How I Design My Book Covers
I'm currently working on my second book, titled To A Man Much Like Myself, and I've decided to document more of the process for those of you looking to create, package, and distribute books. That could be in the form of Kindle Direct Publishing, an ebook on your site, or a pamphlet to give to your friends.
First, you have to decide whether or not you'll do it yourself or you'll hire someone else to do it for you. I have experience doing graphic design work for myself, and professionally, so I decided to do it myself, which is what the rest of this article will be about.
If you don't have graphic design experience, I recommend the following steps:
- Go to Dribbble.com and sign up for an account.
- At the top of the site, click Designers.
- Search for designers in your area or with specific expertise.
- Reach out to them on their websites and/or on Dribbble.
You should expect to pay $35-$100/hour depending on the designer you choose. Designers that will show up on a Dribbble search are often top of their field talent.
You can also use sites like Upwork to hire from a marketplace of freelancers. Sites like these are great, but I don't recommend going for the cheapest designer. You're much better off paying more to work with someone who knows what they're doing.
Luckily, I didn't have to do that since I have enough experience in graphic design to create my own, so here's how I did that.
Most designers use the Creative Cloud suite of software by Adobe. It's costly, and I haven't had the money to pay for the monthly subscription, so I use Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo (equivalents to Illustrator and Photoshop) by Serif Labs. They are $50 each, though for what I do, I mostly use Affinity Designer.
You can learn more about those here, and buy a book about how to use Affinity Designer by Serif Labs here. (I have it, and it's a great book if you're just getting started with design software.)
As in any design, there must be a reason for the design choices you make.
The Dropout Manifesto
For my first book, The Dropout Manifesto, I wanted the book to be a bit mysterious. I wanted it to feel like something classic, which is why I avoided any sort of imagery and opted not even to ask for testimonials to put on the back of the book.
The cover was inspired by Massimo Vignelli's The Vignelli Canon, which I've only ever seen pictures of (see below):
On the cover, I used a typeface called Cinderblock that I bought on YouWorkForThem. The type is rotated 90º and placed on the upper right-hand corner of the cover, just like The Vignelli Canon. The color of the cover is also a direct homage to Vignelli, as he always used Pantone Warm Red C. You can find that specific color on Pantone's website.
(Michael Bierut is one of my main influences in design. He apprenticed under Massimo Vignelli, so it was natural to look to those two for inspiration.)
These design choices made for a book cover that is strikingly simple and garners interest, though I must admit, it might not sell a lot of copies due to the lack of "advertising."
To A Man Much Like Myself
For this second book, I planned on printing it with a copy of Seneca's Moral Letters to Luciliusin the same text. It would be two books on one—the translation of the Moral Letters from 1918 is public domain, so I decided it would be a neat add-on.
I'm still in the midst of deciding, but right now it looks like I'll:
- Print TAMLM in its own book, with no add-on
- Possibly release a "deluxe" version with Volume I of Seneca's Moral Letters
- Create EPUB, PDF, and an HTML version of the Moral Letters and release them as a free download on my website with a lead-generation signup form.
When I wanted to print both of the books inside of one, I had been playing around with cover designs similar to this one:
That worked because it compartmentalized both of the writings and demonstrated that there were two written works rather than one. However, now that I've shifted more towards printing my reflections on their own, that conceptual basis isn't so strong.
I must admit, the other ideas (pictured below) are not well thought out. There's no reason for that shape and its continuation, I don't have much of a concept behind the colors other than that I've tried a million different combinations and this one suits my fancy.
The cover is intriguing, and again, that's all I'm going for.
Besides the overall concept, typography is an integral part of the cover. I chose to use Cinderblock on my last book because it was a tall sans-serif face that was slightly hard to read, and made people who picked it up turn the book on its side to read it.
For TAMLM, I played with other designs that were focused on type, but I didn't like them as much because they seemed too obvious and didn't raise enough questions. Those are pictured below.
On the other hand, I've tried the opposite approach where I use only typography, no symbolism, and make the type small so the entire cover is black minus the type. This would be one tagline or possibly even an excerpt from the introduction of the book (see below) that makes people interested enough to either turn the book around and read the back or open the book up and see inside.
If I go with a design like this, I'll more than likely used scanned papers from my typewriter. It's a Remington Quiet-Riter Eleven, and the type that comes out of it has true 1960s character. There's nothing like it, and I'll know where it came from every time I see the cover. The downside to such a design would be that the concept doesn't carry through to the inside of the book, making the idea much weaker.
I'm also designing the inside of my book myself. I'm using Pages in macOS to do this, though you could (probably) use Microsoft Word, or if you're a real pro, use InDesign by Adobe. There are other publishing platforms, like Scribus, though I'm familiar enough with Pages and I don't do anything complicated with my interior design, so it works for me.
The typefaces you choose on the interior are much more important than what you put on the cover because that's what your reader will look at most of the time.
For The Dropout Manifesto, I used Helvetica Neue on the cover where I listed the title and the author and on the inside for section titles. (The equivalent might be if you had chapter headings.)
For the primary typeface, I used EB Garamond, which is available on Google Fonts. I recommend going to fonts.google.com and choosing from a variety of typefaces and downloading those if you have a small budget. They are free and are reliable to use, as many of them come in complete families with all sorts of weights.
Don't use any "special" fonts for the body text. The body text is the writing inside your book. Headings and titles, you can get fancy with, but choosing Fraktur for your body text is a horrible mistake.
If you have no idea what you're doing with typography, pick up Thinking With Type by Ellen Lupton. That book will give you a strong enough basis to choose from a minimal selection of typefaces. Quick PSA: I don't care that there are millions of fonts to choose from. Only about 10 of those millions are acceptable choices for the body text of your book. Some recommendations:
- Some Garamond, but not too light
The margins of your page don't have to be too complicated. I try to opt for page dimensions that match certain proportions, such as dividing the page into a grid of 12 units and then choosing the margins and placing the main body of text inside of that grid. For more information on grid systems, read the book Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Müller-Brockmann.
(I also highly recommend you read The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. Hold on to that book forever—it is your typographic Bible.)
Since I create and distribute my books through Kindle Direct Publishing, uploading the cover is as simple as using their design templates and then uploading it as a PDF to their book creator. It's the same process when uploading the manuscript.
As far as the designs I mentioned in this article, I haven't yet decided on what the new cover will look like. Many considerations are jumping around in my head, but I plan to have the book out on Amazon before I turn 18 in late October.
You can keep track of the project by signing up for my weekly newsletter on the homepage of my site. Or you couldn't, that's okay with me too.