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TUAW Tips: Designing covers for the iBookstore


For budding novelists, one of the most exciting things about Apple's iBookstore is the chance to self-publish their writing and have it potentially available to the 100 million people that own iOS 4 devices. A novel is a daunting task, and once the writing is done, the hard part is over ... kinda. There are still two things you need to do: get your book on the iBookstore and make sure it has a compelling cover. We've told you before how to go about self-publishing on the iBookstore, but one thing that many writers are left pondering is what to do about the cover for their novel.

Cristina Lopo, owner of the London-based graphic design studio Loop Box, gave me some advice when we met at a book reading a few weeks ago. "The old saying is 'Don't judge a book by its cover,' but unfortunately, books are judged by their covers -- at least at first, and especially on the iBookstore. The cover is what is going to get people to click on your book to learn more about it when they are scrolling through a list of 25 books on a tiny iPhone screen." Click "Read More" for more tips on cover design for the iBookstore.

This past April, Cristina started designing covers for a few of her friends who were hoping to self-publish on the iBookstore. Designing for a few friends turned into additional requests from friends of friends, and now Cristina has added a cover design business to her graphic design studio. She sent the mockup TUAW cover that you see above, which she made in about two hours. Actual covers take a week to two weeks to produce, depending on the client's needs.

Many self-publishing writers feel that they don't have access to the same resources that professionally published writers do (like marketing and getting people to review your book). But even if you are professionally published, unless you're a big gun like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, or this is your fifth or sixth novel, you will most likely have no input on what your cover looks like. Like it or not, that's all up to marketing. I know that both of my publishers would laugh if I tried to suggest covers for my books. But with self-publishing on the iBookstore, you can control what your cover looks like.

Of course, controlling what your cover looks like could be a huge problem. There's a reason that publishers don't want authors designing their own covers: because with few exceptions, authors are writers, not graphic design pros. "Remember when you first made your own business cards in Microsoft Word or Photoshop?" Cristina asked me. "Never looked quite as good as the business cards you got handed, did it? You don't want the cover of your novel to resemble the first business card you ever made."

So what are an author's options? You can design the cover yourself or use a graphic designer who has experience designing book covers. Cristina says that if you do choose to design your cover yourself, especially if you aren't gifted at graphic design, these are some suggestions to follow:

  1. Use a photo for your cover image. It saves your book cover from becoming a vector-based monstrosity.
  2. Don't try to relate your entire story on the cover. Choose one element or symbol to represent what your book is most about.
  3. Know your target audience. A romance written for women in their 50s shouldn't have a stark, minimalist cover.
  4. Keep it simple. "Above all, this is the most important," Cristina says. "Don't clutter your cover with more things than you need. Keep text to just the title and the author's name."
"If you do decide to use a graphic designer, make sure they have experience designing book covers," says Cristina. "Also, it's a huge plus if they are avid readers. They'll know what makes them pick up the novels they are reading, and that can only be good for your cover."

Loop Box has already designed over 40 covers for the iBookstore and creates an additional 12 each month. Cristina likes to work with clients to create the covers of their books, but some authors don't even want to deal with it and give her total creative control. You can check out some of her iBook sample covers here.

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