If you're a self-published author, you probably know that there are people that are avoiding self-published books. Whilst getting reviews seems to be high on the marketing agenda, there's few who are putting the same kind of effort into what a book looks like. Yet consumers are so often faced with something that screams unprofessional:
The above image is a made-up book cover that I threw together in a few minutes, going against all my instincts as a photographer. I'm not sure why authors think pushing up the contrast high is a good idea, it is so often overdone. Yes, your stock photos should be adjusted but not so much as to completely ruin any effort the photographer put in. The title and author is in a standard font with no alterations and the colour is something chosen to stand out rather than something that complements the photo.
You might think you need expensive software and a background in design to do much different but you don't. The following examples were thrown together in Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3 which can be bought for less than £20. I have cheated and used Lightroom for the colour corrections only because I have presets already set up and wanted them done quickly. If you learn how to use curves, you can do exactly the same thing with Corel.
So for starters, lets get that original photo back to an attractive state. When you're editing always export or save as so you can go back a step at any time. Yes undo is handy but sometimes you want to have several copies to compare. This is a random photo of some beans I have in my archive (I mistook them for coffee hence the fake title). I have used a "toy camera" preset to give it some more colour to help me illustrate a point. I strongly suggest that you don't use a SOOC (straight out of camera) photo for your cover. A little editing goes a long way in helping get the effect you want.
The colour of your text is important and if you look closely at a lot of mass market books, you'll see that the colour has been matched to something in the main image. You can use your dropper tool to grab a colour that you like and apply to the text. There are a lot of great fonts with Creative Commons licenses out there so do have a look around but you can make the standard fonts work for you too. You probably find that when you use the biggest size available it doesn't fill much space. If you apply your text as a vector, then you can change the size, stretch and rotate to your heart's content. Click on the little boxes around the text and drag around to find out what they all do. I like to create a separate layer for each font style to make them easier to move around.
Whilst not perfect it looks better already, no? Varying the size of different words helps give it a more bespoke look. Type that runs from edge to edge is a quick and effective way to add a little impact. I'm still not happy with this, I think the word coffee is a little obscured by the word addict.
Making the most of my standard font, I noticed that the gap in the C looked like a T on its side. Adding the letters H and E next to it in black (same as the background) got me my "the". The vertical of the last E seemed a good place to put "addict" to make it look cut out. I also changed the author name to match. Again, it's not perfect but the idea is sound.
Once you've got the graphics how you like them, you can merge all your layers and save a "flat" copy to tweak if you want to alter the tones. Doing it this way will be a bit more subtle as your colours (should) already match and any alterations will apply to both image and font. I thought the cover might fair better with more coffee-like hues:
Although I am rather fond of my accidental purple one. Which do you like best?
I hope this has been helpful and will make you stop and think before you hit that publish button. Of course, employ a professional designer if you can afford it or want a really polished look, but there is a lot you can do yourself if you spend more than five minutes on your cover.
If feedback is positive, I'll continue this as a little series, including how to add textural overlays and other techniques used by the pros.