Best of 2012 on TIPM | Cover Design Tips – Kit Foster

This is one of our best guest postings from 2012. Enjoy the festive season…

Why is a good cover so important? Simple – because people will judge your book by it. Sure, we’re told not to judge a book by it’s cover – but what else does a potential reader have to go on? Besides the title, it is the first (and in many cases, the only) part of your book that will be viewed, so like it or not, we all judge a book by its cover.
That said, your cover needs to shine, and stick out in the sea of thumbnails on that Amazon page! So, how do we do it? Here are my tips for creating a cover good enough to wrap around your magnum opus:

1. The Basics

Before you create a cover, you will need the necessary tools – i.e., some image manipulation software. If you already have professional software, like Photoshop, then great! If not, no worries, there are many free image editing programs that are available that are often just as good. I would recommend, as it’s free, powerful and very user friendly. For most uses, in all honesty, it is just as good as Photoshop. Another free program that works well and is high quality is Gimp

Typically, a cover will be comprised of 2 main elements – text and images. First and foremost, you must make sure that you have permission to use any fonts or images on your cover! Please, please don’t use any images or fonts without permission, or you may be landed with a nasty fine for copyright violation.
As with your image editing software, high quality fonts and images can easily be sourced for free. is a great source for free fonts, and you can get some great free images at As always though, check, then double check the licenses! There is also a huge range of stock photo sites, like and, where high quality images can be purchased fairly cheaply.

2. Be Bold

With e-reader sales on the rise, and an ever-growing trend of internet consumerism, the likelihood is that the first time a potential reader sees your cover, it will be a thumbnail. This means that it is vital that it can be seen and deciphered at that size. Make your title bold and easily readable, and steer clear of unreadable fonts. The instant someone looks at your cover, they should know what the title is. 

3. Less Is More

I know what you’re thinking. If less is more… think how much more more will be! But, simplicity is often the key. Try, if you can, to distil your novel down to one key idea that you will represent on the cover. Avoid trying to graphically represent every element of the plot on your cover. Most writers will have experienced this process already, when they have had to write synopses. It is incredibly tempting to include every detail of the plot, but you must include only the essentials. Think of creating a cover concept as taking this one step further. You have distilled your plot down to a few key elements for your synopsis, and now you must just take it one step further and distil it down to just one (or maybe two) for the cover.

In many cases, if it’s done right, you don’t even need to use an image at all. If the text is bold and impressive enough, it alone can make for a great cover. For good examples of this, see the covers of ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ by Phillip Pullman, or ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy. Just make sure that the font you use conforms with your genre.

4. Research!

Take an hour or two to look at some really good book covers – there’s a really nice selection at . Scroll though them. Which one do you like? What do you like about them? Are there elements that you could use in your cover? As well as researching good book covers, it’s always helpful to look at the bad ones, too! Many, many bad covers (sadly) can be found all over Amazon. Seek them out. Ask yourself – ‘what are they doing wrong?’. Is the text unreadable? is the colour choice wrong? If you can work out what makes a good cover good, and a bad cover bad, you will be a lot closer to finding a design that works for you and your readers.

5. Brand Identity

Simple enough. Let your potential readers know what kind of book it is though the cover. Certain genres have certain ‘looks’, and this helps a reader easily identify the kind of book they like to read. Make sure your zombie-apocalypse-horror doesn’t have a chick-lit cover. This doesn’t mean that your cover has to be generic, but just be conscious that it doesn’t give the wrong impression.

6. Don’t Settle

It’s such an important rule that so many self-published authors overlook. Never settle for any thing less than the perfect cover for your magnum opus.  It needs to be good enough to represent the potential Pulitzer-prize-winner it contains. Why spend all that time slaving over sentence structure and character arc, only to shoot yourself in the foot at the last hurdle by settling for anything less than a brilliant cover?

Follow these tips and you should be a lot closer to designing that perfect cover. And do let me know how it goes – I’d love to see the fruits of your labor!

Kit Foster is a Scotland based graphic designer who specialises in book cover design. He lives with his fiancée and daughter in Edinburgh, the world’s first City of Literature. A writer of fiction in his spare time, and self-publishing refugee, Kit understands the trials and tribulations inherent in the process of putting a book together, so is able to work fluently towards creating the right cover for you.Publishing has enough headaches – the cover needn’t be one of them. Passionate and ever-exited about the art of cover design, he will always offer friendly, helpful advice and help you on your road to the best-seller lists.

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