What to Know When Designing Your Ebook Cover

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Even though we’re told not to, we all judge a book by its cover. And when it comes to printed books, we also peruse the back cover, jacket flaps, and take a peek at the first few pages before purchasing. But with ebooks the cover—and the book profile page—are all we have to go by.

The digital world of books is a different book-buying experience for readers, which is why your ebook cover is crucial. With that in mind, here’s a little primer on optimizing your ebook cover for online sales:

1. Viewing a flat icon is a different experience than viewing a physical cover

bookstorecovers What to Know When Designing Your Ebook Cover

An ebook cover is only seen in two places – once in the online bookstore when a buyer is purchasing the book, and again as an icon in their reader, if supported. And keep in mind: People can’t proudly display ebook covers on their bookshelf or coffee table.

So while cover design of printed books can sway a book buyer, it plays second to purchase decisions for ebook buyers. It’s not just about esthetics when it comes to ebook covers.

2. An ebook cover needs to entice the reader to want to learn more.

As an author, what you really want is for your ebook cover to be eye catching and interesting enough to get a potential ebook buyer to click through to the book profile page. Why? Because more often than not, it’s the information there that will really drive their purchase decision.

3. Keep it simple.

Remember, ebook icons are small, so clarity is key. I learned this the hard way. When I first created my ebook, I thought that a really nice cover would be best. So I spent a long time in Photoshop (which I’m terrible at), trying to create an artsy cover.

I ended up with this:

try1 big What to Know When Designing Your Ebook Cover

Ebook cover design, try #1


I know, I know, what was I thinking. The text looks pretty terrible – almost illegible at full size. And look what happens when it’s turned into an icon to display in bookstores:

try1 sm What to Know When Designing Your Ebook Cover

Ebook cover design, try #1


It looks like a big blob with something that could be text on top.

An artist I am not. So I decided to outsource the design and because I don’t have tons of money I went the cheap route. In fact, I went for the cheapest option out there on fiverr.com where every task is $5. I found someone offering to make book covers, sent them a pretty detailed description of what I wanted (including the fact that this was going to be an ebook cover), paid my $5, and two days later, I got this…

cosplay ecover sm What to Know When Designing Your Ebook Cover

Ebook cover design, try #2

Again – not great, but getting closer. It’s eye catching, the flat background makes all of the text legible (except for my name, which shouldn’t be in white on the green background), and the use of a picture from the book gets a potential buyer closer to understanding that this is a photo book. Still it wasn’t quite on the mark for me, so I decided to go back to a DIY cover.

4. Keep it simple and make your cover with Blurb BookSmart®

My failed cover attempts taught me quite a lot about what did and didn’t work as a cover, so armed with that knowledge, I fired up Booksmart to see what our own software could do for me. I had three things I knew the cover had to do:

  • Convey the title of the book clearly.
  • Convey what the book was about.
  • Be simplistic enough in design to allow the information to shine through, yet interesting enough to generate a click to learn more.

I decided that since my book is a photo book, I would show some of my most eye-catching pictures on the cover, with a black background and white text. I also removed my name from the cover to save space, if I were a well-known photographer, my name might make a difference there, but my pictures will sell the book better than my name will.

This is the cover I ended up using:

 What to Know When Designing Your Ebook Cover

Ebook cover design, try #3

It’s not the world’s best cover, but it does hit the three essential points of an ebook cover. It has just enough information to make someone wonder what those pictures are and compel them to click through to the book detail page to learn more. And I made it myself without paying anyone a thing!

My recommendation to anyone working on an ebook cover is to do this first – make a cover that works “well enough” for right now. This entry from Patrick Samphire’s Blog goes into some more specifics on what does and doesn’t work well on ebook covers should you want to design it yourself.

The main thing to remember when designing your ebook cover is to keep it simple. Your ebook cover will NOT sell your book, your book details page will, but your ebook cover is needed to get people to your book details page in the first place. So spend a little time on it and if you outsource the design, remember – you get what you pay for. In my next post, I’ll cover some good resources for outsourcing ebook cover design. Stay tuned!

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  1. The cover seems to break the first rule you stated….keep it simple so it is visible when shown small on a website. Am I missing something?

    By Richard Stade
      April 28, 2012 – 9:14 am   Permalink
  2. Hi Richard –

    In my case, I decided that the images were brightly colored and interesting enough that when shown small it was ok that you wouldn’t be able to see exactly what they were. In fact, I hope that the images being just small enough to catch the eye, but too small to really see what’s there is part of what would compel someone to learn more about the book.

    The images are simple, though, and you can very clearly see that it’s a whole bunch of images of…something…and the text is visible, especially when compared to my previous cover, which was a cluttered mess.

    Thanks for the comment!


      April 30, 2012 – 9:30 am   Permalink
  3. Hi there, nice article, you´ve covered some good points. However mine advice to someone who is not professionally making covers would be:

    1. Keep your design (really) SIMPLE – find and use one good photo.
    2. Don´t put too many focal points (objects) on your design – clarity is key.
    3. Connect your text to the picture – you can connect font colors with the picture (sample key colors from your photo, use eyedropper tool). Try not to use too many colors and fonts (two should suffice).
    4. State your title and name clearly – larger author name gives more sense of authority.
    5. Don´t use fancy fonts – they can become unreadable at smaller sizes. It also makes it more probable they will not be suitable for the chosen topic and photo.

    6. And finaly – if your design skills are not that good, do yourself a favor, hire a professional designer. It would be a shame to ruin all that work and a good book with a bad cover. We do judge a book by its cover.

    By Igor
      May 7, 2012 – 1:57 am   Permalink
  4. Hey Igor,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree. Very succinct and useful stuff.


    By Kent
      May 7, 2012 – 12:14 pm   Permalink
  5. Great advice. Also if you’re doing to DIY it, you can purchase some very affordable stock photos from various sites and with a bit of tweaking you can get a really nice ebook cover.

      May 19, 2012 – 6:48 am   Permalink
  6. Hey Dafeenah,

    Good advice!



    By Kent
      May 21, 2012 – 10:36 am   Permalink
  7. What do you think about buy ebook cover design on fiverr?

      April 9, 2013 – 3:19 pm   Permalink
  8. I’m sorry, it’s not something I have any experience with.

    By Kent
      April 9, 2013 – 5:20 pm   Permalink
  9. what would u use for bi-augraphies. I’ve intrigued about doing it DIY. specially when u have no money to spend on covers. thanks in advance..

    By JanSr.
      December 7, 2013 – 6:13 pm   Permalink
  10. You could do something simple, like a photo of yourself. I think keeping it simple and using clear type is key.

    By Kent
      January 3, 2014 – 2:32 pm   Permalink

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