book promotion

How to Make Sure Your Book has a Beautiful Cover

I’m sure you’ve heard something along these lines: “the [book] cover’s job is to get readers to start reading the description.”1 Think about it for a minute. How often do you buy a book with an ugly cover? 

Sure, you’ve probably read a book with an ugly cover, but you likely took the leap for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. You know the author personally.
  2. You’re familiar with the author and their work.
  3. It was so ugly that you decided to read the description for a laugh, but you found something surprising: the book description sounded really good.

Generally speaking, most people are too busy and impatient to look further than the cover.

How Readers Judge Books by Their Covers

There are several reasons why readers judge books by their covers.  When a prospective reader visits their favorite distributor’s website, they run a search with a few keywords then they see something like this:

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 10.34.31 AM

Screen capture of post-apocalyptic survival fiction from Amazon.com

What’s important to recognize in this image is that book covers are what’s most prominent – not the title, not the author, and certainly not the description. The higher the color contrast and the bolder the typography, the more your eyes tend to stop – rather than skip over – those particular covers. Based on the ones above, can you spot the two least professional looking covers?

In my estimation, and not to pick on these particular authors, John Sullins and Devon C. Ford’s look significantly less professional than the rest of the covers here. If they’re reading this, please know that your covers look fine on their own but less so in a thumbnail catalog.

They’re not what I would call ugly, but I wouldn’t call them beautiful either. My biggest issue with both of them is the typography – that is, the font, proportion, and placement of the typography. The images are great. If these are DIY, know that you’re holding your own, but a few tweaks could take these from okay to awesome.

Personally, the one I would be most inclined to inspect further is Ryan’s Casey’s The World After. Why is that? Firstly, the color contrast draws my eye more than the others. Darkness Begins, I should mention, is a close second because that’s the one my eyes meander to after The World After. As with The World After, it’s because of the color contrast. Secondly, the font is bold (contrasts well with the background image), prominent, and occupies at least a third of the cover. Thirdly, the image on The World After tells me a bit about the story; based on the cover symbolism, I expect the book to feature a male lead, a female companion or co-lead, and a dog. I also assume it’s an apocalyptic tale set in or near a city given the ruins in the background.

When I click on it, this is what I find:

Three months have passed since an EMP strike devastated the world’s infrastructure, leaving Scott Harvard and his new friends fending for themselves and learning how to survive in a world without power. In the months since, the group have been getting by, slowly adapting to the ways of survival in the new world. …

Great! The description fulfilled my expectations, and I did have expectations going in based on what I saw on the cover. The process went like this: the cover looks great, so I’ll click on it. The description fulfills my expectations and it’s fairly well written – sold!

You may be thinking, “That’s great, but not all beautiful covers have images like those. What about literary fiction?” Let’s do it again:

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 11.49.11 AM

Screen capture of contemporary literary fiction from Amazon.com

PeopleAtNumber9Here, the two that keep catching my eye are The People at Number 9 and The Day I Lost You, but The People at Number 9 keeps drawing me away from the others. Why is that? First, the color contrast between the background image and the typography keeps pulling me to look at it. Second, the font is bold and readable and the title occupies at least a third of the cover. Third, the image of the door and the title set expectations because I assume this story will be about someone or a family who live at number 9. When I check the description:

Have you met the People at Number 9?

Sara and Neil have new neighbours in their street. Glamorous and chaotic, Gav and Lou make Sara’s life seem dull. As the two couples become friends, sharing suppers, red wine and childcare, it seems a perfect couples-match. But the more Sara sees of Gav and Lou, the more she longs to change her own life. But those changes will come at a price.

Again, my expectations are met in the book description, so I’m more inclined to buy.

TheDayILostYouThere’s a similar thing happening with The Day I Lost You. First, the red really pops and draws attention away from the other thumbnails. Second, the font is large and prominent, although I would like it more if it were a bit bolder; it occupies about a third of the cover. Third, the title and the image work in tandem to set my expectations: this story is about someone who’s lost their little girl. Let’s check the description:

When Jess’s daughter, Anna, is reported lost in an avalanche, everything changes.

Jess’s first instinct is to protect Rose, Anna’s five-year-old daughter. But then she starts to uncover Anna’s other life – unearthing a secret that alters their whole world irrevocably . . .

Here, my expectations are not only met but exceeded, so I’d consider buying it.

Based on Our Sample, We Know:

  • A beautiful book cover has the following characteristics: an image with great color contrast; a bold font that contrasts well with the image, appears in a prominent location, and occupies at least a third of the cover; and the details on the cover match the book description.
  • Most readers buy books online using the following procedure: visit a book distributor (most likely Amazon) and run a search, click on a cover that draws their eye, read the description, compare the description to their expectations (which were set by the cover), assess the author’s writing and the story based on the description and sample chapters, then decide whether or not to buy the book.

Market Share Digression

Pardon the digressive aside, but I chose Amazon’s catalog because of its market share:

CHANNEL-PIES-2017

Figure courtesy of AuthorEarnings.com2

For those of you who hate graphs and charts: Amazon is huge. Amazon is the Goliath to Kobo’s David, especially for indie publishers. I, therefore, deliberately focus on Amazon in this post series. I will, however, list the specs you’ll need to produce eBook covers for both .mobi (Amazon) and .epub (Apple, B&N, et al.) files. Print book covers are a bit trickier, and I’ll cover that right at the end because print doesn’t make much sense for most indie publishers, especially when they’re first starting out.

Judging or Designing a Book Cover

While it is, of course, preferable to hire a cover designer, sometimes it’s not financially or temporally feasible. Even if you have found a cover designer within your budget who is familiar with your genre and story, sometimes the designer is starting out or has an artistic background in something other than book cover design. Book cover design is very different from, say, graphic design or illustration.

Although the skill sets for all three are similar, book covers require an eye toward the dominant genre of the piece and book buying behavior in addition to usual design considerations, like the composition, focal points, typography, genre conventions, and so on. If you can’t afford to hire a designer, then you need to work with what you’ve got. This post should help you figure out what you need to focus on and give you a list of resources for a variety of price points (including free).

3 Things You and Your Cover Designer Should Know About Your Book

Whether you have a book cover designer – and I certainly did – or are doing it yourself, there are a few things to consider about your book:

  1. What are your genres and subgenres?
  2. Who is your main character or who are your main characters?
  3. What’s an interesting or unusual setting in your story?

If your cover designer isn’t asking questions related to these three points, I would be very wary of their level of experience. They should be familiar with your book and the genres and subgenres it occupies.

1. What are Your Genres and Subgenres?

If your work falls squarely in a single genre, you are fortunate. For many authors, however, their book may share conventions and content from two or more genres. For example, I’m currently working on a science fantasy adventure novels series for young adults and a serialized dystopian, post-apocalyptic survival adventure novel. Although there is a character shared between the series and the serialized novel, they couldn’t be more different and, as such, their covers will be very different.

In my case, the main genre for both the series and serialized novel is science fiction. The subgenres for the series are fantasy, adventure, and young adult fiction. For the serialized novel, the subgenres are post-apocalyptic, survival, dystopian, and adventure fiction. If you’re not sure how to identify your genres, think about the kinds of books yours reminds you of, then search for those and check their categories.

Let’s say you’ve written a book that’s a bit like A. G. Riddle’s Pandemic and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Visit the Amazon listings for those titles, then scroll down almost to the very end of the web page where it says, “Look for similar items by category.” You’ll see something like this:

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Screenshot of Amazon categories for A. G. Riddle’s Pandemic

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Screenshot of Amazon categories for Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere

Don’t bother with the broad categories like ‘literature & fiction,’ click on the more niche categories and check out the listings. Where does your book feel most at home? Whichever category it happens to be is your genre. Pick one to three other categories where you think your book could be without the other books beating it up and taking its lunch money. These are your subgenres.

While genres and subgenres are essential for your book cover, they’ll also be essential to choosing the right keywords and categories on distributor websites after you publish your book. Although this may be a time-consuming activity, it’s worth doing and will prove useful when you optimize your book for Amazon et al.‘s algorithms; more on that later in this post series.

Once you’ve identified your genres and subgenres, it’s time to research those genres on Amazon. For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to use the first installment of my serialized novel, which is tentatively titled After the Burst. I chose post-apocalyptic science fiction for the category and survival for the keyword. My search looks like this in Amazon:

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 8.05.01 PM

I use the categories in the drop-down menu, but you can also use the category links on the left-hand side of the browser window to drill down through your genres and subgenres. Once you’ve drilled down through the categories, enter the last of your subgenres in the search field. The results returned to you will find books that are close to your book.

Scrolling down the page, I can size up the competition:

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 8.07.12 PM

Screen capture of post-apocalyptic science survival fiction from Amazon.com

With these results, you and/or your designer will get a feel for what the books in your niche look like. Although many writers think their book cover should be different than all the other covers, that’s not entirely true. It should look different from the others, but it should still adhere to the basic conventions of the genre.

Why? Remember me droning on about a reader’s expectations from the cover? Well, that’s why. Your cover’s aesthetic will show your reader whether or not your book is the kind of book they’re looking for; likewise, if it’s poorly executed, the cover will suggest that the book itself is the work of an amateur, which is not what we want.

Researching and making note of the core conventions of the genre is the only way to ensure that your cover is different but similar enough to set and satisfy expectations. Again, once the prospective reader sees the cover and clicks on the listing to read the description, we want them to feel like the description and sample chapter fulfill the promise the cover made. We want them to feel that way to encourage them to invest their time and money into our work.

Reading a book is a commitment, not just of money but of time. The cover, description, and sample are what will determine whether or not a reader takes a chance on a book.

2. Who is your main character or who are your main characters?

Listing the central characters will give you and/or your designer an idea some cover options. In the screen captures above, some of the covers have foreground figures; chances are these figures are the main characters in the book.  Physical descriptions of the characters are most important – there are limits to photo and vector stock offerings. For character-driven books, the main character (or three) on the cover is preferable for most content genres.

3. What’s an Interesting or Unusual Setting in Your Story?

As with the main character(s), the setting is also an important genre indicator. Make note of your dominant setting and/or any interesting or unusual settings your characters find themselves in. As with having the main characters on the cover, a major setting for the story is often on the cover.

Cover Design 101

As with everything, there are rules. Armed with the information from steps 1-3 above, you should have enough information for your book cover. Whether you’ve hired a designer or are designing your own book cover, there are a few things you should know about design in general:

  1. Focal points
  2. The Rule of Thirds
  3. The Golden Ratio
  4. Color Symbolism
  5. Typography

These five things are crucial to book cover design.

1. Focal Points

A focal point is something that catches our attention. Successful focal points hold our attention and prevent our eyes from moving to another cover. According to Stacie Vander Pol, “Though it’s usually subconscious, the focal point halts our momentum when scanning the shelves or a list of thumbnails. It’s the reason we stop for a closer look.”3 There are a few ways to foster a focal point on your cover:3

  • SIZE Prominent text or a large object “tends to dominate smaller, similar objects, making the larger one the focal point.”
  • CENTER Elements in the center of a design garner more attention than similar objects elsewhere on the page.
  • ISOLATION “Surrounding an object with whitespace draws attention.”
  • CONTRAST Light and dark elements placed near one another create contrast: “The title … can be a strong focal point when the color of the type contrasts with … the background.”
  • CONVERGENCE Lines in a design “can point to or converge on a word (or object) to increase its point of focus.” The eye naturally follows “a strong visual line or multiple fine lines.”

Let’s look at our earlier example, Ryan Casey’s The World After:

TheWorldAfterThis cover uses four of the five ways to foster focal points. The large size and center alignment of the foreground figures draw the eye. The pseudo-silhouette also contrasts well with the sepia background and there is sufficient space around the characters in the foreground to isolate them from the background and surrounding text. Likewise, the title and author’s name are prominent in sizecentered in the design, and contrast well with their respective backgrounds. While it may not yet be apparent, the man in the center of the design offers a subtle diagonal convergence line, which we’ll look at more closely in the next section.

2. The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds and a diagonal scan is about finding the best place to position your focal point(s). When we talk about the rule of thirds and a diagonal scan, we’re really looking at the layout, which is a design blueprint. This blueprint tells “you how to arrange text and graphic elements in a way that both looks good and draws in the reader.”4 Evaluating the book covers of some of the best-selling books, you’ll find that most of them use the general rules laid out in this and the previous section.

The rule of thirds is when focal points or key elements “cross the page at a division of thirds, rather than” at the half-way mark. Below are some sample templates that apply the rule of thirds:

RuleOfThirds-All

RuleOfThirds-HorizontalRuleOfThirds-VerticalRuleOfThirds-CornerEach page is divided into thirds horizontally and/or vertically. Let’s look at a few best-selling book covers that use this rule: RobopocalypsePet Cemetary, The Girl Before, and As Times Goes By.

Robopocalypse

PetCemetary

TheGirlBefore

AsTimeGoesByProminent features (eyes and nostrils) of the robot on the cover of Robopocalypse are aligned with both the vertical and horizontal rule of third marks. The title and author’s name is centered in the middle third.

Stephen King’s Pet Cemetary obeys the rule of thirds in a slightly different fashion. The author’s name and bestseller byline occupy most of the top third. The cat’s face is centered in the middle third and the vertical third marks denote the corners of the cat’s mouth. The first horizontal third mark from the bottom of the cover cuts across two headstones, and the title is centered in the same bottom third.

The Girl Before is interesting because the title sits on the first horizontal third mark, but the railing at the bottom of the stairs intersects with the second horizontal third mark. The figure is to the immediate left of the first vertical mark, and the author’s last name is to the immediate right of the second vertical mark.

Mary Higgins Clark’s As Time Goes By has ‘Clark’ centered right on the first horizontal third mark from the top of the cover. The two vertical third marks bracket the hair on the figure such that her head is centered in the middle block. Although the title is on an angle, it is centered in the bottom third.

The layout the rule of thirds presents is interesting and useful because it fosters diagonal scan. Since English speakers read from left to right and top to bottom, the eye tends to move through information in a diagonal sweep from the top left to the bottom right corner of a page. This phenomenon is modeled by the Gutenberg Diagram:4

writgutenberg-diagram

Gutenberg Diagram courtesy of Steven Bradley5

Let’s look at the top left to bottom right diagonals for the same examples:

Robopocalypse and Pet Cemetary have the inner corner of the left eye and the right nostril of the foreground figure aligned with the diagonal.

Diagonals for The Girl Before and As Time Goes By are less obvious. The diagonal traces the staircase, transects the ‘O,’ and brackets the top right corner of the patio door. As Time Goes By approximates rather than traces the diagonal where the upper right corner of the ‘H’, ‘L’, and ‘S’, as well as the bottom left corner of the ‘B’, touch the diagonal, which also bisects the figure’s head. Although the diagonal is readily apparent in As Time Goes By, the placement of type and the foreground figure are aligned with it.

A variation on the rule of thirds is the triangle layout:

Apollo-Triangle

3. The Golden Ratio or Mean

The golden ratio is used in art and architecture, and it closely models the Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…), which is expressed as Fn = Fn-1 + Fn-2; F1 = 1, Fn-2 = 2. What’s interesting is that once you start to hit F5, the values approximate a proportion of 1.6 – e.g., 5/3=1.6666…, 8/5=1.6, 13/8=1.625, 21/13=1.615…, etc. Visually, the pattern the golden ratio or mean takes is as follows:

boxes-golden

Image courtesy of the Creative Bloq Staff6

GoldenRatio

Golden ratio figure courtesy of the Creative Bloq Staff6

The ratio of the shortest and longest sides inside the rectangle approximate 1.6.

Besides art, architecture, and mathematics, the golden ratio governs nature as well. You probably already noticed that the curvature above looks like a shell. Shells, branch patterns, and other self-similar structures in nature grow and organize themselves according to the golden ratio. It is, therefore, unsurprising that people like it as an aesthetic, and this pattern governs logos, book covers, and other designs.

Here are a couple examples of the golden ratio on book covers:

JohnStuartMill-Golden-Ratio

Courtesy of Amazon.com

TheHelp-Golden_Ratio

Courtesy of Amazon.com

While the golden ratio is not used as frequently as the rule of thirds, it does offer an aesthetically pleasing template for arranging elements on a book cover.

4. Color Symbolism

Another facet of book cover design that’s important to keep in mind is color symbolism. While color symbolism functions differently in different cultures, here is a basic breakdown:7

Western World

Red – “excitement, energy, passion, love, desire, speed, strength, [virility,] power, heat, aggression, danger, fire, blood, war, violence, … sincerity, and happiness.”7

Pink – “love and romance, caring, tenderness, acceptance, and calm.”7

Beige or Ivory – “unification, … quiet, pleasantness, … calm, and simplicity.”7

Yellow – “joy, happiness, betrayal, optimism, idealism, imagination, hope, sunshine, summer, gold, philosophy, dishonesty, cowardice, jealousy, covetousness, deceit, illness, hazard, and friendship.”7

Dark blue – “integrity, knowledge, power, and seriousness.”7

Blue – “peace, tranquility, cold, calm, stability, harmony, unity, trust, truth, confidence, conservatism, security, cleanliness, order, loyalty, sky, water, technology, and depression.”7

Turquoise – calm, sophistication, and water.7

Purple – “royalty, nobility, spirituality, ceremony, mysterious, transformation, wisdom, enlightenment, cruelty, honor, arrogance, mourning, and temperance.”7

Lavender – “femininity, grace, and elegance.”7

Orange – “energy, balance, enthusiasm, warmth,” vibrancy, and flamboyance.7

Green – “nature, environment, healthy, good luck, renewal, youth, spring, generosity, fertility, jealousy, service, inexperience, envy, misfortune, and vigor.”7

Brown – “earth, stability, hearth, home, outdoors, reliability, comfort, endurance, simplicity, and comfort.”7

Grey – “security, reliability, intelligence, modesty, dignity, maturity, solid, conservation, practical, old age, and sadness.”7

White – “reverence, purity, birth, simplicity, cleanliness, peace, humility, precision, innocence, youth, winter, snow, good, sterility, and marriage.”7

Black – “power, sexuality, sophistication, formality, elegance, wealth, mystery, fear, evil, unhappiness, depth, style, sadness, remorse, anger, anonymity, underground, good technical color, mourning, death, austerity, and detachment.”7

Eastern World

Red – happiness7

Pink – marriage7

Gold (Yellow) – strength, wealth, evil, or sadness.7

Blue – wealth7

Purple – wealth7

Green – “eternity, family, harmony, health, peace, and posterity.”7

Grey – helpfulness7

White – “children, helpful people, marriage, mourning, peace, purity, and travel.”7

In terms of choosing a palette that doesn’t look terrible, Coolors is easy to use and makes beautiful palettes. Here are a couple of samples:

Youthful

USAusaUSA

5. Typography

Typography is tricky. Something that looks great in a font catalog may not look so great on your cover. It’s better to stick with classic fonts than go with something frilly and unpolished – less is more for book covers. Generally speaking, it’s best to stick to one or two fonts on the cover. When there are more than that, they often don’t pair well together and become more distracting than aesthetically pleasing.

If you’re not sure about which fonts to pair, try Nick Carson’s article that outlines 20 font pairings. Other than reviews, try to avoid italics on your book cover. The same goes for difficult-to-read cursive fonts. Serif and sans-serif fonts are better suited to book covers. If you write romance, for example, it’s fine to use a cursive font, but try to use one that is readable. Derek Murphy lists 300+ fonts suitable for book covers at the Creative Indie. Derek’s list is great because it’s organized by genre.

There are a number of best-selling book covers that are almost entirely typographic. Paula Hawkins’ book covers are typographic:

TheGirlonTheTrain

Into-The-WaterNotice how the covers don’t use more than two fonts, and the fonts they use are bold and fairly easy to read.

While it may not be readily apparent, the text is aligned according to the rule of thirds. On both covers, the backgrounds are too blurry to make out. If you decide to go with this style of cover, try to find or make a background image that’s blurry so that your typography stands out that much more. The wind filter in Photoshop works pretty well for this kind of application.

Here’s what Paula Hawkins’ covers look like in the rule of thirds grid:

TheGirlonTheTrain-Grid

Into-The-Water-GridAs you can see, the typography is roughly aligned according to the rule of thirds. For The Girl on the Train, the ‘a novel’ portion is aligned to the rightmost rule, and ‘Paula’ is to the immediate left of the same rule. The title spans the first two-thirds, and the information about the author is confined to the bottom third.

Into the Water features a similar organization, but the text is centered. Still the title and the author’s name are divided across the thirds.

How to Apply these Models

Regardless of whether you have a professional cover designer or are designing your cover yourself, it’s a good idea to check the design for the rule of thirds (and its triangle cousin) and/or the golden ratio. If you’re not adept with computers, print out the draft and measure the thirds using a ruler and mark directly on the printout. The remainder of this post covers case studies related to my own book covers.

If you want to check for the golden ratio, print out the golden ratio image file from this post on an overhead transparency designed for your printer then lay it over top of your cover printout – keep in mind that you may need to rotate it or print different scales to see it in action.

Professional eBook Cover Case Study ($599)

Oz-and-the-Fury-Golden-Ratio

My cover designer made this cover. As you can see, he used the golden ratio to organize the components. The smallest part of the golden ratio seems focused on the ‘O’ in the beginning of the title, which is also where the fireball originates. My last name, the two title lines, and the fireball itself act as boundaries for the golden ratio.

Sure, it doesn’t match exactly, but it does approximate the pattern, which is what really matters. It’s not so much about matching the elements precisely but using the rule of thirds, a triangle, or the golden ratio to organize elements on the page into something aesthetically pleasing.

Without the rule of thirds guides and the golden ratio overlay, the cover looks like this.

Oz-and-the-Fury-Web-Small

A professional cover designer will make something according to one or more of the rules outlined above. As you can see here, my cover designer went with a metallic effect on the type, shaped the fireball to fit the golden ratio, and added a metallic background for the composition.

In my opinion, the cover he made is well worth the money. Once my serial novel is complete, I’ll definitely hire him (James T. Egan of Bookfly Design) to do the cover for the bundle and future books in the Oz series.

A professional service I have heard good things about is 99 Designs. About half a dozen people have raved about the covers they created for them in both the Self-Publishing Formula and Your First 10K Readers Facebook groups. There are also eBook cover templates, which tend to be cheaper than a professional cover but more expensive than DIY. There’s a ton of templates out there, but I would use something like Cover Design Studio because I’ve heard good things about them on social media.

DIY eBook Cover Case Study ($51)

Armed with Photoshop and some stock photography, I made this cover for my post-apocalyptic survival serial novel:

AfterTheBurst-Kindle-Grid-Type

The cover on the right has the rule of thirds and the Gutenberg diagonal guides on it. The typography and color levels are a work in progress, but it’s coming along. The important thing to notice is that I’ve aligned my elements using the grid. I also used the top part of the grid the make sure that the title block occupies 1/3 of the vertical space on the cover.

AfterTheBurst-KindleOnce the main elements are in place and the typography is the right size and font, I move it using the guides that pop up in photoshop. I used League Gothic for the title and Florencesans for my name.

For eBooks, you’ll need to produce two different kinds of eBook files (.mobi for Amazon and .epub for everyone else). The different book distributors have different requirements:8

Kobo: 300 ppi (pixels per inch) resolution, no more than 5MB, and an aspect ratio of 1:1.35.

Kindle: resolution not specified, no more than 50MB, and an aspect ratio of 1:1.6; optimal .jpeg or .tiff dimensions are 1,600 x 2,560.

Draft2Digital: resolution, file size, and aspect ratio not specified; optimal .jpeg dimensions are 1,600 x 2,400.

Apple iBooks: file size and resolution are not specified, the cover must be at least 1400 pixels wide.

Barnes and Noble: resolution not specified, not more than 2MB, and aspect ratio not specified. The cover file should be a minimum of 1,400 pixels wide.

Generally speaking, the recommended size for these files is 1,600 x 2,400. A resolution of 300 dpi (for print) is safest; it’s easier to resave the file at 72dpi (for web) for other applications later on. It won’t work the other way, as you’ll have pixelated garbage instead of a beautiful cover. Be sure to use the RGB color profile, which is what Amazon uses for its catalog.

Photoshop Alternative

If you don’t have or can’t afford Photoshop, Gimp is a free alternative. However, from what I understand, it’s not as powerful and a bit buggy. There are tons of tutorials on Gimp and Photoshop on YouTube.

3-D Mock-Ups

If you want to make 3-D cover mock-ups and you have photoshop, try PSD Covers.  There’s a fantastic tutorial on how to use the 3-D cover Photoshop assets here. There’s also a tutorial on how to create a 3-D book cover in Gimp. If you don’t have Photoshop, there are people in the Self-Publishing Formula group on Facebook who offer to do it for free periodically.

3DMockUpHere’s a mock-up I kludged together using the Photoshop assets noted in the tutorial I listed above. I used an earlier draft of the cover to make this image, so the type on it looks slightly different from the version above:

Please keep in mind that I haven’t made the print version of the cover yet, so some elements don’t align properly. Still, this should give you a pretty good idea of what Photoshop assets are capable of rendering. This 3-D mock-up took all of 5 minutes to make.

DIY eBook Cover Case Study (Free)

I made this cover using a template from Canva.com, which is free to join and use. Once you sign up for a free account, click “Create a Design.” Scroll down the page until you hit a section called “Blogging and eBooks.” Click on the “Kindle Cover” option. Canva should load the layout options.

Scroll through the layouts until you find one you like. Keep in mind that not all of the layouts are free, so make sure you choose one that’s labeled ‘free’ on the bottom right-hand corner of the layout. Once you find one you like, click on the thumbnail and it’ll load the template onto your project.

To populate your cover, find an image that’s free for commercial use. There are tons of websites where you can find images free for commercial use, but here are a few of my favorites: gratisography.compixabay.com, pexels.com, unsplash.com. Upload it into Canva then drag it over to your chosen layout.

You can play around with colors, filters, and fonts. Here’s a sample:

Free Book Cover

While it’s a bit plain, it gets the job done.

Print Covers

Print covers for Print-on-Demand are a bit trickier because the size of the spine has to be perfect. Most POD distributors offer print book cover templates and/or spine size calculators on their websites; it is best to use the specs that your distributor gives you.

Here’s the template I received from BookBaby:

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 6.29.22 PM

My cover designer made the following mock-up for my print cover:

Oz and the Fury Layout v2

The mock-up he produced matches the template exactly, but this is still a work in progress as the spine will need to be adjusted once the book is complete. If you’re designing your own, make sure that the blocks (front cover, spine, and back cover) match the specifications from your printer precisely.

Generally speaking, most indies do not need to produce print books. However, books for children and young adults tend to sell more print copies than those for adults, so it’s something I need for my books. The other thing print editions provide is the impression of credibility, and the same goes for audiobooks. While I don’t personally believe that print versions are essential, it’s worth considering depending on your target audience and the impression you want people to get from your listings.

References

1Murphy, Derek. “Publishing.” Guerilla Publishing: Revolutionary Book Marketing Strategies to Make Your First $1000 on Kindle. Creative Indie, 2017. eBook.

2“February 2017: Big, Bad, Wide & International Report: covering Amazon, Apple, B&N, Google, and Kobo eBook sales in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.” Author Earnings. Author Earnings, 7 March 2017. Web. 16 May 2017. <http://authorearnings.com/report/february-2017/>

3Vander Pol, Stacie. “Book Covers that Get Noticed.” Cover Design Studio. 3 December 2014. Web. 17 May 2017.<https://www.coverdesignstudio.com/book-covers-focal-points/>

4______________________. “Book Covers and Layout Part I.” Cover Design Studio. 3 December 2014. Web. 17 May 2017.<https://www.coverdesignstudio.com/layout-rule-of-thirds-diagonal-scan-and-more/>

5Bradley, Steven. “3 Design Layouts.” Vanseo Design. 7 February 2011. Web. 17 May 2017. <http://vanseodesign.com/web-design/3-design-layouts/>

6“The Designer’s Guide to the Golden Ratio.” The Creative Bloq. 15 May 2017. Web. 21 May 2017. <http://www.creativebloq.com/design/designers-guide-golden-ratio-12121546>

7“Color Symbolism and Culture.” Incredible Art Department. n.d. Web. 21 May 2017. <http://www.incredibleart.org/lessons/middle/color2.htm&gt;

8“eBook Cover Size & Requirements.” eBook Indie Covers. 27 February 2017. Web. 21 May 2017. <https://ebookindiecovers.com/ebook-cover-size-requirementsspecifications/ebook-cover-sizes-different-sites/>

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18 thoughts on “How to Make Sure Your Book has a Beautiful Cover

  1. mimispeike says:

    Man! I have to read this very carefully. You are amazing!

    I am going to do my own cover. I am a graphic designer, but never for a book cover. I’ve done a small amount of small-potatoes this-and-that freelance, but mostly (production) page layouts for catalogues, no creative feat. And so, in this instance, you know a lot more than I do. I’ll get back to you after I’ve read all this a few times.

    Whoa! Am I right, everyone? Whoa!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. GD Deckard says:

    WoW Kris! The writers at Scifi Roundtable really like this post of yours!

    Amazing, how real information still appeals. Gives one hope for the future of the species.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. atthysgage says:

    What Mimi said! You’re creating a whole opus on independent book production here, Kris. We’re fortunate to have us sharing it with us. All three of my books were professionally published (by very small presses) and as such had professional covers. While I think they were pretty good given the assumed target audience, I’ve always had some uncertainties about whether they were really right. Check out this link https://writercoop.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/got-you-covered/ if you’re curious, ’cause I’d love to get your take.

    Meanwhile, thanks for the copious tips. I shall study them at length.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m going to download the pics in the post and mess around with a couple of things. Spark’s not too bad, but I’d be curious to see what in looks like in metal. Flight of the Wren, based on the descriptions in the comments, needs some help – in the typeface department at the very least. I’ll be back…

      Liked by 3 people

    • I did a couple of mock-ups for Flight of the Wren with some different fonts. Your cover designer did a good job, but part of me wonders if the project manager told her to ‘make it read younger’ with the typography:
      Book Cover Mock-UpBook Cover Mock-up with Guides
      The version above uses the same font as the one for Oz and the Fury (Shango Regular), except that it has a clipping mask with a gold gradient.
      Book Cover Mock-up CurlyBook Cover Mock-up Curly with Guides
      This version uses a font that’s between the original curly font and Shango Regular; it’s called foglihten no. 7. With this layout, I’d move your name below the title block so that it creates a diagonal convergence line along the right-hand side of the type lines.

      I think the cover for Spark is pretty good, but I’d be curious to see it with a bit of sparkle. I may have time to do that one tonight. It took me a lot longer to remove the original type on Flight of the Wren. (Pardon the stray pixels.) Still, this should give you an idea of how it would look with a different font. The glow and shadow might be a titch heavy-handed…

      Anyway, my issue with the font is that young adults tend to read up – that is, if you want to target eight- to twelve-year-old girls, the font needs to look like it’s for fourteen-year-olds. In addition, it would likely make it more appealing to adults who read YA, which you aptly pointed out in your post. There are a lot of us… and I just bought a copy of this one for my summer reads because I read YA (as do a lot of my friends).

      (PS. Don’t let the Troll review get you down. I tend to ignore people who don’t say anything useful – e.g., why they don’t like something.)

      Liked by 3 people

      • mimispeike says:

        I like your type suggestions. Another thing I would do with the title is have ‘of’ on the first line, nestled against ‘Flight’ and ‘the’ nestled high, and running into ‘Wren’, with the curl of the ‘h’ encroaching into the ‘W’. I like to nestle type, where it works.

        I would have the ‘e’ of Wren a bit smaller, and the kerning of W-R a bit tighter. That gap bothers me. The h-t in Flight could be closed up some also. That jumps out at me as well. And the ‘t’ of Flight a touch smaller.

        And the ascender of the ‘h’ in flight extending high enough to clear the curly-cue of the ‘g’.

        Liked by 4 people

      • atthysgage says:

        Kris! What a fantastic analysis. This is a great deal above and beyond what I was expecting (and I certainly hope you enjoy Wren when you get around to reading her.) I think you are right about the “young-ing down” of the font. I was never crazy about the font that was chosen, but didn’t fight it. I like the ideas you’ve come up with far better than the original. It’s very interesting to see your comments (and Mimi’s) regarding typeface and what not, and fascinating to see the fibonacci spiral and the other grids laid over the art work. Thank you so much. This has been very thought provoking.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with everything said here. Back in the days when Book Country was up and running they did a magnificent job on the cover for The Strange & Curious Tale . . . This was the only cover of my work put together by industry professionals–and it shows. The covers I put together are insipid weak sisters, by comparison.

    pic here: https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Strange_Curious_Tale_of_Prof_R_H_Wil.html?id=-LS0HAb9MJ8C

    In terms of color, the pronounced white background and pink and brown tones equate to sterility, calmness, home and hearth, story-wise. Perfect! (BTW: I found your article’s analysis of the effect of color on the viewer absolutely fascinating and revelatory. I hadn’t heard color dissected in quite that manner and detail before.)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. mimispeike says:

    In these days of Amazon and thumbnails, a cover’s job is to be eye-catching and able to be read easily. And to set you apart from the usual, whatever the genre. And so I think the key is to think graphically, not in a genre-specific frame of mind, which is the general advice.

    I say, think big. Make a cover that, if your thing hits, will blow up into a stunning poster to hang on your wall. Make a cover that might make it into Print magazine, as an example of superb design, the best of the best. (Is Print still in print? Haven’t bought one for ten years. Or more. )

    Liked by 2 people

    • However, I would caution that if it strays too far from the family (genre and subgenres) it belongs to, it becomes unrecognizable. That is, there’s a fine line between meeting expectations and being derivative. I don’t think matching everything out there is a good idea; setting the right expectations for the reader is the first and most important consideration. The second is making sure it’s recognizable as a tiny thumbnail. The third is incorporating elements that indicate what kind of book it is (e.g., features of genres and subgenres).

      I say features because you’re quite right: if the cover looks like everything else in the catalog, it disappears into the background. That is, some of the details should be similar, but it needs to be recognizable as your own rather than a carbon copy of everything else. For instance, I’m still working on my cover. Dale really likes, and I quote, the “peach color” of this version, but it won’t fit with the existing description (or science for that matter).
      Book Cover PeachBook Cover Peach Thumbnail
      So, I have two options tweak the description or the cover color… to be continued. I created another version that’s closer to what the sky would look like after a CME increases the nitrates and nitrites in the atmosphere – from what my research indicates, it will look like an aurora borealis (lots of greens and pinks). Eventually, I will need to decide how important verisimilitude is to my book.
      Book Cover GreenBook Cover Green Thumbnail
      Personally, I don’t like the sans-serif, block font typical of survival and post-apocalyptic genres, so I’ve opted to use the font my cover designer used for the science fantasy series. However, I feel I can get away with a different font choice because my work has some fantasy elements. I’m also concerned about the current serial complementing the other one, so I feel this is the best way to fulfill both needs. Those with a standalone work won’t need to worry about this kind of thing.

      My work is rooted in the same universe, so I feel that some consistency across the covers is important. Before I chose my cover designer, I wanted someone who creates a unique look across book series – James fit the bill, and I will hire him to do the cover for the serial bundle. In the meantime, I’m DIYing the covers for the installments. For me, posters will be less of a concern. Yeah, I’ll likely put one in my home, but I don’t see myself doing a lot of speaking engagements simply because of where I live – a rural community with 9,000 people across the entire county. Where I live, 43% of the population is on welfare and live below the poverty line, and a minimum of 20% of the population scores at the lowest literacy level in the US. Suffice it to say that I don’t expect my book, or books in general, to be popular in my community.

      However, if you know you’ll tour local bookstores, a beautiful poster will be essential. Likewise, teens tend to put posters on their walls, so it’s a good idea to have those available for purchase if your books have YA and/or teen readers. These kinds of considerations will be different for everyone. As you mentioned before, you’re going to make stickers (and bookmarks?), so you’ll likely want an element or two to port from the cover to your other promotional materials. In my case, visibility at a small size is most important because I will run online ads and calls to action through my email list. I’m also aware that my primary demographic will likely be looking at my cover on mobile devices, so I need to optimize everything for small screens.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. Pingback: 7 Ways to Increase Your Chances of Self-Publishing Success | writers co-op

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