Wednesday, March 27, 2019

DIY Cover design step-by-step

Given my history working in publishing, I figured I should be able to manage self-publishing as a one-woman team... And I sort of have, along with, of course, the help of a huge knowledge base written by generous experts on various blogs, and my beta readers.

Today I'm looking at my cover design process for the Wynter Wild books -- for the indie authors out there who don't have design experience and want to do it themselves, you might find it helpful. Note, I'm not a designer so my experience comes with editing book covers and providing feedback in a professional setting. I take my hat off to designers of all stripes and what I've learned comes from watching them work.

Because I did these covers on the cheap, I started with a free stock image from Pixabay, which has royalty-free images for personal and commercial use. (I also spent $49 at Shutterstock for a ten additional images used in later covers.) There are other similar sites but I find the search engine on Pixabay better than most -- that is, if you search for "guitar girl" you'll get pictures of girls with guitars instead of pictures of girls and pictures of guitars.

I use Paintshop Pro as a cheaper alternative to Photoshop. I've had this software for ages and upgrade it every couple of years although the functionality hasn't changed over the last ten or so iterations. As you're working, be sure to save as you go as a layered file (not a jpg, until the very end).

A word about the purpose of a book cover: pure and simple, the purpose is to sell the book. To this end, it should (1) be attractive (to stimulate interest) and (2) not mislead the reader about the content. Specifically, it should accurately represent the tone and genre of the book but that doesn't mean it needs to accurately represent a particular scene or place or prop. Simplicity and appeal are more important than visual accuracy.

The steps in creating my cover for Little Sister Song went like this:

Open the high-res image in Paintshop Pro and crop the approximate area you want to use. I prefer close-up detail or simple stark images rather than complex detailed images. Focus on one thing. For my book, I liked this image because it was a girl-with-guitar overlooking a city: Wynter "taking on the world" while standing on a dramatic lava flow -- being "reborn".

For full-image covers you'll also want to choose something that has areas with little or no detail, or solid color, so your title and author text will show clearly.

2 Check the required cover dimensions for the intended format (e.g. Kindle is 1600x2560 px). Crop and resize. For ebooks no bleed is required, and in fact I print books on with no bleed either.

3 Duplicate the image on a new layer so you can leave the original untouched. On the new layer, play with the brightness/contrast, saturation, tone, etc. and apply any filters. (I use overlays as well as filters -- see step 4.) The image above right shows the crop with a purple tinge added. I also lightening it, removed stray sparks from her legs, removed the distracting city near her shoulder, and blurred the sky where the text is going to go.

4 An overlay is one way to add subtle interest to the image, and with a series it ties the books together. My covers all have a cogwheel overlay -- either on the background or the guitar body -- in keeping with the cogwheel theme of Wynter's tattoo. (Other overlay ideas might be a grunge pattern, raindrops on glass, a floral design, a map, vintage handwriting, or whatever fits your theme.) Paste the overlay image as a new layer. Reduce its transparency so you can see where to crop, and then crop out the areas you don't want using a feathered selection tool.

5 Change the blend of the layer to Overlay or Multiply (or whatever looks best) and adjust the transparency (in my case, it's only at 20% as I wanted a subtle effect).

6 Finally, add the title and author in a simple clear font as a vector layer (not raster) so you can play around with kerning and leading to make it fit neatly. I like to make the text as large as possible without spoiling the impact of the image. Try different colors to pick something that stands out (can't go wrong with black or white!).

I used the same font for all text, but previous versions of the cover had a script font for the book title, which I still like a lot as it gives a softer feel. In the end I went with a simple all-caps sans-serif font because this is a modern story about some tough characters, not a sweet tale.

7 Save your final file, then Save As a jpg with a low compression (say, 10 to maintain the resolution) and it's ready to upload. I also save medium and low resolution versions to use elsewhere (Wattpad, website thumbnails, etc).

Pre-made cover designs are fairly cheap these days, but if you did decide to DIY, how did you find the process? Any tips?

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