Create your own book cover in 10 easy steps
One of the biggest benefits of being a self-published author is the freedom to make decisions on everything: the timeline, the plot, the price, the title, the distribution channels. At the same time, this freedom can be overwhelming. Especially, when it comes to doing things outside of your comfort zone. Like designing a book cover, for example. These easy to follow instructions can help you get the process started and give you the best chance at success.
Choose your Tools (Step 1)
For my on-trend illustrated tutorial cover I'm using Adobe Photoshop CC, a custom drawn cover image by Helene “The Illustrator” and a couple of Google Fonts. I've decided on these tools mostly because my latest cover has proven to be one of the most controversial and anything that sparks a conversation, or even a second look from a browsing reader can give your novel the edge over other mass market paperbacks out there.
For your own cover choose the tools you feel most comfortable with. If you're just starting out, or want to try a book cover for fun, there are a number of free image manipulation tools, CC0 stock photo sites and standard fonts on your computer to make a smashing cover. (Let me know in the comments if you want me to share specifics.)
Draw your cover (Step 2)
Diving into creating a cover without a sketch is like writing a book without an outline. If that's your thing, go ahead. But if you are more of a planner (*raises hand*) you may want to get a pen and paper now.
Don't worry, you don't have to be an artist to complete this step. Draw a stick figure, by all means. This step isn't meant as a competition on who can make their hand drawn cover as realistic as possible. This is about placement of your items (pen name, title, series title, blurb, etc). It is also about your colour scheme and the elements that will communicate your book's genre.
Beware: The more intricate your design the harder it will be to make it look good. For beginners, I suggest keeping your cover as simple as possible. If your cover was a wedding, think understated elegance rather than opulence gone wrong.
For The Mummy Trap I decided on a soft and bright colour palette with a hot pink title that draws the eye. The family on the front says "domestic romance", the bubblegum pink reinforces the overall fun and lighthearted tone of the novel. The slightly worn out look of the parents keeps the cover from being overly corny and hints at some depth to the story, while the 💩on the back says “definitely tongue-in-cheek”.
Make your ebook cover first (Step 3)
This is a personal preference (read: skip if you disagree).
As a self-published author, I tend to publish my digital cover first. This has a number of advantages for me. As a young mummy I usually get an hour a day for book related “stuff” (aka: plotting, writing, blogging, website updates, social media, marketing, cover design, the list goes on...). Ergo I don't get to format my book for digital and print at the same time, especially, as the print formatting for Amazon's print on demand service takes me ages and the proofs take a while to get shipped. In the meantime I can get on with the ebook and have something to show to my readers (put on Goodreads). Then have a second ‘aha’ moment with the print cover a month or two later.
For beginners, this strategy can work well, as it gives you a smaller canvas to work with. Think, writing a short story vs. a novel. A word of warning, though: digital covers are often in RGB colour scheme, while print covers usually use CMYK. If you intend to use your ebook cover for your print cover front you may have to convert the colour scheme.)
For The Mummy Trap cover I positioned the cover image and placed my pen name and title. Noticing the background detail made the title difficult to read, I added a white, semi-transparent cloud that continues the fun/bubblegum theme. I adjusted the fonts, font effects, and colours. I played around with a subtitle for a while, but ultimately decided that there was enough to catch the reader’s eye without any additional text.
Tip: For any writing on your covers, try to stick with two fonts max until you get a better idea of what works and what doesn't.
Look at your ebook cover in different sizes (Step 4)
Once you're happy with your ebook cover look at it in thumbnail size. If you're using a 1410x2250 pixel ratio 20% should do the trick. This is approximately the size Amazon and other retailers show their covers in search results.
If you can't make out your title or other important information, go back and revise.
Looking at your cover in a smaller size will also give you the chance to take in the whole cover at once. This will allow you to reevaluate the placement of your title and other info.
Once you're happy with your thumbnail, look at your cover in a bigger size. Check if there are any inconsistencies or small blemishes that need sorting out.
Get a print template (Step 5)
If you're looking to publish in print as well as digital you may want to get a print cover next. For this step you will need to know how many pages your print book will have as this affects your spine width. Once you know the number of pages and your preferred book size you can calculate your print template or—if you intend to use Amazon's print on demand service—download a print template from the KDP website.
Draw your 'guides' cover template (Step 6)
This is a Photoshop specific step, although some other image manipulation programs may have similar features.
Once you have calculated or downloaded your print cover template convert it to a Photoshop guides template. At first, this may look like a total mess, but it will save your sanity while you are working on your book cover. The guides show your print area in front, your print area in the back, your spine and bleed. The bleed is the (pink) zone that is outside of the area where the book will be cut. There can be a small margin of error, especially in on demand printing. Your bleed will make sure you don't end up with a strip of cover that doesn't have any colour.
Drawing guides in Photoshop has a number of benefits. They always stay on top no matter how many layers you create. Placement of your items is easier as they snap to the guides.
Fit your print cover items (Step 7)
Fit your cover image to fill your canvas. Make sure you allow your image to cover the bleed. This way, if the book is not exactly cut on the trim line your cover will still look complete.
(If your cover image is smaller than your canvas, you may want to start by filling the entire area of your book cover with a base colour of your choice before dropping the cover image.)
Using your ebook cover as a template, add your front cover elements. Create layers for your spine (title, series number, jewel picture). Make sure you place a white rectangle in the area for the barcode on the back. Fit your blurb and any other information you need.
Refine your book cover (Step 8)
Check all items are aligned as you wish. If your cover image does not extend beyond the front cover of your book, blend the front of the cover with the base colour of the spine. As with the bleed at the top, the front of the book may bleed into your spine. In this case, you don't want a razor sharp cutoff but a gentle transition.
Ask someone whose opinion you trust (Step 9)
Getting feedback on your book cover is one of the most crucial steps. You want the book to sell. Make sure your readers (not you!) like the cover.
Release your book cover into the wild (Step 10)
This is the nail-biting conclusion to your hard work. It's normal to be nervous thinking about other people judging your cover. Try to keep calm. Some will love it, some will hate it. As long as the majority likes it and you hit your sales goal, you're on a good path.
Did you find this tutorial helpful? Do you want to see more like it? Let me know in the comments.