Welcome to “Who’s There?” our new series featuring some of the wonderful and creative people out there in the great world of geekdom. Here, Eva Caye talks readers through the process of designing a book cover.
Greetings, future friends! I’ve been writing books for years now, but only began self-publishing them in 2012 after I found an editor I could afford. Being financially challenged, I also needed a book cover for each publication.
For my first book, I paid a fellow $100 and described specifically what I wanted, and he turned out the crappiest cover you could have imagined, saying he would have normally charged $300 for his services. So I decided I could do better on my own.
Yes, go ahead and laugh, but I am motivated by learning new skills, as well as DIY projects. I fully admit I’m a work-in-progress, so here I am to tell you what I did wrong, and what I do now
Conceptualizing the Book Cover
I always had specific ideas about what I wanted for each cover, especially the symbols I would use and what they represented. Here are the first two books of my To Be Sinclair series, with all three covers.
My first concept was of an eye, in the color of the main character’s love interest, looking at the MC, whose moonlight silhouette is reflected in the pupil. The two things you must have are a title and author name, but I also wanted to indicate that my series is science fiction romance (upper left corner) as well as which book in the series it was (below the title).
When I realized I was getting more interest from science fiction than romance readers, I visualized the second covers with way-too-much symbolism. The starfield (sci fi) morphs into the red leather (romance), and the people and story symbols are on gold wallpaper because they are royalty (typical of both sci fi and romance). The placard designates the name of the series and which book it is. In addition, I found or devised crowns or stargate symbols for each person, tucked beside my name and on the spines of the covers.
Although I did love those covers, it was a huge amount of work that I could have spent on writing! In addition, some people commented that they looked too retro, 50s-sci fi, kinda campy all told. I did get the ‘Author name must be visible as a thumbnail’ part right!
But the cover is so important! It has to grab the reader right away! I looked over other covers in both genres, and realized most of them had a simple background, maybe one symbol, and otherwise the font represented either science fiction (think NASA logo) or romance (think curlicues). They don’t have hugely complicated symbols like the silhouetted moonlight reflection in the beloved’s eye! The time I wasted on putting those stars in the pupil, but not where their body would be, leaves me SMH.
As a result, my third series of book covers consists of a stelluric current (the science in my sci fi) starfield, title and name, and the main character. I had the by-line in one font (two are recommended), and chose a blockish font for sci-fi but made it look like chiseled gold for romance. And that’s all. Why have the series name and book number on the cover when every major retailer puts that in parentheses next to the title, as well as having all that information in the frontispiece of the book?
Things I did wrong: too many symbols, i.e. don’t overthink things! People want to be hooked, not overwhelmed!
Things I did right: strong branding
Your Book Cover Needs Pictures
Read up on the Terms of Service for each stock photo company, but in a nutshell, you can usually use an image for one product (a book in all its formats) and its associated advertising (bookmarks, magnets, websites, etc.) However, if you use it for two books, you need to buy the photo a second time.
I got incredibly lucky to get a deal on Depositphotos.com in which I spent $40 to get 100 downloads, with NO expiration date. Most stock photo sites charge a couple of bucks per photo, depending on size, which you can buy small because you’ll be able to scale them larger. And these companies also offer purchasing plans where you pay $50 for, say, 30 images.
Things I did wrong: buying one photo at a time.
Things I did right: spending hours searching for the right photos.
Mastering the Graphics Design Program
I went with GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) https://www.gimp.org/ because it’s free and can do everything I need it to do, namely, most of what Photoshop can do. I’m an author; I can’t blow hundreds or thousands of dollars on a graphics program I won’t use every day!
So I downloaded GIMP and began bashing away at it. There’s a steep learning curve for any image processing program, but that’s what YouTube is for – learning the basics as fast as possible! I use it for all kinds of things, like graphics for blog posts (I’m using it right now!) and website graphics, but here’s a few hints for book covers you need to consider.
Your ebook needs to be a minimum of 1500 x 2400 pixels for presentation at Amazon, which recommends that 1.6 ratio. But you must also consider offering it in a print version at, say, CreateSpace, the Amazon print-on-demand (POD) subsidiary. Although there are several PODs out there, I’m going to focus on CreateSpace, since I know them best.
As a result, you need to plan for a back cover and spine. Until you know how long the book will be, the spine will be impossible to determine. That’s okay, though; once you’ve mastered formatting a manuscript for CreateSpace, you’ll be the God(dess) of the Multiverse, able to drink Everclear straight out of the bottle, paralyze people with the sound of your voice, conjure spirits to do your bidding, and seduce a prince or princess on the side for funsies! GIMP will be a breeze after that!
Things I did wrong: not consulting YouTube sooner; not systematically organizing sooner (i.e. “Series” containing folders “Business cards”, “Covers in progress”, “Website”, while sub-folders in “Covers in progress” shows “Backgrounds”, “Details”, “People”, “Titles and spines”.
Things I did right: saving ‘basic’, ‘intermediate’, and ‘final’ versions of images before incorporating them into a cover. Several times I went back to intermediate, or even basic, and changed things such as the color of a shirt.
Planning for Print
To do an entire book cover, make sure your background image is larger than the sum of two covers plus spine, by at least .25”, .125” on each side. In the photo, your background must be over the pink lines of the CreateSpace template. Trust me, those tiny variances are important – CreateSpace cut down a spine on me once because an element on the spine was .01”too close to the edge – that’s one-one hundredth of an inch, folks! (How they could justify that when they regularly tell people you have to understand that printing isn’t exact so your spine could be off by as much as .25” I’ve rubbed in their face before.)
For an ebook cover, un-show your background to make the CreateSpace template stand out, take the Rectangle Select Tool, and place it along the dotted edge of the right side of the cover, expanding it to that right (front) cover. Re-show your background so you have the complete front cover, click Copy, and then Paste as >New image. Make sure it’s at least 1500 x 2400, save as your book’s title, and voilà, ebook cover!
Things I did wrong: not keeping track of photos, edits, layers, variances; not saving frequently (oh the heartache!)
Things I did right: making a series template with areas blocked out for name and titles, QR codes and the like; spending the time to learn all the groovy cool tools in the program, like the Alignment tool, which you can use to snap items into specific places on your book cover, like 50 pixels from an edge, or exactly center an item.
Other groovy things you can do when you master your image manipulation program are editing photos (Picture too dark? Lighten it up with Colors > Brightness/Contrast!) and making memes, posters, bookmarks, ad campaigns, etc. The biggest thing you have to remember is, if any of them are to be printed out on actual paper, you must convert RGB (red, green, blue, the computer version of colors) to CMYK (cyan, maroon, yellow, black, the paint-on-canvas, ‘real life’ version of colors). There are plenty of programs to help you do conversions, now, suitable for PDF. And GIMP now has a PDF extension – woohoo!
But lemme tell you, there’s some dishonest people out there! I took a few files to a printer to make up into bookmarks. He said, “These aren’t converted,” and proceeded to ‘show’ me just how botched they would look in print. I admit I had NOT converted them, but the fellow did a number of clicks before he turned his screen to show me, distorting the colors as disgustingly as possible so I would ‘rely’ on him as a ‘professional’. Whereas, when I printed them out on my printer at home, only the blues were a little too purpley!
If this has interested you, I can certainly write up another blog post someday on, say, the best features or easy add-ons to GIMP, or the most frequent file formats for simple graphics. Otherwise, I hope I’ve inspired you enough to give photo editing a try. Have at it, folks!
Eva Caye, author of the To Be Sinclair series, can build a rocket stove, tat lace, handle a gun, design book covers and permaculture garden plans, and teach teenagers critical thinking. Her favorite activities include writing science fiction romance and playing with her doggies. She currently lives in a tiny, century-old farmhouse with her magnificent husband and two marvelous mutts in Louisville, Kentucky.
Author Central: http://amazon.com/author/evacaye