Three Steps to a Great DIY Book Cover

Contrary to the popular saying, everybody judges a book by its cover. Indie authors can spend hundreds of dollars for a professional book cover, and they usually reap the rewards for their investment. A professionally designed book cover is a great asset in an author's arsenal. Getting a book cover professionally designed is your best option if you want an amazing cover.

(Note: I have seen plenty of designers online advertising "professional" covers, which actually look terrible. Using the word "professional" doesn't automatically make a designer good. You have to look at their portfolio objectively to make sure you choose the best.)

But many authors don't want to spend hundreds of dollars for a book cover. Most would rather do it themselves. But it's usually easy to tell if you have a homemade cover. You know the type -- a stock image with a generic Windows font slapped on over the top (like Comic Sans ... yeuch!). A good book cover should blend text and image almost seamlessly.

Now, a disclaimer. I am not a professional book cover designer by any means. I make my own covers, and sometimes they turn out, well, crap. But over the past few months, I've figured out how to utilise a couple of free online tools to make a cover that looks decent. Here are some of the covers I've made using this method:


And now, I'll show you how to do the same, step by step.

Let's start by inventing an imaginary book to make a cover for. It's going to be a middle-grade fantasy featuring magic horses and a female protagonist. The title is THE GIFT HORSE.

Step One -- find your image

Unless you're a professional illustrator, I recommend using stock images or other people's illustrations for your cover. Also, unless you're excellent at using Photoshop, I recommend you stick to just one image (i.e, don't try to blend images together, unless you're 100% sure of what you're doing).

You can buy stock images from sites like http://www.istockphoto.com and http://www.shutterstock.com, and illustrations from places like http://www.deviantart.com, but I prefer to use public domain images from https://pixabay.com. All the pictures on Pixabay are free for commercial use, with no attribution necessary. Plus, the quality control is reasonably high, and there are a lot of images to choose from.

The only downside is that, since they're public domain, any one image will probably have been used in a lot of different places -- maybe even on someone else's book cover (this happens with paid stock images, too, though). You can use Google's 'search by image' feature to double check this.

Another caveat: most of the pictures on Pixabay don't come with a model release. A model release means that the model has definitely given their permission for their picture to be used on things (this only applies to pictures which have recognizable people in them. Pictures with silhouettes or parts of the body other than the face don't need a model release).

For most book covers, you should be okay, even if there are recognizable faces in the picture. But if you're writing erotica, don't use photos of recognizable people from Pixabay on your cover (if it's an illustration or a 3D rendering, though, you're good). After all, you'd probably feel a bit violated if someone used your face on an erotic novel without permission.

Anyway, I'm going to search for "horse" on Pixabay.


And we get all this.

There are a couple of problems with this search. For one, there are 56 pages of results, which would take ages to go through. For another, none of these pictures really seem to fit the theme of fantasy horses. Also, it would be much better if there was a girl in the picture, too.

Now I'll try searching "horse and rider".


This time, there are only three pages of results. It's worth a look to scroll through them all.

And on the second page, I found this:


See the highlighted picture? It's a girl riding a magical horse. Perfect!

When I click on the picture, this page comes up:



There are several options for which size of picture to download. Go with the biggest one. You might be prompted to make an account, in which case go ahead -- it's free, and there's a 'log in with Google' option.

Step two -- modify your image


Once you have your picture, it's time to modify it if you need to. For the purposes of this tutorial, I'm going to say that I want the picture to be more purple, so I used the PicMonkey online editor (https://www.picmonkey.com/) to achieve this. The original picture is on the left.



Sometimes you'll come across a perfect picture that needs no editing. In that case, you can skip this step.

Step three -- layout and text


Now that we've got the picture right, it's time to lay it out and add the text. For this, we're going to use https://www.canva.com/, a free design site. Again, if you don't have an account, you can log in with Google.

Choose the template for a Kindle cover (or ebook cover -- they're the same). Then upload your image and drag it into the design area. Resize it as needed. Here, notice that I've made it bigger and dragged the girl and horse slightly off-center (because of the rule of thirds).


Now we add the text. Canva has lots of fonts, some fancy, some not. I recommend choosing only two (maybe three) fonts. The title should be biggest, and that can be in a fancy font. The author name and tagline (if you have one) should be smaller, and in a less fancy font. Make sure that everything is easy to read.

By the same token, choose your colors wisely. Try to match them with your image, but at the same time keep it readable.

Another thing to take into account is your genre. If you're writing sci-fi, you'll probably want robotic, industrial-looking fonts. For romance, you'll want swirly writing. For children's books, you'll want something that looks playful.

The key is to be objective. Experiment with fonts, colors, placement, sizes, bold/italic/uppercase, spacing, drop shadows, and swirls for text decoration. Keep going until your cover looks perfect; don't settle for something that just looks 'okay'. As a general rule, it usually looks better if you increase the spacing between the letters (Canva has an option for this).

After some tinkering, I came up with this:



The font I used for the title is Brusher. I layered two copies of it on top of each other, one white, one black, to get that reflection effect. I used PT Serif for the tagline and author name, but the author name is all uppercase, while the tagline isn't. For all three pieces of text, I increased the spacing between the letters.

I would have liked the tagline to be a little more readable against those sparkles, but since this is just an example I decided to leave it. If this were an actual cover, I would probably modify the original picture, using an editing program such as GIMP to airbrush the sparkles which interfere with the letters.

Also, I don't actually plan to write this book. So if you want to copy this design for your own book, then go right ahead!

The great thing about Canva is that you can copy designs. So, if you want to make a similar cover for another book in the same series, you can just copy your original design and tinker with it. If your plan is to make a series, it might be worth searching Pixabay to see if you can find a series of images that will work for your book covers (photographers sometimes upload collections of similar images). If not, you can just change the colors of your original image and work with that.

Now, get designing!

AND IN OTHER NEWS ...

My first book, Introducing Super Sporty, is now only 99 cents/99p on Kindle! If you're unfamiliar with the book, it's a superhero adventure featuring horses and evil aliens, aimed at kids aged 7-11 (and adults who just never grew up). You can check it out here: http://mybook.to/introducingsporty

Incidentally, this image was not from Pixabay
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