Publishing houses oversee the cover design and interior formatting of books they publish, so authors aiming to secure a traditional publishing contract won’t have to worry about those elements.
Authors who choose to self-publish, however, have full control over cover design and interior layout.
In this age of DIY, you may be tempted to make your own book cover and do your own formatting—which is possible if you use the right tools. However, if you don’t have the time, the energy, the knowledge, or the eye to design your book perfectly, you should consider working with professionals who can.
Your Book Cover Matters
Even though we say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” that’s exactly what people do. A cover tells people a lot about a book. With hundreds of thousands of books to choose from in any given genre, how will your readers be able to tell that yours is one of the good ones?
Think about your book cover as product packaging. If your cover looks dated or unprofessional, people will generally assume the same of your writing. To see what we’re talking about, check out Good Show Sir, a showcase of the worst of the worst sci-fi and fantasy book covers.
What makes a great book cover?
A good book cover will pique readers’ interest. If you want your book cover to be appealing, follow these basic principles:
Cover text must be easy to read, set in professional fonts.
The image or design shouldn’t obscure or detract from the text.
The cover must be unique and memorable.
The cover should be aesthetically pleasing.
While book cover trends in your genre can help inform your design, avoid simply imitating the covers of current bestsellers. If you do, your book cover will get dated quickly.
How can you find a great book cover designer?
Start your search by browsing Amazon for books that are selling well in your genre. As you’re browsing, make note of what draws your eye and what kinds of covers make you want to read more. This is a great way to get ideas so that when you connect with your dream book cover designer, you already have some thoughts about what you want.
When you find a book with a cover you love, search for its designer. That information may be available on the inside cover of the book, or you might have to do some Googling. You could also try to contact the author to ask him or her who designed the cover.
Additionally, you can connect with a professional book cover designer by browsing our resources for self-publishers.
Approach premade book covers with caution.
Remember this cardinal rule: A boring book cover can be as detrimental as a bad one.
Your book is your baby, and you’ve worked hard on it. You don’t want a mediocre cover to prevent you from getting the sales you deserve.
Premade book covers come as cheap as $5, which is why using one may seem tempting. But these covers are forgettable, as they use standardized designs that will ensure your book blends in with every other book out there.
If you know what kind of cover you want, work with a designer who will take your ideas into account and provide a custom design that sets your book apart.
So...should you make your own cover?
No. Unless you already have graphic design experience and knowledge of book cover design in particular, we don’t recommend making your own book cover.
The value of the time you’ll need to spend researching, learning design, and working on your design will add up to far more than you would spend working with a professional book cover designer, and even if you have a great eye, your inexperience with design tools means your cover may not turn out exactly how you want.
Interior Layout Matters, Too
You’ll need to make some important decisions about the inside of your book, too. Below, we’ll discuss two separate interior layout services you may want to consider:
The first is typesetting, which is an advanced service that ensures an extremely polished appearance for every line of text.
The second is book formatting, a more general service that creates a professional interior that meets the requirements of a particular book-selling platform.
What is typesetting, and who needs it?
If your book contains only text, with no images or heavy design elements, you may wish to skip ahead to the section on book formatting below. We recommend typesetting only for books that require a detailed, line-by-line approach to ensure a smooth reading experience, and the typical fiction manuscript doesn’t require that.
Typesetting is both creative and technical. It involves laying out the interior to situate images and to avoid spacing issues, widows and orphans (a lone word or line at the head or foot of a page), and awkward word breaks. Good typesetting makes the reading process easy and effortless.
Just as there are different kinds of editors, there are different kinds of typesetters. Look for a typesetter who has worked on books like yours, one who knows the conventions of your genre. Your typesetter should be happy to provide samples of books he or she has worked on, which will help you make sure the approach matches what you’re looking for.
If you want to try your hand at typesetting, Adobe InDesign is the most popular choice of software among typesetters and publishers. It’s loaded with features, but learning how to use it can be overwhelming, and it isn’t free.
As with cover design, our recommendation is that you consider working with a professional typesetter, as doing so will ultimately cost you less time and money than you would spend purchasing typesetting software and learning how to use it.
What is book formatting?
Authors selling their own physical copies or eBooks through platforms such as Amazon and IngramSpark will typically not require the detailed typesetting services described above. Instead, they need a basic book formatting service that will ensure the manuscript adheres to the platform requirements. For example, here are Amazon’s eBook and paperback formatting guidelines.
Some authors choose to follow those instructions step by step and format their books themselves, which is doable with enough time and patience. Others, understandably, find the formatting requirements overwhelming and confusing. This is where a basic book formatting service can help.
See our recommendations for basic book formatting services.
A Quick Review
You can decide to do your own book cover and typesetting, but know that it will take a good amount of learning and time. You might end up having to pay for design software, and you may end up with a book that doesn’t quite achieve your vision.
If you have no experience with book cover design and interior layout, why not save yourself some stress by working with a professional? Check out our list of resources for self-published authors.
Delegating your book design to a professional allows you to move on and focus on what really matters: Getting started on your next book!