Yea or nay: MS Word book cover templates for self-publishers

If there’s one thing readers complain about when the words “self-published book” enter the conversation, it’s visual quality.  Inside and especially outside, authors who may have a wonderful grasp of the written word often fail to translate that talent into the realm of graphic design.  I’ve talked about cover art before, and I’ve discussed the pluses and perils of the the mysteriously hooded figure and the voluptuous temptress who could really benefit from a professional fitting.  Stay away from the cliché, I’ve always said.  But what if the cliché isn’t entirely what it seems?

Book designer Derek Murphy thinks he’s solved the problem of the generic cover by offering templates customizable in something as simple as Microsoft Word.  Wrote that coming-of-age novel screaming out for a font last seen in the window of Urban Outfitters?  Need a dark and passionate showcase for the pouty, scantily-clad model defining your debut romance?  Want some big, bold block letters to grab readers for your dystopian sci-fi epic?  Fork over 87 bucks, open up Word, drag-and-drop your stock photos, and you’re ready to go.


Now, I have mixed feelings about this, which is why there will be a poll at the bottom of the article.  Many of the templates do look professional, and if they are as customizable as Murphy says, they could help out a lot of authors who can’t afford personal designers.   But something in the back of my head wonders why we want to rely so heavily on our Thinkstock accounts to produce the same cover over and over with slightly different variations of color and font.  Do we really want more templates?

A whole lot of the publishing industry, traditional and otherwise, is built on the prototypes of previous successes.  The Hunger Games does well, so every YA novel for the next five years is a slight variation on the moderately-independent-girl-takes-on-dystopian-evil-with-a-novelty-weapon theme.  We know this to be a truth in nearly every creative discipline.  Creativity defines our culture as much as culture defines what we produce.  Right now, our culture demands wispy sparkles and a hot chick in black leather staring soullessly out from behind spiky bangs.  But I struggle to make a connection with that.  I’m just not sure templates bring us all that much closer to beauty on the outside of a book or truth within its pages.

“The most useful benefit of these templates is that it will give you some creative boundaries,” Murphy says. “You’ll know you’re starting with a strong, professional design basis, and you can ‘color within the lines’ of tried-and-true book cover design that sells books.”  I don’t know, but that just rubs me the wrong way.  That might be because I don’t write books solely to sell lots of copies (and probably wouldn’t even if I tried).  I don’t write commercially, so I don’t usually think of ‘coloring within the lines’ as something to strive for.  I will also admit that I don’t make particularly riveting book covers.

My objections are more philosophical than anything else, and I wouldn’t dispute the value of a service like this to authors who want to give it a try.  Lots of authors need those creative boundaries – or at least they need some creative guidelines for an unfamiliar medium – and to them, this might be the godsend they’ve been looking for.  What do you think?

5 Replies to “Yea or nay: MS Word book cover templates for self-publishers”

  1. I agree that many self-pub authors really miss the boat with their covers. Sometimes they have a great book, hidden behind a cheesey cover. I think that self-publishing should not mean skimping on things like editing or cover design. There are plenty of great artists out there, so there is no need to go with something that looks amateurish. Having said that, if the choice is person who does not know much about art putting together a selfie, or using a template from a professional, then I would love to see the template much of the time probably.

  2. Bad covers can be a wonderful source of amusement. I experience a cringing glee when I hear of a new Chuck Tyrell title (from his Western Trail Blazer series of books). But I think self publishers should consider hiring an artist. If that’s impossible, then the second resort should be templates. The absolute last resort should be the author designing the cover without any aid at all. If the last resort is taken by the author, the cover should be shown to several strangers for an honest reaction. If the stranger looks like they are sucking on a lemon, or if they break out in sudden laughter, then the author should go back to a template.

  3. First, I think your book covers are great. They have a simple Victorian feel to them. Not sure if that’s what you were going for, but that’s how I feel when I see your covers.

    Second, it’s a brilliant idea that will make this man a lot of money so that self publish authors can create identical looking book covers. But isn’t the industry already basically doing that? I write fantasy. What’ll be on the cover? A nearly naked hot mage with a beef cake warrior. Fighting an epic creature is optional. Romance covers are snapshots of two obscenely attractive individuals in that moment right before their loose fitting clothes would accidentally fall off. I won’t do it, I think it’s lame in part, but aren’t we already there? Also, loved your sentence on what culture today is looking for. Stupid sparkles and soulless stares.

  4. Not sure about templates, but am open to them provided authors have imagination to differentiate from the herds. Things are getting very expensive, so alternatives might help control cost and maybe create downward pressure on prices from competition. I design my own covers and it takes a long time — ah … there it is, ‘time vs. money’ — a tough call. I see pros and cons on this, but will most likely continue designing my own covers, at least for the time being. Having said this, I sure would like an alternative to the pricey professional services.

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