How to Pick an Image for a Book Cover

What’s the first thing you see when you scan the bookshelves, or when you look at Amazon? The cover! With indie authors, it’s more of a challenge because we have to look like what’s in the bookstore, and we don’t have an art department like a publisher.

But if you don’t have know anything about graphics or how to put them together, you’ll end up with something like the photo below:

Waves wash up against a California beach shore.

Yeah, it’s pretty, but what does it say about what’s in the book?

People often make awful choices picking images.  If you don’t know anything about graphics, spend the money on a cover designer.   This is not a place to go cheap.

If you want to do it yourself, thoughtfully choose your images.   You may have to go through many photos to find the right one.  If you aren’t, then you’re not doing it right.  For example, to get the beach photo, I had to spend 15 minutes looking for one to illustrate what I wanted to say here.


You’re probably a genre reader, so you know each one has cover conventions that are part of selling the book.  But it’s not as easy as it looks to come up with images.  For example, as I considered what my future cover would be, I realized I needed an image representing fantasy, but also had danger for thriller.  The result is I’m revising the book for the cover.   My story originally had an amulet, but this was the best “amulet” I could find:

Front view of a tiki god idol.

I have tikis in my book, but this doesn’t convey thriller or fantasy.  So my amulet became a dagger, and I was able to find an image that played up on the name of the place everyone is fighting over.  Even if you’re in revision like me, you can still look for potential images.


  • Simple: Find images to tell everything at a 5-second glance.   For example, when I was at Ravencon, they had a literature rack for all the book postcards.  Half or less of the cover might be visible.  The ones that stood out to me were always the simple ones.  Simple can come in the form of a single image, or one that you can crop from a busier image.
  • Thumbnails: Images need convert to thumbnail size and still get the reader’s attention with the 5-second glance.  With eBooks, everyone will decide to look further based on a thumbnail of the cover.
  • Black and White: The image has to look good in black and white because of eReaders.

For you:  What kind of covers draw you in to look at a book further?  What covers will make you pass and why?  Post links to your favorite covers, or even to your own cover!

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