Cover Yourself! A Quick Guide to Making Your Own Book Covers

The cover of a book is probably the only place my education as a visual arts major is useful in my chosen career path. The cover of a book can make a world of difference in its success, especially for eBooks.

Hiring a designer can be pricey, but the good news is you can do it yourself and have excellent results. Having the right tools is helpful, but not a necessity. If you don’t have access to high-end graphics software like Photoshop, you can still get pleasing results with free programs like Gimp, it might just take more time. Regardless of the program you use, though, there’s a few important things to consider when designing your own cover.

Work big.
This is a rule all artists should follow, whether working on paper or digitally. If you’re making an eBook cover, you’ll want to create an image that’s at least 1600 by 2400 pixels in size, but bigger is better. Remember that if you’re using the same cover for a print edition, you’ll need it to be even larger than that, and a minimum of 300 dpi (dots per inch) resolution. You can always shrink an image if you need to, but unless you’re working with vector-based art (If you don’t know what that is, it’s safe to assume you’re not) you won’t be able to make it bigger without some ugly side effects.

When using fonts, only use one of each.

This is a rule I learned in a graphic design class. Rules can be broken, but this is a great starting point if you’re unfamiliar with making design elements work together.
Generally speaking, there are three types of font you’ll use on a book cover: Serif, sans-serif, and script. Rather than using multiple script fonts on a cover, try using one font in varied sizes to add visual interest without overwhelming the senses with too many typefaces.
It’s also important to make sure you look up the usage rules for each font you plan to use. Even some of the fonts that come with your computer are not licensed for commercial use! If you’re in need of fonts that are free for commercial use, check out FontSquirrel. Each font’s license is given in the form of handy bold or greyed-out icons telling you if it’s okay to use it for web, mobile, books and other forms of media.

Be sure any images you use are okay to use.
There’s a ton of royalty-free images out there on the ‘net, but it sometimes takes some digging to find them. Don’t nab artwork or images off Google and assume they’re okay to use. Even if you give credit, it’s probably not okay! I’ve had my artwork stolen and used for various things throughout the years and there’s nothing more disheartening than someone else profiting from your hard work. If they’d only asked before taking it to use, maybe it would have been different. Many artists are willing to license their work for a reasonable price, so keep that in mind if you see a piece you think is perfect for your cover. There’s nothing to be lost in asking!
When it comes to images, though, you are your own best resource. I’ve spoken about taking my own photos for my book cover before, and while having a Canon DSLR camera now certainly helps, I shot my cover graphic with a cheap and broken point-and-shoot.

When making a cover for print, make sure all the info is there.
It may sound obvious, but quite a few self-published authors forget a few important things when putting together a print copy of their book. The two things most commonly forgotten on the cover are the price of the book and the genre. The price part is self-explanatory, but the genre might escape notice just because many readers rely on the description on the back of the book to determine what it’s about. But you also want retailers to know at a glance which shelves to stock the book on, so the genre information is for them. For many books, including my own, this is as easy as adding a few words above the barcode.

And one more important piece to remember…

Don’t be afraid of feedback.
Show your cover to friends before you do a big reveal. Some people will like it, others might not, but extra eyes are invaluable for catching things like that typo I almost published on the back of my book! Ack!

What are your biggest concerns about making your own cover?

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