Self-Publishing Part 4: Covers and Other Nightmares

Welcome to the latest installment of my magnificent series- not to be too pretentious. In case you need to get caught up:

It has come at last- the time to make covers. Ellyana asks about my cover for Alen’s War:

Where do you find the picture of the ship? (I’m assuming you didn’t create it, about which I could be wrong.) The background I assume is resulting from a Picmonkey background? I know that the cover makes a huge impression on the reader– despite the old-time saying, “Never judge a book by its cover.”

Exactly right! Cliched sayings are useless here- people always judge a book by its cover. First, a little background on how you can get a cover. Like most self-publishing printers, CreateSpace gives you three options for cover design: pay a professional to design a custom cover, use a template and public domain images to make your own in Cover Creator, or do the whole thing yourself.

At this point, all other bloggers (and cover designers) will stop and yell at you in all caps that IF YOU DON’T HAVE A DEGREE IN GRAPHIC DESIGN, KEEP YOUR STICKY PAWS OFF YOUR OWN COVER.

And they are terribly wrong. I’ve never taken a Photoshop course in my life, but I design my own covers, which usually do the trick. I don’t obey what the other “professionals” tell meI do what I want.

However… if you are terrible at using Paint.net or hate art, you will only give yourself a headache trying to make a cover, and the result may not be as clean as what you’d get with a professional artist or with Cover Creator. Think critically and decide upon the best investment for you.

But, to answer your other questions, Elly, today we’ll go through the process of how I design covers. Better buckle up; this could be a long ride.

Step 1: Concept Art

Make lists, scribble lines, ask your sister for ideas… whatever gets you thinking. I admit that drawing your own art can be scary. I draw lots of pictures, make lots of mistakes, and design lots of prototypes that end up being utterly worthless. But, as my own darling Turomar says, “That is planning- discarding enough ideas until you find a good one.” Here are some preliminary concepts for Alen’s War (and Son of Ren for the purpose of illustration).

Capture

Case in point.

sonofrenshield

Hint: I draw concept art in pencil first!

Honestly, people, if I’m brave enough to put some of my scribblings on the internet, you should be brave enough to draw your own ideas for yourself. Just keep drawing whatever comes to mind. Even if you do end up hiring someone else to make the cover, you can at least have some ideas to show them.

Be sure to save and scan a copy of all of your final drawings for the next step.

Step 2: The Elements

I sounded like Heraclitus there, didn’t I? But when I say elements, I’m talking about the individual pictures on the cover. For Alen’s War, this means drawing a ship and a map; for Son of Ren, a shield.

Don’t worry about text just yet. For now, focus on making the elements as clean and uniform as possible, and again, save the new versions separately from the old concept art. If all else fails, find some public domain images that you can use instead.

IMG_20160620_112416876

I drew the colored part by hand, then I traced the dark lines and added text on the computer.

ship

I just traced my own concept art and filled in the lines with a brush tool on my editing program.

Step 3: Get a Template

Advance apologies for all the links.

Amazon has a lot of wordy specificationsOne thing to notice here is that Amazon KDP is talking about this kind of cover, but CreateSpace needs this kind. To figure out the dimensions, you can use this handy little tool, which gives you the template you’ll need in step 4. 

Or if you, like me, find it easier to do algebra than to use that beast they call a PDF template, you can do the math yourself. (The calculation isn’t blog-post-friendly, but if you want the equation, email me through this page and I’ll send you some numbers.) Once you have the relevant numbers, simply create an image with those dimensions. At this point, I also add some lines to mark where the spine starts and stops- as shown here– which can be erased later.

Once I have done that, the worst is behind us. From here on out it is nothing but a good deal of fun.

Step 4: Picmonkey (and some Paint.net)Capture

First, in Paint.net (the free version of Photoshop), I add the ship image to the blank template- it basically looks like this– and save it as a flat (.jpg) file. Then it’s over to Picmonkey. Oh, yes, you could arguably use Paint.net to do the whole cover. But where would be the fun in that, eh? Picmonkey is more user-friendly.

So I take my newly-created cover and add the text (that Tt icon in the screenshot) on the back, front, and spine, rotating the spine text 90°, and then paint over my guidelines; we won’t need them anymore. (Save as a flat image.)

Next I upload my own texture (the cross-stitch icon); in this case, the map. Picmonkey allows me to decide exactly how much of the map I want to show and to what degree, and I usually make my backgrounds just barely visible. I do a few more touch-ups to make sure everything is in the right place and save an updated copy of the cover.

Finally, I play with the different Picmonkey textures and colors. Being a fantasy writer, I’m partial to Smudge and Paint, but all of the textures are useful for one purpose or another. Feel free to save different versions of the cover (in high-def!) and be sure to get feedback from your beta-readers and other artistic friends.

Step 5: Review and Repeat

You heard me right. Inevitably, someone will have last-minute opinions or improvements, or maybe CreateSpace is being a little bit particular about DPI and other trite. Anyway, if you saved a copy of your cover at every stage, it shouldn’t be too hard to fix.

That’s it!

Congratulations to you all who made it this far- not only have you read one of my longest posts ever written, but you also are brave enough at least to try your hand at designing your own cover.

Do you have any questions about self-publishing a book? Marketing, blogging, cover design details? Share in the comments!

Want to know more?

Cover guidelines: KDP’s rules for covers

CreateSpace’s options for cover design

Guide to DIY covers

Hire an artist: Professional design pricing

Cover Creator: CreateSpace’s guide

DIY covers: Picmonkey’s website

Cover design tips from Rob Nightingale

Roger Colby on designing his own cover

Patrick Samphire’s cover design tips

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