Thursday, May 30, 2013

Copy, right? Wrong. Cover Yourself (geddit!!??) by Russell Cruse

I have a thing about copyright.  So many new writers ignore it at their peril.

The covers of both my published books comprise nothing but images created by my own fair hand. If anyone's interested, this is how I did it. 

This is the cover as it now appears (click to enlarge if need be) but since I possess only limited charm and modest funds, It was unlikely that I would be able to persuade someone to stand on the side of a mountain in the middle of the night whilst, a mile away, another willing volunteer skis away, leaving neat tracks in the pristine slopes. So how was it done? Well, the first thing to do was to raid my holiday snaps.

I took this photograph (1) about four years ago on the slopes of Diavolezza in Switzerland.  Since this is
(1) Mountain ridge on Diavolezza
where part of the novel is set, I thought it apposite.  I snapped it just as a party of cross-country skiers had crested a high ridge. You will notice a distinct lack of a) the moon and b) a figure.  The sharp-eyed amongst you will notice that it appears to have been taken in daylight.  Well done.

(2) Colorized
The first thing to do was to colorize it on PhotoShop(Copyright Adobe Systems 1989-2011) (2)
This is embarrassingly easy and creates instant night scenes.

Then I fished out another photo I'd taken high on the Julier Pass, again in Switzerland, of the full moon.

(3) Fiddling with the moon (Original on left)
This required rather more jiggery pokery to get the effect I wanted.(3) I had to enhance the moon enormously, cut it out and then insert it in a suitable place on my master sheet.(4) It still needed a bit more finessing since the altered moon had too much of an unreal appearance.  I settled for somewhere between the two.

(4) Moonrise on the mountain.
The next thing it needed was a figure.  In the story, the hero, David Benedict searches the mountains for his lost love (yes, I know: it's very moving) and so I needed a picture of him.  The main problem in getting him to pose for me was that he is merely a figment of my fevered imagination.  So I needed a stand-in. Again, my holiday snaps were enlisted. 

(5) Skier gets into shot
I found a shot of a frozen lake in Silvaplana, south-west of St. Moritz which had been spoiled (not the lake, the picture) by a skier gliding into shot at just the wrong time. (5)  Of such serendipitous strands are our little lives fashioned.  

(6) Skier gets plopped onto mountainside
With a bit of help from PhotoShop (Copyright, Adobe Systems 1989 - 2011) I was able to make a passable David Benedict, whom I then inserted into the picture.  I added a suitable shadow and there it was. (6)
All that was then needed was to crop the picture to a suitable paperback aspect ratio, add the text and that was it.

Now whether or not it's a good cover is debatable.  I happen to like it but that doesn't make it good.  I was told by someone in the business that it was too individual - ie:  in order to have impact, your cover should look as much like the cover of a book with a similar story as possible. 
I'm certain they are right.  If I was to do it again, I might aim for an Ian Rankin/Val McDermid kind of feel, although "Head Count" is a more humourous work than that of either of those two authors.  I need to get my hands on a couple of good, darkly comic whodunnits and see what their publishers come up with.  

More of Russel Cruse's work can be found on his blog, Authonomy and Amazon

Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Cover Tutorial by Sam Dogra

A cover can make or break a book, regardless of the old saying, and it really is important to invest the time and effort into getting/ creating a brilliant cover (not just a 'good' cover). Here I hope to cover (no pun intended) step by step how I made the book cover for my book, The Binding. I don’t claim to be an expert, but hopefully through sharing my methods you might pick up something useful.

This tutorial is meant for ebook covers. Paperback books for POD are slightly more tricky, and I'll cover some of the differences at the end.

I used a combination of Photoshop CS2 and Elements 9.0 (mostly due to brush compatibility issues), and my Wacom Bamboo Graphics Tablet (not required).

WARNING: This tutorial requires a very strong grasp of Adobe Photoshop. If you're unfamiliar with the software, I strongly suggest you find a professional to do the cover for you. All of the techniques I've used were gleaned from free online tutorials and personal experimentation. However I have been using Photoshop for years for my own artwork, so while these skills can be taught, don't expect to learn them overnight!

1. First off, we need ideas. What do you want the front cover to look like? A good place to start are with similar genre books already published, to get a 'flavour' of what covers are in vogue right now. Think about a cover that catches your eye- why does it interest you? Is it the image, the colours, the font? An easy way to do this is use Google images and see all the covers lined together and see which one grabs your interest.

 2. Right, now you've established what kind of cover you'll like, time to find some images. Deviantart and Google are good resources to use, as well as your own photographs. BUT, the most important thing- and I really cannot stress this enough- is make sure you have permission to use the stock photos you find. You'll want something that's free for commercial use, as you're using it for a book. If you're unsure, ask the photo's owner. If that's not possible, then opt for the safe side and just don't use it, no matter how 'perfect' it is. You can pay for stock image use, too. This can be the most time consuming part of cover design but it's very important.

3. Open a new file in Photoshop (I'm using Elements here). Try to set a relatively high resolution- you can shrink the finished version later to the right dimensions without sacrificing quality that way. For my book, I used 200ppi and 31cm x 45cm.

4. As Binding's opening scene begins in a dark forest, I went for this lovely picture of a night woodland (image credit: Use the Transform option to resize accordingly. I was happy with the light and shadows, but if it's not right, use Levels (Ctrl + L) to adjust.

5. Next I needed a necklace. I made this myself using an emerald earring and a silver chain that I have at home. I took a photograph on a dark background, then removed the background. To do this, just use the Magic Wand tool, and set the tolerance fairly lowish, then select the areas you want to remove. Holding Shift allows you to select mutliple areas. Finally, use a hard edge brush to erase the edges and make it tidy. I then duplicated this over to the cover file as a new layer, and resized it.

6. The colour of the gem is green, and I want it red. You can select the gem using the select tool and then use Hue/ Saturation (Ctrl + U) to 'colorize' it, but it looks pretty fake that way. A better way is to open Hue/ Saturation (Ctrl + U) and tweak the individual colours (select the box that says 'Master' and alter the hues etc for each colour channel). In this case I made the green/ blue hues red and orange. This just makes it look more natural. Again, just tweak the colours around and set whatever you're happy with. I used Levels to make the chain a bit brighter, too.

7. So I have the 'icon' image, which looks okay, but it's not very exciting, is it?  To add some flare, I downloaded a brush set for lighting effects ( to make a 'streak' in a white colour on a new layer above the image. On its own, it's a bit too bright, so I toned the Opacity to 60% and switched the layer mode to 'Overlay'.

8. It's still not there, yet! The final touch for this part was to add some brush effects. Again, I downloaded a brush set from here (, this one showing smoky patterns. In a pale blue colour, I made some strokes so it looks like the gemstone is smoking on a new layer above the gem layer.

Again, it's a bit stuck-on without adding some effects, so make a Layer Style (either by right clicking on the layer in CS2 or going to Layer> Layer Style in Elements). This brings up a box like this:

I want the smoke to glow, so I've added an Outer Glow in a slightly darker blue shade. You can play with the settings, adding a drop shadow or changing opacity of the glow, to get a wide range of effects. Don't overdo it though!

9. So, that's the necklace done, but book covers need titles! So the next step is to find a good font. Again, like with the stock images, make sure you have permission to use the font for commercial use. The font I've used is called Hawaiian Lover, and I've altered it manually (using a hard edged Eraser) to remove the bubbling. I choose a calligraphic type font as I think it fits the style of the book. Try to avoid the default fonts as they can be very plain, but at the same time don't get a gaudy one either that's hard to read. It's useful to have a friend feedback to you about the cover but constructively. I argued endlessly about font with my friend, but it was worth it as eventually I found one that both to our liking.

10. Plain text is kinda boring on its own, so this needs some layer effects. Open up Layer Styles again and play around. I went for a Drop Shadow and Bevel to make it look more three-dimensional.

11. I did the same for the remaining text (Chronicles of Azaria, Book One, and my author name), although I used different fonts. Be careful using multiple fonts- it can make the cover look terrible! But I would say use a different font for the author name from the title. My author name is Bookman Old Style, and the series title is Fondamento. I used the same Layer Style for all of them to give it some consistency.

12. To make the book series title stand out, I used another brush set ( and used the swirlies brush, and then used Layer Styles to add a glow effect.

13. Almost done! Lastly, I wanted to frame the cover a bit better. Once again, your friend the brush set (link) comes in handy. I made corner edges with the brush (under Brush settings you can change the direction of the brush, or you can rotate the painted image via Transform), and applied a Drop Shadow and Bevel Layer Style.

14. Save this image, then save it as another PSD file. Now it's time to resize to the right dimensions- Amazon etc will usually specify this. If you want to keep the Layers separate, use the 'Link' option so that everything can be resized without merging the layers. All you need to do now is adjust the cavas size (Image > Resize > Canvas Size), put in the dimensions, and press OK. It will tell you that the canvas dimensions don't meet the image ones, but just allow this. Now, using Transform (Ctrl + T), resize the image so it fits into the new canvas size. Once that's done, you can save this image as a JPG/ PNG, and voila! Your ebook cover is all ready to go. Do be mindful of the file size however- using Photoshop's 'Save for Web' feature can compress files more without sacrificing quality too much, so don't be afraid to use it.

15. Paperback covers are a bit trickier to master as you'll need to make an image for the spine and back cover as well. Createspace etc have accurate templates that you can use to get the dimensions right. This will depend on things like page number, paper thickness etc, so don't attempt this stage until you have the formatting of the paperback book completed. Then all you need to do is generate a template, and open it in Photoshop. This is mine:

All I did was flip the forest image over, and use it for the both the spine and back cover. Using the same text and Layer Styles, I wrote out the title again for the spine, and used the same Layer Styles for the blurb as well (although I used a different font). I've also left a space for the ISBN number.

I used a similar process for books 2 and 3, but also used Layer Gradients to make sure the colours were more balanced. The icon image for book 2 is actually made from a brush set for feathers.

And that's it! Overall it took me around 1-2 hours to make one cover (although most of that was spent trying to get decent photos of my necklace!). The other covers were easier as all the styles were already done, so I simply had to alter the text.

It's also a good idea to acknowledge your sources, so I have an acknowledgements page in my book citing the links to the stock images and brushes I used.

All cover images are copyright Sam Dogra and may not be reproduced without permission.

Sam Dogra can be followed on her blog, Goodreads, and for a sneak peak at her current projects, Authonomy

Friday, May 17, 2013

Stumbling Through The Dark by Colin Smith

Stumbling through paint.

Or, seven steps to getting something you’re not quite happy with.

I have little skill with graphics and the tiny skill I have has been got through a great deal of messing about and irritation. However, having spent seven years writing my novel I at least have a pretty good idea what the thing is about and what I want the cover image to do so really this is about failing and learning and getting closer each time.

I designed a cover because I needed one when I uploaded my novel onto Authonomy. Prior to that, I knew that the publisher would produce the cover and saw no reason to flail around trying to produce my own.  Of course, having made a cover, I then got the bug and kept improving it and now with self-pubbing being the way forward, it seems I’ll end up making my own cover after all.

My original cover must date to about February 2009 when I joined Authonomy, however, what with changing the design a score of times, changing the title several times, and even changing the author’s name at least three times, the ‘dates created’ on my cover images are all over the place and I’m hard-pressed to say which image came first. This is what happens when you spend 7 years writing a 400,000 word novel. It all gets a little complicated and you forget stuff. But, I think it went something like this:

Cover 1

It’s horrible, isn’t it. But bear in mind this would be reduced to a tiny 80x120 pixels for Authonomy so the lack of definition isn’t an issue. The ghastly typeface and colours are issues, but never mind. Things got better. The title got better as well once I got weaned off my dodgy Tarot obsession.

Now, why the skull? Vanitas paintings ( were very popular at one time and were intended to remind people that all the ‘vanities’ they acquired, all the wealth, power, luxuries, everything ‘of the world’ were as ephemeral as soap bubbles, roses and candlelight compared to the eternity of death. Cheerful, eh? However, it was also an implicit reminder that we will be judged not for what we have gained and achieved but for our “good works” and our obedience to God. We no longer believe in all that which is why we live in a culture obsessed with glamour, celebrity and material wealth… hey, ho, I’m an atheist, what do I know about such things?

Anyway, plenty of religion in my novel and in one of my chapters a character makes pointed reference to the vanitas hanging on his drawing room wall, while failing to appreciate either its relevance to his life or what the writer has in store for him. Further, the conflict between self-interest, duty, and moral accountability permeates the entire novel so while the vanitas only appears once in the text the themes are everywhere in the text. (I just realised I make my novel sound about as much fun as a hair-shirt and flagellation, oops)

The painting is out of copyright, btw. Wiki commons is a useful source of out of copyright images:

Cover 2

An improvement on Cover 1, with better use of colour, clearer typefaces and an image more relevant to the content of the novel. We still have a candle-holder, soap bubbles and flowers but now we have a crown, a globe, and written texts and while the skull is less dominant than in the previous cover, it now stares directly (and, I hope, accusatively)  at the viewer. 

The image is a slightly cropped version of a vanitas by Hendrick Andriessen and appears in most of my subsequent cover designs. Overall, though, the colours are a bit lurid, and I think I suffered a reaction to the ‘chocolate box prettiness’ because…

Cover 3

Okay, what happened here? Well, a better title for a start but also a clear nod to the cover design of Susanna Clarke’s Strange & Norrell, a novel which mine was “in the shadow of” for a long time. A white stag does appear in my novel and it’s significant to the plot (it’s the MC’s soul) but after much debate I realised it’s not central enough to justify being on the cover (unlike Clarke’s ‘raven’).  It was also too obviously a rip-off of Strange & Norrell, so it had to go.

On the other hand, I’d got the text right inasmuch as I knew what had to be in it. That Acts of the Servant was written 150 years ago and is being revised for a new edition is crucial to the narrative as the editor discovers rather more than he was expecting….

Cover 4

Here, I’m back with the vanitas but retained the starkness of cover 3 in the background and typography. Given the darkness of Andriessen’s painting, I felt a black background was not an option. The red is striking but muted enough not to shout.

All these covers were designed to still be recognisable when reduced to 80x120 pixels, rather than to go on a printed book or even an eBook. Hence, the image is bigger than ideal and the typography a bit too squashed. It would look better if the artwork was smaller with the background framing it on all sides. So, after a bit of experimentation to be sure that skull showed up at 120x80 pixels, that’s what I did.

Cover 5

And clearly my obsession with Clarke’s Strange & Norrell hadn’t gone away. My typeface is almost identical to hers and only the fact that I have a lot more text on my cover stops it being a straight imitation.

The bright-eyed might notice that the editor’s name has changed from James Greenwood to Edwyn Warbrook. What you won’t see is that in between there was a John Ravenhead and an Edwyn Crabtree. Note: if you want a unique nom de plume for Googling it isn’t smart to use the names of large towns or cosmetic companies. Leaving aside that I’m obviously copying Strange & Norrell, this is my favourite of the covers so far. But that I am copying someone else’s idea is just wrong so it had to go.

Cover 6

Whether this was a step sideways, forwards or backwards, I’m not sure, but it was the point I started looking at more interesting, textured backgrounds. It was also the first time I’d used Irfanview for laying out the text and I found it much better than MS Paint, which I’d used for all my covers up to now. Irfanview allows for more precise placement of text. It lacks the weight of the previous plain black background but at least I’m no longer ripping off Strange & Norrell. I do like the way the gold leaf picks up the colours in the crown, globe and skull in the painting. This was something of a celebratory cover for my fourth authonoversary, but in retrospect it was only a step toward my next cover. You might notice that I’ve now lost the dates in the text and am just calling it the 150th Anniversary edition. It cuts out a line of text and means I don’t need to redo the image every time another year rolls by without me finishing the novel. Cunning, eh?

Cover 7

In Acts of the Servant the magnetic properties of iron are anathema to all forms of magic and the novel is largely concerned with the effects on magic of the industrial revolution. Accordingly, my blog has a cast iron background and it was that gave me the idea for this cover. In terms of graphics, this was something of a leap ahead. Every cover so far has been plonking an image on a plain or decorative background, whereas now the background image means something and therefore had to have work done to it. I had also (finally) discovered how to overlay images using Irfanview which meant that I could make the overlaid image translucent. Hence, my vanitas now has the rivets and texture of the background bleeding through it. The text also uses a new technique (well, new to me) as I made it transparent and overlaid it onto a background image. This was a combination of gold leaf and the original image of a piece of riveted steel. Enlarged, as here you can make out that the rivets show up under the lettering. The placing of the rivets also gave me the idea of arranging “This Iron Race” vertically which, if not exactly exciting, at least gets away from the lines and lines of text I had before.

So, it’s my best cover so far, but I reckon I can do better. For a start, the rivets are too small and too neat, too 20th century. I need a chunk of 19th century wrought iron with some chunky, knobbly rivets. Also, I fluffed the layout and the text below the vanitas is too squashed. Next time I’ll use a slightly smaller font for the author’s name and move everything up.   

So, what have I learnt from four years of messing about?

  • Ideas follow your competence with graphics but you don’t need anything fancy to design a cover. Good covers rely on good ideas rather than graphic cleverness. The idea of the cover is to get the reader to open the book, not to stare at the picture.
  • Don’t try to copy other book’s covers, no matter how much you like them.
  • A lot of great artwork is available for free.
  • While the image on your cover must relate to the book you don’t have to be obvious. The cover is not an illustration of a character or scene, but an essence of the whole book.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Creation of the Ultimate Inferior Book Cover by Mark Roman

There were times during my work on the cover of The Ultimate Inferior Beings when my wife and two young children feared I had totally lost the plot. Perhaps, as you read this, you will too. But my innate lack of artistic talent made the whole process rather difficult and requiring of some slightly unorthodox operating procedures, which – I realize now – may have looked a bit bonkers to those observing me.

The first attempt was a simple picture, knocked up in a couple of hours, showing two cheery-looking slimy green blobs (the book’s daft aliens) standing on the barren surface of their planet (see below). The resolution was poor, but to get a higher resolution version I’d need to get the lighting and shadow effects right – and that required drawing skills I don’t have. Instead, I had the idea of building a model and photographing it. My children were extremely suspicious when I asked to ‘borrow’ their Play Doh but, after a little haggling, I managed to persuade them to hand it over (and at a pretty reasonable price, too). They watched with sceptical eyes as I sculpted the two blobs, covering them in papier-mâché and then painting them bright green (the blobs, not the children). My wife said nothing, but kept casting disapproving glances in my direction.

First attempt
The cover attracted no comments on the writers’ website where I had uploaded the book, until a member calling himself ‘Gareth N’ messaged me. He had read the whole of TUIB and then, rather than judging the book by its cover, had judged the cover by its book. He told me it made the book look like a children’s story, rather than the sci-fi comedy it purported to be. He offered to design a new one for me. What a cheeky bugger, I thought.

Of course, I accepted his offer and waited eagerly for his design to come through. When it did, it was not the finished, glossy, high-resolution image file I’d been hoping for. Instead, he sent me a hand-drawn ‘doodle’ he’d done on paper with coloured pencils (see below).

Gareth Naylor’s ‘doodle’
The doodle showed a scene from the book where one of the slimy green blobs smashes into a brick wall (a scene which reveals an important fact about the aliens – and not merely that they are pretty dumb). He gave the blob a Burt Reynolds moustache because he felt there aren’t enough Burt Reynolds moustaches in the world. Although I wasn’t so keen on the look of the blob, nor indeed the Burt Reynolds moustache, I thought it was a great drawing. I loved the idea and set to implementing it.

The key here, it seemed, was getting the splash right, and no amount of Play Doh was going to help me this time. Instead, I went for a mixture of flour, water and green food-colouring. There followed a number of trial splashes, initially by dropping the green goo from various heights into a kitchen bowl, before progressing to hurling it at the side of the bath. This time my children were watching me in dismay and my wife was phoning her mother (although this may have been a coincidence). When I sent the photos to Gareth, he started worrying about me too.

But, in my eyes, he was now a co-conspirator and guilty by association. As I progressed I would send him each new version of the cover for comment. The early attempts were dreadful and he was quick to point this out. At one point he proposed the title’s lettering should be suggestive of Monty Python’s Life of Brian posters, to hint at humour. I worried about the ethics of this until I discovered it been used on other book covers.

After twenty-three iterations, we both decided this couldn’t go on any longer, and so the twenty-third version became the finished cover. It had taken many, many hours – particularly the shading in of the green slime, and the cracks on the stone lettering. I used gimp (which is open source) for creating the image at 3000x4500 pixels in size (to be of high enough resolution for printing). It was the sheer size of it that made the colouring-in so time-consuming. The brick wall was generated by submitting a photo of a brick wall to the ‘cartoonify’ website, and then performing a perspective distortion in gimp. The ‘pulseway’ beneath the wall was a cartoonified photo of a belt from my trousers. Xara3D was used to get the outline of the letters, which were then distorted and painstakingly coloured in to give the stone effect.

The final version
The relief that it was all over was immense – for me, for Gareth, for my family. And shortly afterwards, when I was offered a publishing contract for TUIB by Cogwheel Press, I thought I would get a professionally designed cover.

My hopes were short-lived; the editor liked the cover and wanted to use it. This felt nice for a few seconds, until it dawned on me I’d now have to do a back cover for the paperback edition. I think I may have screamed.

After sifting through a few ideas for the back-cover image, I set to looking for the children’s Play Doh again. Either it had run out, or they had hidden it from me, but there was none to be found. Google helped me locate a recipe for homemade Play Doh. Under the wary glare of three pairs of eyes, I made a bucket-load of the stuff and fashioned ten slimy green blobs – one in the centre and nine in a circle around him (see below). It was at this point that my family excused themselves and left the room. I couldn’t help wondering if the rustling noises coming from upstairs were the sounds of them packing their bags and preparing to leave.

The Benjaminites
But a man has to do what a man has to do, and eventually, the final cover was finished. There are errors, which the sharp-eyed may spot, but it’s my first (and last) ever book cover.
Full cover
The story has a happy ending. The family didn’t leave home, and Gareth and I have teamed up in a writing partnership to write another sci-fi comedy. You could think of it as a wromance – if it didn’t sound so wrong.

He’ll be doing the next cover on his own.

Book’s website: 
Amazon US:

Submitted by Mark Roman

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Your Cover Is the Single Most Important Factor . . . by Jeffrey Panzer

Self Publishing Authors:
Your Cover Is the Single Most Important Factor in Whether Your Novel Will Be a Triumph or a Failure.

Don’t Fuck It Up.

So, you’ve finished your novel. Doing so took months, maybe years, but you’re finally done. The hard part is over.
            Or so you think.
            I think that we all start here. Just when we’re certain that we’ve finished doing the real work we realize that there is much more to selling a novel than simply writing the manuscript. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that writing a manuscript is perhaps the easiest, certainly not the longest or hardest, part of successfully producing and marketing a book. If you just got to this point, wait and see. If you have been here before, or are here now, you know what I mean.
            The manuscript is done; that is, the first draft is done. Now come the agonizing months of editing, of finding quality beta readers, later of trying to sell an agent on your work only to realize that no one is interested in an unproven manuscript from an unproven author. You soon realize that it takes longer to edit and sell a book than is does to actually write the thing, and further in an terrifying moment of clarity you realize that you will have to self publish your work before anyone will take you seriously.
            So you have to actually edit your manuscript to perfection, yourself. You have to learn how to format it for epub, for mobi, how to produce a decent PDF. You have to study the business of publishing and determine which route is best for you. Do you publish strictly in ebook formats? Do you publish through Smashwords, LULU, KDP? Do you also publish trade paperbacks? If so, do you use CreateSpace or another POD? Do you even know what these acronyms stand for? How do you market your work once it is published?
            For many of us this is all a blur of unfamiliar terms and confusing procedures, something as authors we would simply like someone else to handle. But alas, in the new age of publishing all of these decisions are ours to make.
            Take a step back, a breath or two. If you are unfortunate enough to be a smoker, as I am, maybe do that.
            Sure, self publishing is a nightmare. It is hard. It takes forever and a day.
            However, it also affords us a great deal of control over the presentation and quality of our work that we would not have in a traditional publishing scenario.


            The first thing to understand is that you can’t simply sit down after writing a manuscript and effectively edit it. You have to take some time off, get some space from your work, before you can regain even a modicum of objectivity.
            And it is what you do during this time that will determine how long it will be until you work finds its way onto book shelves, or web pages, or kindles and nooks and ipads, and eventually into the hands of an agent and publisher.
            My advice: Take this time to begin the process of creating a marketable product.
            The first step, or rather a first step, is to consider your cover.
            You know your novel better than anyone, and as a self publisher you are in complete control of how your novel will look, whether as a paperback, a hardcover, or an ebook.
            Start now, when you have the time, before editing consumes you, before your days end with late nights writing blog posts and your mornings find you sifting through your inbox and corresponding with hundreds of people whom you are trying with all your well-articulated might to get to read your work.
            I have found that the process of creating a cover, although itself time consuming and often tedious, is a welcomed relief from everything else I have to do as a self publishing author.
            Take your time, try different ideas, get feedback from friends and colleagues.
            I’m sure we’ve all heard the old cliché, “Never judge a book by its cover.” I am equally sure that to a great extent people in fact do just that, and it is paramount that we all acknowledge this fact. Today’s self published authors have about 5 seconds to hook a reader into even looking at our work, just the time it takes someone to open and close a tab in a browser or scroll past a thumbnail on whatever vendor site we sell through. If our covers don’t do their job, if they don’t entice people to take a further look, our prospective customers are gone, down the page or onto another, never to return.


            The first thing to understand is that producing a cover is a professional endeavor, not a hobby or a diversion, and you need to use the appropriate tools. I’ve spoken with so many would-be self published authors who either plan to use or have used MS Paint, stricktly, to produce their covers, and in all honesty this fact is glaringly obvious in the designs they produce. Get your hands on quality image creation and manipulation programs. Learn how to use them effectively. I use Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop, which I was fortunate enough to already have in my possession. Although the best solutions, these programs can be quite pricey and well beyond the means of the average person. There are, however, other options that are quite good. For image creation (symbols, basic shapes, etc), MS Paint is actually likely adequate to the task. For image manipulation and design, a free program like GIMP ( is an excellent choice; GIMP allows you to work with layers, add filters and effects, and offers a fairly versatile work environment in which to craft your design.

          The next thing to consider is what you would like your cover to communicate. Be flexible, be open minded. Most of all understand that this is an ongoing process and you have all the time you need to get it right (remember that you still have to edit your manuscript, and determine how you are going to publish and find some way to market it, before your cover will even matter).

            I started with a simple design, incorporating a prominent symbol from my story. The fonts were rudimentary, the design minimalistic. This was just a placeholder. I crafted the symbol in Illustrator and put it together in Photoshop, spending perhaps a total of 45 minutes—I had to learn the programs as I went.

  My next attempt was more ambitious. Although I retained the iconography from the original cover, I decided to try to add more detail, to capture a moment from my story that I felt was important and representative of the concepts I wanted my cover to convey. The results were, to be completely honest, hideous (There were other attempts, but they need not be shown here).
            Sure, the image represented the scene I wanted to capture; however, the image just looked corny. It lacked, for want of a better word, gravitas. The colors were washed out; it was confusing for someone who hadn’t read the novel. The fonts were lackluster, the titles too small.
            Most of all I had neglected to remember one important thing about modern book covers, perhaps the most important thing: They have to look good as thumbnails, sometimes as small as 130px wide. This second cover looked like a smudgy mess of faded color at that size.
            At this point I got serious about making an actual cover. I downloaded new fonts from sites like Font Squirrel ( ); I spent hours finding the right ones. I took a step back from my preconceived notions of what I wanted the cover to be and instead focused on what the cover could be. I simplified. I spent time learning more about my software.

            I accepted the fact that a cover cannot have more than four colors, preferably no more than three.
            The results, albeit not perfect, were far better than my earlier attempts, incorporating elements from the previous two efforts, simplifying some elements and emphasizing others. I focused on the iconography. This new cover had 7 layers and used maybe 6 different filters (2 for the symbol, 1 for the big title, and 3 to achieve the effect I wanted for the water in the background).
            But I was still decidedly unsatisfied with the results.
            The fonts looked too outer-spacey (my story has nothing to do with space or space travel). The colors don’t work together. It lacked other, less easily identifiable qualities.
          At this point, however, I didn’t jump right back into design. I took a virtual trip to Amazon’s CreateSpace and downloaded a template for my book cover ), customized to my desired dimensions (5.5’’x8.5’’) and page count. I redesigned the cover I then had to fit the template CreateSpace furnished me. I made artwork for the back and spine.

This gave me time to think about what I actually wanted from my cover, and the results allowed me to better visualize the thing as it would actually exist. I decided on a preliminary pitch and blurb.
             I then went through a series of redesigns and minor changes (many more than recorded here). I listened to feedback from friends online and IRL.

I ditched the “Book One”, after people told me that only buying part of a story was a turn-off:

I changed the pitch and blurb; I touched up the coloring:

              The next step, and one that is of paramount importance, was to print the whole thing out, actual size, on glossy, thick stock. Now, the cover above measures 19’’x 13’’, and of course I was not equipped to print such a large image at home. I went to a FedEx copy center and paid $3.65 to have it printed, after which I cut the trim off and folded it at the spine, providing myself with a good sense of just exactly what the cover would look like on an actual book. It looked good. Almost. What I noticed, what I would never have been able to see if I hadn’t printed it, was that the dpi (dots per inch) was not fine enough, something that did not present itself as a digital image. I then redefined the image file from 300ppi to 600ppi, arriving at my current cover, which employs 16 layers, and perhaps 25-30 filters.
            Presently I am satisfied with it, although without a doubt it will undergo many changes before I actually am able to publish the novel. It works as a physical cover; it is simple enough, with large enough elements, for the front to work as a small thumbnail.

            One thing that must be remembered is that I did all of this, an hour here and an hour there, over a couple months. All while I waited for my beta readers to get back to me with feedback, while I waited to regain some objective distance from my work, in the interim before I could begin a meaningful edition of the manuscript.
            In the process I learned that simplicity is best, and that far from being easy it is quite difficult to communicate a complex idea or feeling with just a few images. This is a lesson that I’d thought I’d learned a long time ago in my writing but that I’d somehow forgotten, or at least failed to apply, when I first approached my cover.


            In the modern age of publishing, it is the author’s responsibility to effectively produce, design, and market his/her novel. No one will do these things for you, and no one will care if you do not succeed.
            A much as we, as authors, don’t want to hear it, the cover of our books is likely the single most important factor in whether our novels will be triumphs or a failures, and by extension whether we will become successful authors, whether legitimate agents will respond to our emails or calls, or perhaps even choose to contact us. Of course, in the end what matters is the writing. However, without a proper cover, which is the front line of your marketing strategy, your brilliant work will likely pass largely unnoticed, condemned to an obscure existence amidst the (literally) millions of other self published books on Amazon or Smashwords, or wherever you end up staking your claim.
            Don’t fuck it up.

Jeffrey Panzer