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 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).


Case in point.


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.


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


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

First, in (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 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


Self-Publishing Part 3: How Long Now?

This is the third week of the self-publishing series! Read the first two posts if you haven’t yet: 

Now it’s time to get into the gritty details about how self-publishing actually goes. Caity asks:

I’m just wondering how long the self-publishing process takes, roughly?

Good question- by which I mean that the answer is a tricky thing. The time can vary hugely, depending on the length of your book, how much work you do as opposed to outsourcing, what kind of self-publishing you choose, etc.

Fortunately, I can help you form a fair estimate by giving you a fairly typical picture of the process in ten not-so-easy steps. For the sake of demonstration, I’ll estimate longer rather than shorter as far as time is concerned.

1: Write a book.

Maybe it goes without saying.

This step can take any amount of time: something between one NaNo competition to a lifetime of edits. However, for the student or working adult who writes for a few hours every day, it usually takes no more than a few years.

Estimated time: 3 years.

2: Decide which way to publish.

We covered this one last week. Choose whether you will use true self-publishing, print-on-demand, ebook, online, or a combination of them. You know, this is one of the hardest step, at least for us perfectionists; making a final decision is never quite easy. Taking a few months to research and consider is a good idea.

Estimated time: 2 months.

3: Get a cover.

We’ll talk about this all-important component next week. However, you ought to start thinking about covers as soon as possible, preferably while you’re editing your novel. Covers take no less than three or four weeks in most cases, and probably longer, even if you don’t want to make changes to the first version.

Estimated time: 2 months.

4: Learn about the publishing process.

Read articles and tutorials, seek out insider tips, learn about possible problems and solutions… in short, become an expert on self-publishing. And hey, you’re already off to a good start. The best advice? Don’t ever stop researching until you are ready to stop publishing books. The more you know, the better.

Estimated time: 2 weeks.

5: Format your manuscript according to the guidelines.

This is another easy step- unless, of course, Google Drive is giving you trouble about italics and headings. I underwent this nightmare with Alen’s War and… well, I got very good at italicizing things. But, all formatting nightmares aside, it only takes a few weeks at most to search out the guidelines for your publishing house or printer and make your manuscript fit (see my collection of links at the bottom).

Estimated time: 2 weeks.

6: Set up your title information, get an ISBN, etc.

This one is pretty easy, at least with CreateSpace. You only need an ISBN if you want your book to be sold in regular bookstores or purchased by libraries, therefore online publishing and Kindle don’t require ISBNs. This only takes as long as you need to click a few buttons or make phone calls (see the links for more ISBN help).

Estimated time: 1 day if you’re lazy.

7: Upload or submit your files.

Pretty straightforward in most cases. CreateSpace, for example, requires a Word (.docx) file or something like it, and most other publishers stick to straightforward formats. This takes just a few minutes for online upload, a few days for package mailing (if your publisher even does that).

Estimated time: the rest of aforementioned 1 day.

8: Proofread, final review, proofread again, approve for publishing.

This is the craziest part. You proofread your document and get other people to help you. In CreateSpace’s case, you have to submit your files for them to review for potential issues. Once you are satisfied, you approve the book for publishing/printing. I’ve found that a few weeks to a month is an ideal slot of time for proofing.

Estimated time: 3 weeks for a print book; a day or so for an ebook.

9: Go a little loco.

Comedian Tim Hawkins expressed this step pretty well.

Estimated time: 2 weeks.

10: Enjoy your book.

Estimated time: a lifetime of satisfaction in your creation.

So how long does self-publishing take? As I said, it’s a hard thing to estimate, and some people take more or less time than the average. For example, Alen’s War took me less than a year, plus pre-writing development. Son of Ren was longer; that little thing was in idea development for at least three years before I actually wrote anything.

That said, though, according to my rough estimate, the time it takes a non-vocational writer to produce a novel is approximately 3 years and 6 months.

And there you have it, Caity.

What self-publishing questions do you have left? I want to help you answer them, so ask away in the comments!

Want to know more?

WritersServices gives some details on how long publishing takes

Hubspot’s guide to making an ebook. It’s not a writing curriculum by any means, but it has good formatting tips and templates.

CreateSpace’s cryptic formatting rules

General guidelines to formatting manuscripts. Self-publishers usually follow the same rules, except that they don’t put their name on every single page.

Publishing on CreateSpace, step-by-step

Lulu: should you get an ISBN?

Cover Reveal, Survey, and a Giveaway

The title says it all. Next week we’ll be back to a normal posting schedule, I promise; but for now, we get some new goodies for Alen’s War!

Cover first…


Ah, I fooled you, didn’t I? (sneaky Sheriff of Nottingham face) I said before that the color scheme would probably be deep red, but then I turned around and made it soft green. That wasn’t a lie. I initially did want a red cover to match Agran’s flag, but while I was playing with colors, the green really stood out to me and contrasted well with the ship. Oh, and it wasn’t as scary as deep blood red.

Inevitably someone is going to ask the question, so I’ll answer now: Yes, I designed the cover myself, but I had a lot of sound input from other artists and the useful features of and Picmonkey.  Who said an indie cover had to be expensive?

And that brings us to my second announcement. I need your help with a new blog series: Q&A on indie/self publishing. I don’t pretend to be an expert self-publisher, but other new authors and interested readers are always asking me the many questions that I had to answer myself when I was publishing Son of Ren. Obviously it’s a hot topic. In order to write about it, I need to know what questions to answer, so if you have a question about self-publishing, post it in the comments or email me through this page. Thanks in advance for your help!

Finally, the fun part- the giveaway. It opens on Friday, and you can enter by following me or tweeting a message to your friends. Here’s the link. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway