While I was researching how to self-publish a book, I kept coming across the same advice over and over again - don't design your own cover; don't design your own cover...
The message was clear: a bad cover can kill a book and it is worth the money investing in a professional design.
Whilst I could see that a bad cover could impede sales, I still wanted to have a go myself so I spent a few weeks mulling it over and investigating further. First, I discovered that the cost of a professional design was likely to be significant in the overall scheme of the money at stake. I knew I wanted to spend on an editor and that there was already little chance of me ever making back the cost of that alone. Adding the cost of a cover into the mix would have meant that I would be unlikely to ever recoup the funds expended. Also, I really wanted to give it a try. I'm not really artistic. I mean, I can draw adequately and studied art at a basic level at school but I'm nowhere near a professional standard. Still, I like creating things and learning new skills. But I was aware that the DIY route would come at a cost too - I'd need new software and stock imagery to play about with. And I knew nothing (I mean absolutely zero) about using computers in design. I could have told you that a JPEG was a photo and that's about it. GIF's TIFF's, PNG's, dpi's, file size - all completely foreign to me.
I had just about conceded defeat (I mean, why spend a hundred quid on image software and pictures when in all likelihood I'd then need to pay someone to do it properly once the stubborn part of me finally conceded that I needed help?) so I sent out a tweet that I was giving up. Within minutes a lovely and supportive reply flew back from Jennifer Joyce, a fellow self-published writer (find her on Twitter under @Writer_Jenn) who told me not to let anyone put me off trying something if I thought I would enjoy it. I remain grateful for that tweet because I persevered and ultimately produced a cover of which I am rather proud. Okay, it did cost - the images came to about £40 (from Shutterstock) and I ended up acquiring Photoshop (around £60 - a gift from my husband for our anniversary) but the end result looks (almost) how I wanted it to. Plus I didn't have the stress of dealing with a third party over something which I felt strongly about (often a recipe for disaster), it still came out cheaper than paying someone else to do it and now I have Photoshop for use in other projects. Perhaps, in the future, if sales ever justify it, I would outsource cover design but while I am still on a shoestring budget I now have the confidence to give it a go myself. Here's how I got there:
I read the following posts:
and another one which I can't find any longer, which is a shame as it probably left the greatest impression on me. In the missing article, the writer had wedded himself to an idea at the outset - a particular image, as I recall, and he couldn't get it out of his head. He tinkered and tinkered with it but just couldn't get it right. In the end he admitted that the image was wrong and went in a completely different direction, producing a much better cover. As someone who was insistent upon a certain image/style until I finally gave in and acknowledged that it wasn't working, this post gave me the push I needed to go in another direction.
I also had a look at CreateSpace's 'Cover Creator' (accessible via the website; KDP has one too but obviously not for a cover encompassing a spine and back cover). This should be investigated at the outset as you may be happy using one of the standard designs on offer. It wasn't for me, though (but see below as to how it did come in handy).
After reading these articles I spent a while online and in book shops gathering pictures of covers I liked. I measured them, I studied them and tried to reproduce them in spirit. What I discovered was that I was drawn to illustrated book covers. Not necessarily fancy ones but silhouettes, shadows, abstract patters, that sort of thing. What I didn't like were photographs.
So I finally took the plunge and downloaded an image from Shutterstock to play around with in Photoshop (see 'Image no. 1' above).
I printed it out and mocked up a cover, folding the paper so that the image of the tree spanned the front, spine and back and I added text by hand. I carried it around with me for a few weeks but something was nagging away and it was this: I had read somewhere that the cover should compliment/reflect those usually used in a genre but still stand out. So, if most books in the category of ghost stories, for example, had illustrated covers then go with that but if they used photographs then the advice was clear: don't try and buck the trend or you might put off potential buyers.
I went back to Amazon and discovered that many collections of ghost stories had photographic covers or very basic designs using blocks of colour. No fancy illustrations. Also, by this stage I was beginning to acknowledge that the tree wasn't looking as good as I had hoped, particularly after the text was added. The image was off, the fonts were off.
I addressed the font issue with these articles:
and spent some time on the Font Squirrel website, downloading free fonts (making sure they were free for commercial use). I printed off pages of text (my name and book title) in each of the fonts I liked best and ended up selecting Fjalla.
I then went back to Shutterstock. My £40 had bought me the rights to use 5 images and so far I had only downloaded the tree and the gothic flower pattern used on this website. I looked at a couple of photographs and asked my husband what he thought. I selected one, played around with it a bit, cropping the picture, adding a few red brushstrokes in places and inserting text. It started to come together quickly and I could see what a vast improvement it was on my first effort.
(I should say that before I acquired Photoshop I downloaded and tried to get to grips with GIMP - a free image manipulation software. It was pretty good but as a novice I needed a lot of help and found instructions difficult to come by. Photoshop, however, is so widely used that it was easier to work out what to do. If you have any level of existing knowledge, though, GIMP may be just fine and save you £60 or so.)
Once the front cover was done I had to pull together the back and the spine. This is where I found Amazon's Cover Creator very useful. Whilst I hadn't wanted to use one of the many standard covers available (where you basically use a set layout and upload your own picture and text in the boxes indicated), they had a 'blank' cover which essentially just sets out where the spine of your book and the bar code should be. I was then able to upload my front, back and spine and make sure that it was all in the right place.
One final point I would make is this: I was pleased with my final JPEG onscreen but when it was printed by CreateSpace the print quality (in my opinion) didn't do justice to the design. This has been true on every copy printed. The tree on the back cover is barely visible - it just looks muddy. I know it is not a fault with the file - it is of a superior resolution and I had bookmarks printed professionally using the same file and they are excellent.
Anyway, I hope this helps you if you are thinking of giving it a go yourself. Good luck and remember Jennifer's advice!
I love most types of fiction - crime, mystery, fantasy. Oh, and historical fiction of course and middle-grade books and, well, you get the picture.
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