Self-Publishing Tips: Cover Art

This year I’ve been participating in the mentor program over at the Romance Divas forum as a self-publishing mentor.  The program is great, by the way, matching more experienced writers in several areas – craft, business, marketing – with apprentices.  I’ve participated in the past and had some really fab results!  My apprentice this year is paranormal romance writer Deanna Chase, who write the Jade Calhoun series.  This is the first time I’ve mentored specifically on self-publishing, so it’s also the first time I’ve really sat down and wrote out a how-to about certain aspects of self-publishing.  And, I have to say, I feel like I’m leaning (or at least re-learning) almost as much as my apprentice.  So many things that I’ve kind of taken for granted since starting, I’m re-looking at, re-designing, and seeing with fresh eyes again for the first time.  It’s very enlightening!  So, since I already got a lot of this stuff written down, I thought I’d share some tips here, too.

As most of you know, there are a lot of different aspects to self-publishing, so I’m going to break it down a bit and spread out my tips over several posts.  But I wanted to start with maybe one of the most important parts of your self-published ebook – the cover!

The number one thing I tell people who are new to self-publishing is that ebooks are not books. For the most part, you’re not selling ebooks to a book reading audience – they’re ebook readers.  (And, usually even more specifically Kindle or Nook or Kobo readers.)  So, your ebook cover can’t follow the same guidelines as a book cover.  With a paper book, readers are going to be browsing your book largely in bookstores where they’ll be seeing a large, 4X6 (or bigger) cover.  That’s a very large canvas to work with!  With ebooks, most readers will purchase them while browsing either on their ereaders or online.   You only have a thumbnail sized canvas with which to grab their attention here.  The way you design for 1.5 X1.5 browsing size thumbnail vs. 4X6 has to be different.

As writers, most of us have an artistic bent to our personalities.  We want out covers to look pretty or cool or interesting.  But as our own publishers, we need to check the artist at the door and let our inner marketing execs take over when it comes to covers.  Forget pretty – let’s think about what will sell our books.  How do we grab readers with this tiny canvas?

Take a look at my page on  This is about the size that most browsing readers will see your book covers.  This is the ultimate test when creating your covers.  Shrink them down to this size and see how they look.

Ebook covers should be:

1. Eye-catching enough to stand out among the other books in your genre.  If your cover is too dark or too light, it will blend into the background.  (Especially when someone is browsing on their black & white ereader!)  Bright, bold colors work well.

2. Simple.  Whatever graphic you use should be distinguishable even at thumbnail size, so don’t use anything too intricate.  If you have lots of graphic design in the background of your image, it’s going to look like a jumbled mess at thumbnail size.

3. Easy to read.  Scrolling or fancy fonts don’t translate well.  I’d stick to large, bold, block letters.  Adding to this… you name should be big.  With traditional publishers, the bigger the “star” an author is, the bigger the name will be on the cover.  So readers are trained to equate size of name with importance of author.  Since we’re self-pubbing, we can make our names as big as we want!  Clearly you don’t want to go overboard into gawdy territory with this, but I’d make sure it’s at least as big as your cover art allows while still looking nice and balanced.

4. Depict your genre at first glance.  Very important!  If you’re writing mystery, there needs to be some element of danger on the cover.  If it’s romance, show two lovers.  If it’s erotic, show them with less clothing on.  ;)   This goes for traditional publishing as well, but may be even more important with ebooks, since someone browsing is looking at  page full of dozens of covers at a time and can browse through them so much faster.

5. Fluid.  Once you have a traditional cover, you can’t change it.  Love it or hate it, it is what it is.  Ebooks are not so.  If your books are not selling well, you can, and should, change the covers.  If you win an award or hit a bestseller list, that should go on your cover as well.  This is a fast changing industry, so you have to be ready to change with it.  Along those lines… make sure that however you get your cover art, it comes with the ability to make minor tweaks.  This is one reason that I make my own covers, though I know that isn’t feasible for everyone.  But I would make sure that you either a) get a layered file from your cover artist so that you can easily change things like font size or color yourself or b) make an agreement with your cover artist for her to execute small changes quickly and at a low cost.

I hope this helps!  Cover art was the very first thing I worked with my apprentice on, and I have to say that with a few very minor tweaks, Deanna’s covers are gorgeous and selling well!   In fact, since she started the program her sales have doubled and she is now making more from writing and she is from her day job.  I’m thrilled for her, and I hope you all go check out her books, as they’re a really fun series.  She’s got two out now and is working hard to release a third later this year.



It’s Your Turn, WG2E-Land: Let’s hear your “Cover Stories” and/or any questions or concerns you have about Ebook Covers…

The Best of Ebook Cover Wishes — Gemma Halliday

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  1. Sibel Hodge says:

    Thanks for sharing, Gemma! Great advice there :)

  2. Adan Lerma says:

    very nice usefull list of shoulds, thanks you!

    esp liked,

    “make sure that however you get your cover art, it comes with the ability to make minor tweaks. This is one reason that I make my own covers….”

    i do my own also, so i can especially relate to that ;-) thanks again gemma, best wishes

  3. Steve Vernon says:

    This is a great little article on a very critical subject. You covered it wonderfully and I have already Twittered it and plunked a link on my Facebook and very shortly plunking on my blog – all the while bowing and grinning and whenever someone asks me “Did you write this?” or “When did Gemma grow a beard?” I’ll just bow a little harder while sending out a steady torrent of telepathic messages – BUYMYBOOKBUYMYBOOK!


  4. Morning Gemma!

    I will only add that for #4 sometimes being the cover that is DIFFERENT for your genre can catch a reader’s attention, too. For example, I skipped the hot man on the cover and went with a wedding invitation…I also used the high contrast colors of black, white, and red. My next cover is a awesome, it’s a very red, very plum red cherry in the middle. Though I’m not a best seller, the book did very, very well it’s first free run and has earned out.

    Oh, and I’m thinking about changing the cover in a year or so….. I noticed last night, funnily enough that Garnier Fructis has changed it’s shampoo packaging. It made me turn my head and take a second look at the product! Marketers of grocery store products know all about how changing the packaging can get consumers’ attentions. I would worry that some of my readers would be fooled, but both Kindle and Nook won’t let you rebuy a book you’ve already bought, unless you are gifting it. Just an idea I will be sure to experiment with down the road…..

    • That’s a good point about being different to catch readers’ attention. Sometime I think that can work well. When it’s different interesting (like yours) and not different wrong. I had a cover once from a traditional publisher that was for a mystery with a romance thread. But the hero and heroine never actually got together physcially in the book – very light romance. Mostly mystery. My cover had a man and woman in bed under sheets together. So wrong! The book sold horribly even though it was really one of my favs that I’ve written.

      • Oh yeah, that would burn my buns as a reader! I think your covers area amazing, and very clearly “Gemma’s Books.” The only ones I have a hard time reading are the green covers with white lettering in the thumbnail size. So not easy to do…. I’m going with an odd aesthetic for my covers, I have such a long name, that I purposely make it small. It will be in small script on each cover. In today’s digital age, the title and author name are clearly listed right next to the book, I’d rather use the litter real estate I have to be eye-catching.

        Anyone wonder how long until the book covers are gif images or little movie trailers? Makes this nerd totally salivate over the future of a digital book shelf.

  5. D.D. Scott says:

    Just bought Deanna’s boxed set (2 books for $1.99, y’all! :-) ), Gemma! Luuuvvv hearing about new authors!!! Thanks Bunches for that and thanks sooo much for this great post too!

    It is all about nailing that thumbnail image! And looking at cover design with your marketing hat on!!! Well said, my friend!

    I buy almost all my books from Amazon’s Also Bought streams, and I’ll be totally honest, if the cover catches me and the price is right (99 Cents to $2.99/$3.99), I’ll buy almost every time…that’s my one-click-trigger finger criteria…great cover first then price…sometimes, I don’t even read the blurb. I’ve seen the cover in a lot of streams, price is right, so I sometimes look at its ranking and then give it a whirl. And if the ranking isn’t so great, but the cover still speaks to me (and the price), I try it!!!

    • Deanna Chase says:

      Thank you, D.D.! I saw someone linked to my books on Twitter this morning as well. I figured someone just saw me around the Kindleboards. I didn’t know Gemma was talking about me. :D

      P.s. Gemma is A-mazing. Obviously. But as a mentor, she is outstanding. Thanks, Gemma.

  6. Pj Schott says:

    Never thought about the difference between a “real” book and an eBook cover. Enlightening!! When I needed a banner and thumbnails for my blog page and a cover for it’s companion Facebook Timeline, I took the easy route an hired an expert with experience in the eBook world. One of the most exciting parts of any project for me is putting together a team that works well together. Thank you for the insight, Gemma. You write terrific books and know how to inspire others. And your covers are amazing!!

  7. Tamara Ward says:

    Thanks, Gemma! I appreciate your point about making the cover match your genre so readers instantly know what to expect inside the book. Thanks again!

  8. Jamie S. says:

    Excellent post!! I so agree! I recently went and re-did two of my ebook covers. One so it would match the sequel and people would actually know it was a historical western romance. The other I changed because no one except me understood the cover (too lazy in my opinion). So I changed it – the second of this (and the other) are both awesome. Especially the second, Tudor Rose.
    So yes, as an author, your cover is very important!

  9. Julie Day says:

    I agree that covers are essential to look like your genre. I feel that mine do and aim to do that for all the future ones.

  10. This information is VERY helpful!

  11. Gemma, really helpful! And your thumbnails are great.

    A couple of questions, for you and others: do you use the same artwork for the print version and the e-version?

    Do you hire a good artist, or diy?

    Thank you! Nora

    • I use the same for both, though I do sometime play with font sizes for the print versioon. I tend to make any quotes on my ebooks very large, so they can be at least readable at product page size, but that turns out way too big and clunky for print. So, I do modify some there.

  12. Jill Hughey says:

    Thanks Gemma, very good advice. I paid someone to do my first cover but did the second myself – partly because I am in the newly self-pubbed financial hole – but also for many of the reasons you mentioned.

  13. Thanks for making these simple, easy to follow points regarding covers. Your apprentice is very lucky to have you!

  14. Okay, not to sound too newbieish (I know, not a real word), but where do you get cover art from if you wanted to diy? I’m still learning my way around the sand box. :)

    • Not too newbie at all! :) There are a lot of stock art websites you can purchase images from then modify to fit your cover. One site I use a lot is The prices are very reasonable, and while the selection isn’t the biggest, they seem to be getting more all the time.

  15. Excellent Gemma. Thank you!