I am not an artist. I have limited graphic design skills. I had no intention of ever designing a real book cover. I was planning to hire a professional.

For my previous book, Alex Haley’s Roots: An Author’s Odyssey, I contracted a designer through 99 Designs and was fortunate to work with someone who created a simple, recognizable, and attractive cover. I was hoping to attain similar results for my next book, Under One Roof. However, there was a fundamental difference between them. Roots had a single, identifiable image (i.e., Alex Haley). That was not the case for Under One Roof, a story about largely forgotten civil rights activist who, in 1961, challenged the practice of segregated housing of baseball players during spring training.

Since there were three major areas of interest captured in this book—baseball, civil rights, and Florida history—I was hoping to find a cover designer who could incorporate all of them. I envisioned a baseball stadium situated along the coastal shore, dotted with palm trees as the sun shined above. Perhaps a protester or two, waving a sign on the far right side. And since it took place in the 1950s and 1960s, it had to have a retro tint.

Given time and money constraints, I hired a relatively inexpensive professional designer who had experience working with self-published authors (albeit, mostly fiction). I explained to her what I wanted and off she went.

I knew I was in trouble when I opened her first set of concepts. Each one looked like a sleek travel advertisement found in AAA’s monthly magazine, VIA. The baseball images she chose were cliché and out of place. After going back and forth for another round, I realized it was not working out. I had to move on, and swiftly, since I had already announced a publication date. I was convinced I needed to increase my budget for a high-end designer. I found one who had experience working with big name nonfiction authors and major publishers. His price: $1,000!

Was it worth it? Would he be able to provide that “pop” I was looking for?

I drafted an email to him, but decided to hold off sending it until I returned from my trip to Tampa, Florida. Coincidentally, I had recently downloaded Derek Murphy’s Cover Design Secrets and was planning to read it during my six-hour flight. I was hoping to discover the secret formula to a cover’s success.


To my surprise, I did.

Everything Derek talked about, specifically nonfiction covers—which in the indie world receives very little discussion—made sense: using an identifiable image that conveys which genre you’re targeting, making it indistinguishable from a traditionally published book (this maintains the indie author’s credibility), and not cluttering it with too many images. Between the title, subtitle, a blurb, and the image, the reader should know exactly what the book entails. If it still isn’t clear, then something is wrong.

The day after I returned from my trip I was doodling with Canva—a free and easy-to-use graphic design online software—drafting an advertisement for my monthly newsletter. Then I realized that the template I was working on could also work for my book cover. It met all of the criteria: identifiable image, professional look, was consistent with other books in my subject area, and had no clutter. Plus it had big, bold lettering, making it easier for the reader to identify immediately while perusing scores of other books online (another trick of the trade Derrick shared).

For the next two and a half hours, I fidgeted with the design until I had it just right. There was only one way to find out.

The first person I asked to look it over was a co-worker of mine who is currently serving overseas in the Navy. An avid reader, he reads the same books I do and devours them at three times the rate. We had been corresponding regularly since his departure. When I asked for his opinion, I didn’t expect him to respond quickly or enthusiastically, but he did:

Adam, I clicked on the attachment with the book cover photo before I read your email and I was instantly intrigued. It would be a sound choice to use this cover photo for your book. I look forward to adding a copy to my home library.

Great. But, that was just one reader. I needed more confirmation. I asked my mother-in-law, who also read nonfiction books. She loved it. Next, I asked my father, Gerald S. Henig, a professor and author himself. He knew the general amount I was willing to pay a designer for his services and thought it was excessive, but agreed it might be the only option. Not knowing I had created this new design myself, he wrote back, “I like it a lot. It says everything that needs to be said and more, and it’s done in a classy way. What is he charging you for this?”

Ray Boomhower, who recently won an IPPY for his biography of mid-20th century political reporter John Bartlow Martin.

Then I wanted to test the waters outside my inner circle. Ray Boomhower, a Robert F. Kennedy biographerIndiana historian, and a Twitter contact of mine, wrote:

“Like it, especially the dark background and type treatment. Also appreciate having author name in good-sized type.”

Author Biz podcaster and crime fiction author Steven Campbell replied that it “looks good and works great as a physical book cover.” He recommended that the blurb at the top might not work well on an eBook. It was a good point and will be taken into consideration when I finalize the cover. Memoirist D.G. Kaye not only liked the cover, but said it was “good branding, colours and font fitting in with your first book and lets us know what the book is about.” She too agreed the blurb at the top was too small for a thumbnail. WiseInk’s Dara Beevas also echoed affirmation of the cover. And then Derek Murphy, who kept his word that he would provide feedback to readers’ covers, responded to my inquiry. He thought it “looks pretty great” and offered a few minor suggestions (e.g., making the baseball larger and brighter) to enhance its features.

Cover designer extraordinaire Derek Murphy.

I couldn’t believe I pulled it off. Thanks to Derek Murphy’s Cover Design Secrets, not only did I save a thousand dollars (maybe more) and precious time that I could otherwise devote to writing, but I have a deeper understanding of what it takes to create an effective book cover that will sell lots of books.

To learn more tricks of the trade from Derek Murphy, visit his website: http://diybookcovers.com.

To purchase Cover Design Secrets, click here.



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