eBook cover design tips for a digital audience

Kelly Morr

With digital eBooks now outselling what so many refer to as “dead tree books,” the art of the book cover needs a new take. Many self-published books have self-designed covers, and the design flaws show.

printed book cover
A traditional print cover

Self-published books often make the mistake of following the guidelines of a traditional, printed book cover. For eBooks, there is no greater mistake.

Printed books pack a lot of information on the cover because there is nowhere else to put it. With eBooks, the publisher, description, author bio and tons of other information can sit on the product page.

The cover needs to generate clicks, not house blocks of text. Since an eBook cover design needs to accomplish the same goal as a banner ad or button, it makes sense to bring SEO and digital sales tactics to eBook cover design.

Streamline and simplify

You don’t see banner ads with tons of text, and the same should be true for any eBook cover design. Instead, the book cover should quickly and clearly convey a sense of the book. It needs to be consistent with the brand and encourage click through—just like a good banner ad.

pineapple bloc ebook cover
A simplified eBook cover by Kjah

At the thumbnail size, you really only have room for the title, author, series name, and cover art. Get rid of any other information. Everything else will show up if you can get that all important click.

You might even want to remove any sub headers that would be included on a printed book cover. Too much text can be an instant turnoff, particularly when consumers can’t read it without zooming in or clicking a link.

Unify your design

Even with simplified design, you need to keep in mind how much ground that tiny image needs to cover. What traditional book covers do with 54 square inches of space your eBook design must do in a much smaller display.

A consistent banner across the top of related titles or the use of similar elements in a cover image can convey a sense of the brand. Matching color and fonts also create a sense of unity. The trick is to not take unification too far. You don’t want a shopper to confuse book three with book one and scroll past the latest edition.

Jim Butcher book covers
“The Dresden Files” by Jim Butcher (via ROC)

One simple and easy way to help with confusion is by implementing permanent design features combined with updated elements. For example, all of the books in “The Dresden Files” by Jim Butcher (above) share several features.

The author’s name is the most prominent text on the image. Why? Jim Butcher has a well-established fan base, many of whom will read anything he puts into print.

Below his name comes the name of the series. This is important because he has several series in publication. The title is larger than the series name, making it easy for readers to identify the name of the specific book. All of the text is in a large, bold font that clearly overlays the image.

SEO and the eBook

When an eBook gets uploaded for sale, the written marketing content should always be SEO optimized, but so should the cover image. Be sure to use a clearly descriptive file name for the book cover. Search engines actually look at the file name when filtering results. Use alt tags whenever possible and be sure to optimize them.

Alternative text tags help search engines associate keywords with the image. Including the author’s name, book title, and series identification can help capitalize on existing fans. The easier it is to find the book, the easier it is to sell it. By adding alt tags to all your book cover designs, you make it easier for consumers to find the book.

Test your style choices

Web designers, software engineers and marketing professionals routinely use A/B testing to see consumer responses to small changes. They might change the color of a button or re-work the layout of a banner, all in an attempt to get the maximum number of clicks for every piece of content.

compare book covers
Book covers by Chameleonstudio74 and Pulp ART

You can do the same with book covers. Run up a couple of cover designs, and use different marketing avenues. Then, use the page analytics to track the best performing covers.

You can try different color schemes, a few font options, or some customized borders. See what draws the most attention with a limited test run, before committing to a final design. It might be a bit more work on the design side, but the click-through boost can show immediate ROI.

Kindle Publishing lets you change the book cover at any time (though it might take up to 72-hours for the updated cover to display), so you can rotate several options and track consumer responses.

Art meets science at the sales intersection

Negotiation may be an art form, but selling is a science. Good eBook cover design combines the two. Crystal clear, relevant artwork conveys a sense of the material while analytics tracking and conversion rate testing allow you to see how different book covers perform for the same content.

As a designer or writer, the idea of a scientific approach may not come naturally, but running a few tests might lead you to the best possible style choices.

What are your favorite eBook tips? Share them in the comments.

The author

Kelly Morr
Kelly Morr

Kelly is the senior manager of content strategy at 99designs. She likes writing stuff, making stuff, coming up with far-fetched ideas, figure skating and cuddling her two cats.

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