Monday, February 20, 2012

How to design your own book cover

A little known fact about me (and by "little known fact about me" I mean "weird thing I talk about all the time and wish people would talk about more often"): I love fonts.

I also love layout. What's layout? It's arranging fonts and photos and graphics to make publications (newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, word documents, charts...BOOK COVERS!!!!!! (<=UGH. I never use multiple exclamation points. I thought it would be quirky, but I now see that it's childish. Now I'm too frazzled to delete it. It stays.)).

So, let's back up a bit.

As I covered in my last post, you've got a beautiful novel written within a reasonable word count range, and now the next step is to make a book cover.

Actually, that's not the next step; the next step is to edit until your eyes burn and your fingers bleed, but I'll get to that another day.

Back to book covers. I think one of the wonderful quirks of the self publishing world is the strange assortment of book covers you see. Usually these are made by the author or a friend of the author; they're typically not professionally done, and this shows. Now, I'm not saying that they're THAT bad across the board. I'm just saying that they pale in comparison to the fabulous covers that you find in your local Barnes and Noble.

How does a self-publisher compete? Well, here's my advice, collected entirely from personal experience.

1. Look around at professional covers.
2. Download photo editing software.
3. Pick the right fonts.
4. Color.
5. Don't get crazy.
6. Think genre.
7. Show the cover to someone who has never read your book.

Take a deep breath; we're going to run through it.


1. Look around at professional covers.
This step is really easy. Look around. Go on Amazon.com, walk around a bookstore, check out Goodreads and make sure you only look at the professional covers. You wouldn't write a book without reading a few, you wouldn't write a song without listening to music, and you shouldn't design a book cover without looking at some great examples. Not all professional covers are good, but most are pretty nice quality. Get your Don Draper on and see what you're up against.

2. Download photo editing software.
Photo editing software is key. I swear to God if you make your book cover in Microsoft Paint, I will never read your book. Put in a little bit of effort; it's not so hard. Now, Photoshop is without a doubt the best photo software in the world. That being said, it's quite expensive. I, personally, am set to be unemployed at graduation and I'm all for a freebie. The software that I use to make my covers is Photo Pos Pro. Now, the website might look like it'll give you a porn virus, but generally it's user friendly and FREE. It's free. Wunderbar. Everyone has their favorite free site, and this awesome lady at About.com made a great list of some options.

3. Pick the right fonts.
By God, DO NOT USE TIMES NEW ROMAN. If at any point and time you wrote something for school in that font, it has no place on the cover of your book. Comic Sans is the kiss of death, and everyone and their mom knows what Century Gothic looks like (and no, it's not a green font and will not save the planet). I could talk about this for hours. No Trajan either, that's the biggest title cliche known to man. If you have questions about the font you like, ask me. Please. I implore you. UPDATE: I found this on Cracked.com and loved it.

4. Color
Don't make a black cover. It's overdone. Use colors because they're eye catching. Try to set the tone for your book with the right palette; if it's a red hot romance, think hot colors. If it's a dry and dreary dystopia think earth tones and darker hues.

And perhaps the best thing I've learned is to use stock photos. You can take them without worrying about copyright (Don't just take pictures from Google images! It's illegal!), they're FREE, and you can do whatever you want with them. I love the site stock.xchng. Just make a free account and you can find any photo you want (and then you can play around with it in your cool new photo software that you downloaded for free).

5. Don't get crazy.
There is a thin line between having a dynamic cover and having a hot mess. Don't crowd your cover. Books like the Hunger Games and Twilight all have very simple covers. In my mind, less is more. If anything, simple covers are classic and you can't go wrong. I'm not suggesting you just go with text and nothing more, I'm suggesting that you keep it simple and keep it concise.

6. Think genre.
Keep in mind that a fantasy book cover always looks different than a science fiction cover. Likewise, your realistic romance fiction should not have a dystopian cover. That's straightforward, but important to remember.

7. Show the cover to someone who has never read your book.
And then ask them what they think it's about. If their explanation is so far off that they cannot even guess the genre, maybe you'll want to reconsider your design.

Practice, practice, practice and don't be afraid to experiment. Learning to design is hard at first, but it really becomes second nature. I'm obsessed with it now, and to me it's the second greatest thrill in the book process (behind writing the thing, of course). I'm always down to check out a cover and lend some advice.

Just please, don't make anything like this:


#fugly
This cover breaks all the rules. Unprofessional, poorly executed, bad fonts, uncoordinated colors, a hot mess, indecipherable genre, and what the hell could this book possibly be about? A fine example of what not to do.

Get designing.

-CZ

4 comments:

  1. Great post. Really informative. If I ever make a book cover, I'll try to make it as not fugly as possible.

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  2. Yeah, like I just got to hasty to get my book live!! Arghhh, all the effort for an awesome cover (not!) Thanks for your post. I will go wherever you say is free. Better still I will keep your blog in mind and come back every month for another rethink update.

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  3. Totally not stalking you but oh my god, you design your own covers! (I was going to say: A kindred spirit! Except I design very bad covers, so "kindred spirits" might be pushing it a bit.) Still, hooray for indies producing professional work! Or, in my case, attempting very vigorously to do so!

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    1. I like the homegrown, writing, designing, editing, pubbing feel of the whole process--we're so on the same wavelength. Definitely kindred spirits.

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