Feb 23, 2012

DIY Book Covers

MY ZOMBIE DOG is nearly here!
Confession: I got it wrong. I thought I should format my ebook before the cover. You can learn from my mistake. The ebook needs to be formatted when it's ready to go live, BUT, you can use your cover for promotions and marketing leading up to the release of your book. I think you should finishing writing your novel first, but then get an image to place on your blog or on other peoples blogs. Get people familiar with your book before it's released. That's why I'm posting on covers before formatting:

Book Covers for the Indie Author

I've come to see there are two effective ways to produce your book cover, the first will usually generate a more professional effect and is a lot easier.

1. Pay a professional graphic artist to do it for you.
I know, it costs money and that worries you. This is an investment in your art. It doesn't matter how good your story is, if you do not market it to your target audience in an effective manner, they will never read it. I have been interested in the blurb of books, only to dismiss them because the cover looks crappy. I know I'm not unique, there's a whole cliche supporting my view. If the cover is crappy, it stands to reason that the formatting might be crud, which probably means the writing sucks - this is the train of though of your potential customer. Give them 100% on the WHOLE package. And if you do it yourself and you struggle, isn't that a week you'll be behind in your writing? Shouldn't you be getting the next book out there too? Budgets for book covers seem to range online from $50 to $200. I have a talented graphic artist working on my covers and my website. The end result will scream 'professional'.

2. Create your own book cover.
Despite telling you my first choice is to pay a professional, I did create a book cover for MY ZOMBIE DOG. This is for the same reason I formatted the book myself. This is my first book release and I wanted to understand and experience every step of the process. In future, I'll be able to have informed meetings with my graphic designers and digital publishers. It was also curiosity - I have a philosophy in life: how hard can it be? I then proceed to discover... quite hard.

If you are going to create your own book cover and you feel you have some talent in design, composition and colour, you'll need the following:
  • An up-to-date computer with reasonable speed.
  • Background image
  • Fonts for text
  • Tagline, Title and Author Name sorted (back blurb, review quotes, ISBN and barcode for back cover if you're producing a print book)
  • Program for editing pictures, such as Photoshop
  • Program for producing quality print media such as InDesign
  • Pool of honest people to give feedback and advice
Background image
I love Shutterstock for photos, illustrations and vectors. It does have a subscription system where you can pay to download unlimited pics for a month etc, but I just buy a bundle of 5 pics at a time. This works out to about $10 per picture and you can download it in any size from small to extra large. There are plenty of other sites, just Google 'stock photos'. When you purchase a picture you are purchasing the license to use that picture for a particular use, such as book covers, t-shirts etc. You can manipulate the picture in Photoshop and I recommend you do, if it resembles the original too much, there is nothing stopping another author using the same pic for their book. I do see a lot of book covers duplicated on Amazon.

Surprisingly, I think this element is the most important and even more important than your cover picture. The easiest way to spot a DIY cover seems to be in the typeface. Too many authors are just throwing any old text as their title on the cover and thinking 'that will do'.
Clarissa Draper did a great series on book cover design and this is her post on fonts.
The text type will depend partly on your book's style and genre, but titles should be big and easy to read (unless you're as well known as Stephen King don't put your name as big or bigger than your title).
To read more about why fonts should be big and clear go to Joel Friedlander's:
One important thing to know about those 'free font' sites, is that some of them only give you license to use the font for private use. You need to find a site that offers commercial use, a good one that still has free fonts is Font Squirrel. I think it's also polite to acknowledge the font designer somewhere in your front pages (or back pages) where you would put credits for the graphic artist who designed your cover. By receiving recognition, artists can continue to find value in offering free products.
Play with your fonts, make your title pop. You can do this in InDesign by adding a 'stroke' (an outline to each letter), outer glow (light shines from behind each letter) or a drop shadow (kind of obvious what that is). I suggest making shadows anywhere from 30% to 75% opacity, solid 100% looks a little clunky and draws attention away from the letters.
Make sure your text contrasts nicely against your background, which means you need to make sure the colours stand out against each other but also that the tones and shades are different. If your blue text is the same shade as your green background, when Kindle converts your cover to greyscale (black and white) it will not be easy to read.

Text content
Of course your title has to be decided by this stage. Make it short and snappy. There are a few examples of successful long titles, but when appearing as a thumbnail amongst many other book covers on Amazon, a snappy title will stand out. I like big titles, I like to be able to read what they say even as a tiny thumbnail. Author's names can be small, even smaller should be your tagline, which can be read when the cover is opened. Check out the size of covers on Amazon and make sure you can read your text at that size. 

Pool of honest people.
I have you. My bloggers. For my cover art for MY ZOMBIE DOG I also used twitter (you can attach pictures) and asked people to please critique the cover. Google+ was great too. I mostly use my circle of writers in Google+, but I have another circle called 'iFriends', these are all the computer, techie and graphic people I follow. I rarely post to them (they're not so interested in hearing about my writing adventures) but I did post my cover to them and got some great suggestions for changes (my name was originally thicker and stark white, but it stood out too much). People like to be helpful, but I've noticed friends (including blogger friends) are reluctant to say anything negative incase they upset you. You need to give people permission to be honest in their feedback, and when you get negative feedback you need to be genuinely appreciative of it. This is the feedback that will help you improve.
This is also where you can get review quotes for your book. I'll be asking blog reviewers soon if they would consider reviewing MY ZOMBIE DOG or hosting me on their blog to talk about the book or about writing/publishing the book.

Want to know exactly what dimensions and size file your book cover should be? This is a detailed post by Webbish Books that will explain why you need two different sized images for your book cover:

You can also see:

Ugh - I have rules about blog lengths, but today I really needed to share all this information with you, hoping that some of it will help you out in your journey to publishing your book. And feel free to add honest criticism for the MY ZOMBIE DOG book cover! It's still a work in progress (my daughter wants to add a chomp mark out of one of the letters and I love that idea).


  1. I class myself as a reasonably honest person so just wanted to say with regards to your book cover Charmaine - I LOVE IT!!!!!! Honestly. The Title font, colour and character are eye popping and would definitly attrack my attention to the thumbnail online.

    The tag is enticing. It is captivating and persuading enough in its succint simplicity. I can not wait to read / review your first 'kid' off the block!! Dimity

  2. Great advice. Thanks! Your book cover is fun and appealing to your market I think. All the best!

  3. A great, informative post. Love the cover.


  4. Thanks for the encouragement - blogger rocks! :)

  5. I'm pretty much teeter-tottering on the do-it-yourself-route. I'm prone to migrianes with stuff like this so I may hire it all out. ****shrugs****

    I soooo want your little zombie-dog book.

    Looking forward to it coming out.

  6. Hi, Charmaine. I like your Zombie Dog book cover.

    I'm also participating in the A to Z Challenge. Look forward to seeing what you will be blogging about in April.

  7. Nice post! thanks for the advice! Good luck on your new book! Sounds ferocious!

  8. Fantastic post, Charmaine, and the cover looks great. Will be reading your links because I too like to tinker with covers.

  9. Great post full of amazingly helpful info. I've bookmarked this and some of your links in case I ever decide to go this way. I LOVE the cover for My Zombie Dog. Brilliant.

  10. First off, I think the cover is cute and kind of funny. But I can see that it's a tricky business when you're getting your stuff out there. I've seen people totally get taken in and got nothing in return. Good tips!

  11. hi! new follower from the campaign, here. and new admirer of zombie dogs :)

  12. The cover makes me want to learn more about the little dog. The colors are sure to attract readers. Nice job.

    An interesting article too. I'm saving it in case I ever want to self-publish. Thanks.

  13. Excellent post, Charmaine. Your advice is so valuable and will save us all a lot of work. I self-published my first novel, and I've been thinking I might publish my 4th. If I do, your advice is going to make my life a lot easier. Thanks for sharing this. It's more than generous of you. Best of luck on your career. I love your cover.

  14. It was great information so it is ok to make it long :)

  15. LOVE your cover!!! :)

    Great advice too - nothing turns people off more quickly than an obvious homemade cover!

  16. An informative post, thanks. There are so many things to think of when you tread the self publishing road.

    Good luck with the book.

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