By hook, or by crook, sell the hell out your book.
Hey, that rhymes! I’m a poet, and I didn’t know it! Okay, okay, I’ll shut up, now.
A great way to push your books is the cover. It’s one of the first things that draw potential readers in, and something that can either make or break a decision on someone choosing your book from many others. You could have walked past many a great story because the cover didn’t catch your eye. I know I have. And as superficial as it may seem when we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (literally in this case) the reality is that the cover of the book is an excellent hook to pull in any potential readers.
There are a couple of ways to get a professional cover, but the key word here is ‘professional.’ It can’t be something that appeals to only you or close family members or friends. It needs to be something that stands out and makes an impact. In a good way! Once your story is complete, how should how do you go about designing a cover? Well, in essence, there are three ways:
1.) Design Your Own
Number one is a great option if you’re a designer or love dabbling in design, and even greater if you can navigate your way around such software as Photoshop. However, if you’re not prepared to refine your skills, become dedicated to learning all you can to make it a badass cover, then DO NOT go down this route. If you do, you risk it coming off as unprofessional. The last thing you want anyone to think is it’s ‘homemade,’ refusing to read your story because they don’t want to take a gamble on the content being of the same caliber.
2.) Use Templates
There are a few cover templates available for you to use in certain software programs, and also when you load up onto such sales channels as Lulu and Amazon. But note that these will not be exclusive. In other words, many people may be utilizing the same templates, and a lot of the time they’re basic and generic and may not be fitting for your genre.
3.) Get them designed professionally
For me, this is the best option, but it’s not the cheapest road to go down, I get that. However, please note there are some very affordable options out there, and some great designers who keep their prices low for indie authors. Not only that, there are many people now making pre-made covers at a set amount that may fit your story for a quarter of the cost of having it custom designed. Check out the Useful Links page for a place to start when looking for potential designers and pre-made covers. If you wish to go with creating your own covers option, I have asked paranormal romance and urban fantasy author D.C. Gambel to share her tips and tricks for designing a book cover of your own. It’s time for her to take over the reins! …
Thank you Katie. First of all, I want to say that I’m no expert nor am I a professional designer. I do, however, make all my own covers. This is not a course I recommend if you lack basic Photoshop skills, but this is something that can be learned.
I decided on this path before I ever released my first book. Back then I chose an image I felt needed nothing more than to be cropped and in need of typography, the art and technique of arranging type. I originally sought out a cover designer, but the price was a bit extreme for my budget. Hindsight, I’m grateful I didn’t because my first book failed. Was it the cover?
Your cover has a big job when it comes to selling your book. It is the first impression a reader will get. It has to talk for you. The first thing it needs to say is your genre. So many authors want to be unique, but this can kill your book faster than anything. Uniqueness can come later after you’ve built a following. My suggestion is searching other books in your genre to see what’s expected.
As an Urban Fantasy reader and writer I already had a basic idea when it came to the first cover in my newest series The Horsemen Chronicles, but I still scanned through Amazon to be sure I had the right foundation in mind. Awakened, book one in the series,(see dcgambel.com/awakened) I spent about two weeks creating. This was not a simple image in need of only cropping, but required some major Photoshop skills, some of which I discovered on YouTube. See more information here
There were several layers involved in making up just background, not to mention blending along with adjusting opacity and color. The glow around the text was something I sought YouTube for along with the painted effect on the model.
This was actually the second cover I made for this book. The first one used many of the same images, but after changing my model and background I got a completely different result, one I think is more professional and fits my genre better. The first wasn’t bad, but it did lack the telltale signs of my chosen genre.
Many people attempt to make their own covers, and some really shouldn’t. A bad cover can lose you a reader fast than a poorly edited book. But the opposite is just as true. I bought a book once with an amazing cover only to discover the author spent their budget on the cover and skimped out on editing. Spreading your budget evenly is very important too.
If you decided to go the route I’ve chosen and wish to design your own cover, become familiar with stock photo sites. DO NOT go for the free sites. These images are overused and will not grant you any favors. Also, unless you are a professional photographer, and I don’t just mean own a fancy camera, DO NOT use your own personal images. Many people attempt this as well and their books lack the professionalism that a cover designer would provide.
Examples of stock photo sites can be found here: https://contrastly.com/popular-stock-photography-sites
One of the worse things you can do is ask those closest to you for advice. Unless they are authors in your genre their opinion cannot be trusted. The best thing you can do for you and your book is join one of the many author groups on Facebook. Here you can share your cover and ask the opinion of fellow authors and cover designers to see if your book is up to par. This being said, make sure it’s a group that leans more towards covers and not just authors in general. Some pages are more helpful than others.
I recently shared the cover for Obsidian, book two in The Horsemen Chronicles (see here dcgambel.com/obsidian) only to have it criticized and not for my lack of Photoshop skills. The major complaint was the fact that I had a standalone model on the cover. The thing was, the group I had chosen to share it in was not just for authors but also readers. They were sharing their personal opinion, unaware that having a strong heroine on the cover was exactly what my genre called for. Now not all shared the opinion. Some gave me advice that I used to make the final cover that you can see now.
Being an author, whether your indie or not, means having a tough skin. If you do decide to make your own covers, be prepared for criticism. Don’t argue with those offering you advice. Your cover may have some personal meaning to you, mine offer symbolism into my stories, but if those details stop your book from selling is it really worth it?
I’m going to take you through my process. As an Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance writer, my genres tend to require models. This may not be true for you. It’s best to know before you start the cover design. If you are planning on a series having the same model for each cover can give your books a more professional feel. Do not get stuck on the idea of how you view your characters. You’ll waste months trying to find the right model, but someone with similar features, or feature that can be manipulated in Photoshop ie: eyes and hair, can make a great model. Make sure your chosen model has enough images in their portfolio to get through your series. If you plan for three book the model needs a larger selection than just three images because some may not work for your cover.
Once you become better with Photoshop you could even simply pull the face and place it on a body with the desired pose, but let’s keep it simple for now, and cheaper, because each image will cost you. Find a model, posed; preferably dressed in the needed attire. I suggest not going cheap with resolution either. A large or x-large resolution image is required. It really does make all the difference.
Next you need a background. Is your story taking place in the city? Are you writing about werewolves? These details can help you choose. Your background may go unnoticed, but if its wrong it can stick out, which is undesired.
You need to realize that most readers’ first impression of your cover is in a thumbnail as they scroll through books on sites like amazon.
Before you pull out your credit card, most sites allow you to download a watermarked image. This lets you play with the images to determine if they’re right. Proper placement should appear natural. You may need to adjust angles or create a shadow. With Awakened, I had to place a grid over my image by using the Transform feature and Wrap. This allowed me to adjust my character’s feet which did not appear natural against the brick road where she stood. Again I did this with Obsidian to adjust her body angle. Originally she wasn’t wearing pants and to make them appear natural took a lot of careful manipulation.
At this point you could be done shopping, depending on the images you’ve chosen, but most decent covers I’ve seen tend to have at least three layers, but this isn’t a requirement or a guideline you must follow.
When I designed Fate, book one in The Edge of Forever series, (see here dcgambel.com/fate) I originally had several overlays. An overlay tends to be a transparent image that can sit above one or all of your layers. I removed several as it was too much and took away from image. Now the main image as it sits has three layers: the background, the moon, and the girl, along with two overlays: the red smoke and the gold sparkles for a total of five layers. The purple glow is a feature that is done with the text and did not require any additional images.
This next part is where you can separate a cover designed by a professional and one by an amateur. Text.
Font is just as important and can cause just as much trouble as your Photoshop skills. Be careful to not pick something that is hard to read. Script fonts may be pretty, but can it be seen clearly in a thumbnail or can any of the lettering be misinterpreted as other letters?
There are a few great sites out there for free fonts, but be sure that you are careful of licensing agreements. Some are stated for personal use only. You can also commission someone to create a personal font for you, but as you are probably creating your own cover to save money, a free font might be best.
Once you find your font don’t just type out your title, name, and series and call it done. You can create some great effects. If you’re unfamiliar with how head over to YouTube for tutorials. Make it glow, turn it metallic, there are many options that YouTube can help you with.
I frown at covers that try using the same font for everything typed out. This looks tacky. Using the same font for series and author name is fine, but let your title’s font stand out. When choosing a font for your name, I suggest going all caps. The font choice doesn’t have to be one that automatically does this, but writing it out can be simpler. It should also stretch out the width of your cover leaving you the minimum white space; this is the invisible border around your cover that needs to be left text free. Amazon will deny the image if your paperback’s image’s text crosses this line. If you’re unsure where your white space is amazon will let you download a template when you go into kdp, this is the site you use to upload your book to amazon.
Some authors believe in making their name the largest text on the cover. This is a personal choice and also a good thing to check your genre for. You need to realize that most readers’ first impression of your cover is in a thumbnail as they scroll through books on sites like amazon. Making your text tiny will NOT sell your book. Make a choice, but either your name or your title needs to be big. Look at Blood Ties, book two in The Edge of Forever series (see here dcgambel.com/blood-ties). The text takes up half the cover, but in a tiny thumbnail it’ll still be noticed. It is the largest text out of the series (see here dcgambel.com/the-edge-of-forever). It wasn’t done intentionally but the other titles were made as large as I could go without stretching the text vertically to take up more space.
After creating the metallic text on book one, I simple inserted onto the other covers before changing the text and adjusting the size accordingly. The lens flares were added after. You can create these on your own, if unsure how head to YouTube, or you can buy them as an overlay through a stock site or etsy. If you chose the later, again be sure of licensing agreements.
A little advice, don’t overdo it and buy a ton of images because you think you need them.
Making your own covers can be fun. When working with a designer it can sometimes be hard to relay what it is you’re looking for. With Awakened you can noticed the gloves my model is wearing. This was an important detail to me as my character had reasons for wearing them. They are a means of protection as she is Death. Having the horse in the background, along with the orb around her, was also done intentionally as it shows a power she becomes aware of in the story. With book two, Obsidian, you can see her removing the gloves. Why? Because she’s becoming more confident with herself and her gift. On book three, which I’m currently working on, she won’t be wearing any at all. She will finally own her power and not let it rule her.
To get this from a cover designer, in the style I have, would have cost me around $300. I looked. Of course there are cheaper options, but I knew what I wanted. What it cost me? $42. Each layer was $7 and some images I’m able to reuse, like the lightning, which is also appears on Obsidian. Could I have done it cheaper? Probably. Would I have liked it as much or have it fit my genre as well? Nope.
Some times you’re too close to your project and a fresh set of eyes can see the errors you’re missing.
A little advice, don’t overdo it and buy a ton of images because you think you need them. I honestly bought the bare minimum at first, then added others I saw fit. With Obsidian, I actually bought more than I needed having originally wanted some kind of “magic swirl” on it. I was later told it was too busy and made the viewers dizzy so it was removed, yet it was one of the first images I bought for the cover. Even though I liked it, it would have hindered my book from selling. It was advice I needed to hear. Even though I didn’t like what I heard, I still took what was offered and removed it. Then, because I’m stubborn and hoped I was right, I shared the new copy along with the original to see the opinions on it. Guess what? The one I liked didn’t get one other like. Everyone was in agreement. I was wrong about the “magic.”
As I said earlier, don’t argue with the advice offered. Some times you’re too close to your project and a fresh set of eyes can see the errors you’re missing. In all honesty, making a cover isn’t about what you want but what readers want. If you’re lucky enough to have it both way then great, if not, take a bite out of humble pie and do what needs to be done to sell your book until you’re a best selling author then you can do what you want, to an extent.
Again, thank you Katie for allowing me to take over your blog for the day and share a bit of information. For any questions you can PM me on my website dcgambel.com or find me at:
All my books are available exclusively on amazon. You can buy them directly on my website or click the buy it now button and be redirected to the correct amazon page for your location.