In Defense of Judging a Book by its Cover

“Mom, I’m hungry.”
“I’m sorry, honey. Just don’t think about it.”

You can tell people not to judge a book by its cover, but like telling a child not to think about being hungry, it just ain’t gonna work.

bad book cover 2  bad book cover


No offense to the authors, but what are we honestly supposed to make out of covers like these?



Maybe we should be judging a book by its cover after all. Especially when it comes to self-published authors – unprofessional book covers more than likely translates to unprofessional editing.

Of course there’s always the case of a diamond in the rough, but it’s kind of like playing the lottery – sure you could win, but why waste your time and money when the odds are not ever in your favor?

Here’s the issue: Independently published authors have a rough time in exchange for the freedoms they enjoy. They get to have complete creative control over almost every aspect of their work. In exchange for that freedom they have the curse of having complete control over almost every aspect of their work.

3D Book Cover


When I self-published my first book, The Stitcher, I knew I could make a very minimalist cover that could still look good and that I wouldn’t have to shell out $200-$500 to get it done for me.



But when I finished my manuscript for Upheaval, a Middle-grade Sci-fi adventure, I knew that I couldn’t go the minimalist road. Middle-grade books tend to be bright, colorful, and action-y.



I looked at a lot of MG books to get an idea for the look and feel.



I had no plans on doing my own cover for Upheaval. I resigned myself to the idea that I would just have to suck it up and pay a professional.

But fortune smiled on me, as I have a brother who is a professional graphic designer. That, of course, doesn’t translate to being excellent at book covers, but when he offered his services, there was no way I would refuse.

After two months, about three months until the release date, he contacted me with disappointing news: The quality and style I was looking for was “beyond his skill set.”

I definitely wasn’t pleased with the news, but I did understand. I turned my attention to an amazing artist on DeviantArt and requested if she was available for commission for a fantasy/sci-fi book cover. Luckily she said yes.

Unluckily, her price was $2,000 for the front cover.

So, just a couple months before release, I had the unenviable task of creating a book cover that my much-more-talented-brother said he didn’t have the skills to do. After a few days of doodles, I finally came up with the sketch of the image I would finally use:



MG Covers are usually character-focused, so I decided to put my characters front and center.




The good news was that my brother was still willing to help with the cover, so I sent him a scan of the sketch for him to color.

worked on by josh

After some time he sent this back. He’d gotten a nice start on it, but due to time constraints, couldn’t do much more.


With the baselines all covered, I took his image and went to town, doing my best to make it as colorful and exciting as possible.

worked on by me image


Hours and hours of work later, this is what I ultimately came up with.




So, in the final analysis, the cover for Upheaval was not professionally made, but it still looks like it is stylistically competent – especially if looked at in a line-up.

13595022Cover for Smashwordsbad book cover

What I really don’t want is for one of my book covers to be used as an example of what no-to-do. Only time will tell if I succeeded.

What is your all-time favorite book cover (whether good or bad)? Let me know in the comments below!



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