Estelle Van de Velde


Book cover design: what you need to know

Whether you've finished your manuscript or not, having a book cover design ready can be a good incentive to keep going. Here's my little guide to help you defining what you'd like to have, how to brief a cover designer and how to hire one.

Keep on reading!

Last updated: October 2019


Why is book cover design important?

Have I already said that cover design is super important for a book? It’s one of the first things a potential reader sees. Its role is to reflect what the book is about, but also to be attractive enough so a reader approaches it with interest. If your book cover isn’t sparkling some interest, I am afraid that your book will never get a hand on your readers.

Now, I’m not talking about your community of readers. Those readers already love you and they know you’re doing a great job at crafting stories. I’m talking about the potential new readers you may get with your book.

Why is it important to have a good book cover?

A book cover is a marketing tool. It’s actually the first marketing tool you should care about. I can guarantee that if you’re missing something with it, it is going to be reflected in your sales. After all, isn’t it how you choose the books you read? Be honest, we all judge books by their covers, it’s human.

Anatomy of a book cover

The White Raven by Carrie D. Miller anatomy book cover

Front cover:

People tend to be attracted by the illustration/picture first, so make sure yours is catchy enough. Your title, of course, has to pick the curiosity. And finally your name should also be on the cover. The overall front cover should reflect your book and its genre. I would advise you to do some research about what kind of covers are used in the genre you’re writing in, what works and what doesn’t. If you’re self-publishing, you have a say in all decisions, so take advantage of it to get the best cover you can but don’t forget its marketing purpose. It will have to please your readers.

Back cover:

Okay, you caught the eye of a reader, now it’s time to tell him more about the story itself. The blurb is a kind of summary of your story, but it can’t give away the end. It will have to spark even more curiosity, so choose your words carefully. Then comes the author bio, for those who don’t already know you, and some endorsement if you’ve been lucky enough to have your book reviewed by a famous magazine, author or blogger. As for the ISBN, it is, obviously, a mandatory thing to have on your back cover if you’re selling a print version of your book.


If you decided to offer a physical version of your book (hardback and/or paperback), then you might have to take care of the spin. When your book will be presented on the shelves, you want your reader to get all the information she needs to identify it, don’t you? Three simples things have to be displayed: your book’s title, your author name and, if relevant, the publisher’s logo.

Case study: Finding Maxwell

Of course, I can only talk about what I know. And you’ll see that making the cover design for Finding Maxwell was far from easy. But let’s put things in context, shall we? I published Finding Maxwell a couple of years ago now, and I didn’t want to spend too much money on the book cover. I was a freelancer at the time, and any money I could save, well… I saved it. I went on Fiverr to find a designer kind enough to make the book cover I was looking for.

And I’ve learned a lot of things along the way:

Needless to say that I saw some covers which were completely off. They were not reflecting my book at all and, in the end, I made the cover myself with an image I bought on Shutterstock. It’s not bad, but the book could have had a better cover if I had put more thoughts and money into it.

In summary, you shouldn’t rush any of the steps when you’re self-publishing. Of course, the story is the most important thing and you might not have the money to hire a proper book designer. But every penny invested in your cover design will be worth it.

How to brief a Book Cover Designer?

Are you ready to hire a Book Cover Designer? I am too.

I have already talked about how important it is to have an awesome book cover. So I think I’ve been pretty clear that you have to hire a professional, not your cousin or your neighbour (except if they’re book cover designers, of course).

In the past, I had used Fiverr to do my ebook cover. However, I found out it was difficult to get the cover I wanted, to pass on the general mood of the book to the designer. As I am now ready to hire a professional for my non-fiction project, I made a bit of research beforehand. We wouldn’t like to get a cover that is completely out of topic, would we?

So, how do you brief a Book Cover Designer?

Reedsy has a couple of recommendations when briefing designers. It also has a huge database of professionals that you can ask for a quote. Furthermore, it invites the author to prepare the brief before even contacting the freelancer. That’s how I realised that it might be more complicated than I thought…

There are many things you can ask a designer for:

If you’re only looking for a book cover, then it’s pretty easy. But if you have other needs, it might be interesting to have a look at the other services. I didn’t even know they were doing production management, I thought the task would fall to me… We are learning every day.

Don’t forget the basics…

That’s the part I think I failed when I briefed the freelancer on Fiverr. Of course, you wrote the book so you know everything about it. But transcribing it in simple words to someone else is a challenge. You’ve got to make sure that they get the right mood, the right feel about it. Even if you say that the genre is Epic Fantasy or Contemporary Romance, some people might just be off-topic.

That’s why it’s important to give the designer some of the book covers that you like and that are in the genre of your book baby. Maybe have a Pinterest board with inspirations, or just send them a couple of examples for them to know what’s the tone you’d like the cover to have.

Then, of course, it’s better if you’ve done some research on your target audience. You won’t have the same cover if your readership is children, young adults or adults, will you?

And last but not least: communication! You’ll be working a professional. There’s a part of trust, indeed, but if you think something is off, don’t hesitate to say it.


I will, of course, let you know how my experience went with briefing a professional book cover designer for my non-fiction project. And I hope your brief will be as perfect as it can be.

3 things I’ve learned when hiring a book cover designer

I did something I wouldn’t have dared a couple of years ago: I asked professionals for quotes to design a book cover for my writing project.

Previously, I had done my designs in a very DIY way. But to continue on my self-publishing journey, I had to go one step further than just do all the things by myself. This step is to choose the book cover designer that would work on my project with me.

Here are the 3 things I’ve learned when hiring a book cover designer.

Lesson #1: Set up a budget

I had just hit the button which sent the brief to the designers I had selected that my Dear Husband challenged me on the budget I was willing to spend on the cover. I’m a bit stingy, this is a fact I’m well aware of. Unofficially, I had set up a budget of €500 (£440). I had just told myself I would wait for the designers’ quotes and would see what happens.

To my surprise, the first quote I received was of $1,200. I almost fell from my chair and my heart sank. The price was so high that I was about to cry when I saw it. In my head, I kept saying “Oh my god, I’ll never professionally self-publish this book if everything’s so expensive!”

My friend, let me tell you that you’ll see prices from simple to double when asking for quotes. So be mentally prepared!

However, make also sure you’re speaking the same currency. The first quote was in Australian Dollars (so less bad than American Dollars, haha). Translated into Euros, it was down to €750 (£655), which was better to digest for a stingy person such as myself but still higher than my initial budget. This was the highest quote I received. The lowest was around €300 (£260).

Why not going for the lowest price then? Well, keep on reading.

Lesson #2: Not everyone offers the same package

If one designer was only offering the front cover of the book – because I had only asked for an ebook cover -, other would add stuff like social media visuals or illustrations or work with pictures I’d send them. What puzzled me was the huge gap between the prices and the services they were offering. Somehow, the ones that were offering the most were also the ones with the cheapest prices. It was really tempting to just choose the cheapest because I didn’t know if that was worth it to spend that much money.

Anyway, I think the big learning here is to ask for samples of what the designers did in the past. It helped me get a sense of their arts, but also connect with what the cover could be.

Lesson #3: You might not be ready yet

After receiving the quotes and asking the designers a few questions, I realised that I might be just too early in the process. On my own, I had decided that the title of my book would be “The Londoners: Memoirs of a 4-year expatriation in the United Kingdom”. However, with Brexit just around the corner and all the fun that goes with it, it might just end up not selling at all because of the title and the design I had in mind. Of course, my insights and experience as an expat would still be valid no matter the country you’d want to live in. But there’s no denying that the U.K. does not look super dreamy at the moment. I would just shoot myself in the foot.

So you might want to ask yourself a few questions:

Have you thought thoroughly about the title of your book? Have you made some research whether this title was already used? Special for nonfiction writers: have you made some keyword research whether you were answering people’s questions? If you’ve answered yes to all these questions, congratulations! I think you’re ready to hire a designer to create the beautiful cover which will represent your book. If you’ve answered no to one of these questions, you might want to wait a little longer to assess all the potential of a book title.

In the end, I didn’t hire any of the book cover designers I had asked quotes to. One part of me wasn’t ready to spend all that money yet, and the other part wasn’t sure it was a good idea just yet. However, going through the process did teach me a couple of things that I’m glad I know now.

I’ll be ready next time 🙂

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