Adventures in Self-Publishing, Chapter 7: Designing the Cover of your Book

 This series highlights aspects of my experience self-publishing The Alexandria Project.   If you'd like to read the book this series is based on, you can read the first three chapters for free here.

If your publishing progress has been keeping step with this series, you’ve now not only got the text of book all ready to go, but you’ve decided on how you’re going to bring it to market (POD, Google eBooks, or whatever) as well. So your next set of tasks revolves around this question: what would you like your masterpiece to look like? 

There are two main parts to this step: coming up with the cover design, and laying out the interior design. Those are both big topics, so this week we'll tackle cover design, and turn to interiors next time around.


So how do you go about coming up with covers that you can be proud of? Note that I say “covers,” because you’ll need up to three, depending on how many formats you want to bring to market. They are:     

  • An eBook cover, with a single image, your name, and the book title.
  • A soft cover, with the same front as the eBook, plus a spine with title and your name, and a back cover with all or some of the following: a blurb about the book; an endorsement or two (hopefully from someone recognizable); a picture of the illustrious author; and a few words about her. 
  • A hard cover dust jacket, which adds two fold over flaps to the soft cover and allows the soft cover text to be expanded. The left flap traditionally holds a plot synopsis expanding on the soft cover blurb. The right flap holds the run over of the synopsis text, plus the author picture and a hundred words or less about her.  The back of the hard cover may have nothing, a graphic, or some endorsements and perhaps a blurb.  

Have you discovered

The Alexandria Project?

Buy at Amazon: click icon at right

Buy at iTunes Store

Buy at Barnes & Noble

There are four main ways to pull all this together. They are:


1. If you’re a whiz at design and familiar with the appropriate software, you can do it yourself. Be sure that you learn about the appropriate parameters, though, and set the job up correctly. For example, you’ll need to know the final printed page count for your soft and hard cover copies so that the covers will wrap appropriately, with no run over from cover to spine. 


2. Using one of the templates that a POD provides. This is a low cost way to end up with covers that needn’t look bad, although a discerning eye may be able to tell that you started with a template. Either way, you come up with the text and add it in. If the template calls for an image, you’ll select that as well.


3. Hire a freelance book designer to work with you to come up with something you’re happy with. In this case, you can either give the designer detailed instructions about what you want, including the graphic(s) to use, or you can discuss your goals more generally and ask her to make suggestions. Again, you’ll need to come up with the text. You’ll then upload the covers, or deliver them to the POD, depending on which channel you’ve chosen to get your book to market.


4. Let the POD do the design, for an extra fee. One problem with this approach is that you may not be able to speak directly to the designer (many PODs seem to have a thing about compartmentalization), and the cycles may take longer.


In the first case, you’ll have to come up with the image(s) you want to use, and the next three you’ll either have to, or be urged to.  That’s no big deal, because there are multiple “stock” image libraries on line today with thousands of images to choose from.  Once you’ve made your selection, you buy the rights to use an image on a royalty-free basis, meaning that you’ll pay (typically) less than ten bucks to get the rights to use the image you select for an unlimited number of book covers, and for promotional materials as well. What a deal!


I personally think that it’s very important to be able to speak (or email) directly with the person that designs your covers, so unless you really don’t care (shame on you!), I’d work with a free lancer if the POD tells you you have to work through an intermediary. In my opinion, this should almost always make the whole process faster, and also make it more likely that you’ll end up with a result you’re happy with.


I enjoyed interacting with the designer that I worked with.  His name is Todd Engel, and you can learn more about him here. I was very happy with how the process unfolded, and, best of all, I was delighted with where we ended up.  I’d certainly work with him again, and recommend him highly.


Here’s how the process worked.


First, I considered what kind of message the cover should convey. At the first level, it should be genre appropriate.  In other words, someone seeing my book should get the impressionn that they’re looking at a thriller, and not a book of poetry or a scholarly treatise on illuminated manuscripts.  At the next level, it should suggest something about the plot and subject matter. 


A good way to start down this road is to come up with a list of suggestive words.  In my case the list read as follows:







Next, I scouted out the image sites, and found a good selection of choices at one called  At each site, you can use key words to cull pictures of possible interest, so I used the words from my list, with “cybersecurity” proving to be the most useful search term. Out of the hundreds of images I looked at, I cut and pasted about 30 into a document for further consideration.  Besides harmonizing with my list of suggestive words, each image had to have appropriate colors (see “edgy” above), and also had to work well as a thumbnail advertisement once it was turned into a book cover. In other words, no complicated images with lots of small shapes.


After winnowing my list of 30 images down to about 12, I deleted the rejects and numbered the rest. I then circulated this file to a half dozen friends and family who knew what my book was about, and asked them to pick and rank their top three favorites. The ones that got the most votes appear at right.


After taking this input into account, I made my selection (it wasn’t the one that won the most votes in my friends and family survey, but the author does get the final say). The raw photo is the last in the series on the right. 


Lastly, I needed to come up with three pieces of text. I ran the back cover text past the same people who had helped with image selection, and got some useful input from several people.


The first piece was the book blurb, which of course is supposed to tempt a reader to buy the book.  Here’s how it ended up:


“Thank you for your contribution to the Alexandria Project” is the message cyber attackers leave behind as they delete crucial data from computer networks across America. It’s not long before the nation is on the verge of collapse as Wall Street, the transportation system, government agencies, and the rest of our internet-based economy all fall victim to the attacks of unknown assailants.

As the public outcry builds, Frank Adversego, a brilliant but conflicted cyber security expert, finds himself under suspicion as well as trapped in a power play between the FBI and the CIA. Only by tracing the Alexandria Project back to the source can he clear himself.

What follows is a fast-paced, satirical tale of cyber sleuthing, international espionage, and nuclear brinksmanship that accurately portrays our increasing vulnerability to cyberattack. The surprise ending will leave readers both ready for the next Frank Adversego thriller, as well as concerned about where our headlong rush onto the Internet may be leading us.


The prevailing wisdom is to use lots of active words for fiction, so you’ll see that the blurb includes terms such as “crucial,” “verge of collapse,” “fall victim,” “outcry,” and so on.


Below the blurb, I added an endorsement that Dan Geer, a long-time client and a leading cybersecurity expert, was kind enough to provide. It reads as follows:


THE ALEXANDRIA PROJECT is fiction that cuts close to the bone. But where George Orwell envisioned 1984 from the safety of thirty-five years out, the future that Updegrove describes may already be upon us. That’s what makes it dangerous, and that’s what makes The Alexandria Project an important as well as riveting read.


To which I added this tag line; the obvious purpose is to let potential readers know that other people have read and enjoyed the book already (particularly important for a self-published book):


The Alexandria Project first appeared as a serial at the Standards Blog, where thousands of readers enthusiastically awaited the next weekly installment. A new chapter of The Lafayette Deception, a sequel to The Alexandria Project, is appearing there now every Monday morning.


The last piece of back cover text is the author blurb, and it reads like this: 


Andrew Updegrove, an attorney, has been representing entrepreneurs, technology companies and venture capitalists for more than thirty years. He also represents many of the organizations that develop, support and apply the standards upon which cybersecurity is based, and is actively involved in dealing with cybersecurity attacks as they happen. A graduate of Yale University and the Cornell University Law School, he lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts.


The major goal of the bio blurb is to suggest that the book will be authentic, because it was written by someone with relevant, real-world experience.


I provided all of the above to Todd, who suggested the fonts, font colors, text placement and color adjustment.  He also cropped the image for maximum effect. His first pass was great, and after a number of minor changes, here’s what the result looked like, as it appears at Amazon.


Look to the right, and you’ll see how the cover design displays at the Amazon site.  I’m pretty pleased with the way the front looks, as I think it either conveys, or is sympatico with, each of the suggestive words that I started with.  Best of all, I think that it presents in a way that is likely to make a potential reader want to find out what this book is all about. 


Working on the design of my book covers, like every other step along the way, was time consuming, and in some cases (e.g., image selection), pretty tedious.  But it was also enjoyable overall. And besides putting one more milestone behind me, doing a conscientious job on this step will hopefully play a real role in intriguing someone enough to actually buy, and read The Alexandria Project.  If you agree, be my guest, and click on the image at right. 

Obliging order ‘bots at Amazon are standing by to take your order.

Read the first chapter of this series here

Read the next chapter of Adventures in Self-Publishing here

 Read Chapter 1 of The Lafayette Deception (the sequel to The Alexandria Project) here