Cover Design Mistakes

Cover Design Mistakes that are costing you sales

You cover is your number 1 sales tool

Yes, it is. No matter how good your novel is, no matter how brilliant your back cover blurb is, no matter how many ARC reviews you have, a bad cover will cost you sales.

When people see a poorly constructed cover, they will assume the novel is also of similar quality. A prospective reader will always see your cover first. And not only will she judge the book by its cover, she will judge it harshly.

For the writer with limited funds, paying for a professional cover can seem like too much of a gamble. (How many do I need to sell now to break even?) But putting out a terrible cover will guarantee lackluster sales. If you can’t afford a pro for every novella you put out, make sure you are not committing these common cover design mistakes.

Typography mistakes

Text is art. Bad typography is the most common “tell” of the amateur cover. If you are serious about designing your own covers, study the basics of good type. If you are struggling with the basics, try a program like Canva

Mistake 1: Fancy Fonts

bad book cover-fancy font
Fancy fonts

Breaking out the scrapbooking fonts to make your cover look really special, really doesn’t. These two fonts don’t reflect the Sci-Fi thriller feel the rest of the cover is trying to portray. These fonts don’t match the cover image or each other. The results are confusing and messy. If you don’t have access to the correct genre font, don’t substitute another exotic font. Clean and simple block text would have sufficed.

Mistake 2: Boring centered text

bad book covers
Unconsidered, boring text

This text suffers from no formatting. The title is centered and allowed to auto format. The main element “Sarah” should be given a separate text box, allowing the size to be manipulated independently from the subtitle. The descriptive words in the subtitle could also be given some thought. “Wild” could be set in italics adding further interest in the title. Text is artwork. Give it careful consideration.

Mistake 3: Invisible Text

Bad Book Covers
Invisible Text

Every time I see this, I’m left scratching my head. An otherwise beautiful book cover ruined by the invisible text. (Did you even see it? It’s in the water.) A simple burn under the main title and a change in font color for the subtitle would fix this. What works for print doesn’t always work for online. Your text must be legible.

Mistake 4: Creative Typography Effects

Bad book covers

Look through the entire top 100 on Amazon and count how many books use type settings in unconventional directions. Very few. And it’s a good bet those were done by professional designers. Unconventional typography is tricky. More than one direction will make your text appear random. Waterfall text is almost impossible to pull off. I know Photoshop has it built in, but that button isn’t for you. Step away.

Photoshop Fails

If you have access to Photoshop, spend the time to learn it. Photoshop is a powerful, but complicated, program. While you many never use most of its capability, having the basics will save your hours of frustration.

Mistake 5: Montage Monstrosity 

Montage run amok

This cover shows the creator has just enough Photoshop skills to be dangerous. What exactly are these faces floating in? Montage is not only a quick way to move the story along, it’s also a quick way to move a potential reader along–to the next author. Keep it simple. Skip the montage.

Mistake 6: Busy Background

The previous example suffered from too much Photoshop. This one suffers from not enough. The text is lost against the busy background. As a result, the creator was forced into using the garish black text in an attempt to create enough contrast to make it legible. Note how the author’s name is clearly visible against the bright green. With a few simple manipulations, the dark tree trunks could have been lightened allowing the text to show.

DIY Images

With so many self-published titles on the market, the potential for multiple covers to use the same stock image has prompted many authors to seek alternatives. However, creating your own image isn’t always the best solution.

Mistake 7: The backyard photographer

Flat Photo

While this is a pretty photo, it falls flat as a book cover. Why? It has a shallow depth of field. The leaves, the woman, and the tree appear in the same plane of focus, and visually, they have the same weight. Rather than force your eye to focus on the main element: the woman, they compete with her. As a result, the text feels lost in an already saturated visual plane, making it into the chorus girl, not the main star.

Mistake 8: Poser/hand-drawn fantasy covers

Poser Cover

Finding a decent stock image to use for a high fantasy cover is nearly impossible. Commissioning an artist to create a custom piece is expensive. What is a fantasy writer to do? Unless you have an art degree, do not create your own artwork. You cannot be “pretty good” at drawing, or “getting the hang” of Poser and pull this off. And don’t be tempted to ask your friend who likes to draw. Whatever you get back, you will feel obligated to use. You are much better off picking something abstract from your novel and creating a cover from that. No colored pencils, no cartoon boobs. No.

Image Confusion

While your cover doesn’t need to portray a scene in your book, it does need to accurately reflect your novel. The image and the title must work together as a cohesive pitch. It must also reflect the established conventions of the genre.

Mistake 9: Genre Confusion

Bad Book Covers
Genre Confusion

This is a rom-com? It looks more like my 8th-grade dream journal. While it’s a pretty cover, it won’t look like any of the books next to it. Readers will think either this book is mislabeled, or the writer doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Either way, they won’t bother to click because there will be plenty of other books to choose from that do look like what they are searching for.

Mistake 10: Random Image

Bad Book Covers
random image

Is this book about a bear? Where’s the home? And why is the heather blooming in November? While the cover does beckon the reader forward, it’s too far removed from the title to make sense. Your cover is a visual pitch of your book. It has to sell your book. It can’t do that with an image that doesn’t match the story.

Think of your cover as a visual pitch

These are only a few of the potential pitfalls authors fall into when designing covers for their novels. If you are trying to sell your novel with one of these covers, you are hindering your sales. Take the time to create a cover that looks professional. Study book covers in your genre and take notes. Learn to recreate those same types of covers in Photoshop (or your preferred program). If you don’t have the skills, reach out to the writer’s community and get help. There are so many resources available. Don’t let your sales suffer from a bad cover.

Example Cover Links:
The Good
E-Book cover Design Awards
he Bad
Lousy Book Covers
he Ugly (Parody, Not Safe for work)
Kindle Cover Disasters

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M.L. Keller is a freelance writer and editor. Her blog "The Manuscript Shredder" is focused on helping emerging writers hone their craft.


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