Friday, November 4, 2011

eBook Cover Design

by Calista Taylor

More and more authors are turning to e-publishing as a way to build a platform and get their works read. Whether you're publishing a short story or a full length novel, your cover will often make or break you.

A graphic artist can certainly help you get a great cover, but if it's not in your budget, then you can always make your own. There are a few basics which can help you make an awesome cover, but the most important will be a sense of adventure—that means you can't be scared to experiment.

Here are a few tips to get you started. Remember, these are the basics for an eBook cover, not a print cover. Also ... a bit of a disclaimer. I've learned how to make eBook covers by experimenting, and am completely self-taught. But hey, if I can do it, then so can you!

Getting Started
  • You'll need a graphic design program. There are several free programs available, such as Gimp and I personally like using Photoshop, but it's an expensive program, though it will offer you the most options, especially regarding brushes (kind of like a stencil). One option is to pick up a used copy via Craigslist or eBay (I know I've seen them there, though I'm not sure of the legality of reselling the software), and there are also student versions of the program available. One more thing ... there are often 30-90 day trials of software.
  • Determine the "feel" you want for your cover—does it feel modern, edgy, romantic, sweet, dark, etc. It will be a lot easier to find images with the right feel versus trying to find the exact image that you have in mind.
  • You'll need to find some stock photos. Make sure you check the copyright regulations of the image you plan on using. There are stock photo sites, but prices can vary. I've found BigStockPhoto to be very reasonable. Also DeviantArt has a stock photo section (be sure to check each artist's rules for use), and some artists have pre-made backgrounds available for use (search pre-made background). Flickr is another great option, and has an advance search option for photos that are part of Creative Commons.
  • Pinpoint your genre and then investigate what the covers for that genre look like. Your cover should immediately bring to mind your genre. It's not that you can't stray from the norm, since you obviously want your cover to stand out, but readers need to easily identify the genre of your book at a quick glance.
  • Take the time to look at covers and see what works and what doesn't. When looking at these covers, really look. Look at the font, the position of the various elements, any effects used, the perspective of the images and how they relate to each other.
  • Play around with the program you'll be using to familiarize yourself with the basics. If you're not sure how to do something, use the help feature. YouTube also has some excellent tutorials. And don't forget to right click on items, since they will often bring up a completely different menu option, depending on the program.
  • Remember, any images, fonts, etc. will need to translate when viewed as a thumbnail, and will also need to look good when viewed in grey scale (for e-ink readers).
The Basics
  • Your image size can vary a bit, but I usually set my size to 6.6" x 9.5" and my resolution to 300 pixels/inch. As a side note, many like to use the size best suited to an iPad screen, which is 768 x 1024 ppi. To me it feels a bit narrow, and I like having the extra space my size gives me.
  • "Cut out" whatever images you will be using. These can be saved as a .png in order to give them a transparent background. When using an image, make sure the image size isn't too small, since that can lead to fuzzy and pixelated images (usually anything over 800x800 is ok).
  • Start to layer your images. Each image or effect should be on a different layer so that you can adjust the opacity (and/or fill) of each layer. By varying the opacity, you can start to blend the images so that they don't feel like they're sitting there separate from each other.
  • Pick a font (copyright free) that will once again give you a sense of the genre or story. This font will also need to easy to read in a thumbnail. To make the letters "pop" and standout against the background, use the drop shadow option, and adjust it so that it spreads behind the letters to give them a backdrop.
  • When layering and picking images, keep in mind the perspective of the images in relation to each other. It's too easy to have people floating around a cover.
  • Draw a reader's attention by using a bold graphic or a bright color.
  • If available to you, use brushes (they act like stencils) to add little details to your cover. These little details will help your cover look more polished. A variety of free brushes can be found once again at DeviantArt.
  • Once you're ready to upload your completed book cover, save it one last time (under a different file name) and change the ppi to 75. This will ensure that your file isn't too large for uploads and downloads. The reason to work in the higher ppi is because you'll retain a clear image if you're decreasing the ppi, where as if you ever need a higher ppi, you will not get a clear image if you try to increase the ppi from a smaller number.
  • As a side note, I also like to add the book cover as the first page of my manuscript before I save, format and convert it for uploading. Since some e-readers don't show the book cover, posting your book cover image as the first page gives the reader the chance to visually remember your cover and story.
I do hope you'll give it a try. Like most things, it'll take a bit of experimenting and even some not quite so successful attempts before you get the hang of it, but I promise, once you start to get comfortable with the programs and techniques, you'll be amazed at what you can do.

Have you tried to make your own eBook cover? Do you have any tips or recommendations?


Richard said...

I made the cover image for my short story collection. The cover uploaded to and Smashwords, but on Smashwords, I've never been able to get the cover to qualify for the premium catalogue--not enough pixels or ppi or something like that. I obtained my cover photo from a royalty-free stock photo company and played around with the wording for the cover. I'm quite pleased with the result except for that one glitch.

Calista Taylor said...

It's great that you've experimented with your own cover. Finding high quality stock photos can be hard, but there are stock photo sites that have very reasonable prices.

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm definitely bookmarking this one! Great advice, Cali! :)

Leslie Rose said...

It's terrific that the Internet holds so many pieces to create an exciting composition to create a cover. Author's can get in touch with their visual artistic talents.

Daph said...

I want to thank you so much for this article. I used it to make my ebook cover last night and it was so helpful. It meant a lot to have these instructions!

Calista Taylor said...

Leslie, it really is great that the internet is chock full of various tutorials. There's so much fun stuff to learn!

Daph, I'm so happy to hear the article helped!!

Jennifer Merritt said...

Great tips, especially using your cover as your first page. Your covers rock!

Calista Taylor said...

Thanks, Jennifer!!

William said...

Most eBook authors that I know use the FREE online Book Cover Designer at which can easily create cover designs comparable to any that you see. Select from several different templates and 100's of background images (or upload your own) to create main image and thumbnail for your online ads and eBook store promotions.

Vi said...

I can create stylish and professional 3D and flat ebook covers, starting from $5. You will sell more books with a great-looking cover. Over 20 different styles available. You can check out my website and design portfolio at