Before we move on to publishing for print, there’s one very important piece to our stories that we need to address.
For a long time, this was the step I feared the most. We’re told to never judge a book by its cover but, statistically, it’s just not avoidable. In the current market, the cover is our very first contact with our readers–the first time we can really present our work.
And we need it to grab their attention and not let go.
So, let’s begin!
In the world of self-publishing, a professional-looking cover is imperative. There are millions of books throughout the internet and in stores and we need ours to stand out. Which is why I will preface this with: if you can afford a graphic designer familiar with book covers, hire them. I myself am guilty of skimming through lines and lines of literature on Amazon to pick out the one that I like the cover the best. But, if also like me, you’re self-publishing on a budget and a dream, we need to create our own.
“Where the hell do I start?” you ask me.
Great question. Fear not, we have options.
Identify your target audience
Figure out your genre (or what genre you lean toward the most, at least) and search for it on Amazon. List by best selling or highest reviews. I just did that for “fantasy romance,” and this is what popped up:
We have whispy fonts, etheral scenes, eye-catching colors and photo subjects, and abs.
Let me take a moment to digress and talk about abs. If you search for any erotic or romantic literature, the results are littered with abs. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, however, I want to stress that it’s not required to follow this pattern. I feel like so many authors take their well-written romances, slap a photo of abs on the cover, and call it done. There are other options and we’ll talk about them here.
With that in mind, we’ll continue on to our first choice.
Use a stock photo and a photo editor
This is arguably the cheapest option of them all. Many websites like ShutterStock and iStock run sales often, or have offers for those first signing up. A few websites, like Unsplash, offer free photos for use only asking that you credit them. Depending on the aesthetic and theme we’re searching for, there are a lot of websites to fit your specific needs. Remember, these are just a few. A quick Google search can yield many more websites with different categories. Once you have your image, you can edit in programs like Photoshop or Gimp. With a little know-how, you can create a professional-looking cover:
Boruma Publishing supplied my first cover and I created the second one.
One thing to keep in mind when creating these is that they should look good small. As in the screenshot I took of Amazon above, the covers appear at a preview size. If colors of your fonts blend together with the background (like my second one did above), it’ll be very difficult to read at that size. Make sure it’s not only eye catching at full size, but also preview size.
When searching for stock photos, find images that are well-lit, have good composition, and relate to the subject matter that you’re writing. Also be sure that they’re high resolution so they appear crisp and clean on an e-reader.
I’ll touch on font selection and size a little later.
The second option in choosing a cover is to commission an artist or photomanipulater to create the image for you
- First and foremost, check out this guide to commission etiquette by ViralRemix and be sure to give your artist adequate time to complete the artwork.
- I write in the fantasy genre where handdrawn or painted covers are very prominent. If it doesn’t fit your genre, I suggest going with the first option.
- Make sure you have references to show exactly what you’re looking for. If you aren’t sure where to begin, check out the top sellers in your genre for ideas.
As most artists won’t add in the title and author name for you, it’s something you’ll need to add in yourself. Bringing me to my next point.
Be careful with your fonts and placement
When I first created covers for The Whispers of Rings, I knew very little in regards to graphic design. Art by Robert Treherne.
For reference, I used photoshop for all of them. There’s far too much outer glow around the title, the titles are very small in comparison to the image, and the area that lists which number the novella is in the series is tiny. Each element is poorly placed, some of them incorrectly guide the reader’s eye, and that font choice for the title was murder. When I tore the story down and rewrote it (more on that in my post mortem article), I did the same with the covers. Art by Marlena Mozgawa.
This time, the number in the series went to the top, the titles went to the bottom and were enlarged, same with my author name. I killed the outer glow effect and favored a drop shadow for the areas on top of very light colors. They’re easy to read at thumbprint size and look beautiful full-sized. For general graphic design guidelines, check out Mary Stribley’s 20 design rules to never break.
Finally, I cannot stress this enough, when first starting out and if you have the funds, hire a professional graphic designer. The cover can make or break sales and there’s no better advice than from someone who has been in the business for a long time. Cass Alexander has a really fantastic article about going from covers she created to professional here.
These are options for e-book covers, and we’ll talk more about creating covers for published books when we talk about formatting for publishing next time. What tips and tricks do you use for your covers? What grabs your attention the most?