How to Make a Book Step 5: Make a Cover

In this eight-part series, I’ll walk you through the creation of a book using the next release from Practical Fox as an example. As I do the steps to make Life Among the Paiutes, I’ll write about it! You can start with Step 1.

Okay, you’ve got the text, edited it, and designed the interior. Now comes the fun — and stressful — part: creating the book cover.

We’ve all heard that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. We all probably strive not to judge people by their looks, or clothes, or what they order at the coffee shop. But we all almost certainly judge actual books by their actual covers. Being judged is the only job a book cover has, so you want to set that cover up for success.

What Should a Cover Look Like?

You certainly know as well as I do that book covers can look like almost anything. They can be illustrated, or they can be plain with bold text. They can be black and white, they can be brightly colored. They can use photographs. They can have shiny foil or cutouts. It’s all fair game.

If you don’t have design chops, you’ve got a couple of options. The first is to hire a book cover designer. This is a particular skill set; any artist or graphic designer friend probably won’t know what book covers need to succeed on the shelf at a bookstore.

The second is to buy a predesigned cover. There are people out there who create gorgeous covers, particularly for genre books like fantasy, horror, and romance. They drop in placeholder text for the title and author name. These are usually less expensive than hiring someone to create a cover from scratch or commissioning an artist to create original work for your cover.

The third is to learn the ropes yourself. If you can’t find a class in book cover design specifically, you can create a curriculum for yourself. You’ll need to know how to use the tools, like Photoshop and InDesign. You’ll want to learn the principals of good design. And you’ll want to have some solid book marketing information on hand so you can design the kind of covers shoppers will judge kindly.

Kinds of Covers

Every version of your book will have its own cover:

  • Paperback
  • Hardcover
  • Ebook
  • Audiobook

They’ll all share elements, like the graphic and typeface. But they are each a different size, maybe a different resolution. The audiobook format is square. The ebook and audiobook versions won’t have back covers for an excerpt or blurb. If the hardcover has a jacket, it might need more photos or information than the paperback to fill the available space.

Also, keep in mind that books sold now probably shouldn’t have white backgrounds. (A mistake I have made and continue to live with.) That’s because when they show up on a screen in an online bookstore, which usually has a white background, the title of your book looks like it’s floating in space.

Elements of a Book Cover

There are a few things that are required on a book cover:

  • Title on the front and spine
  • Author on the front and spine
  • ISBN on the back
  • Publisher, usually on the spine

It’s also nice to have some text on the back, like an excerpt of the text or a blurb from a well-known author. Those could help a reader decide to buy your book.

The Cover of Life Among the Paiutes

I mentioned that I wanted to commission a modern Native American artist to do the cover of this book to a friend. She said, quite simply, “Oh, you should ask my coworker Steph. She’s super cool.”

That was an understatement. Steph Littlebird Fogel was on board with this project immediately, and her work (see it on Instagram at @artnerdforever) was a perfect fit for my vision for the book.

In case you want to work with an artist, here’s how we did it, and it was very smooth.

  • We met to talk about the book and the project, and I sent her a PDF of the cleaned-up text. We agreed on a price and a timeline that worked for both of us.
  • I paid her half the fee up front.
  • She sent about a dozen sketches via email, and I picked the three or four I liked best for this book.
  • She refined those and offered a variety of color palettes.
  • I showed these to fellow readers and publishing professionals and selected the one I was going to use.
  • I told Steph which one I liked and asked for a few final tweaks.
  • She sent me the final version, complete with font suggestions.
  • I paid her the final half of her fee.

I knew enough of design and publishing to create the covers myself, so I dropped Steph’s final cover into InDesign. I also created a low-res PDF that I could more easily share on social media and in my newsletter.

And here, to satisfy your curiosity, is what the cover looks like.