The biggest lie that has ever been told about books is that you cannot judge them by their cover. This is the first and sometimes only interaction people will have with your book, so you need to be sure that it looks professional. I have seen a lot of self-published covers over the years that leave much to be desired—my own books included. Online cover creators are an easy way to slap something on the book you’ve written, but the design limitations of these tools actually do more harm than spending the money to hire someone to make your cover. All this being said, there are some easy ways you can make your own cover as long as you avoid a few common mistakes.

Fonts Matter.

At a minimum, there should be two boxes of text on your cover: your name and the title of the book. You’d be surprised to see some covers that don’t match the font for these two pieces of information. Rule of thumb is to use only a single font for your front cover. You might get away with another smaller font if you’re fortunate enough to have an author blurb on the front (making sure it’s from an author in your genre), but any more than two fonts make it look messy. The back cover can have a different font for the synopsis, but keep it to a similar font that you’re using for the text inside the book.

It’s important to note that certain genres almost have font requirements so that people know what genre your book is at a glance. For instance, a lot of fantasy has elegant, serif fonts whereas science fiction recently seems to be on a thin sans-serif kick. Thrillers always have bold impactful fonts and romances lean heavily on script-type fonts. Looking at some pre-made covers (which are fine to pay for and use if you’re stuck) can give you some ideas on what fonts to use. Ultimately, the font you use should be clear and readable against the background of the cover. Just be careful that it’s a font you can freely use—some have rights tied to them that might require you to purchase the font from its creator.

Keep it Simple.

While there is nothing wrong with using stock photos for your cover (unless you don’t pay for them, in which case we have a problem), it takes a certain amount of Photoshop skill to integrate these pictures into a coherent cover image. If your readers can tell you’re using stock photos, then there’s a chance they have already identified your book as low quality and won’t even give it a chance. There’s nothing wrong with paying for art that you can use for your cover and just putting your name and title over the top of it. Just make sure it’s at least in the right genre. For example, I remember reading a coming-of-age high school romance that centered around soccer players, but the cover made it look like it was a manga. The story was pretty good, but the cover was misleading (fortunately, a second edition of this book fixed that issue).

Again, understanding where your text will go and how it will stand out from this background is key. Don’t clutter your cover with too many characters and other things if you really want it to pop. I’m definitely a fan of minimalism, which can make creating your own cover even simpler than you think. The fact that there are often other editions of famous books released with simple, minimalist covers shows that even well-known books can get away with this look. If they can do it, maybe you can too. Heck, there’s even a modern trend of just random blobs of color being the art for the cover. Here are some questions to help guide your design choices; should you choose the minimalist look: Can you distill your book down into simple geometric shapes or is there a solitary item that could explain your entire book? Simple is key to being understood at a glance.

The cover for my next book. Yes, it’s PowerPoint.

Use the tools you have.

One reason I used cover creators when I was starting out was that I didn’t know what tools I had to make covers. Photoshop is expensive, and even its free alternative GIMP can be overwhelming to learn. I also didn’t quite understand how to make a cover to the right size specifications that Amazon needed to print it without cutting off important information. Today, I’ve learned enough GIMP to get by and Amazon has great tools for identifying the measurements for books of different sizes and lengths. I have also found Canva to be an excellent resource as a much better (albeit limited) “cover creator” than the ones that came before.

A surprising tool I had access to was Microsoft PowerPoint. After making a small registry change in Windows that allowed me to save PowerPoint files as print-quality JPG images, I was able to use this program to make covers for my books. I actually find PowerPoint to be much easier to manipulate than Photoshop or GIMP. After all, these programs work on the concept of “layers” so PowerPoint’s ability to easily group, align, and adjust elements of the cover design keeps me coming back. In the end, all Amazon cares about is that the file is the right size and in the right format, so use whatever tool you have to make that happen.


In today’s online marketplace, having a cover that can instantly grab attention in a thumbnail size is important. The aesthetics of a cover can be instantly attractive or instantly off-putting—even in small sizes. If you have trouble understanding what bad covers look like or if you need help identifying issues with covers, be sure to check out Lousy Book Covers and Cover Critics. Money is sometimes tight and you can create the cover for your book, but there’s also no shame in letting someone more professional do it for you if you can find the budget for it.


What’s the worst cover you’ve ever seen?
What instantly attracts you to a book cover?
Can you tell if someone used a pre-made cover?

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