Green Door | Killer Covers - How To Murder Your Book
This morning my attention was brought to an article that the Guardian ran with last month entitled ‘Kindle Cover Disasters: the world’s worst ebook artwork’ by Stuart Heritage. This was inspired by the anonymous blog ‘Kindle Cover Disaster,’ which asked its followers to send in the worst Kindle covers they come across.
Cover Design, Book Design, Book Designer, ebook maker, Book Layout Design, Book Cover Creator, Kindle Self Publishing, Bad Book Covers

Killer Covers – How To Murder Your Book

Posted by Green Door in Design for Publishing 28 Apr 2015

This morning my attention was brought to an article that the Guardian ran with last month entitled ‘Kindle Cover Disasters: the world’s worst ebook artwork’ by Stuart Heritage. This was inspired by the anonymous blog ‘Kindle Cover Disaster,’ which asked its followers to send in the worst Kindle covers they come across. This was a bit of a ‘name and shame,’ but there’s a serious point behind this, especially as digital self publishing is now as much a part of the industry as independent film is cinema. So rather than just having a laugh at the author’s expense, let’s use some of the less successful DIY covers out there as a way to create awareness about the importance of cover design.

I have previously written about Mistakes in Cover Design but having read Stuart’s piece, I decided to do a little experiment. I did a random book search on Amazon using a single keyword and then checked out the covers on the first six pages. As I’m a fan of crime thrillers I chose ‘murder’ as my keyword.

There were a few ‘bad’ covers from the first page (my criteria for this judgement appears below), but by the time I got to page six, the odd bad cover turned into a lot of bad covers. I haven’t included examples of all the bad covers on each page, just a representative selection based on common errors and the severity of the design disaster.

Before I explain myself, I’ll let some of these covers speak for themselves.

6th - murder

6th page 2

9th - Page 3

14th Page 3

13th Page 4

Page six 1

Page 6 2

Page 6 3

Page 6 4


Goodreads ran a poll asking whether people choose a book based on the cover and description. Just bear in mind the way you shop as you read this. Most people not looking for a specific author or title browse based first on genre, then the appeal of the cover, and if they like that they’ll read the ‘blurb’ (product description or jacket copy) and make the purchasing decision.

The results were interesting.




Probably Not

Absolutely Not

To put that into perspective  277,869 people answered this poll.

130,883 people answered ‘Maybe‘ – So the cover attracted them; they proceeded to read the blurb and then decide whether or not to buy

108,329 people answered ‘Yes‘ – This is exactly the same response as the ‘Maybe’ voters. Voting ‘Maybe’ just means they don’t always base a purchase on the cover and description. You could, therefore, legitimately combine the results, indicating that 85% of people initially judge a book by the cover, based on feedback from 239,212 readers. It is simply that 47% may choose a book for other reasons as well.

33,013 people answered ‘Probably Not


5,644 answered ‘Absolutely Not

85% of people initially judge a book by the cover

* I know the % doesn’t reach 100% but it is a Goodreads poll, rather than my own. Presumably the missing 2% were replies that failed the Turing Test. But no matter where the other 2% has disappeared to, the fact is that 85% of this massive sample still admit to basically judging a book by its cover.

If the cover doesn’t appeal in the first place, the customer is not going to bother reading the description. It is immediately clear that without a good cover (unless your content is so fantastic that it’s already gone viral), that your target audience is only 15% of your potential market.

Assuming that you wrote a book because you want to be heard, that you want people to read and enjoy what you have to say, then surely you’d want to stand out from the millions of books that are out in the cyber-world of e-publishing?

I’ve chosen a random cover from the ‘bad’ pile and I’ve deconstructed it in this infographic in order to explain, as a professional book designer, why it doesn’t work.

I wanted to choose a real cover to use for this example as it becomes a void point of observation if I make one up. This does not in any way suggest that the chosen book, or any other displayed on this page, is lacking in content. I have not personally read any of them so on that I cannot comment.



Here is a quick check list:


Graphic designers are everywhere offering their services. Very few, however, are specialised in publishing. As you can see from the infographic above, there is more to design than sticking an image and some text on a digital canvas. Some graphic designers are able to cross specialism so I’m not suggesting you rule out anybody who isn’t specialised in publishing, but check their qualifications and experience.


Don’t just go for the cheapest. If the designer is good they’ll be selling their services in a similar ballpark to others in their professional field. If they are much lower, the chances are the quality is much lower.


Go to the social media pages of the designer. Is the voice of the person or agency someone you think you could work with? For you to both be happy working together you have to build up a rapport. Is their design message on target for you? Often you want to see a balance of professionalism and approachability – the real personality behind the professional.


Check out their portfolio. A good designer doesn’t need to show off every piece of work s/he has done, they may just choose to show a handful of their best work.


Decide whether you would want more than just a cover. If you are looking for typesetting (your document laid out beautifully for your e-book), or are looking for a book block (your book set up for print) and paperback covers, perhaps you want editorial support too, or an author website. No matter what you want, see if you can find someone who can do everything that you want as they may well provide discount packages and bonuses.


Finally, don’t expect everything to happen overnight. If your designer says they can knock something out within a few days, consider the quality. If you’re having custom artwork, this can take months, but again, in a lot of cases, as long as the right artist has been chosen and is working side by side with the designer, this will be worth the wait. And on that note, artists are generally not designers. They may produce a fantastic piece of artwork but have no idea about typography, gridding and the other elements within book cover design. But you don’t need custom artwork for a slick and professional cover. Experienced designers licence huge directories of stock imagery that can suit your cover and cost a lot less than a custom piece.

So again, this blog is not about dissing bad covers, it’s about creating awareness. If you want to compete in a ridiculously crowded marketplace, you need to understand the importance of the cover design and why it’s worth the investment. However well you tell a story, a bad DIY cover will kill your book.

‘Killer Covers – How To Murder Your Book’ by Gracie Carver

  • Helen April 28, 2015 at 9:31 pm / Reply

    Great post – I wouldn’t actively choose a book by its cover, but I would definitely leave one with a terrible, amateurish cover on the shelf…

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