A book’s cover is a very important part of its success or failure – few would dispute that. But what is disputed is this: should self-published ‘indie’ authors design their own book cover? Many popular how to self-publish books answer a very firm ‘no’ to this question. They say that if you design your own cover, it will be a train wreck. Plenty of widely read indie publishing blogs likewise advise authors to pay someone to have a cover designed. As some of the authors of these books and blogs offer book design services, this is not surprising. My answer to this question is: yes, indie authors can design a great cover for their book.
But rather than seeing designing a book cover as an afterthought, a final step to go through before publishing, I suggest you approach cover design as a project in itself. You are not an indie author who designs their own book covers, you are an indie book cover designer. Approach designing your cover with the same thoroughness and care as you did the writing and editing of your manuscript. And be sure to give yourself plenty of time. Unless you are an experienced book cover designer, don’t throw together a cover in a few hours and publish.
Start thinking about your cover as early as possible. I was working on covers for my books well before I finished writing them. Start by looking at lots of books covers in the genre your book belongs to. The experts tell us that buyers shop by scanning for certain cover styles. For example, if a reader is on Amazon browsing for a spy thriller, they will scan the thumbnails searching for covers that look like spy thrillers. If your thriller has a cover design more typically found on a literary novel, than the buyer will pass over it, as it does not look like what they are searching for. This is why you should research cover designs in your genre. Your cover must be identifiable as belonging to its genre.
When you have a good idea what a cover of the genre looks like, chose some favourites from among the top sellers and analyse them in more detail. Think about how you could do your own version. Get one, or several, basic design ideas, and play around with them. When you have got something you think looks good, ask yourself: is this cover as good as the covers from the top-selling authors? Does it look as good in the small thumbnail size as these covers? If the answer is no, think about why they are better, and add those elements to your cover. One important thing to consider here: how well do you know your image editing software? You will not be able to design amazing covers unless you are a competent user of a good image editing program. There are lots of things programs like GIMP and Adobe Photoshop can do, and unless you know your way around the software, you will not even realise they exist. GIMP is available to download for free online, and is the one I use. I have greatly increased what I am able to do with a book cover by learning more about using GIMP.
One thing that can make a big difference is adjusting the colours, contrast and brightness of your image/s. Adding lighting affects and changing backgrounds can really improve things too. If you have an image you think works but maybe looks a bit dull, play around. You might be surprised with the improvements you achieve. Try to make your cover as luscious, interesting and eye-catching as possible. Try also to capture the feel of your book. Is it exciting? Romantic? Sad? Funny? Your cover should convey that. A reader looking for a sexy romance will not be drawn to an image of a sad, pale, buttoned-up woman. A tanned, muscular male torso, on the other hand, is going to pause the scanning and get the reader’s attention.
Here are two versions of a cover design I am playing around with at the moment. The one on the left is the first version. I was not happy with the green background and bright sunlight in the top image. It does not tie in well with the sunset sky of the lower image, and lacks drama. By ajusting the colour, putting in a different background and adding a lighting effect, I have created a very different look and feel. The top image of the couple is from iStock. You can save the watermarked image to your computer and try it out with your design before buying. That way, you know if it will work. In the second version, I tried a different feather and cannon image. These ones I found on pixaby.com, a free photo site. There are lots of beautiful images on there, all available to download free. In this instance, the cannon photo on pixaby was better than anything I found on the stock photo sites.
Here is another example of how the right adjustments can make all the difference. Below are two versions of the cover of my novel Beguile Me Not, a love story set in 1880s New Zealand. The first one looks a quite dull, and the small tagline test is hard to read as a thumbnail image. I used an automatic colour and brightness/contrast adjuster. That resulted in a huge improvement. The second cover is the one I launched my book with. But I was not happy about the title and tagline. They were too hard to read as a thumbnail (I had had to change the first title font, because it turned out to look fuzzy at larger sizes). So I played around with it some more. I adjusted the image's colour and brightness/contrast manually using GIMP, added a lighting affect, and used shadowing and sparkling highlights on the text. I also used a text effect on the author title, which replaces it with a lightened/shadowed imprint. I am very pleased with Beguile Me Not's cover, if I may say so myself! I only wish the book's sales were better. No one, it seems, wants to read about romance in the wilds of 1880s New Zealand except me. If you happen to be that rare exception, you can get it here on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1mMUY9j
1st cover 2nd cover final cover
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