Book Cover Design For Thumbnails

Joke about cover design

Book Cover Design For Thumbnail Viewing

I was reading through the book reviews in my local paper a few days ago when it struck me how boring the covers were on every book. Most consisted of the author’s name in massive letters and the book’s title – with no picture, graphics or anything else worth noticing. They looked like the designers had spent about two minutes on them, even though they were all traditionally published books.

A load of books are like that these days – for one good but irritating reason.

They have to be viewable on computer screens as tiny thumbnails.

At the size of a postage stamp, all details blur, leaving only bold visuals. There’s no point in designing a beautiful illustration to attract readers if you can’t see it when the cover’s reduced to a tiny blob.

Some books still have beautiful pictures on them – but they also have to have massive text on them too, which makes designing pleasing covers a difficult task. Either the name and title are visible when reduced to a thumbnail or they disappear into a scrawl over the picture. I saw a horror novel recently that had a great image on it at full size – but the author’s name (the greatest selling point) wasn’t clear at thumbnail size. His name was also in a colour that merged with the picture. You wouldn’t even know it was his book if you saw it at a distance in a shop, which seems to me like a bad idea from a marketing POV. However, I did like that cover at full size. It was visually interesting. At full size. The trouble is, you don’t see book covers at full size on websites, which is probably why a lot of publishers no longer bother making something that looks like a stunning work of art.

Years ago, I remember buying a book because I loved the cover illustration showing the characters in jeopardy. Unfortunately, at the size of a thumbnail, all of the detail is lost. The latest version of the same novel has an incredibly dull cover adequate for thumbnail viewing – but at full size it is awful. I’d not have bought that book if I’d seen it with the new cover. It does nothing for attracting new readers.

This week I decided to spruce up one of my own covers for an old Kindle title because my original had been designed for the first Kindle screen size of 800 x 600 pixels. It need to be increased to at least 1410 x 2250 pixels – the current ebook standard.

I spent several hours using the brilliant free software program GIMP to make it better suit the book’s content. I used a stunning photo of a creepy church and an exciting font for the text. The cover looked great when I finished it. Really atmospheric. Until I checked it out as a thumbnail.

I couldn’t tell what the picture showed – or read the book’s subtitle, which was in light green. The creepy church just looked like a featureless triangle reduced to a thumbnail (60×90 pixels.) Text needs to be around ten pixels high to be readable – a sixth of the cover size. Effectively, it was useless for websites/advertising.

Back to the digital drawing board, I increased the size of the text and adjusted the picture so it would stand out more against the background. But as a thumbnail it still didn’t work. Bigger text meant smaller picture. I couldn’t have the artwork AND the text visible. Since I loved the photo, I spent hours making adjustments to the text size and images, trying to squeeze both into my picture. To make the title visible as a thumbnail, I had to shrink everything else, making a compromise that ruined the appearance at full size.

I ended up scrapping the whole project because the cover had to be good at both sizes or there was no point in making a change.

After a night’s sleep, I had a new idea. I started again designing the cover in a different way – by using a different piece of free art software called Krita. I haven’t spent a lot of time learning how to use Krita because I use GIMP so much, but I wondered if it could help. Krita allows users to view an art project in more than one window – so you can see a big picture and a thumbnail version at the same time. (Maybe there is a way of doing that in GIMP – but I don’t know it.)

Thanks to Krita, I didn’t need to flick between the full size and a tiny thumbnail as I was working on it. I could see them both at the same time in separate windows. It helped me design my cover for both scales simultaneously, saving a lot of time messing around with the zoom feature.

I just wished I’d thought of using two windows for the same image before starting the cover.


Here’s the version I ended up using, which was very similar to my original because a sinister tower is easy to see on the cover:

It’s not perfect – but it is visible as a thumbnail.

Here’s a few things I’ve learnt the hard way about designing a cover for thumbnail viewing:

Text needs to be at least seven pixels in height to be read in a thumbnail. Ten is better. Fifteen is great.

Pictures have to have a lot of contrast to stand out when reduced. Changing the contrast can really boost visibility. Experiment only after saving your work.

Red text vanishes on a dark background. White really pops out. Yellow is pretty clear, too. Black on white also works. Red on white, too.

Fonts need to be discernible at very small sizes – so fancy ones are probably a bad idea. Text can be fitted into a small space by adjusting the line spacing and letter spacing. By reducing the gaps between letters, you can make the letters much bigger without taking up more cover space.

And don’t forget that it has to look good at full magnification – because errant pixels will stand out like a sore thumbnail.

Update: It turns out you can view an image at two sizes at once in GIMP. You go to the view menu and turn on a navigation window. A thumbnail view pops up. I wish I’d known that earlier!



Dude, there’s my book!

Yesterday, I blogged about the mysterious invisibility of one of my Kindle Direct Publishing ebooks on Amazon – Legend of King Arthur – which wasn’t in the right place on their website. That blog is here.

Available somewhere!

Today I contacted Amazon and received a prompt explanation for why I couldn’t find my book where I expected. They told me my book was listed under the following categories:

Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Arthurian
Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Historical
Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Sword & Sorcery
Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Adventure
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Historical
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Sword & Sorcery
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Adventure

You can see that it was listed under “Arthurian” as a book – but not in the Kindle Store, where it mattered. It was also not listed under humorous fantasy, either, which is a category only for books. Since nobody looks for Kindle ebooks in the physical book section, it meant my ebook didn’t show up in relevant search results. For some reason my ebook wasn’t listed in the Arthurian section of the Kindle Store. Amazon asked me to send them the categories I wanted my book in so they could change it, which I did this morning. They were very helpful. My book should soon appear in the categories:

Kindle store > kindle ebooks > science fiction & fantasy > fantasy > humor > arthurian


Kindle store > kindle ebook > science fiction & fantasy > fantasy > humor > myths & legends

which are smaller sub-categories where it possible for customers to find it. Hurray!

Choosing Amazon Categories and Keywords

If you have some books published on Amazon via KDP, I’d say it’s worth checking to see your keywords and categories are correctly listed on your book’s Amazon page, because the categories on your KDP bookshelf don’t exactly match the browse categories. (It has something to do with BISAC – the way books are categorised.) Be wary. Your keywords could be doing nothing to help readers find your ebook – so check after publication that you can find it on Amazon in the Kindle Store like a customer would.

For Amazon’s advice on how to select categories, click here.

For more info on selecting browse categories, the KDP help page is here.

Well, I’m glad I emailed Amazon and learnt what had gone wrong. It wasn’t obvious!

(I just checked on Amazon. My book’s now added to Kindle store > kindle ebooks > science fiction & fantasy > fantasy > arthurian, where it belongs.)

Now that my book is visible again, I’ll have to trick some people into buying it. I’ve been reading about hypnotic suggestion and mind control – so look into my eyes.

You are feeling sleepy. Very sleepy.

You want to buy a humorous novel about King Arthur …



The First Among Sequels



Joke about writing.

The First Among Sequels

I bought a novel last week that looked interesting only to get more and more confused by what was going on. It felt like I’d missed something. The story referred to events and characters as if the reader already knew a load of background info.

After I had finished the book, I Googled the title. My suspicions were confirmed. It turned out to be the second book in a series – but there were no clues about that on the book. That information is usually on the cover, in the blurb, on the spine, or at least listed at the front where the other titles by the author are mentioned. Not this book. No – it hid that pertinent fact from potential readers like it was a dirty secret. It wasn’t mentioned anywhere. The book was marketed like it was a stand-alone début title.

It would have been so easy to have the words “#2 in the series” written somewhere – but the publisher didn’t bother or deliberately missed it out. Nobody in the right mind buys the second book in a series before the first – but someone in the marketing department decided it would boost sales if potential readers didn’t know it was a sequel. They wanted to dupe customers into buying the second book even if they had not read the first one.

I don’t know what they were thinking.

Did they want to annoy readers?

They certainly annoyed me.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen a situation like that. I buy many series of books as bargain box sets which need to be read in the right order. Some publishers do an admirable job of making it clear. The ten books in the Martin Beck detective series had the letters of MARTIN BECK spelt out on the spines so the order was obvious on a shelf. Ian Rankin’s Rebus books have the number in a prominent position. But the order is often not listed on series titles. More often than I’d like to say, I’ve had to figure it out by looking at the dates of publication and organising the books myself. That’s fine if I have the time available for sorting them out. If I had been in a shop choosing just one book, I would not have had the time to flick through those titles to work out the right one to buy first. I would have left without buying anything.

I never watch the last episode of a TV show first. I start at the beginning. That’s what everyone does. So, why do some book publishers think it is an acceptable practice?

Last week, my enjoyment was ruined by the thoughtlessness of the publisher for not providing some basic information. They thought they were being clever keeping it a secret – but they just succeeded in making me feel like I’d been tricked. As a consequence, I didn’t enjoy that book and I won’t be buying the first book in the series or the next one.

How smart is that?

Books on Demand

Books on Demand

I was in the mood for buying some new books last week – a few Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker Award winning books that I missed reading when they first came out. After making a comprehensive list of titles from 2000-2015, I decided to visit my not-so-local local bookshop, where I wanted to see physical copies of the books before buying them. I looked for the books on the shelves – but I could not find any of them. Not one. Dismayed, I queued up to speak with an assistant.

ME: Hi. I’d like to order some books, please.

ASSISTANT: Yes, sir. What are the titles?

ME: I’d like BLANK by BLANK.

ASSISTANT: I’ll look it up on the computer. Just a sec. Yes – that’s a great book. It won the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel. A great read.

ME: Yes. That’s why I want to read it.

ASSISTANT: Oh. That’s odd. It’s out of print.

ME: It only came out five years ago.

ASSISTANT: I know – but the publisher only printed one edition, which sold out. They didn’t reprint it. We could order a second-hand copy for £99.

ME: What? How much?


ME: Uh – that’s a bit out of my budget. Besides, I wanted a new copy. And I didn’t want to pay that much for a used one. Are you sure you typed it in correctly?

ASSISTANT (stone-faced): Yes, sir. Anything else?

ME: Well, you must have BLANK by BLANK. It was last year’s winner of three prizes.

ASSISTANT: Sorry, sir. Out of print.

ME: It’s the first book in a series. You have the other parts on a shelf over there!

ASSISTANT: Most people have already read the first part. You could buy the second part.

ME: That makes no sense. I want to read it from the beginning.

ASSISTANT: We could order you it from our specialist online bookshop for out of print titles.

ME: And how much would that cost?

ASSISTANT: £4000 plus delivery.

ME: No, thanks. Why is that so expensive, anyway?

ASSISTANT: Well, I suppose it’s because it’s rare. Blank’s fans will pay a lot for a copy of his book because there aren’t many.

ME: So, there is a demand for that book?

ASSISTANT: Yes. We get asked about it every week. We get loads of disappointed customers in here.

ME: Why doesn’t the publisher reprint it?

ASSISTANT: It’s not a new title. They like new titles.

ME: But it’s a classic!!!

ASSISTANT: Don’t use three exclamation marks on me, sir.

ME: Sorry. Uh – do you have any of these titles?

(The assistant studies my list and types each into a computer, shaking his head as each one flashes up OUT OF PRINT.)

ME: Don’t you have any of them?

ASSISTANT: No, sir. But we do have sixty-thousand copies of Fifty Shades of Grey.

ME: Yes, I noticed that. I waded through them to get into the shop. It looks like there are copies of it on every shelf. There are even copies balanced on your head.

ASSISTANT: Well, it is a popular title. It sells like crazy.

ME: It doesn’t leave much space for other books, does it? What do you do if someone comes in looking for a book that isn’t Fifty Shades of Grey?

ASSISTANT: We tell them to go somewhere else.

Exasperated, I flee the shop with none of the books I wanted to buy.

It made no sense for those award-winning books to be unavailable to buy new – but traditional publishers have not adapted the evolution of the book industry with Print On Demand publishing. If those titles had been POD titles, I could have ordered them all, had them printed in the shop, then gone home happy.

If a reader can’t buy a book because it is no longer available, the publisher makes no profit on the writer’s work.

I think traditionally publishers have to rethink their business model. They must keep all books by their authors available for the length of their contract. If Amazon can print individual copies of a book and make a profit, I’m sure traditional publishers could do it, too.

No books should be unavailable to read when we have the technology to reprint them.

The phrase “OUT OF PRINT” needs to be consigned to history.

Related article: Using Create Space to Publish.


Inside the writer’s mind: the book publisher


Cartoon strip.
More cartoons are on this website.

Here’s a link to a post about using Kindle Comic Creator.

My short story A Hunter’s Tale is among the winning stories of a free-to-enter monthly writing competition run by the writer Michael Brookes. You can read my story and the other stories here.