Judging a book by its cover: Designing Book Blueprint (by Jacqui Pretty)

Today, we have a post written by an awesome client of ours, Jacqui Pretty of Grammar Factory. The post, about her experience of finding and working with us to receive a cover she eventually loved, was first published over on her site. Thanks to Jacqui for gracefully allowing us to repost this here. So without further ado, here it is:

Jacqui PrettyI have a mixed history with designers.

You see, my significant other is a former graphic designer. Today he’s a training manager at a software company, but tends to take on a lot of design responsibilities there on the side of his main role. As a result, any time I’ve wanted to create anything with a visual element (websites, brochures, business cards, etc.), he’s been the first one to raise his hand.

The problem is, I’m a word person, not a visual person. This means I struggle to explain what I want, because I generally don’t know what I want. My direction involves words like light, bright, quirky, clean and polished, rather than descriptions like, ‘I want an A5 portrait brochure with a two-column design where one column is white with dark grey text and the other column uses white icons against a blue or orange background.’

Unfortunately, he’s someone who needs those specific directions, which means any attempts at design collaboration haven’t been very successful. As a result, most of what you see online is a DIY job, while any printed collateral was designed by a lovely designer I found on 99designs who gets my vague directions and turns them into polished, professional brochures that still manage to be bright and quirky.

However, he’s not an experienced book cover designer. So when it came to designing Book Blueprint, I needed to find someone new who would be able to take my vague desires and turn them into a cover that I and my readers would love.

I originally connected with Scarlett Rugers through one of my clients, and she’s been the designer I recommend ever since. Why? She does good work, she has experience working with entrepreneurs rather than just fiction authors, and she makes things simple and straightforward with standard packages. She’s also well priced and was able to work to my tight publishing schedule, which was a plus.


The formalities

We got started by catching up for lunch where we talked about our businesses, my book and my concerns about finding the right cover. After the official bits and pieces were out of the way (payment of the deposit and signing of the Ts&Cs), she had me fill out a very long survey about my book and what I wanted.

Beyond the dimensions of the book and details of the package, some of the questions included:

  • Who is your target market?
  • Do you want the book to be legible at the size of a thumbnail?
  • Do you have a specific idea/design that you’d like to see?
  • What’s the impression you want to give your audience when they first see the cover of your book?
  • What don’t you want on the cover?
  • Which adjectives do you want to describe your cover? (Multiple choice)

The most interesting one, though, was choosing whether I wanted Scarlett to design something that was typical of my genre (business books) or something different and unique.


The designs

Scarlett got to work on June 1st and had three concepts in my inbox on June 10th.

When I saw them at thumbnail size, my heart sank. I didn’t like any of them. It was exactly what I’d worried would happen.

I took a deep breath, downloaded the designs and opened them up at their full size so I could give more detailed feedback.

Design 1

While the colours of this were right on brand and I could see she was playing with the blueprint idea, this just didn’t look like a business book to me. The font of the author name and tagline was too informal, and the grid lines made it look more like a text book than a paperback.

In some cases it can be helpful to deviate from the standard designs in your industry. However, when I saw this, my worry wasn’t about whether or not my book would stand out – it was whether or not an entrepreneur would even recognise it was a business book.


Design 2

My first thought was that this one was very … orange. Yes, I know Grammar Factory has an orange logo, but this just felt like too much. It would also clash with pretty much everything in my wardrobe (I like greens, purples and reds), which may seem like a silly concern, but if you’re planning to pose for photos with your book at events, it needs to be considered.

I also wasn’t a fan of the feature font. I understood there needed to be a feature font to help break up the cover, but handwriting fonts always make me think of memoirs. Once again, I was worried that this didn’t look like a business book.

Once I looked more closely, though, I noticed all the little notes around the key features of the cover. There was a testimonial from ‘Reputable person’. There was a note indicating that I was an ‘Experienced and knowledgeable author’. There were even measurements for the cover size! The more I looked, the more I realised that this was quite cool.


Design 3

This design was fine. I didn’t mind it, but I didn’t love it either. It was just a bit ‘meh’ for me, though I would have been willing to take it as a backup if we hadn’t been able to find anything else.


Round 2

I went back to Scarlett with my feedback – I wanted to develop the second concept, but make it blue instead of orange and use a more professional feature font.

She got to work and the next day had sent through some new versions of that cover with different fonts, one of which was this one:
I loved it!

From here I went to my target market for some feedback on the tabs and got to see a rather vigorous debate unfold before my eyes on Facebook. The consensus was that if they were real tabs (i.e. if they marked out different parts of the book) I should go for it, and if they were just on the cover it would be better to go without. Given that real tabs would have drastically increased my printing costs, I went without.

This brings us to the final cover:


Key learnings

So what did I learn?

  • While it can be helpful for you to know what you want up front, the right designer will be able to take your vague ideas and give you something to work with.
  • It doesn’t matter if you don’t like your initial designs – they are just a starting point and help your designer figure out how to create something you will
  • Feedback from the market in the early stages can be helpful, but it’s only really necessary if you have a couple of designs you like and are trying to decide between them. If you have one you like, focus on developing that and then get some feedback once you’re comfortable with it.
  • There are only two people who need to like your cover – you and your target reader. No one else matters. Therefore, feel free to ignore everyone else’s feedback. No matter how well-meaning, if they aren’t your target market (meaning they wouldn’t buy your book or your other products or services) then their feedback isn’t going to tell you what your target readers want.

Should I have a different eBook and Paperback cover?

Books now have two faces: one in the digital world and one in the printing world. The split of the two has brought with it different priorities in design. What works on a paperback will not work on an eBook, and vice versa. Should you consider two different book covers? Is this a trend that will pick up?

The benefits of having a different eBook and paperback cover:

  • I’ve not yet had an author ask for two different covers, but I expect it’s only a matter of time. I don’t envision this idea to be greatly practiced but it definitely has its benefits.
  • eBook covers are best viewed in black and white
  • eBook covers must have a clear message and typography at 180px high.
  • eBook covers are flat, and texture and definition of the paper doesn’t have any effect on the reader.

When I was convinced

I’m writing this blog post today because I was totally convinced this morning. It’s a question that’s been revolving around in my brain for a long time… is this something that should be offered more? What is the difference really?

My latest WIP is a fun chic-lit novel based in New York. I’ve been writing this sort of stuff for a while but when I want to do something well, I buy up anything and everything that might teach be how to do it better, so I bought these two books:

Will Write for Shoes See Jane Write









Will Write for Shoes  arrived in the post two days ago. When I opened up the package, excited and giddy as I always get when receiving books in the mail, I was a little disappointed to find the layout and printing quality of the book to be on par with CreateSpace. Glossy cover, the image cover not as clear as it could be, and the binding stiff and already creased a little bit. This is not a reflection on Will Write For Shoes but a reflection on the actual printer.

I’m used to dealing with CreateSpace and I get proofs a lot. Aside from that I’ve become a Kindle convert so if I can get a book via wifi, I’ll do it. This means I don’t buy up paperbacks nearly as often, and miss out on the personal experience.

This morning See Jane Write arrived in the post. Again I took to it with a box cutter (carefully and overzealously) and opened up the package and aahhhh… there it is… that moment…

~*~*THE MOMENT*~*~

The cover is matte printing, great colour, a good board for some stiffness, and the inside is all pink. The book, without opening it, is an experience. It feels like silk, it smells delicious. As I flip through it the text is in teal and magenta. Had I got this in eBook, the thrill would be dead. It’s just content, content, content. But this body of design, the paperback, is something tangible and calming.

It definitely released a bucket of endorphins in my head.

To slightly tweak or go all the way?

Having a different eBook and paperback cover doesn’t have to mean an entirely new redesign.

Small tweaks: This will save you a lot of cost so you don’t have to think about ordering two new concepts but just think about mainly text placement. On the eBook your title could be much more prominent and centred, while on the paperback it could be subdued a little to allow the graphics to do the talking. This also means you get to use images that have finer details that can’t be picked up in thumbnail format.

Total redesign: This could lead you to offering an exclusive version that only paperback lovers will get. There could be something extra in this book, something you offer only in paper form.

themasterandthetelepath_smargent_6x9_front_1_ebooklayout_600x479 themasterandthetelepath_smargent_6x9_front_1_paperbacklayout_6xx0_479

Having two alternate covers can be a smart move, especially in marketing. If you play your cards right you might even have your fans buying both ebook and paperback copies. And, like everything, you won’t know until you test, test, test!

What are your thoughts on different designs for paperbacks and ebook covers? What benefits or negatives are there?

How does a book cover look in the early stages?

You’ve been waiting for it all week… the first visual concepts from your book cover designer… and they’re going to be AH-MA-ZING. You’ve seen everything else they’ve done and this is just going to be the icing on the cake.

A ping in your inbox; it’s here! You open it up and… what the hell is this?


Imagine that designing is just like writing (because it truly is).

The first drafts are always, always the worst.

You’ve been dreaming and imagining for a while now, expecting you’ll be overwhelmed with the first magical round of design, but that’s not how design works. Design is a collaboration, and requires input from two people: The designer and the client.

Step 1: Your expectations are too high

The first obstacle is that you’ll already have something in mind. Something that crosses all boundaries of standard design. You’re imagining the Willy Wonka magic ticket and setting yourself up for disappointment.

Willy wonka golden ticket

How to fix it: Enter your partnership with your designer knowing it is art, and art requires time, feedback, and development. Don’t expect your designer to create something off the bat that is 100% what you want because you’ll be writing yourself into a corner. Talking about, and working with the design, is normal.

Step 2: You lose trust in your designer


The second obstacle is losing trust in your designer. Because your perfect book cover hasn’t immediately happened, the trust and confidence you had in your designer dims a little bit. You start asking yourself,

“How did we get here?” [Naturally. This is a part of the process.]

“Why did they misinterpret what I wanted?” [They didn’t. More communication is needed.]

“Should I have gone with someone else?” [No.]

How to fix it: Understand that this is part of the process. Remember, design is like writing. The first drafts are never the perfect ones, and the designer needs to start somewhere in order to work towards the final result you really love. You have to make the first step before getting to the top of the mountain, or something like that…


Step 3: It looks low res and choppy

You were expecting perfection and it’s possible you got something with watermarks, low res images, and a whole lot of collage-like mess. They might have sent over three or four different designs, but they all look like this.

How to fix it: Let it go. If you’re responsible for purchasing stock images then the designer has to work with what they can (i.e.: low resolution, watermarked stock images) before you commit to the final concept and they can buy the high resolution images. Trust the process.

Step 4: There’s been a lack of communication

This cover isn’t what you were expecting at all. It has totally different concepts. You wanted people; they’ve put on scenery or use symbolic images.

I specifically wanted salmon

How to fix it: Did you tell them you wanted people? Did you share with them other covers you like that have models on them? Did they read the brief properly? It’s just down to communication. Before jumping the gun and telling them they did it all wrong, perhaps ask them to explain the concepts to you and why they went in this direction. They might just change your mind.


All of these conflicts can be solved with communication. Remember talk to your designer, ask questions. You aren’t expected to know how it works, that’s the designer’s job. And remember that design is an artistic job and will always need your direction and feedback to end up where you are totally happy with it.

Have you had a shock when dealing with designers? Ended up with something totally different? How did it work out for you?

Standard book dimensions

Standard size of a book and understanding image size and resolution

What is the standard size of a paperback book? What about the images that go on the book cover? How can you find out if the image is the right size?

Standard book dimensions

This article is all about book size and dimensions, and to give you a little bit of knowledge about images. I won’t expect you to know as much as a designer should, but enough to get you by. This article is specifically for digital images- not vector images. Vector images are a whole other bag, and I’ll visit that separately.


Part 1: What is image resolution?

I’m going to try and make this as simple as possible. You might not get it straight away but I didn’t either. It took me a long time to get my head around it. Hey, you might be lucky! You might understand it straight away! Lord knows there’s enough information on the internet to find out but I’ll explain it in “image resolution for dummies” terms.

  • Images are made up of dots. To be more precise: Dots Per Inch (DPI). They’re coloured dots that make up the image.
  • Print requires a lot of dots to make a clear image. The standard number of dots for printing is 300DPI.
  • Digital doesn’t require so many dots because it’s on the screen. Screen doesn’t need as many dots (or, for screen, it’s usually ‘pixels‘) to make up an image. The standard number of dots for the screen is 72DPI.


Part 2: The difference between digital and print books.

Books that you can hold in your hand are printed at 300DPI [dots per inch]. When I make a book cover to print, I fill out the “DPI” or “PPI” setting at 300.

Books you see on your computer, tv, phone, tablet or eReader are designed at 72DPI.

When I design a book cover for my clients I offer both a print and digital version. The client doesn’t always need that though, so sometimes they’ll only ask for a design for their paperback book they’ll print. Or they want an image that they can upload on to Amazon or Smashwords.


Part 3: Why can’t I just use the same file for both? What happens if I print an image that’s made for digital media, at 72DPI?

Using the digital image for print [i.e.: using a 72DPI image for a 300DPI situation]:

Yes you can print an image that is 72DPI. You can open it up on your computer, press print, and voila! Let me show you how it will look:

What happens when you print at 72dpi

Your digital image needs to make itself a print file, so it does what it can to add more dots, to make it up to 300DPI. These dots are pretty much set. What does that mean? It means when you try and increase the size your computer says “OH! The image is going to increase! But we don’t have enough dots. Add more! Add more!”

But these dots can’t add to the image. It can’t add the links between dots to maintain the clarity of the image. So it sort of guesses and guesses badly.

Using a print image for digital  [i.e.: using a 300DPI image for a 72DPI situation]:

Where do you use your digital file for your book cover? On the internet. You use it at Smashwords, at Amazon, B&N, and on your website. Head on over to your blog, or DeviantArt, or KDP and it will have an area where you upload your image. You click “upload”, select your image (which was saved at 300DPI), and press “save”. The site won’t accept it. It’s too big.

This time we’re going backwards. We have 300 dots per inch, and we need to reduce it down to 72 dots per inch. This is EASY. You can always reduce down- you can’t increase up.


 Part 4: What happens if I put a 72DPI image in to a file that’s made for 300DPI? 

Okay I hope you’re keeping up with me. I’ll try and keep this super simple:

1. I go in to Photoshop or InDesign and I create a new file which is 8 inches x 5 inches- the standard dimension for a book cover. I make sure this is at 300DPI because I’ve made it for print.

2.  I decide on a piece of stock image and download it. The stock image has been saved by its owner/photographer at 72DPI. This means they only want it to be used digitally.

3.  I take the image I’ve downloaded and place it in to my 8×5 document. This is what happens:

72dpi image in a 300dpi file

It’s tiny! Even if I download a file which is the same 8×5 inches- if it’s 72DPI it’s too small.


Part 5: What is the right size when I buy/download stock from a website?

When searching for images and it gives you an option to download: choose wisely. Free stock image sites may not give you dimensions but they’re free so you can download on to your desktop > right click> properties and find out the resolution.

Stock sites that require you to pay will give you a choice of which size to download. The larger the size/higher the resolution [the more dots per inch] the more expensive the image will be.

iStockphoto.com purchase layout

That’s why using stock for your digital book cover will be cheaper, but you may regret it because – as I hope you’ve learned up to this point- you can’t increase the size of your digital file!


What is the standard size for a digital book cover?

There’s no standard size, but my experience has told me that the best size for an e-book is 900px wide x 1369px high. This is the size in alignment with 6×9 inches. As an example of size required, this is from Amazon:

  • It has to be minimum 500px wide and 800px high.
  • It has to be at 72DPI, for the digital version.


Go and explore!

Head on out and have a look at some stock websites. Good quality stock websites are istockphoto.com, fotolia.com, shutterstock.com, dreamstime.com. Get a feel for how the sites function, how payments work (some are subscription, others are pay-as-you-go), and become familiar with how they present the different resolutions of stock images.



Click here to find out what the industry standard book sizes are for self publishers.

Click here to download your Create Space template.

Have I explained this very well, or just made a mess of it? Do you have anything you can add to the article? How do you handle images?