INDIE / SELF PUBLISHING TIP: COVER ART FOR BEGINNERS

I still bump into indie or self publishers who are hesitant to create their own cover art. The task of creating a cover often seems far more daunting than actually writing a book. Each author has to weigh the pros and cons of farming out certain jobs when taking on self-publishing, and every author knows his or her own abilities. But I do think cover art creation can be not only a rewarding activity for indie publishers, but an informative one, too.

For those who have decided they’d like to take the cover art plunge, a few tips or ideas:

At its simplest, an e-book cover is an image with a few words on it. That’s it. To start out, a professional-looking cover can be had for a pretty small amount of money (under $50—most of my covers range around $30). All you need is an image and a font.

BUY A STOCK PHOTO

This is how most traditionally published covers are created, actually. (It’s also why you sometimes see the same image on multiple covers by different authors or publishers.) I usually frequent Shutterstock or iStock, where you can get a quality image for around $15.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A STOCK PHOTO

If you’re new to image editing, try to grab a photo that needs the least amount of work done to it. Refine your search for photos composed vertically (the natural shape of a book), and look for large open areas in the photo where your title and your name can be placed.

My own covers for MILES LEFT YET and ALL ROADS are stock images I found using this method—neither required any editing on my part beyond adding text:

GET A FONT

Don’t use the fonts already installed on your computer. Times New Roman does not convey any feelings regarding what’s in your book. I mean it—GET A FONT. You can actually find fonts that are free for commercial use (just Google it), but I’ve also found some really great, paid professional fonts on both Etsy and Creative Market. I’ve paid as little as $2 for a font, but I’d say $10 is pretty average. And it feels good to support another creative person who is independently selling their products online.

ACTUALLY, GET TWO FONTS

Rarely do I use a single font for a cover. (MILES LEFT YET may be the one instance I did). Think in terms of opposites for your fonts—try a script or cursive looking font combined with a sans serif. Again, fonts have personality—every bit as much as the image you choose! Be sure to reflect the content of your novel with your font. A good way to get a handle on appropriate fonts used for different genres is to either hit the shelves of your library or do a quick Amazon search. Examples: Romance novels have more calligraphy-style fonts, horror novels have drippy blood fonts, thrillers often use bold sans serif fonts, kids’ books frequently use childlike handwriting, etc.

USE A PHOTO EDITING PROGRAM

It doesn’t have to be Photoshop, especially if all you want to do is plug in text. GIMP is a perfectly good photo editor—and it’s completely free. It’s also fairly widely used, so if you ever get stuck, you can simply search for a how-to vid on YouTube.

That’s literally all it takes. A stock photo, a couple of fonts, and a program like GIMP. Of course, as you go along, you’ll have additional needs and ideas. You’ll begin to look for different stock photos that you can then edit / splice together, etc. You might even begin to take your own photos for covers. You’ll begin using Photoshop. But this is a great, low-cost way to get started. And the good news is that because you have used a professional photo and a professional font, your cover winds up intrinsically looking, well, professional—even if you’re not a professional designer.

THE NUMBER ONE ADVANTAGE OF SELF-DESIGN

You learn. I’ve actually learned far more through indie publishing than I have through traditional publishing. Not just about covers, either, although that’s been part of it. Some covers will hit and others won’t—since you’re in control, and since you spent little money to begin with, switching a cover isn’t going to break the bank. Doing it yourself means you’re adding design skills and promotional skills to your résumé (and yes, covers are promotional objects).

Now, get out there and design a cover!