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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Widdowson

The Indie-Author's Arsenal: Book Covers

pink carnations on leatherbound book

The proof-reading and editing are done, but you can’t publish yet. What about the artwork? Your book cover is the first thing your potential readers see. Before they even read the synopsis, they’ll look at your cover. It may even be what influences them to buy, or not buy, your book.

Besides writing, I am also an artist. I dabble in a lot of different mediums—acrylics, oils, watercolors, colored pencil, oil and soft pastels, and gouache. If you’re curious about my work, check out my artist website. I’ve even taken some graphics design art courses in my life. But designing a book cover is an art unto itself, and I am definitely no expert. If you can afford to hire a professional cover designer, do it! But even if you can afford it, you may find it hard, like I did, to justify that expenditure unless you know your book is going to sell thousands of copies. Luckily, there are some other avenues to pursue, even if you don’t have an artistic bone in your body.

Before you start designing, I strongly recommend that you go to the Amazon website, search for best-selling books in your genre, and look at the covers. You want your book to fit into this category and to look professional. It’s a sure bet that the authors of these books hired an expert to design their covers. So, take some ideas from these successful book covers, and use them as a starting point for yours.

I also recommend that you go to a real-life bookstore. That’s right. Go to your local bookstore or library, and check out some books in your genre. But don’t just look at the cover design. Look at the color of the paper and feel the texture. Measure the size of the book. The most common fiction book size in the U.S. is 6x9. And if you’re planning on publishing a hardback, you’ll need to decide if you want a dust jacket.

You'll also want to look at the cover paper. Is it glossy or matte? My first book, The RH Factor, has subdued, misty forest artwork with a velvety matte cover. I thought that fit the mysterious vibe of the story. But MYND Control has a very colorful glossy cover. The cover art just screamed for it, in my opinion. There’s more to a book design than just the artwork.

One of the easiest to use graphic design resources out there to help you design your book cover, is Canva. And if you stick with the basic plan, it’s completely free. All you have to do is sign up for an account on their website.

Canva has a ton of free templates, including some for e-book and paperback book covers. When you first log on to the website, you’ll see a list of options to the left, including one that says templates. But the easiest way to go straight to the book covers, is to type “book cover” in the search box at the top of the web page. Hit enter, and a drop-down list of options will pop up. But I’ve saved you all that typing! Just click here, jump straight to their book cover templates’ page, and browse around. I’m sure there will be something there that will fit your book theme.

Maybe you already have a graphic design program like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, Procreate, or something similar, but you don’t have an image to start with? In that case, these websites offer free images to download and use, even on items you plan to resell, like books. My two favorites are Unsplash and Pixabay. Like Canva, to use their services, all you have to do is create an account.

When I made my covers for The RH Factor and MYND Control, I went to the Pixabay website and searched for ‘dark foggy forest’. I scrolled through the selections and found one I liked. Then I searched for an image of a syringe. I pulled both pictures into Photoshop, manipulated them and added the title and author to complete the cover for my e-book. To create the paperback cover, I took the ebook version and added the back cover information—synopsis, bio, and author pic. It took several hours to get them just right, but in the end, I was pleased with the results.

There are a few caveats to keep in mind when using images from Pixabay or Unsplash. First, make sure you’re looking only at the free images. To my knowledge, all the images on Pixabay are free. But Unsplash has ‘Unsplash+’ images, and those cost money. Also, even though the images are free, it doesn’t mean you can use them just as they are. Usually, to be used legally, an image must be manipulated in some way from the original. Be sure to read the license agreement before you use an image for your cover.

If you like the idea of creating your own book cover, but can’t afford to buy an expensive graphic design program, there is an open-source option available called GIMP. I have downloaded this program and played around with it. If you’ve ever used a graphic design program, its layout and operation will probably look familiar. But there will definitely still be a learning curve, and it will take some time to master. But hey, it’s free.

There’s yet another possibility you may want to consider to help you create an image for your cover—Artificial Intelligence, or AI. I’ve never used it to create a book cover, but I did use it to create this, and last week’s, blog images. I’ve used both Playground and OpenArt, and like some of the other web apps I’ve mentioned in this blog, the basic versions are free with the creation of an account. To get the best image you can from these tools, I recommend searching through their database of pics until you find one that is similar to what you had in mind. Then copy the ‘prompt text’ used to create it, tweak it so it more closely describes what you want, and use that revised text to generate your own image.

If you really don’t want to create your book cover yourself, but don’t want to break the bank, there are some affordable options available. Most of these companies keep their prices down by using stock images. Get Covers offers ebook covers starting at $10 and paperback covers for as low as $20. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for, and you will want to check for image quality, number of images provided, and limitations on usage. In other words, read the fine print. A few others you may want to check out include Fiverr, Self Pub Book Covers, The Book Cover Designer, and Rocking Book Covers. I wouldn’t normally recommend companies or services I haven’t personally used. However, since so far, I have created my own covers, I wanted to at least provide some options if you didn’t want to make your own. I will definitely explore some of these cover design companies myself for my next book cover.

As mentioned above, most paperback books have a synopsis on the back as well as a short bio of the author alongside their picture. Make sure you have a photo that represents your author persona appropriately. Do you want to look professional, fun, casual? You’ll also want to think about whether you want to use the same picture on every platform, i.e., Goodreads, Amazon, social media, website, etc.

Another very important thing to consider about your book cover design is its size. Both Amazon and IngramSpark provide a calculator to help you determine the correct size based on the chosen size of the paperback or hardback, and the number of pages. Be sure you do that calculation before finalizing your cover design. Otherwise, when you upload your cover art file to the publishing site, you may receive an error message that your book cover does not fit your book.

I heard a great phrase the other day from a presentation by Anne Hawley on “How to Write a Crime Story.” She said that her guidelines were “Tools, not Rules”. That’s exactly what this “The Indie Author Arsenal” series of blogs is—a set of tools, not rules. I’m sharing information that has been helpful to me, and it’s up to you to decide whether to use any of it. Hopefully, there’s at least one thing in this blog that will help you create the best artwork you can for your book.

So go forth and create! Or pay someone else to do it for you. Do your research and do your best within your means to ensure your cover is the best it can be and appeals to your audience. In the end, your readers don’t care who designed the cover of your book. What they really care about is what adventures await them once they open it!

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