Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrs2fat/4338843244/
This was originally published on Zoe Winters’ blog as a guest post. Thanks again, Zoe!
So you’ve written a book. Your imagination has flowed out your fingers into a computer or through a pen to paper. Now it’s time to create a billboard for your story. A good cover tells potential readers volumes about your tale, whether it’s an ebook or in print.
This post is an overview of the design process for non-artists. It would take thousands of words to convey the principles I use when I create cover art. This primer will get you started in creating attractive, informative book covers without breaking the bank. I’ll use the cover of my dark paranormal romance Strange Little Band as an example.
What You’ll Need
- The interwebs
- A graphics program (Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, PaintShop Pro, etc.)
- Your book’s title
- The trim size of your book
If you’re scratching your head about trim sizes, don’t worry. Print-on-demand services like CreateSpace and Lightning Source list standard book trim sizes. Even if you plan to publish electronically only, I recommend choosing an industry-standard size and designing a print-resolution cover. A printed version of the cover could come in handy for promotion.
Example: I chose a trim size of 6 x 9 inches (15.24 x 22.86 cm) for Strange Little Band.
Ponder Design Elements
Before you rev up Photoshop, think about your book in general. What is its tone? Is there a theme? Think about the genre, and search Amazon for books similar to yours. See what kind of covers those books have. You don’t have to copy other books’ styles, but checking out the competition could spark ideas.
Imagine you’re a reader browsing a brick-and-mortar or online bookstore searching for a book like yours. What element(s) in your novel would catch your eye? It could be a face, a striking landscape, an object key to your story, or a combination. Write all of them down. You’ll revisit this list later.
Example: Strange Little Band is an unconventional sci-fi/romance with antihero protagonists. I wanted to feature the main characters and their love/hate relationship. No smoochies, roses, and hearts on this cover!
Hunt Stock Photos and Illustrations
Several stock photography and artwork sites have excellent search engines to help you find images of just about anything. If your budget is tight, try Flickr and Morgue File. Be sure to note each image’s license. If an image is copyrighted with all rights reserved, you must contact the photographer/artist to negotiate a license to use his or her work. But if the image has been released with a Creative Commons license, you can use the image for free if you meet the license’s requirements. Learn more about the different Creative Commons licenses.
Flickr’s advanced search makes it easy-peasy to find CC-licensed works. Here’s a search for CC-licensed “tiger lily” images.
If you can afford $10 to $50 for stock photos/artwork, check out iStockPhoto. iStock’s search interface is outstanding, which is a good thing considering the size of their image archive! I’ve yet to be disappointed by them.
Example: After a lot of searching, I found two photos on Strange Little Band that look like the main characters and have appropriately pissy expressions. Meet Addison and Shane.
Got Images. Now What?
Now it’s time to get creative. Start up your graphics program and create a new document a little larger than the trim size of your book (to allow for bleed) and at 300 dpi. If you’re using a single image, you’re almost done. If you’re using multiple ones, it’s up to you to position and/or edit them together.
When deciding where to place elements in your design, keep in mind “z flow.” Westerners’ eyes move in a z pattern when scanning a page: top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right. Put important object somewhere on the z.
Example: I spent longer than I care to admit tweaking the two stock photos into one image. The color tones of the photos were vastly different, so I made Addison’s image more cyan and darker. I also positioned Shane’s head in the upper right corner and Addison in the lower left corner on purpose. Viewers’ eyes move from Shane’s face to Addison’s naturally.
Fonts, Text Size, and Text Placement
The fonts you use for the text on your cover are as important as the graphic behind them. Fonts have personality. Choose one or two that match the tone of your story. I say this with two caveats.
- Keep it simple and legible. It’s tempting to use ornate, decorative fonts. Make sure they’re easy to read!
- I strongly advise against using Comic Sans, Papyrus, Jokerman, and Curlz. They’re overused and cliched.
If you’re looking for more fonts, try dafont.com. There are more than you’ve ever imagined.
Text size indicates the relative importance of the message. If you’re a new or not (yet!) well known author, there’s no need to make your name the largest text on the cover. Your name won’t help sell your book. Your title might. I recommend making the title the most prominent text on your design.
As for where to put your book’s title and your name, you can’t go wrong with the top and bottom of the design. Those positions fit the z pattern that viewers’ eyes follow. Elsewhere on the z works as well.
Example: I’m not entirely happy with the text on SLB’s cover. The title design is based on an offbeat sans-serif font, which I think matches the tone of the book. It and my and my co-author’s names are positioned at the top left corner, which viewers can’t possibly miss. I don’t think there’s enough contrast between the title and the background. It doesn’t pop as much as it could, in part because the background is a little busy. The end result is a compromise. I had to draw the line somewhere.
That’s book cover design in a nutshell. The process is time consuming, but worth it in my opinion. Once you have a good cover design, you can reuse it for bookmarks, postcards, posters, and other promotional material. Good luck!