I’m calling this 2 1/2, because I meant to have a 3-part series, yet this post about covers took on a life of its own. So it is 2 1/2, and the third, about Kindles, is still to come.
Editing and proofreading’s done, but you’re still not ready unless you have a fantastic, eye-catching cover. Art is so subjective, but here are some basics I won’t allow any dispute about. Make the background and foreground contrast from each other. Okay, it’s a dark, gloomy, shadowy story, but don’t make your scary lurker on the cover an annoying blob, especially when the cover shows up as a thumbnail an inch or so tall. And please, please, please, make your title and written words on the cover clear, clean, simple, contrasting, and as big as possible. Use boldface, forget the swirlies that look great on wedding invitations, and make it light when the background is dark, or vice-versa. If that isn’t stated clearly enough, MAKE IT EASY TO SEE, TO READ, AND TO FIGURE OUT.
Don’t clutter up the cover with really detailed designs or all the characters or things that are in your story. One of the most beautiful covers I have ever seen was a luminous, metallic-or watered-silk-looking royal blue background. It had an image of a photo-realistic sword which made up part of the text of the title. The title and the author’s name were in an elegant, only slightly ornate, highly readable and contrasting font, and a muted but clear, embossed-style design. Both the sword and the embossed design tied in with the book’s theme and setting. If you want people or other solid objects, pick the top two or three and stop. Guy, girl, horse. Stop. Streetlight, lurker, alley. Stop.
My first cover design that I’m even willing to talk about had a girl, a helmet, a castle, an Arab on horseback. One was a photo, and not a very crisp one. One was a black and white lineart drawing. One was a digitally altered former photo. One was a 3D image digitally altered. They didn’t match, there was no relationship of size or importance or placement on the cover except the girl was bigger. And the title covered parts of them. Euggh. Make your elements look like they go together. It will help enhance the idea that elements of your story fit properly. The revised version cover has a red silk-like background, an illuminated medieval manuscript border which incorporates the title and a castle graphic, the dim shadow of a lion in the background, and photo images of the two main characters. And I stopped.
I use photographic images whenever possible. I have a big store of stock images, plus pictures of family and friends I have permission to use. I am blessed with an absurdly handsome eldest son and he graces several of my covers at different ages. I also used a WWII era picture of my father on one of my covers. A friend’s beautiful daughter became a pair of twins. Sometimes that will even sell the book to someone who loves the person on the cover. It worked twice for me.
I was told to compose in a curve to draw the viewer’s eye around the cover. Keep the background simple so it doesn’t obscure the figures. Webtreats is one site that features free textures you can download: fabrics, plaster, parchment, distressed metal and “grunge” abstracts. Gamers collect and share leathers, furs, skins, metallics. Take time to search around.
I mentioned a thumbnail an inch tall. Your cover will be resized multiple times on multiple sites. Often you will have to perform that operation yourself if you want it on that site, and you have to figure out a design that will look good in all those ways. You may be asked to make it half size, quarter size, or some weird percentage of that size. You may be asked to create a banner. If you drew or painted a complete, freehand picture, text and all, for your cover, then scanned it to become the cover image, you may be able to successfully resize it, but you won’t be able to easily shove stuff around and reshape it into a banner.
Just as one example, Kindleboards has gorgeous, large author pages allowing for a full-sized e-book cover image, plus a banner image. They also let you create a signature that appears in your every post, which can consist of any image content that fits within their size parameters. You can put every image of every cover of every book you’ve written into that space, varying in size, and it will look awe-inspiring if your covers are made right in the first place, plus each links to Amazon for sales. But you have to be able to do that resizing, and if you haven’t planned ahead for the existence of covers tiny, medium, large and all sizes between (or even for an e-book cover as opposed to a print book cover), plus such a thing as a banner (like me, still being a newbie) you might break down sobbing at that point.
So for these reasons and others, I don’t create original art covers. I am an artist, have been drawing since I was five, and doing graphic design 20+ years, and I can’t make the clean, clear, sharp images I am convinced a cover must have. I use a program called Photo Impact. It is probably one of many that will work, but it came in a bundle with our video creation software several years ago, and I ignored it for some years while using Adobe Photoshop. Then our computer upgrades left the Photoshop version we had behind, and I decided to try Photo Impact. The manual is useless, and I am a slow study, but I now love and swear by this program. Even the old version I have works on Windows 7. It has thousands of textures and more can be easily added. It has preset shapes with adjustable bumps and bevels for a 3D look, and the shapes themselves are infinitely adjustable. It also has photo-manipulation capabilities, to put it mildly. What you create can be saved as a UFO format file with every piece resizable and moveable (making the transition from print cover to banner to e-book cover simple). Only a copy of your final image needs to be JPG or TIFF or whatever is required. And the newest version costs less than $50. All our artwork is done using Photo Impact.
To create a print cover image, I started with an 11x 17 image. Dimensions vary somewhat depending on your printer’s requirements, and you should definitely follow them, but this is a standard cover. Next your printer will give you a formula based on the number of pages in your book to calculate the spine width. Our books are 5.5″x 8.5″ exact trim, which means that is the size of the height of the book if it were standing upright, and the width from left to right of the pages after the book has been trimmed down.
The size of the spine depends, once again, on the number of pages. The easiest way to allow for a print cover to fit any size book is to create your title and author texts as one line, keeping the font size as small as possible to make it still easily readable. Include your print company logo or anything that identifies you (a series imprint logo, for example). Flip the whole horizontal title (and image, if there is one) 90 degrees so that it is vertical with the heads of the words to the right. The idea is to make the text and any image centered exactly, vertically and horizontally, on your 11 x 17 cover background with plenty of room top and bottom for trimming. Don’t try to create something that has to fit the spine area exactly, horizontally or vertically, because it may not come out perfectly.
The background of your print book cover can be almost anything, but I recommend a single solid or gradient color or quiet abstract, or a single photographic image that fills the entire 11 x 17 image and preferably bleeds off the edge. Let me use the example of a book about Egypt. Your background image may be endless stretches of sandy desert and blue sky. The more featureless the better, but if you insist on having Karnak or the Pyramid of Giza or the Sphinx in the image, make sure it will not be cut short by the cropping.
Make it as unimportant as possible as to where the trim occurs. Do not even try to get close to the trim edges if you can in any way help it. Avoid putting elements in a box near the trim or spine edges because it might not square up perfectly when the cover is trimmed. Make sure the background image is quiet, muted, simple, and does not make it hard to distinguish the main elements of your cover. Make the font style consistent throughout the cover texts, unless you have a good reason for not doing so. Font size of course can vary according to spacing.
What you put on the back cover is up to you. It can be a photo of you as author, a logo of your company, your series imprint, a blurb relating to those, a teaser from the book, reviews the book has received, or a biography of the author. Just make sure none of it gets cut off in the trim and that it is a clean, simple, easy to read and understand composition. Check your printer’s specifications about how to save the file you give to them. They may require TIFF, or CMYK, or simply and BMP or JPG. Make sure you give them the right thing.
For an e-book, simply create an image that is the same size as your exact trim text would be. Mine is 5.5″ x 8.5 ” When that image is inserted into my e-book files, it is slightly reduced, because I have .75″ margins all around and the Word Document makes the image fit in the margins. Any image you upload separately should show up full size, however, as long as the site allows that size. An e-book cover image has no requirements for trimming so it can go right to the edge if you wish. Just be sure none of the sites you upload to are going to crop it instead of just reducing it. It is still a good idea to leave some open space around the main images just to avoid a cluttered or crowded look.