want to keep the design conventional. Let’s get into some specific cover tips that will help you achieve the level of professional design you’re after.

3. Image Resolution

The resolution of an image is a measurement of the “dots” or “pixels” present per inch. The more pixels crammed in each inch, the clearer the picture. For the best printing of images, we recommend at least 300 dots per inch (DPI). This resolution is the standard high resolution value for images. If you use an image in any of our tools with lower than 300 DPI resolution, you’ll see a warning.

If you use lower resolution images to create the cover but set the file to 300 DPI resolution, the low res images may convert, but they still will technically be low resolution and may print grainy or blurred. Be very careful to review your cover and images for resolution prior to uploading, as a blurry cover (unless intentional) can be a real turnoff for potential readers.

4. Think Thumbnail

This is a fairly new concern for authors. Gone are the days when physical bookstores are the primary means of selling books. Now, most books sell online. With that shift in the shopping patterns of your customers, you’ll want to adapt your design to accommodate their preferred shopping methods.

Mostly, this means creating a front cover aware of the fact that it will appear as a small thumbnail image. In case you don’t know or are unfamiliar with the lingo, a thumbnail as defined by PC Mag:

A miniature representation of a page or image that is used to identify a file by its contents. Clicking the thumbnail opens the file. Thumbnails are an option in file managers, such as Windows Explorer, and they are found in photo editing and graphics program to quickly browse multiple images in a folder.

That’s just a given with thumbnails. It will be the one visual representation of your book your readers see. Just like when they pick up a physical book and hold it in their hands, the thumbnail is their tactile representation of the book. The cover needs to render well as a small thumbnail image, which can be a challenge for graphically dense covers or a cover with a great deal of text. A good example would be my “not professional” cover image (see above). The subtitle is a massive six lines of text. Even if I hadn’t used a gradient and terrible color, this text would be almost impossible to read in the thumbnail image.

5. Typography

Nearly as important was what the words on your cover say, is the font, kerning, color, and layout of those words. Unlike the contents of your book, which will use words to paint a picture for your reader, the cover is a picture that should act as a gentle reference point for a few words. The title, subtitle, and author information are about all you want on the cover, and you’ll want to be conscious of how you display even those few words on your cover. Here are the specific elements of typography you should keep in mind regarding your cover:

  • Tracking – the spacing between letters, tracking will apply to all text uniformly
  • Kerning – the individual space between letters, allowing for more specific alterations when letters appear together
  • Font – selecting the right font for your text requires a fair amount of experimenting and opinion gathering

Selecting and using the right typography for the cover you’re creating can be an art all to itself. If you are not entirely comfortable picking out fonts, solicit help from friends, family, or anyone else you share your writing with for advice. I know I do not have a good eye for fonts, so when looking at covers for my work, I always seek outside opinions. For me, I publish for fun and to preserve my writing, so I don’t stress about bad font when I use it, but if I had intentions of marketing and selling my book, I would absolutely have to redo my cover before I even attempted to make sales.

Self-published book cover, font, marketing

It is also important to keep in mind the thumbnail while making choices about your fonts. Some particular thick fonts like “Cooper Black” or “Impact” will not be ideal for a cover, as the thickness will require a lot of touching up the Kerning and Tracking to make the text readable. Others, like “Arial,” may take up too little space and leave a space that distracts or disorients.

6. Color Combinations

Much like selecting the right typography, your cover should use the right colors, not only to compliment your text, but to catch your reader’s eye and retain their attention. I like to think about the process a potential reader goes through when look for a book like this:

  1. Search a genre or for title keywords
  2. Browse the titles their preferred search tool returns
  3. Look for authors they recognize
  4. Look for cover thumbnails with interesting or compelling graphics

Now, that above list is entirely based on my experience with online book shoppers and is subjective. But even if your experience has been different, it’s undeniable that the cover matters, and the cover matters in particular for grabbing the attention of a new reader. Color, the use of certain colors, and the combinations you choose, all have a direct impact on the immediate perception of your book.

Here’s an online tool you might try while considering how you pick the colors for your cover – ColorCombos. Remember, most of your readers will find you online, and will view your book online as a thumbnail image. So picking a color scheme optimized for online viewing is a very good idea. There are several variables and factors to consider, so just like the typography, researching the color options is wise.

For instance, most cover design pros agree that darker backgrounds imply seriousness, while lighter shades or pastels point to personal stories. Layer on to that the text colors and any images, and you have a variety of colors to pair to generate the impression and reaction you’re looking for. Red text with a striking image and dark backgrounds will produce a more intense reaction than subdued colors on a vibrant background.

Focus

The final piece of advice I can offer if you plan to create your own cover is Focus. Your cover is a critical piece of your book’s marketing plan, and if you hope to achieve sales and draw in new readers, you’ll want to put a lot of thought and consideration into how you create the cover. Most authors and experts in the publishing world will strongly encourage hiring a professional to work with you on building your cover. I have to agree with that too. If you can budget in a cover designer, do so.

But if you opt to go it yourself, keep the above points in mind, and your readers will thank you for not only publishing your awesome book, but taking the time to make a stunning cover to go with it.

12 thoughts on “The 6 DIY Cover Tips You Need for Your Book”

  1. dear lulu publishing company .I want to corporation with your company .I think to the future my book will be very popular to all the world .because I always email to so many different radio TV .magazine and so many popular of paster .let them know my book .even the breaking TV company .ny IDEA.is let more of people know the book of information.that is most important of action .if your ndepartment first report the news .will be popular to all the world .so I hope we can corporate .you can call or email again.we can talk about we can improve this book go to forward edward ning

  2. Lulu, I made the mistake of not using you as my publisher for my autobiography. I read the write ups on the different publishers and you were featured, but still I used, much to my dismay another publisher, who seems to delight in making things difficult.
    I have been approached by an agent for the ABC Australia to consider making a mini series of the book, but frustration has set in with me by the publisher I am using.
    IUt is a costly lesson and one I will not repeat.

  3. Nancy S. Pezdek

    Great article! Very helpful. If you have a chance to reread your article I am sure you will catch the ‘your’/’you’re’ blips and other words.

  4. As a professional graphic designer & a career as a publisher, this article was terrible. You didn’t give any real graphic design color advice, your advice on fonts was a joke… How about something simple like, A big bold font is readable when shrunk to a thumbnail? Or how about what primary color schemes are used in cereal box design, which colors suggest anger, which color combos just die on the shelf, or how to make a logo pop off the page with design & color? This article was a waste of my time & seemed to just push the tools of the LuLu peeps. Better luck next time.

  5. I really loved the way my first book was published by you. That was a number of years ago and I have been able to do a better job copying the old pictures from early 1900’s so I have decided to do an upgrade to the book. Should I just use the same format and just change the pictures? New cover? Thanks

  6. Hi, Paul.
    I love so much lulu.com. Image thumbnail, Image resolution, Typography, is the most important fact. The cover wizards all templates of lulu’s are really professional.
    Great thanks for sharing this diy cover tips with us.

    1. Hi Laura,
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I’m sad to hear you didn’t find this information helpful.
      If you have any constructive comments about the type of content you would like to see, please feel free to leave those here.

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