Joel Friedlander on Book Cover Design for Indie Publishers

It's no secret that your book cover design is an important book marketing tool -- for indie authors and traditionally published authors alike. Yet many self published authors and indie publishers take the DIY route and the results are often easy to spot in relation to professional cover designs.

Who better to talk about cover design issues like these than one of the industry's go-to guys (and a fellow independent author), Joel Friedlander? You probably know him from his outstanding blog, The Book Designer. He was kind enough to let me pick his brain a bit about book cover design for indie authors -- from common mistakes to budget considerations. Here's what he had to say.

You do much more than cover design work, but what first convinced you to offer that specific service to independent authors?

Joel: When I began Marin Bookworks, my publisher-services company, I was working primarily for medium-size publishers who outsource the design and production of their books.

However, I had also self-published my own book, Body Types, back in the 1980s. Every year I received more and more requests from authors who wanted to publish their own books. Now, most of my work is for self-publishers, so that tells you something about the changes in the publishing industry.

Although I used to offer quite a large range of services, over time I've pared them down and now I only do book interiors, covers, jackets, endleaves, stamping dies for hardcovers and that's about it.

I also do more and more consulting with authors who are trying to figure out the best way to get into the indie publishing world.

Covers are a critical part of the development of your book. Authors are smart when they budget for a professional cover design, because it will brand their book and help to establish it in the marketplace.

While we know that book cover design prices can vary greatly, if pressed (yes, I'm pressing) what would you recommend as the absolute minimum amount a brand new indie author should budget for to hire a professional cover designer?

Joel: Press on! Although I often hear Mark Coker of Smashwords talk about $35 e-book covers, if you are doing a print book you will need someone who knows how to put a book cover together properly to avoid problems when you get to press.

I would say you could find someone to do a decent cover starting at about $200, and an average price would be around $1000.

What three things tend to scream "amateur!" the loudest when it comes to DIY book cover design?

Joel: Hey, that's an easy one, Jennifer. In no particular order,

  1. Using the wrong fonts. Many DIY covers are made using the system fonts that came with your computer. They weren't meant for that, and it shows.
  2. Bad or inappropriate stock photography or illustrations. These frequently have no discernible connection to the content or the market for the book. I guess the author thought they looked cool
  3. Visual chaos. Too many images, lots of text, no specific visual focus for the cover. All these things  confuse the message you're trying to send.

When would you suggest that indie authors bring cover designers in on the process? Should they wait until the book is fully edited? Or should they bring in a designer earlier so they have more time to print marketing collateral or incorporate the book branding into their own website?

Joel: Earlier is better, and not just for the excellent reasons you suggest. The cover of your book is the most important piece of advertising and branding you will create. My opinion is that the cover design is an intrinsic part of the marketing plan for the book and, as such, should be under discussion as early in the process as possible. In some cases, this will be before the book is even written.

If you could give indie authors just one tip on working with and building an effective professional relationship with a book designer, what would you tell them?

Joel: The biggest problem I run into with indie authors, and one that has a serious negative effect on the work they get from their designer, is confusion about the purpose of the design. Authors who have invested years of work into their book, and who have dreams and aspirations tied up with the publication, are rarely objective about what will actually help to sell their book the best.

If an author sees the design of their book as a personal expression of their values, or an indication of their creativity, they will run into trouble with a designer who is, in essence, attempting to create a consumer product package for the book. These two approaches just don't blend well.

If you've chosen a designer well, looked at her previous work, gotten a good referral from someone else, then relax and let her do her job. Be open to new ways to visualize how your book will look, and you'll be much happier in the end.

Oh, and make sure the designer works under a contract that spells out responsibilities, payment terms, and termination procedures. A contract protects both of you from misunderstandings and helps to guarantee the project will run more smoothly. And that can lead to success for you and your book.

About Joel Friedlander

Joel Friedlander is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks in San Rafael, California, a publishing services company where he's helped launch many self-published authors. He blogs about book design, writing and self-publishing at Joel is also the author of the newly-published A Self-Publisher's Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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2 thoughts on “Joel Friedlander on Book Cover Design for Indie Publishers”

  1. I find Mr. Friedlander’s success inspiring. As a self published author, I’ve really enjoyed designing my own book covers, so now I’m creating ebook and print book covers for other authors, and at an affordable price too. Check out my book cover designs at my website, .


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