Tips For Authors: eBook Cover Design Advice from @Jan_Marshall

We recently met Jan on Twitter, and are delighted to have made her acquaintance. She is a graphic designer and a freelance ebook cover designer. Oh, and she’s writing her first novel too!

We’ve said before that an attractive, professional looking cover is important to help draw the attention of a prospective reader to your ebook. Yep, we know ‘never judge…’, however every little helps!

We asked Jan to write us a short article with some tips about creating a great looking ebook cover yourself. Here’s what she had to say…

Tips For Authors: Create Your Own Cover Design

by Jan Marshall

You’ve written a book. You’ve drafted, revised, edited, and honed your manuscript until every page is perfect. Well, every page except one – arguably the most important of all – the cover.

Good covers matter.

Before moving on, I’ll remind you quickly that, if you want to be certain of a good result, hire a professional cover designer. It had to be said, I won’t nag you though! If you really want to do it yourself, read on.

These are my opinions and not all cover designers will agree with me. Design is subjective. And that’s as it should be.


• Check formats (cover sizes) before you start.

• Begin on paper, not on screen, so that you know what you want to achieve and aren’t seduced by what’s easy or available.

• Aim to create three covers, then choose the best. You don’t have to stick with these; you can wander off at a tangent as you work.

• Communicate truthfully the book’s contents, not the whole story but as much as potential buyers want to know.

• Look at covers in your genre and analyze how they work. Sticking with genre conventions, make something about your cover better or more striking. (Easy to say!)

• Prioritize information – title bigger than your name unless you’re a well-known author.

• Use type sizes and fonts that are easy to read in your target medium, e.g. ebook titles should be clear in thumbnail.

• Leave out anything unnecessary. If you find yourself with empty space, it doesn’t have to contain a starburst!

• Be prepared to throw away most of what you create. Resist falling in love with an idea simply because you’ve spent a lot of time on it.

• Make your cover beautiful, unique, and compelling! Your aim is to hook your reader. You know what that means because you’re a writer! Make them want to find out more.


• Feature appropriate and compelling images. Don’t settle for something not quite right. If necessary, shoot your own photo.

• Once you’ve found some images you like… keep looking, then look again, and then some more. You WILL find something better than your first choices.

• Avoid photo library images you’ve seen before. If you think you’ve seen it somewhere you can be sure the world and his wife are using it. Be creative. There are other options. Don’t settle for the obvious answer.

• Allow search results to lead you in new directions. Keep an open mind.

• If you can’t find the right image and decide on a type-only cover, the typography must be excellent. Otherwise, it will just look as if you’ve forgotten to put the image in.


• If you’re not sure what application to use, Photoshop does most of what you need. (There are several free Photoshop-style applications on the web.)

• This isn’t a strict rule but, even if you’re creating a comp for an ebook, work at high resolution (reduce your file size later). It makes the job easier and produces better results because you’ll be dealing with apparent continuous tone rather than pixels. (Keep the layered (.psd) file in case you opt for print later on.)

• Never work on a jpeg and re-save – the quality degrades each time until you’re left with a pixelated mess. Return to the layered file, revise, and ‘Save a Copy’.

• Use colours and contrast that work in grayscale as well as colour – essential for today’s kindle but also useful when your cover’s reproduced in a mono journal. (Check by choosing Mode… Grayscale.)

• If necessary, differing designs for paper and ebook are fine.

• Don’t overdo Photoshop effects unless they’re exactly what you need. Just because dark shadows are the Photoshop default doesn’t mean they’re convincing. They look heavy and dirty.


(Note: Typeface = a family of fonts, e.g. Times. Font = a weight/style in that family, e.g. Times Bold, Times Italic.)

• Bad typography kills covers even when the image is brilliant!• Use good typefaces. Buy them if necessary.

• Unless you’ve designed your cover to look quirky and complex (for a specific reason, of course) use one typeface family, two at most (one sans and one serif works well).

• Leave subtitles off ebooks if they’re unclear in thumbnail.

• Don’t scatter type – keep it tidy.

• Don’t distort type more than 15%. ‘Thicks-and-thins’ can become exaggerated and ugly. If you need a condensed or expanded font, download one that’s been designed as such. Dramatically distorted type is one of the most obvious signs of an amateur cover.

• Don’t distort type more than 15%. Yep, I’m saying it again because it’s important!• Use faux typestyles with care (emboldening, italicizing, etc.) – in some applications they won’t print correctly.

• Learn to kern! Well-spaced type is easier to read. Beware, some fonts set badly, with inconsistent character/word spacing. Kern type so that spaces between characters are visually pleasing, Close up word-spacing as much as possible whilst still maintaining the ‘separateness’ of the words.

Once you’re finished, ask for criticism (not praise) from friends. Ask each one to flag something they don’t like about your cover, not what they do like. Take on board their comments and then decide for yourself whether they’re valid. (If they say there’s nothing wrong with it, either you have a good cover or very tactful friends!)

Finally, don’t look at your cover for a week. Open it up again and ask yourself whether it’s still good. You’re the only person you know who will definitely tell you the truth. If it doesn’t look as good as it did a week ago, it needs work. Revise it or start again. If it looks better than last week, hey, maybe you’ve got yourself a good cover!

Good luck!

Thanks, Jan. I’m sure our members will appreciate your practical ebook cover design advice.

Take a look at Jan’s website: Jan Marshall: The Book Designer

She’s also on Twitter here.

Got an ebook and cover already? Visit us to upload to get involved reading & rating:

iWriteReadRate ebook community (& click on the red word BETA)

Happy writing, reading & rating!

The iWriteReadRate Team

Like this? Check out some of these articles:

Obsessive Self-Editing = part of being a writer!

Crowdsourced Blog Post: ‘What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?’

Interview with @BubbleCow Copy Editing

Beta Upload Process & Enhancements

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