GUEST – Russell Blake

Author Russell Blake joins us to talk about the importance of a book’s cover.

Taking Cover

How much does your eBook cover matter? I mean, really, they’re all just thumbnails on Amazon, so is it that important to create something unique or impactful? How much time & money should you even devote to it?

The answer, from my perspective, is straightforward.

In the modern eBook world, your cover is the first evidence a potential customer sees of the quality of your work.

It’s a visceral world, and people tend to make snap decisions on a variety of factors, including what your book looks like. If it’s cheap looking or amateurish, that says something to the reader about the probable quality of the work inside, and few are likely to go any further than the cover. Make sense?

I’ve gone with a very distinctive approach on my thriller covers, so they aren’t easily confused with others in the genre. They all have the same general theme, namely that they’re collages of elements from the books’ plots, and they’re laid out in a visually appealing, creative and distinctive manner. You can view the various offerings under my name at Amazon, or by clicking here.

On my latest Wall Street serial trilogy, Zero Sum, I used the same backdrop art but with different background colors and sub-titles for each volume, so the reader would know they were obviously part of the same serial and yet were separate books. I further used a chess motif for the sub-titles – Kotov Syndrome, Focal Point and Checkmate – to tie them together as a coherent unit.

If you look at them on the Amazon author page they’re thumbnails, yet they’re also eye catching even the size of postage stamps. More importantly, you can easily read the main titles even when they’re thumbnail size, and can read them perfectly when they’re larger, like on the actual book’s Amazon page. That’s an important part of my design strategy; the reader needs to be able to read the title even as a thumbnail. It doesn’t matter to me if you have a brilliant title if I can’t read it at thumbnail size, because I’m usually busy and don’t have a lot of time to drill down on covers that are indecipherable when small.

Readability is a critical benchmark for me.

I get asked who does my book covers all the time, and if you’re interested I’ll be happy to pass the designer’s info on to you. Just e-mail me through the contact page at my blog – she does a very professional and inexpensive job, and she’s fast.

I place a lot of importance on my covers, as they need to convey a lot of information to potential customers. I want them to obviously look like action/intrigue/thrillers, and hopefully look like they’re intricately plotted and fast moving, I want them to seem themed (all Russell Blake thrillers have to have an immediately distinctive look), and I want them to look colorful and professionally executed. And I want something different than the tired boilerplate covers we’ve all seen piles of in the thriller bin.

Your cover is going to do a lot of heavy lifting for you. You should make it a priority to develop your own look and feel so as you continue down this road, you have a theme you can live with over a number of books.

On development cost, I try to keep my covers under $125, and so far have been successful in that regard. For me, that’s a fair investment for one of my most important marketing elements.

Only you can decide the right budget for you, but I’ll caution that if you go with something stock, or something that looks like your nephew’s seventh grade art project, you’re only hurting yourself. Step up, pay the piper, and think some before you start working on it – the more direction you can offer up front, the more likely you’ll get what you want.

So what’s the takeaway?

  1. Create a memorable look that’s germane to your genre that has the legs to carry multiple books.
  2. Make it easy to read as a thumbnail.
  3. Spend some money on getting a pro to do it, but don’t spend money like a drunken sailor.
  4. Come up with an idea of what you want before hiring the designer, or collect some covers you like as a starting point.

Oh, and of course, support other authors, especially those who write guest blogs on useful topics like cover design.

Russell Blake is the author of Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, and the Zero Sum serial trilogy of Wall Street thrillers, as well as the acclaimed parody of all things writing and self-publishing: How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated). His ramblings can be found at his blog,


  1. Russell makes some great points. Reading the cover as a thumbnail is crucial. I prefer to have my covers focus around a single image or icon for that purpose. I can’t stress enough his third point. If somone tells you they made their cover with a program they got online, their cover doesn’t look good. Period. Get a pro. I pay a bit more for my covers, but it happens to be a friend that is in the business. I know what it really should be costing me and I’m still getting a deal. One thing I would like to add is, truly value your cover designers input. They are a pro for a reason and everything they have to say should be considered.

  2. I designed my own cover, but I have a background in art and have been using Photoshop for years. I’ll design the next two covers for consistency’s sake, but after that I’m hiring someone else, so I’ll have more time to write!

  3. It’s great to be your own resource. But, you’re right, everything we do ourselves takes away from writing more. I’m convinced at this point that put more books/stories out there is best way to build an audience and keep it happy.

  4. Russell does have some great covers, that’s for sure. They have the quality of being both modern and “cutting edge” while still retaining enough retroness to be cool. Yes, I invent words.Your site is awesome, Ben. Gonna check out your book. Thanks for being a part of the community. Landon

  5. Thanks, Landon. I’m checking out your site as well.

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