Hello my fellow indie authors! If you’re here then chances are you want to know how to go about making a beautiful book cover for your book that won’t cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, but will make people want to click on your book when they see it online.
I’ve spent more hours than I can count working on book covers for myself (I make all of my own covers) and other authors, and I’ve come to learn a few things about book cover creation that will help you! So, before we get into the how, let’s go over a few things.
This is a helpful guide for indie authors who want to sell books but don’t have a lot of money to sink into covers. I started creating my own covers because of this and I ended up really loving it. Hopefully this guide will help you to do the same. If you read and you end up not wanting to go to all the effort of creating your own book cover, there’s an offer at the end which you may find appealing.
Simplicity is more attractive
As authors, our whole creative process is geared around more, because a more complex story is almost always more enjoyable and rewarding to read than a simple story. We work with multiple characters, personalities, scenes, times, places, worlds, species, magic systems, etc. The trouble is that we can’t put everything onto our book covers.
You can pay to have an artist create a beautifully illustrated work of art for your cover, and if you have the capability/resources to do so then go for it! But even more complicated genres like epic fantasy very often have simple cover designs. That’s because the job of a book cover isn’t to tell the story. That’s what the book does. It is the cover’s job to get people interested, and overly complicated covers are usually more confusing than anything else.
Authors have a tendency to want to put their favorite scene on the cover, but that is an exercise in futility. Potential readers aren’t going to know the characters or scenes when they are looking for a new book to read, so putting something so detailed is a waste of time. If you’re here reading this then chances are you’re like me and you don’t have a lot of extra money to sink into covers. It’s why I started doing my own covers in the first place! I just happened to end up really enjoying that creation process.
The best approach is to keep it simple and work within expected norms for your genre, which I’ll talk about more below. Once your writing career takes off then you can worry about redoing all those covers if you really want them to represent an exact-down-to-the-last-detail scene, but until then don’t worry about it.
Get the right people interested
A great book cover shouldn’t get everyone interested, though. It should get the right people interested. Your cover should NOT communicate subplots – it should communicate GENRE. A military sci-fi book with a cover that looks like Twilight will upset people and they’ll feel they were lied to. For instance, click the link below for an example of genre specific book covers.
Click here: War & Military Fiction Books on Amazon
Do you see how many of those books feature the author’s name in the top half or top third, the title of the book in the bottom half or third, with a small character either in the middle or in front of the book title near the bottom? Do you see the common themes? From font choices to image placements to everything else, most of those covers are very similar and follow a set of general themes that communicate clearly what genre they are. You’ll notice a few of them don’t fit the norms, and that’s likely because they don’t fit the genre exactly.
That’s because the authors want people to know what type of book they are looking at, because they’re writing for a specific group of people. Blake Banner isn’t writing for dragon lovers or sappy romantics. He’s writing for people who love war and military action stories, so that’s who he wants to sell to.
Posting photos of a nice Harley online and selling it to a customer, then delivering an e-bike to them is gonna make your customer very upset. In the same way, you don’t want to make anyone believe that your book is in a different genre than it is. That leads to reader dissatisfaction and negative reviews. Instead, make a cover that fits into your genre.
If you happen to write in the War & Military Fiction genre, learn from the top 100 bestsellers at that link above. Or just do the same for whatever your genre is. See what they’re doing with their covers and do something similar. Don’t copy their work! But do make your book look like it should be in the genre in which you write. That way you’re selling to the right people. They’ll be happy and you’ll make more money!
Photographic covers do well
Photographic covers are going to be your best bet, and the most cost effective. You can use free stock photography, or spend a little money to purchase the right photo(s). Either way it’s going to cost less now than having an illustrated cover created.
Take this cover for instance:
That’s my book, SACRED: Book One of the NIMEAN Trilogy. With the magic of Adobe Photoshop, I created that cover. It was the amalgamation of two stock photographs, some free, downloadable fonts, and the ability to use Photoshop. It’s not the most beautiful cover I have ever seen, but it does communicate several things that are important for the genre it’s in, and it looks pretty good. What do you pick up from it?
Or how about this one:
This is the first book ever written and published by my pal Jeff Putnam. And I had the privilege of creating the cover for it. We went through several renditions before settling on this beautiful cover. Jeff purchased the rights to use that ouroboros symbol and I did the rest in Adobe Photoshop.
Or, my first novel, Mouth Breather:
Incidentally, you can get a free copy of this book by signing up here: Newsletter.
Anyway, the formula is the same here: stock photography, free fonts, and Photoshop.
The covers look good and are not a major pain to create. It takes time to learn how to use Photoshop, and it costs money for a subscription to use it, of course, but if you’re willing to put in the effort you can learn to create your own great covers at minimal cost.
And the fact is that photographic covers do just as well and often better than illustrated covers in terms of sales. Of course this varies by genre, and how well the author is known, but not so greatly that it should keep you up at night. I’m only talking about this because some authors think they absolutely have to have an illustrated cover if they’re going to make sales. But that’s not true. But if that’s you, there are some affordable ways to get art for your cover. Check out Peta-Lynn Fraser on DeviantArt, for instance, or over on Instagram.
There are a ton of great artists who work affordably. However, short of an epic fantasy novel I don’t see myself using illustrated covers anytime soon. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with them. You have a major advantage in that arena if you’re an artist yourself. Then you can create your own artwork for your covers, which is pretty cool. Either way it is typically a simpler process to find a stock photo, whether paid or free, that fits the feeling of your book and tweak that to fit you more specifically.
Anyway, I could keep going in circles, or I could get to the good stuff and show you a few easy steps to make your own, beautiful book cover. Let’s do it.
Step Zero: Tools
Before you take the first step in creating your book cover, you need to make sure you have the right tools. Do you have a laptop/computer? Then you’re set. All you need to do is find the photo editing software that you want to use. I started out using Picmonkey, which I love still to this day. It is simple and easy to use and is an in-browser photo editor with the ability to save all of your work in the cloud, and it comes it at $12.99 a month last I checked.
Picmonkey can do just about anything you need as far as social media marketing, but it is lacking in the power department. That’s okay, though, because it does what it was designed to very well. For simple book covers it works great. These are some covers I made using Picmonkey:
Anyway, there are other options like Canva, which is similar to Picmonkey, but I haven’t used it so I couldn’t give an honest review. Do some research and find what works for you. Like I said, Photoshop is my favorite and I think it’s still around $20 a month for Photoshop by itself, or $20 a month for the first year for the whole Adobe suite if you’re an educator.
Step One: Concept
Once you know where you’re going to edit your book cover, you need to know exactly what you want it to look like. It wouldn’t hurt to sketch out a piece of concept art. It doesn’t have to look awesome, but doing that helps me see what the general concept of an idea looks like on paper.
Remember to look at the top 100 (at least) covers on Amazon in your genre. Check out the other book selling websites too if you’re planning on publishing wide and not exclusively on Amazon. See what the best-selling authors in your genre are using for book covers and do something that makes your book fit in so that people looking for books in that genre will know your book belongs there. If it looks too far off more people will just skip over it.
It wouldn’t hurt to surf the popular stock photography sites to see what they have to offer that fits your idea. For instance, if you’re writing in the genre I used as an example above, look at a lot of different photos of people. Put on your graphic designer’s cap and imagine the different people in the photos in a scene that fits the feel of your book. Photoshop lets you take what you want from one photo and add to another and leave everything else behind.
Say you want a man facing away. Search that up and find one you like, then imagine him standing in different scenes. Search for photos of scenes and find something that closely resembles something you have in mind, and imagine your model man in that scene. Does it fit? Does it make sense?
Download several photos and mix and match them to see how they fit. If you end up using one, make sure it’s either free to use commercially or that you’ve paid for the license to use it commercially. You don’t want to use a picture that you aren’t legally allowed to use commercially to make an awesome cover only to have to remove it in the future.
Step Two: Base
Got a general idea of what you want the cover to look like? Take as much time as you need and figure out how to make the base look. I don’t know if that’s legit terminology, but it’s what I call it. The base of the cover is everything under the font.
Before you start editing photos and stuff, make sure you have a template. Free templates can be downloaded here based on your book’s page count and the size (a common size is 6″ x 9″) you want the book to be in print version. If you want to publish to print as well as publishing an ebook version, do yourself a favor and download the template and open it up in your photo editor of choice, then create your cover on top of that. It’s a simple way to make sure your cover is going to be the correct size.
In the cover for SACRED below, the base is made up of two photos: the clouds above the water is one, and the guy in the air is two.
The glow, the floating lights, the reflection, and the lens flare were all added to it before the text was added. The floating dude was originally in a completely different place in another photo. Now, though, he’s floating above a calm sea with a creepy storm headed toward him. It shows that he’s clearly got some kind of flying ability, that he’s probably a good guy since he’s glowing white, that he has powers, since he’s glowing at all, and more. It’s clear that this book isn’t you’re typical fiction.
Anyway, make sure your base is good before moving on. Check out some tutorials from David V. Stewart, who makes phenomenal book covers of his own. If you’ve created something and want some feedback, shoot me an email with the cover and I’ll give you my honest feedback on it free of charge. Or at the very least get some feedback from someone who knows what a good book cover looks like. Not your mom.
If you aren’t sure where to get some free stock photos, check out Pixabay, Unsplash, and Pexels. If you want more variety and have a little money to spend, check out some of the paid sites like Shutterstock. There’s a ton of stock photo sites. Just make sure you can use the photos commercially by checking out what the license allows before using it on a book cover.
Step Three: Font
The font on my cover for SACRED backs up the impression that the story isn’t typical. It isn’t quite fantasy, it isn’t quite sci-fi. It’s somewhere in between, just like the story. Fonts are super important. Just as different genres use different imagery, they also use different fonts. In fact, the fonts are a part of the imagery and must line up or it will put potential readers off.
This is a good time to check out how different genres use fonts. Spend a few minutes flipping through the top 100 pages for the popular categories on Amazon and you’ll see a big difference in the fonts the authors decided to go with.
There are thousands of free fonts online that can be downloaded and used commercially. There are even more that you can use which cost money but are very affordable. Do some leg work and find a font that really looks good to you. Don’t make it unreadable. Don’t choose a font simply because it’s unique, either. Choose a font that will fit well within the context of an Amazon page full of other books in the same genre.
If you find a font you really want on the cover of another author’s book, shoot them a message asking where they found it. It’s not taboo to use the same font as someone else. Or if it is I don’t know about it.
Step Four: Front Cover
This is its own step because you should probably make a few different versions of a front cover. The front cover is all you’ll need if you’re only publishing an ebook version of your book. Be aware, though, that if you are planning on publishing to print, and you want the same scene on the front of the book to wrap around to the back of the book like below, then you’ll need to have a scene photo large enough to cover the entire book rather than just the front.
Anyway, I say you should make a few different versions with different fonts and base layers and mixes and matches so that you can put them away for a few days, then come back to them with fresh eyes to see which one you like best.
So, once you’ve tweaked one front cover to your idea of perfection, do it a couple more times, send them out to someone for feedback, and don’t look at them for a little while. Keep looking at other really good book covers. Notice common themes. Cement the overall feel of these common themes into your mind.
Then go back and decide which one you want to use. Don’t make the mistake of making one cover, falling in love with it, then using it simply because it’s your baby and it has to be awesome because you made it. Too many of us do that to the detriment of our sales.
Step Five: Back Cover/Spine
I mentioned above that you’ll need to think about if you want a scene to wrap around the full cover or if you’d rather have a scene on the front and solid color or something else, maybe even a different scene, on the back and spine. I really like having a scene cover the entire book cover and just overlaying my blurb and all that stuff over that scene on the back cover. It’s my preference, but yours may be different.
That’s fine. The back cover isn’t anywhere near as important as the front cover. Yes, you need to have a good blurb and attractive back cover overall, but the front cover is what sets the scene and conveys the feeling of the book. Just something to remember.
Step Six: Blurb/Text
I’m a fan of using the same font across the board, though sometimes I deviate from that. Whatever you do, make the theme consistent, even if you end up using multiple different fonts on your cover.
The blurb and other text on the cover should have the same feel as that text on the front. Hopefully you’ve written your blurb before getting to this point, but if not, do that. You can’t finish your cover without it unless you’re not publishing to print and only doing an ebook version. Still, you’ll need a blurb for you website/author pages so you might as well get it done.
This isn’t a post about blurbs, but if you’re writing your first book or are unfamiliar with what a blurb should accomplish, research it. The time spent will be worth it and make your book look more professional.
Anyway, for the purposes of the book cover, make sure your blurb isn’t overly detailed or long. You don’t want a huge block of text on the back cover. You want it to look clean and nice and very readable. Those things will also make it look more professional and that means a lot for book sales.
Step Seven: Finishing Touches
Tweak it. Move stuff around a little. Make sure you’ve got what you want, have gotten some feedback, and that you’ve done something that will fit well within your book’s genre. Upload it to Amazon and before you publish it order a proof copy so that you can see what that thing is going to look like in hand.
At this point, assuming you have a good cover that you like, go ahead and crop the back cover portion away and upload your ebook if that’s what you want to do. But I always wait to publish the paperback version until I’ve held a proof copy in my hand. I don’t want to put something out that turns out wonky and disappoints my readers.
If something is slightly off once you have a paperback copy of your book, get back into the program and edit it quickly and re-upload it. It may be a simple resizing of the title font or something. If that’s the case and your sure that it’s good to go, publish it. If you’re extra cautious like me you’ll probably order another proof copy just to be sure. That’s alright. Do your thing.
This is clearly not the end all be all. This is not an exhaustive resource, and you may even have an underinflated idea of how much time goes into first learning how to use Photoshop or similar editors proficiently, then how much effort and time it takes to produce a good cover. It’s more than you might think.
But my hope here is simply to give you a basic guide and let you know that it’s okay to do your own cover, especially if you like maintaining creative control and are willing to put in the work to learn to do this thing well.
- Come up with a great concept, sketch it out if that helps. Look at top-selling covers in your genre to get an idea of what your cover should look like.
- Spend time in Photoshop or a similar photo editing software, get to know it, and create a good base concept.
- Make sure your fonts fit the theme. Don’t use elegant font for sci-fi, etc.
- If you’re publishing only ebooks, your job is simpler. Make a few different front covers and get feedback on them, then put them away for a few days.
- Make sure your back cover/spine fit well with the feel of the front cover, whether by using one single scene that wraps around the book, or by using a similar scene or at the very least colors that match the feel of the book.
- Make sure your blurb fits nicely on the back cover and not a big block of text that’s ugly and hard to read.
- Don’t be afraid to scrap what you’ve done and start over. Don’t be afraid to tweak things and move them around it it helps the overall look of the cover.
Ultimately it’s your cover and you can do what you want, but it has to conform to certain standards if you want it to do its job well, namely selling your book. Think of your cover not as a work of personal art, but as an advertisement for your story.
But, if you have read this and it just sounds like too much, I’d be happy to work with you to create an amazing cover at a very affordable price. In fact, you can get covers from me starting at just $10 right HERE, with higher quality covers and social media kits and 3D mockups coming in at $50 or $100. Full details are on the page linked above. It’s a good deal. Not too bad considering most cover artists are charging hundreds of dollars a piece right now for simple covers. I’ll be upping my price in the future too, so get it while the getting is good!
Anyway, I hope that helps. If you have any questions at all don’t be afraid to ask! You can hit me up on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Email, or in the comments below and I’ll be happy to help however I can! I’m also planning on rebooting my old YouTube channel so that I can help people who learn better with audio/video, so if that sounds interesting subscribe for future stuff! Also, like I said above, you can get a free copy of my first novel Mouth Breather by signing up here, as well as free advance content from upcoming books!
Until next time,