How to Make Your Own Book Cover – Lesson 5

Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to my cover-designing lessons, but when I have things on my mind, they must be said!

If you’re just coming into this, check out:

Lesson 1
Lesson 2
Lesson 3
Lesson 4

I wanted a decorative element around the edges of my picture. I picked out a piece of clipart I thought would work, only to find that my ancient copy of Photoshop would not warp the clipart so that I could make it follow my arch.

It would, however, warp text. So, in a moment of brilliance, I went through the various fonts that contain symbols and found a leaf in CommonBullets, “K” key. So I typed a row of K/leaves, and adjusted the font size to what looked good to me. I also changed the color to something that was high contrast and would not blend in with anything in my background.

Next, I went to the text editing button (looks like  T on top of an arch) on the top toolbar and selected “arc.” I dragged my text-leaves over to my picture’s arch and played with the amount of bend it had until it matched the degree of arch on my picture. I also had to get it in transform mode and cant the entire row of leaves a little, because the picture’s arch was not perfectly even. (I also had to fill in a little sliver at the top of my picture where it was flat; you will notice it is corrected in latter demo pictures.)

Now comes the fun part: deleting the leaves and the picture beneath them, so that the gradient shows through.

The first thing you need to do is link the text layer with your picture, then “merge linked.”

Next, zoom in so you can see to work, and select the Magic Wand tool and on the top toolbar, set your tolerance to about 25. (The tolerance dictates what does and does not get selected. If it’s set to zero, it will only pick up one color and no other shades–however much they might appear to be the same color to your eyes. The higher the tolerance setting, the more shades it will pick up which are close to the one you selected.

Now, click on each leaf with the wand to highlight it. With all of them selected, just hit the delete key. In order to turn off the highlight (deselect), hit Ctrl + D. Voila, your background is now showing through in a leave-shaped manner.

If you should happen to notice that you still have a little ghost of color around the edges of your leaves, undo the delete (use your history menu), set your tolerance up another 5-10 notches, and delete again.

Now, do the exact same sequence of events (minus the arch) for the bottom of the picture.

On the next lesson, we’ll finish the front cover with some text.

Which Blurb Should I Choose?

Okay, I need some feedback on this one. I have written three different blurbs for the back cover of my book, Acceptance. Each one is completely accurate, yet they convey very different feelings.

The Romantic Angle

This is from my query letter. Again, it’s accurate, but I think it makes the book sound like a teen romance (a la Twilight) when it’s not. I’ve had adult women and a man read the book, and they’ve all liked it; it’s not sickeningly cheesy.

Kalyn Reid is a different kind of debutante. On her sixteenth birthday she is publicly presented to her family, friends and neighbors as an adult and is given a pearl necklace to mark the occasion. Then she is bitten by a vampire.

Thus Kalyn enters adulthood as a Yaechahre—a group of humans who have served vampires for over 2,500 years.

In the days following her Acceptance, Kalyn thinks her only problem in life is how to maintain her dignity around her vampire mentor, Anselm. She has a desperate crush on him, which often leaves her bumbling like a fool. He sweetly smoothes over the awkward moments, but makes it clear that things are “just business” between them.

But in the blink of an eye, Kalyn’s entire world is engulfed in flames as her father, mother, and group leader die in rapid succession—murdered by a strange new breed of vampire. She, Anselm, and his brother, Micah, suddenly become involved in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse as they try to find the murderer before he finds them.

Thrown together in a desperate struggle for survival, Anselm’s resolve to keep business separate from pleasure begins to crumble, and Kalyn finds herself closer than ever to realizing her dreams. But as she watches him execute their enemies with medieval ruthlessness, she finds herself wondering, “Do I really want him?”

The Coming-of-Age Angle

Coming-of-age is also a part of the plot, but I think this sounds like a teen book and won’t attract adult readers.

Kalyn Reid is a different kind of debutante. On her sixteenth birthday, she is formally presented to her family, friends, and neighbors as an adult, and she’s given a pearl necklace to mark the occasion. Then she is bitten by a vampire.

Thus Kalyn enters adulthood as a Yaechahre—a group of humans who have served vampires for countless generations.

But what should have been a gentle transition into adulthood unexpectedly turns into a crash course in survival as a strange new breed of vampire begins murdering people in Kalyn’s group. Suddenly Kalyn finds herself orphaned and on the run—caught up in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse as the group’s survivors try to find the murderer before he finds them.

And as she watches her vampire mentor execute their enemies with medieval ruthlessness, her first test of character isn’t how she faces death, but how she accepts the people who will kill to keep her alive.

The Good vs. Evil Angle

This description makes no mention of romance or Kalyn’s age, which I think would make it more attractive to adults. I also deemphasize Kalyn’s role, which I think makes it more attractive to men. This is closer to the main plot of the book, and puts a bit more emphasis on the other characters. While Kalyn is the main character, Anselm and Micah figure very prominently–to the point that I think of them as secondary main characters. They’re just too prominent and we know too much about them for them to be true secondary characters.

The one drawback is that this blurb seems a little too general. And it’s not as strong a piece of writing as the two previous ones (although I did create it in a bit of a hurry; I could spend more time with it and perhaps improve it).

Kalyn Reid comes from a long line of humans—ninety-six generations, to be exact—who have spent their lives serving vampires. And for the past two thousand years, it’s been a peaceful occupation. But a strange new type of vampire has appeared, and the report from a defector is that the Others are preparing for something… but what?

The answer is delivered suddenly, as the humans and vampires in Kalyn’s group are murdered or kidnapped in rapid succession. But when the survivors turn to their own for sanctuary, they find their brethren every bit as dangerous as the killer hunting them.

Betrayed and outnumbered, the group’s survival requires a level of loyalty and self-sacrifice that hasn’t been seen for more than a generation.

So, which blurb makes you want to read the book the most, and if it’s the third one, what changes might you make to it to make it sound better?


How to Make Your Own Book Cover – Lesson 4

Now that we’ve taken care of the nuts and bolts, we’re ready to move onto the serious part of creating a cover.

Open your bare-bones template, then open your cover image. Drag and drop the cover image onto the template. It will immediately be added as a layer on top of the template. (You can now close the cover image file; be sure not to save any changes you might have inadvertently made to it during the drag and drop process.)

Move your picture to the top, left-hand corner of your cover. Photoshop should snap your picture right to those guides, but if it doesn’t, go into “View” and choose “Snap.” Also, look at the next option, “Snap to” and make sure that “Guides” is selected with a check mark.

Your picture will almost certainly not fit the cover correctly. Hit Ctrl + T to transform it. Select one of the corner anchor points, and, while holding down the shift key (so it will stay proportional), drag it until it full covers the width. If you need to reposition it, let go of the shift key, click on the image, and drag it where necessary.

When it’s the way that you want it, double-click on it or press the check mark on the top toolbar to accept the transformation.

My picture came with an arch already built into it, so I went with that as part of my design. But wanted color–not white. And since a gradient always looks fancy-schmancy, I decided to make the trim at the top and bottom of my cover gradient-colored.

So here’s how you do it. First, make a new layer by holding down Ctl + Shft + N. Entitle it “Gradient.” Select the gradient tool (it is one of the paint bucket options). On the toolbar at the top, you can select different types of gradient, but I went with the default (didn’t want anything too crazy, after all).

Next, you need to select your colors. Click on one of the two colored squares (they’re probably black and white) in your left-hand toolbar and change the color of each of them individually. I used the eyedropper on my picture and picked two shades of orangey-brown from the bricks behind my figures. I highly suggest that your border/trim colors come directly from your cover picture–preferably from one of the more dominant color schemes. This is what will tie everything together and keep the colors balanced.

Now that you have your colors, it’s time to make a gradient. Click the eye icon to hide your cover layer and template. You should see nothing but the blank layer (indicated by the gray and white checks). Make sure that this layer is the highlighted layer, which means it’s what you’re working in (yes, you can work in a layer that you have hidden; you don’t want to go there).

Click anywhere on your blank layer and drag out a line. The longer the line, the more gradual the shading in your gradient; the shorter, the more compressed. If you drag it from the top down, your colors will lie horizontally; drag if from the bottom up, they will still lie horizontally, but the top and bottom colors will trade places. If you drag the line from side to side, your colors will run vertically. You can even go on a diagonal.

You can keep redrawing the line and refilling the area as many times as you want to, so play around. If you don’t like the colors, unhide your cover picture and replace one or both of them.

Once you think you have what you’re looking for, it’s time to unhide your cover picture. If you don’t see it, don’t panic; it’s just too far down in the layer pile. Click on it in the Layer toolbox and drag it to the top of the list.

In my case, I had that white section at the top of my picture that I needed to get rid of. So I used my magic eraser to take it out. (Make sure you are erasing in your picture layer and not in any other layer, or you’ll delete the wrong thing.)

Next, I wanted a matching border at the bottom, so I switched to my gradient layer, used the square marquee tool to highlight the top part of my gradient, copied it and pasted it. Flipping it is a bit tricky, because you only want to flip that selection, not the entire image. So you have to Ctrl + T to transform it, then rotate it manually using one of the corner anchor points (holding down shift while doing this makes it easier to get it to level). Now it’s ready to be dragged into place.

When you pasted the bottom gradient, it made a new layer automatically. Link this layer with the Gradient layer (use the little chain link next to the eye on the Layer menu) and then go to “Layer” on the top menu and “Merge linked.” Now your Gradient is all one thing (although you will have to name it again, since the merge renamed it).

Next, I need to erase the bottom of my picture, so that the gradient will show as the bottom border. The easiest way to do this is select the Picture layer and use the marquee highlight tool to select the part you want to delete. (Once the box is drawn, you can move it around, if you need to.) Once you have it where you want it, just hit the delete key.

If you want this cut to be a clean, hard-edge cut, make sure, before you delete, that the “feathering” box on the top toolbar is set to zero. If you want the edge to bleed, though, put a number in the box.

On our next lesson, I will show you how I added the decorative leaves to the edges of my vignette.

Lesson 5

How to Make Your Own Book Cover – Lesson 2


I’m going to start lesson two with more grunt work. Now that you have the cover picture for your book (or are at least mulling your options after the last lesson), you need to work on the back of your book.

Having a cover picture which is attractive and has some bearing on your content is very important, but the back of the picture is almost as or actually is as important as the front. Here is where you not only sum up 100,000 words in 250 words or less, but you do it in such an attractive way that it makes people want to read your book.

The blurb on the back of my book comes directly from my query letter (who said searching for an agent wasn’t useful?). Mind you, that query letter was my fourth major revision over the course of a year or more. So, needless to say, your blurb isn’t something you should casually toss out.

I strongly recommend picking up some of your favorite books and reading the blurbs on the back. What sort of information do they contain? How much do they reveal, versus how much of the plot do they keep secret? How do they start it? How do they end it? (The first sentence and the last are harder to create than all the sentences in the middle, combined.)

Write your blurb. Rewrite it. Let it set for a few days (or weeks). Rewrite it again. Proofread it. Let someone else proofread it (if you can, let someone who has read your book and someone who hasn’t read it both read your blurb). Revise based on their suggestions. Let it sit for a few more days. Proofread it again.

Then, maybe, you will be ready to put your blurb on the back of your book.

Overall Design

Now that you have a picture chosen for the front, pull out some books that use similar sorts of pictures (you may need to go to a library to mull over a larger selection of books). As my cover features a historic painting, I pulled out some of my historical romances that also feature historic paintings. (Note that I shopped from the historical romance section, even though my book is urban fantasy; what is important is not the content of your book, but the style of pictures used.)

After looking at several books, I decided that I liked A Lady Raised High the best. I felt it was attractive, while being simple enough for me to replicate.

The light purple at the top and bottom–including the decorative edge–wraps around the spine and back, but the image in the middle is replaced with a deep purple swatch that matches the purple of the title’s letters.

You may not find a single book that appeals to you. You may like the artistic treatment of the photo on one cover, but like the way another is trimmed and titled. Or you may prefer the cover of one and the back of another. That’s fine, as long as you find something to give you a starting point.

Extended Imagery sells book covers (they are currently running a sale on pre-made book covers for $150 each), and they have a wide selection that you can look at for inspiration (or, if you pull your hair out over the process, you may decide that $150 to be money well spent).

You will have to use your own skills with the filters on Adobe to alter your cover picture, if necessary. In our next lesson, we will assume that all of our elements have been selected and are ready to be put together.

Lesson 3

How to Make Your Own Book Cover – Lesson 1

Let me first establish a few absolutes to the lesson.

1. I’m assuming you’re using CreateSpace (while I haven’t published with them yet, I’ve been really impressed by how quickly they’ve made proof copies for me). Different print-on-demand publishers will have different requirements for their books. However, even if you’re working on someone else’s template, almost everything I’m going to cover will apply to you too.

2. I assume you have a full copy of Adobe Photoshop. If you don’t have a full version of Adobe Photoshop or some reasonable facsimile thereof, you cannot design your own book cover. This is not something you can turn out in Paint or some Microsoft or Mac photo editing software that came with your computer.

The drawback is that Photoshop is expensive. I saw student editions (which, as far as I am aware, are fully-functional versions) for CS6 for $244. And that’s pretty reasonable; I seem to recall, when it came out a little over 2 years ago it was $500 or $600. Copies of CS5–which is the second newest version–are $188. Used copies–especially of even older versions–should be more affordable.

I made my cover using Photoshop 7, which is a decade old and either 6 or 7 versions out of date. I did run up on a few limitations with it–I wasn’t able to do things with it I was almost positive I could have done with the CS5 version that my school had–but it’s still good enough to make a decent cover.

Cover Picture

The first thing you need to obtain is a picture (or pictures, if you are going to blend one or more images into a montage). Finding a picture was not included in my 7 hours of cover creation time. Just finding the right picture took several more hours above and beyond that.

I chose the picture that I did for a variety of reasons. One, I like Pre-Raphaelite art–especially the sharp lines, realism, and bright colors of Millais. Secondly, both of the figures actually bear a close physical resemblance to Anselm and Kalyn, plus the way the figures look at one another and interact is similar to Kalyn and Anselm’s relationship in the book; Anselm is the calm, gentle figure who takes care of Kalyn as she is wracked by tragedies and pain. Thirdly, I did not want the typical vampirish cover, with some half-dressed woman being bitten by a man with rippling abs, and the entire thing tinted dark blue.

And most importantly of all, it’s a picture whose copyright has long since expired. This is a very important consideration when it comes to using artwork on the cover of your book, because every photograph and work of art is copyrighted by the person who made it (and, in the case of photos, the person(s) in it may also have a claim to a copyright on it). In the U.S., the copyright generally doesn’t expire until 70 years after the death of the original creator, although some states allow people to retain the copyright over their image indefinitely. (For example, Elvis’s estate still has rights to all  pictures of him and will forever.)

The exceptions to this rule are one, things created before 1923 are out of copyright in the U.S., per a previous copyright law. Two, works can be released into the creative commons by their creators or their estates at any time before the copyright expires. This is why you can see pictures newer than 70 years old on WikiCommons. (Although make sure if you are using anything that’s labeled as “royalty free” that it’s okay to use it for commercial purposes–which is what your book cover constitutes. Some things are not free for commercial use.) Three, anything created by the U.S. government has no copyright. So military news reels from WWII, and pictures of Vietnam made by the government, and the entire text of all legal documents are free for use.

While Fair Use law vaguely offers some protection to people on the internet who like to share pictures which have active copyrights, it does not apply to book covers, so you really need to make sure that any and all images that you use are in the creative commons or are out of copyright.

I’ll also warn that altering an image does not nullify its copyright, since the copyright holder has a right over all alterations.

The alternative to using old photos or artwork, or what little bit is free on WikiCommons , is to buy the rights to a picture. Shutterstock has a huge collection of stock photos which you can buy and alter to your heart’s content (actually, there are a few limitations on the use, but none that I could see which would affect my ability to use it as a book cover). The drawback is that pictures are $19 each on Shutterstock. While that’s liveable if you’re making a cover for a novel, it’s almost certainly going to be too expensive for a short story (you’d have to sell 64 copies of a 99-cent short story to break even on the cost of the picture). and stock.xchng both have a much smaller collection of photos, but the smallest sizes can be downloaded for free. Larger copies must be purchased, but are more reasonably-priced than on Shutterstock. If you are doing a short story just for an e-reader, the small size will probably be good enough–especially if you sandwich the small picture between two borders.

If you need art instead of photos, try a place like DeviantArt, which is where I found the picture for The Last Golden Dragon (M. L. Perkins allowed me to use it, unaltered, for free). There’s a lot of good art on that website (and photos too, actually), not to mention you have the ability to contact the artists directly to ask their permission or see if they will accept commissions. New, undiscovered artists or people who just draw for a hobby are more likely to charge little to nothing to allow you to use their pictures. Be sure you give them plenty of credit on your blog and in your book. Providing a link to a the website of their choice is also a nice gesture–artists helping each other out.

And one last warning: if you’re doing a printed cover, you need to get the largest copy of your picture you can find, because your printer will require it to be large and with a high resolution (300 dpi, typically). So pass on small pictures or those with low resolution.

That concludes today’s lesson. If you don’t already have cover art, start looking for something. And don’t run with the first picture you see that catches your fancy. Save a number of possible pictures to your computer and then spend several days looking at all of them and narrowing down your choices. You want to be sure the one you select is one you want to represent your novel for years to come.

Lesson 2

Acceptance Book Cover

Last night I came home from work, sat down with my dinner, and in about 7 hours, I made a cover for my book, Acceptance.

You know, the one I said I wasn’t going to self-publish.

And I was thinking about it this morning, and I decided that I’m not going to self-publish it in paperback and e-format in November, on the 3-year anniversary of its beginning.

Because I said I wouldn’t.

But if, say, I were to self-publish my book, its cover would look like this.

I am really pleased with how it turned out. I think it looks pretty professional. Certainly it looks a hell of a lot better than my previous proof copies, which were made using the CreateSpace cover generator. (It’ s fine for making proofs just to read and edit, but it’s definitely not what you want to sell to the public; it looks like a half-assed, self-published thing.)

I thought that, over the next week, I might do a little series on my blog on how I designed my cover… for the book I’m not self-publishing. I could have never done it if I hadn’t had some Photoshop classes at a technical college, and even then, I learned a few things as I work–things that can save you time and hassle. So get yourself a copy of Photoshop and get ready to learn a few things.