Friday, 29 June 2012

How to Make Your Cover Look Less Self-Published

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.

18 comments:

  1. Great post, Ellie.
    It amazes me how many awful covers there are when, as you've beautifully demonstrated, it's quite possible to make something elegant and attractive.
    Yes, I like the purple one best, too.

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  2. I agree, great post! I like the purple one but the last but one is the winner for me.

    And I agree with everything you said - I'm amazed at how many people don't take the time to put together a slightly more professional cover. It does help a lot and if you've already worked so hard on a novel, why don't you spend one more day with working on that cover?

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  3. Great post! As shallow as it may be, I will readily admit that I judge books by their covers and often sniff at self-published ones with covers such as your first example. (I think that last but one cover is my favourite).

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  4. I like the last two best! This a great post that I retweeted. There are a lot of great self published books out there but have some unfortunate covers. We are a very visual society it is sad to admit.

    Amanda P

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  5. I really hope authors read this post. Whether they like it or not readers often make a decision to read or pass based on that cover without even getting to the summary.

    Some of them are just awful.

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  6. Thanks for the post, definitely consider this positive feedback! I'm just a reviewer, but in another life I did a lot of graphic design stuff and am finding it fun to learn about how to turn that around to book covers. I would love more in depth guides if you want to do them :D

    Anya

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  7. My heart bleeds when I read an awesome book with a horrible amateurish cover. I can look past a bad cover but many times, the cover is the very reason you pick up the book in the store/library in the first place!

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  8. Yay, Ellie! Definitely a great post (and one I hope self-pubbers will take to heart and learn from!).

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  9. I have cringed more than once about awful covers of self-published books *shudders* and while I do prefer to create my own covers, making them unique by not using stockphotos (not judging, but I've seen too many cover twins and I hate the idea of this happening to me) I know I've got a lot to learn in that regard. So seeing this as the first in a series of posts would be awesome!

    Oh and my fav? The two coffee-hued covers towards the end of your post.

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  10. I have seen a few self-published books with covers, that made me wonder what the author was thinking!! I like the purple one too, but the one before that is my favourite :) Great post!!

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  11. Great post and good idea for a series. I liked the one before the purple one best. The T idea is very neat!

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  12. An awful cover design often tells me that the typography & design on the interior is just as bad--that's why I read so few ebooks and no self-published books. Typography is so much more than making a book "pretty"--when it's good, a book is easy to read. The letter spacing is right, the typeface isn't hard on the eyes, etc.

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I'm not sure which cover I like best

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    1. Unfortunately, the internal typography is usually determined by user settings on ereaders... so a transition to ebooks does mean the end of those lovely "a note about the type" sections. When authors want to do something clever with type, they are currently forced to use images.

      I'm not setting out to tackle the issue of ebook formatting though. That's an essential part of publishing to ebook formats. Just would like to see better covers, specially if self-published authors keep saying they want to be taken seriously.

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  13. Great post! Amazing what a difference you can make with just a few changes. I like all of the last three, but the one before the purple one is my favourite. Hope you do continue this as a series.

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  14. I love your post. It's amazing what a little bit of work can do to a cover. I hope you continue this series, it's facinating to read. Even to non-authors.

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  15. I am not very creative and am terrible at design so it was interesting to see the way you developed those covers - I would have no idea where to start. Thanks for the insight!

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  16. Oh God, Ellie! You've proved a great point. I refuse to read so many books because straight away the cover hurts my eyes. I just don't understand this, even if you're bad at graphic design and out of money, go through all your friends and you are bound to find someone who is better at it? But no, they self-publish something horrendous and then get surprised why no one buys it :) For me the worst offender on the cover is usually the font. If it's bad, no picture in the world will change how I feel about the book. Two self-pubbed books of the top of my head whose covers I adored were Angelfall and Meilin Miranda's The Intimate History series (both of her book covers are work of art).

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  17. Wow what an amazing post Ellie!! I think all self-publishers to take this on board!! I am a bit of a 'cover lover', the cover is usually the thing that attracts me to book, if i see one that looks poorly done as like a 'self-publish' one then rarely will i pick it up. The font and layout of the font is what makes a cover and if just simple and rubbish then it screams self-done. Well done hunnie!!! xx

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