Book Covers: A Question of DIY

My non-linear path in life has given me experience, and some expertise, in creating visual graphics. However, I am not a graphic designer.

As authors, we like having control over every detail of our creation, or at least I do (maybe, I’m a little obsessive). Stating that, I promise I did not intend to take over designing my own cover art. When my first novel was close to its release date, my publisher sent a questionnaire about the cover art. I dutifully went through the document. Arriving at the end, it suggested submitting additional sketches or images that would benefit the designers. I powered up my MacBook and my trusty Adobe (CS3 at the time). My sketch slowly evolved into the finished product. Using a template supplied by my publisher’s art department, I fit my graphic into the prescribed guidelines. It took some minor tweaks to rework proportions. Then with the blessing from my editor, my image ran as the final cover.

My works exist almost entirely online. Even the print version must be purchase through a website. Bearing that in mind, I prefer simple graphics. Ninety percent of the time, my book cover will be viewed as a tiny thumbnail. Many ereaders are black and white only, so color can be tricky too. Ebooks seem to be plagued by overly complicated, yet unsophisticated imagery. I don’t know if this is a product of the venue or lack of professional review. I’ll restate that I am not a professional, but I ask for feedback. I look at my covers at several scales, color modes and resolutions. Ultimately, I pick what I like best, because, hey! It’s my story. 😉

Even if you aren’t comfortable doing the final version of your book cover, don’t be afraid to experiment with ideas. You might be able to give your cover artist a really great idea. Then its a collaboration instead of the graphic artist trying to read your mind.

My Photohop Method:

  • All layers turned “ON”

    Tons of Layers – I don’t really know what the final will look like. I hand draw an idea but the end result is always completely different. I usually don’t know I’m finished until I see it. So turning layers on/off and duplicating layers to try out different ideas helps. (Earth shattering photoshop short cut I wish I knew earlier: Hold CONTROL and click with Move Tool {black arrow} selected. This automatically activates the layer based on the object you ‘clicked’.)

  • A Complete Library of ‘Save-As’ – Sometimes I get too far with an idea and I don’t like it anymore. The snap shot feature in Photoshop’s History window can revert your work back, but a ‘Save-As’ file is great for side-by-side comparisons.
  • Use your own Stock Photos – (Stealing photos through web image searches…not cool.) In the age of digital cameras and smartphones, it is very easy to build your own stock photo library. Take photos of everything! Then carefully name the files and sort them in obviously names folders, like ‘people’, ‘animals’, ‘textures’ etc. Not only will you have greater control over the source image, you won’t have to worry about royalties.
  • Filters are your Friend – I have upgraded to CS5 (b-day from hubby) and it can do things that will blow your mind. With the healing brush tool and a few filters, a mundane snap shot can turn into stand-alone art.
  • BEWARE of FREE STUFF – The internet is full of free fonts, brushes, stock photos…. Seems great, but watch out for the obvious things (like viruses and malware) and read the fine print. Lots of downloads are free for personal use, but come with a small, one-time fee for commercial use. Still a good deal, just make sure you know what you are downloading.
  • BRUSHES! – Awesome feature that is often overlooked. The cover art for Thrush was done with only text and brushes.

Related Post: Judge the Cover


  • Do you do your own cover art? Hire a designer?
  • Have a ‘good’ example of ‘bad’ cover art?


5 comments on “Book Covers: A Question of DIY

  1. First of all, that’s a gorgeous cover 🙂 I’m not sure a cover artist could do much better. And thanks for the mini-workshop…I’m going to repost it, so more can see. A lot of good info there, particularly for anyone wishing to save a buck (or a lot of them).

  2. That cover for Thrush kicks some serious tail. Rocks enough to make the dishes rattle.

  3. Hello just wanted to give you a quick heads
    up. The words in your article seem to be running off the screen in Ie.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to
    let you know. The design and style look great
    though! Hope you get the problem solved soon.
    Many thanks

  4. Can I also say be care when taking stock photos if you need people ask friends to model or try not to get clear faces. When taking pictures of building avoid shooting the address, company logo or anything that could have a copyright to it on the building. I’ve also learn that don’t be afraid to ask strangest to model, I have like 50 different eye stock images that i took at the mall one day and a few generic faces. Most of the people I asked said sure.

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