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How to Make Your Own Cover Art

Updated on October 18, 2015

Sample Cover Art Using Gimp

Creating your own art doesn't have to be hard.  This quickly put together sample uses a photo I shot at an aquarium.
Creating your own art doesn't have to be hard. This quickly put together sample uses a photo I shot at an aquarium. | Source

So you've decided to cut out the middleman and publish your book yourself. It makes sense. Nowadays, even authors accepted by publishers are mostly expected to do their own promoting and seldom are guaranteed so much as a shelf in a bookstore. So if you’re doing all the work, why not reap all the reward? There are several sites now for publishing your own ebook or print-on-demand, so you can be a published author within a day without having to invest a single penny.

Doing it yourself, however, does create its own difficulties. Formatting your own book is difficult, but publishing sites offer instructions for that. Creating your own cover art can be daunting. It has its own formatting. If your artistic talent lies solely in the written word, having to do your own cover art can seem an insurmountable obstacle. It doesn't have to be. There are ways to create wonderful, original cover art without artistic talent.

Why Make Cover Art

First, why do you need cover art at all? Most ebook publishing sites will create a stand-in cover for you with just the title of the book. The title and author are the important parts, after all. Does a cover really need a picture to go with it?

You know the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’? There’s a reason that saying exists. People do judge books by their covers. A really good cover jumps out at the casual browser. It leaves an impression of what sort of book it enfolds. Chaotic colors might suggest rebellion, conflict, or youth. A dark cover might suggest solemnity, tragedy, horror, or dark romance. A plain cover or absent cover suggests cheapness, laziness, or impersonal disinterest. Bad cover art suggests immaturity and bad writing will be found within.

There is a new slush pile, and it isn’t in the publishing houses. It’s the fight to get your book noticed by the masses as they browse through the thousands of books in your genre. Good cover art can go a long way to help your book stand out from the crowd.

So how do you create really good cover art? Start at step 1.

Fantasy Style Example

Purple and white swirl background.  photo of book and crown, heavily changed on computer.  large title.
Purple and white swirl background. photo of book and crown, heavily changed on computer. large title. | Source

Step 1: Choosing Your Style

What type of book are you trying to sell? Who is your target reader? If you write non-fiction, you probably want to look professional. If you write for teens, you might prefer edgy. If you write romance, you’ll want an inviting cover. If you write horror, something dark and creepy will do. What color best describes the mood of your book? What color is the complete opposite of that mood? Sometimes, a little contrast can help accent what you’re trying to convey. A black rose stands out upon a white background; not so much against black.

Need some help figuring out your mood? Try the helpful chart I’ve created below. It lists different book genres with their mood colors and styles. If your book falls under more than one genre, try to decide which genre you most want to appeal to. You can also combine styles. Do you have a teen vampire novel? That may well fall under romance and horror. Do you have a book on rock climbing? That probably will be under information…but it also may be a good fit with adventure or science.

For styles, you will mostly find 'scenic art' and 'symbolic art'. Scenic art would be any type of art that takes a scene, or several scenes, from your book and puts them on the cover. Symbolic art would display something that symbolizes something from your book. For instance, a smoking gun, or an apple, or static. Of course not all art has to have a picture at all. There are also suggestions for how to handle colors.

Book Style Chart

Genre
Mood
Color
Contrast Color
Style
fantasy
fun, triumphant, sparkly
purple, gold
green
scenic art, color swirls, symbolic art
adventure
exciting, rugged, dangerous
red, green, white
brown, earthy, yellow
scenic or landscape art, jagged colors, weapon or treasure art
mystery
curious, intriguing, surprising
black, gray, dark
white, blood red
scenic or character art, layered colors, symbolic art
historic
nostalgic, enlightening
sepia, bright green
black, purple, red
scenic art, old photography, single colors
romance
love, hate, envy, passion, intimate
pink, red, white
green, black
scenic art, symbolic art, centralized colors
science
futuristic, exploration, alien, new
metal, blue, black
green, earthy, bright
scenic art, symbolic art, jagged colors
horror
creepy, gory, dangerous
black, blood red
white, gold, blue
symbolic art, minimal art, layered colors
humor
funny, happy, fun
yellow, bright colors
black, dark colors
symbolic art, character/portrait art, contrasting colors
info
helpful, insightful
brown, dark colors
bright colors
scenic or relevant photography, single colors
uplifting
calm, awesome, inspiring
blue, pastel, white
black, dark red
symbolic art, scenic art, swirling or layered colors
drama
surprising, emotional, conflicting
red
blue
scenic art, symbolic art, single or jagged colors
tragedy
sad, painful, loss, hope
blue, gray, black
gold
symbolic art, scenic art, single or layered colors
Remember, these are only suggestions. Ultimately, you know your own book best. Not every romance is pink and not all inspiration is calm.

Step 2: Choosing Your Art

There are a number of ways to create art. Some ways require some artistic ability. Others require very little. Here are a few methods that I personally have used to great effect.

Can You Draw?

This cover is completely drawn on the computer.
This cover is completely drawn on the computer. | Source

Creation

If you do in fact possess artistic talent, then this may be a great choice for you. If you do not, this choice will probably be worse than no cover art at all. Basically, if you are able to draw, paint, sketch, mold, carve, knit, scrapbook, or any other form of physical art, you can put that art onto a cover. The difficulty, of course, is if your choice in art is not computer art.

You need a way to turn your art into a photo. The simplest way is to take a picture. Make sure your art is well lit and that there are no shadows falling over it. The better quality the photo, the better. Make the photo larger than your art piece; you can easily crop it later. If your preferred art is a painting or sketch and you have access to a large enough scanner, you can also scan your work and get it onto a computer that way.

Photography

If you can’t draw, take a picture. It’s that simple. I advise that you try to take it yourself to avoid any legal hassles that might arise from using someone else’s work. If there are any people in the picture, make sure that either they are unrecognizable or you have their permission.

Old family photos are great for memoirs, history, and nostalgic pieces. Landscapes can offer peaceful calm or a rugged sense of adventure to any title. Extreme close ups can provide a more abstract sense of color or emotion.

To find the perfect photo, start by looking through your own family albums. You can also create a scene and take a picture. Need a princess? Let someone you know play dress up. Have an epic space battle? This is where extreme close ups can help you. You can create an impression of gears or sleek metal without the need of an actual spaceship. Still think this is too ‘artistic’ for your abilities? Grab a camera and start taking random photos. Aim at the sky. Aim at the ground. Aim at your water hose. Aim at a parking meter. You won’t get a lot of quality photos, but by sheer quantity you may happen upon just one that is perfect.

Example of Photo Art

This cover comes directly from my personal photo album.
This cover comes directly from my personal photo album. | Source

Abstract Color Art

This is a great option if you truly feel you have no artistic ability. In this case, you are basically creating a background to your title and author information. This will create a professional looking cover that stands out from the generic cover-art and is far better than no cover art at all. For more information on how to create abstract color art, skip ahead to ‘Step 4: Photoshop’.

Combination

This is my personal favored method for creating cover art. It requires less artistic talent but more creative talent and probably some computer skills. I start with a photo. Sometimes I cut out bits from two or three different photos and put them together. I draw in bits that I don’t have photos for. I create a background to everything. For more information on how to do this, go down to ‘Step 4: Photoshop’.

Step 3: Choosing Your Font

Your title is important. The colors and photos may be eyecatching, but the title should be what reels them in. It needs to be big enough that you can read in a thumbnail viewing of your cover. It needs to be readable. The author name can be smaller. Just remember, if it’s small, it probably won’t be read. If you want everyone to notice your name, make it big.

There are two ways to form a font: write the words yourself or choose something from your computer. I advise that whatever you choose, it should be easy to read and it should fit your genre. Fantasy and romance lend themselves more towards calligraphy. Science fiction and Westerns do not. If your book is more academic, a more dignified font is probably called for. If it’s young and edgy, something more jagged or gothic might do well. When in doubt, keep it simple. Using a font like Times New Roman or Verdana is perfectly acceptable.

Step 4: Photoshop

So, you know what font you want to use. You know your colors. You know your style. You have your art planned. How do you put it together?

If you think you already have a jpeg or other photo type of your cover art, congratulations! Go on to Step 5: Consider These Things; then decide if you are really done.

If what you have is a lot of materials and no idea how to put it together, read on.

First, you will need a computer program for art. Ultimately, your cover will have to be in the form of a jpeg or something similar. I personally use jpeg because I know all publisher sites I use accept it. There are a number of programs that allow you to manipulate art on your computer. There’s Paint and there’s Picasa. They are both good for beginners. However, they also have limitations.

I personally have been using Gimp. Gimp is a free art program that’s much more advanced than Paint. It is also, unfortunately, more complicated than Paint. For that reason, I am going to show step by step what I might do to create a new cover. You can watch the video below, or you can follow this link to a PowerPoint slide show.

How to Make Cover Art Using Gimp

Step 5: Consider These Things

Almost finished! Before you declare your cover art complete, consider these three things:

1. Will you be using the cover with print-on-demand books? Make sure your cover art includes a margin that can be CUT OFF completely around the edges. If the title, author name, and relevant art extends fully to the edge of the photo, you risk the printed book cutting off part of your title, author name, and relevant art. Think if it like printing a word document; the printer needs margins.

2. Will you be using the cover for an ebook? Look at the ‘large’ thumbnail view of your cover art. That is to say, the tiny picture shown before you open it. How much detail can you still see? Is the title too small to read? Do the colors look odd? Most potential buyers will be seeing a thumbnail of your book, not the full size.

3. What quality is your cover art? CreateSpace suggests very high quality. Some ebook publishers require lower quality. I suggest making cover art that is high quality. You can always create a second version that’s smaller. It’s a pain to make a second version that’s larger.

Complete!

Now you’re done! Hopefully, you are now able to make your own professional looking cover art. Your book is completely yours, in just about every possible way. Go forth and share your new art with the world!

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Like Mir Foote's writing? Why not try her books?

Pirate Perdita and the Time Travelling Zombie Dinosaurs...from Space!
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Pirate Perdita is a juvenile fiction novel. It is written at a fourth grade reading level. It appropriate is for children, teens, and adults. There is no eating of any brains in this book. They aren't that type of zombies. Someone, however, may or may not get eaten in the story. Or stepped on. A dinosaur may or may not devour an unattended dinner. Sherlock Holmes himself may or may not show up within these pages. I refuse to give anything away. You'll just have to read to find out. Enter if you dare. Here there be dinosaurs.

 

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    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 3 years ago

      simple n neat mir

    • SylviaSky profile image

      SylviaSky 3 years ago from USA

      If you do your cover yourself it will look amateurish. Hire a professional book designer who knows what kinds of book covers sell books. That is, if your goal is to sell books.

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