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Book Cover Design Dilemma: How Much Feedback Is Too Much?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

How much feedback is too much for your book cover design?

How much feedback is too much for your book cover design?

Faux, Funny, and Fearful Feedback Requests for Book Cover Designs

There's a place for feedback, but I really get annoyed at "faux feedback pitches." I follow a number of self-published authors and writers on social media, I regularly see posts that ask for feedback on book cover designs and marketing materials. I can't help but wonder: do they really want feedback, or are they just advertising their upcoming book?

Whether on social media, by email, or in person, I've also found that authors may ask for feedback on their designs, but go ahead and choose what they wanted anyway. So why did they want input? Validation for their decision? Going through the motions? Plus, I've found that the options they offer for review are usually pretty close to each other. I could put the options on a wall and throw darts to pick one, and it wouldn't make much difference.

Buyer's Remorse and Fear of Making the Wrong Decision

Those authors who have invested in graphic design for their book covers may also have a touch of buyer's remorse when they see the finished design options. They may feel that they spent too much. Getting some positive feedback from their friend will make the pain of spending the cash go away.

And here's where it gets even funnier. With some exceptions, most self-published authors are not graphic design professionals. So when they hem and haw about the subtleties of each design option, they get themselves worked up over something for which they have little experience or understanding. That's probably why they feel inclined to ask for feedback. They're just so unsure of themselves and are afraid they'll make the wrong decision. (P.S. There is no wrong design—only more or less effective design.)

Part of the fear of making the wrong decision may be caused by fear of the publishing process. It could be due to a sense of loss at coming to the end of the project or fear of actually putting the book out into the world. By throwing this feedback loop into the process, authors can safely stay where they feel comfortable.

When Book Cover Design Really Matters

Book cover design is absolutely critical when selling books in a brick-and-mortar retail environment.

At the back of the room at speaking events? Not so much. Back-of-the-room sales can be a memento of a positive experience. So the book cover design is less of a factor in an event attendee's decision to buy or not. It would be rare for a happy attendee to walk up to a post-event sales table and say, "Ew! I'm not buying that book from this great speaker because the cover design sucks."

Online, it's crucial to have the cover make a visual impact at a very small size (at 1" to 2" or less) on a screen or mobile device.

Are You Too Obsessed With Your Book Cover Design?

In the feedback beggars' defense, I'll admit that I've seen some pretty ridiculous self-published book covers. So their concern for creating a better product is applauded. But beyond the issue of avoiding totally cheesy or offensive cover art, it can be obsessing over trivia.

  1. Listen to your gut. Whether you design it yourself with online tools or have a graphic designer create it for you, one design option will usually "feel" right when you look at it. That's the one to likely be the best choice.
  2. Ask only a few, qualified folks. As I've expressed elsewhere, limiting your manuscript editors and beta readers to a few qualified individuals can prevent perfection paralysis. The same principle applies here. Sometimes your editors and beta readers can be valuable reviewers for your book cover design, too. Avoid asking the hundreds of followers you have on social media unless you potentially want hundreds of viewpoints.
  3. Cover creation tools are usually built by design professionals. Even if you can only afford free cover creation tools provided by your self-publishing platform, remember that these templates were likely developed by cover design professionals familiar with the publishing industry. So they'll offer design templates that have a greater degree of design success, particularly for inexperienced self-published authors.
  4. You've got more to worry about. While authors muddle through this design dilemma, they also may be trying to avoid the hard work of finalizing their manuscripts which would include editing and proofreading. The book manuscript is what people are really buying! Design, decide, and move on to what's really important.

And if all else fails when choosing a book cover design, flip a coin.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 27, 2017:

Hi purl3agony! True, book cover design is one of the things that can really motivate an author! It's the visualization of a dream. So, yes, a lot of authors obsess over every... last... detail. But at some point the creating has to end and the marketing must begin. Thanks so much for stopping by and adding that perspective to the conversation! Have a great day!

Donna Herron from USA on June 26, 2017:

Hi Heidi - I would think that the design process for a book cover might be the most fun part of publishing, or might at least feel like a delicious dessert after a lot of hard work. So I can see why people might get obsessed, or at least prolong, the process and want to share the experience with others. But you give some great advice about keeping the priorities straight and keeping the process moving. Thanks for another great hub!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 25, 2017:

AliciaC, thanks for the kind words! Actually, I'm not just fishing for ideas. As soon as I encounter the situation, or observe it in others, I realize what needs to be said. Hope you're having a beautiful weekend. Cheers!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 24, 2017:

You always have good advice to share, Heidi. You always come up with ideas that I haven't considered before, too, which is very helpful.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 21, 2017:

Larry, that can certainly be the case. I also think it's helpful to sit with a design for a little bit to see if it still is appealing in a few days, instead of rushing to get a flurry of feedback. If I'm doing my own design, sometimes I'll draft a cover and then look at it again in the next day or so. Sometimes I scrap the whole thing and start over. But usually I just tweak what I've done and then move on.

Getting only run-of-the-mill feedback can also depend on the people authors ask for help. If they ask those who don't want to be confrontational or are afraid of hurting an author's feelings, it'll also result in mediocre commentary that isn't constructive.

Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by and offer your insight! Have a great day!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on June 21, 2017:

I believe you can have too little or too much feedback. One thing I've noticed is that sometimes people don't know what they want until they've had a chance to digest it. In such cases, sometimes all immediate feedback does is reinforce what is run of the mill and hackneyed.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 21, 2017:

Hello, Blond! Yes, I think a lot of authors use this as a marketing ploy. I'm just not for it. I, too, am guessing that if he was an author of note, he probably had top notch talent helping him. In fact, they probably suggested he ask for feedback! :) Thanks for adding that great example to the conversation. Cheers!

Mary Wickison from USA on June 21, 2017:

I have seen this used as a marketing tactic to promote an upcoming book. The man was well known and would have had top consultants advising him. The list of comments was long and yet few people understood why he was doing this.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 21, 2017:

Aesta1, give it a shot. I've found the tools on sites such as Amazon's Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing to be very easy to use with lots of options. But if you do get stuck, try to find a good pro. BTW, Createspace has cover design services at pretty reasonable prices if you have trouble finding a graphic design pro locally. Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your book cover!

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on June 21, 2017:

It is uncharacteristically hot in this neck o' the woods, more like New Mexico or Arizona than 'li'l ol' England'. Forget your 'Foggy London Town', it's more a case of carry your own water supply. Better still, dress like Lawrence of Arabia and get a camel.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on June 21, 2017:

Often, perfect is our enemy. I am thinking of trying making the cover first for my book and then, get some feedback. If it doesn't fit, I'll hire a professional.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 20, 2017:

C.L., I think we've all been there! :) And we've all learned something about the process and ourselves by doing so. Thanks for confirming the importance of limiting the book cover feedback loop. Have a wonderful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 20, 2017:

Hi alancaster149! It's good that you have a system for your book cover design. I wish more authors realized the time and aggravation that can save. True, it might take a while for an author to develop a "system." But it is so worth it! Thanks so much for sharing your system with us! Hope you're having a great summer. Cheers!

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on June 20, 2017:

Since I started publishing through New Generation I've had a sort of 'gentleman's agreement' on cover design. The last three have been 'wraparound' designs at the suggestion of Sam Rennie who looks after my publishing needs. I provide a 'base' image and one or two further images that might be superimposed on the 'base'. I have several 'base images' on file for future use, as and when.

Then I provide the blurb to go on the back, plus the web address of my RAVENFEAST page here. That goes through and designs of bookmarks, business and postcards are based on the cover - for better or for worse.

C L Mitchell on June 20, 2017:

lol this was me! I was stressed about choosing the right book cover, so I sent 3 versions to some of my close friends and family for feedback. But instead of helping, it just made it more confusing as they all seemed to prefer different ones!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 20, 2017:

Hi lambservant! Glad you found the information helpful for when you do take the publishing plunge. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day!

Lori Colbo from United States on June 19, 2017:

I have not yet ventured into publishing a book, but am considering it. This is a good article, perspective, and advice.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 19, 2017:

Flourish, so right! I've seen people give 4 or more book cover choices to choose from, all very similar. It's kind of like when you go to the eye doctor and he/she asks, "Is it better here, or here?," and both options look pretty similar. Toss up time! Thanks for putting the emphasis on my point. Happy Monday!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 19, 2017:

Billybuc, I'm laughing as I'm reading your comment. :) I also go with what "feels" right and, usually, it is right. Thanks for chiming in and have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 19, 2017:

Well, GalaxyRat, if your family can provide great objective feedback, that's a plus! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. Have a great week!

GalaxyRat on June 19, 2017:

Thanks, I usually get a book idea from a book cover, but push comes to shove, I have to ask for feedback from family.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 19, 2017:

Great advice as always. I usually go with my gut. For better or for worse, I trust my instincts. I'm laughing as I type that. Have a great week!

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 19, 2017:

There comes a point at which perfect won't help you and you just need to act. I like your advice. If giving people choices, it's also key not to give them too many options. Three is fine.