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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ten things I learned from Lousy Book Covers

Welcome to this month's Indie Life post, where indie writers talk about life in the cold, harsh world of independent publishing.

I have no talent in the visual arts, so when it came time to publish A Fine Likeness and The Night the Nazis Came to Dinner I got someone who knew what they were doing to design my covers. It's important to know your limitations.

Not everyone does, however, and there's a site dedicated to them. Lousy Book Covers is a daily dose of the worst covers out there today. If you haven't seen this site before, go check it out. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you might even spit blood. Besides the comedic value, the site is an educational one. Here are ten things I've learned from it. I knew most of them before, but they bear repeating.

1. Just because you CAN design your own cover doesn't mean you SHOULD. This is the site's motto. Words to live by.

2. Be honest with yourself about your talent. See above.

3. Make your fonts readable. See here for an example of what not to do.

4. If you draw like a high schooler, don't design your cover. If you are a high schooler, get an adult to help you. See here for an example of what not to do.

5. Comic sans never makes a good cover font. See here for an example of what not to do.

6. The cover should actually be related to the content. See here for an example of what not to do.

7. Layering isn't always your friend. See here for an example of what not to do.

8. For the love of all that is holy, check your damn spelling. See here for an example of what not to do.

9. Know what an aspect ratio is. See here for an example of what not to do.

10. Don't make your cover too busy. See here for an example of what not to do

I'm not saying I can do any better. Quite to opposite. The important thing is I know I can't do any better. These folks obviously don't, and are cursed with overly supportive friends and family who don't tell them the truth. As indie authors, we should seek honest feedback, not back scratching. Otherwise we may end up with lousy book covers.

I thought of illustrating this post with examples, but the guy over at Lousy Book Covers has been threatened by angry authors, even though posting covers for the sake of criticism comes under fair use. I don't have time to deal with that sort of inanity.


  1. HAAHAAAA! Ah, I need a Kleenex. That's so sad that I hate to laugh, but what in the world were those people thinking?!?!

  2. I have to say I kinda like books with misspelled words on the cover. Those covers are so revelatory! They tell me EVERYTHING I need to know about what's inside. Yep, that would be me totally judging book by mispelled words on cover.

  3. The only book covers I've really seen as bed are the cheesy ones. Now those are bad.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  4. Awesome tips! I need to go look at that website for lousy covers. Bet some are funny. (And sad.)

  5. Thanks for the lols, though I couldn't help feeling kind of bad for the authors on that site. They do need a gentle wake up call, though! I'm like you... I know I'll never do my own covers, I've barely drawn anything for the last 15 years. Know your limits!

  6. I wonder how many good books are hiding shamefaced behind these covers? That's the real tragedy.

  7. Sad but true, sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover.

  8. The covers I made myself were, I think "okay", as in, they didn't actively stink, but were visibly the work of a non-artist. Simple, but clean and without glaring aspect ratio screwups or misspelled words.

    However, I've since hired a couple of cover artists to work on some of my titles, and for very little money I received some great works - my Commando covers are, in my humble opinion - awesome.

    I do warn people to shop around and not just jump in desperation on the first offer you get. Cover artists catering to indie authors know it is a seller's market, and charge accordingly. If you're just starting out, I'd avoid paying more than $200 for an ebook cover. Some people have quoted me many times that...


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