Your book cover is like a handshake. It’s the first impression the public will have of your book and it’s important to get it right.

One of the biggest mistakes indie authors make is “image desperation.” Image desperation happens when a novice publisher is so desperate to have an image, any image, that he or she will make do with completely unsuitable photos or amateur illustrations that virtually shout, “homemade.” It’s not only damaging to your image, it’s completely unnecessary. It costs just as much to produce a  bad book cover as it does to produce a  good one.

Everyone has seen indie projects with amateurish illustrations on them. In fact, there are entire sites dedicated to mocking them. Sometimes people will combine these images with photos and even clipart to create a scene. It would be far better to go with a nice font and use creatively designed text to fill the space. Plenty of text-only covers have held top spots on the best sellers’ lists. If you really must have some graphic detail, consider an abstract background or use of color.

Another big mistake is the cliché image. Using chess pieces on books about business has been done to death! One book production company recently published a book that not only used the chess cliché, it actually had the pawn featured on the book cover. Whose goal is to be a pawn? Other overused clichés that small business owners and publishers can’t seem to let go of include puzzle pieces, and locks and keys. Unless you have a completely fresh way to use these elements, come up with another idea.

Image desperation sometimes leads people into choosing the wrong illustration all together. The cover matter should demonstrate the solution, not the problem. If your book is about raising a happy child, don’t put a crying toddler on the cover. Your solution — the topic of the book, the information people want — is the happy child, not the weepy one. If you’re a locksmith, don’t put an image of a desperate person locked outside in the rain on your book. When’s the last time you saw an obese model on the cover of a weight loss book? Hint: never! That’s because they’re selling thin, thin is the solution. And avoid the temptation to be too clever. If your book is called A Blueprint to Happiness, do not put the blueprints for a house on the cover.

I’m not suggesting these elements can never work, they just need to be handled carefully and with originality, otherwise your message will get lost in the crowd, look dated or worse, shout “amateur”. Having a solid, professional design greet your readers increases you’re chances of getting noticed.