How To Create Great Cover Art

‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is the saying, but let’s be honest, it is what we all do. At least if I’m honest, it is a big part of the decision to pick up a book or not, especially a tree book (physical book) but even an e-book could be dismissed if the cover looks like something a six year old would have come up with. Not bad if it’s a book aimed for that age group, but it’s not something you want if you are looking for the mature reader.

 

Cover Cranford Bad      Cover Cranford

Take the two covers above. To the right is the one by Penguin Classics and shows basically what the book is about with the right feel to it. Left is … Well, let’s say it’s a bit of a crowded picture and I don’t see what it has to do with the story behind the cover.

There’s a lot of things that can make or break your work but the very first thing, after you’ve written that masterpiece, you need to create a great cover for your book, and for that you must have a great picture. One that covers what the book is about and not just one you like.

There are many places to find good photos to use as cover art for your book. I always like to browse Flickr to find pictures to match the stories I write or create a cover for, and if you do an advanced search for pictures with a Creative commons license, chances are you can use the image for free. However, even if it’s under creative commons, you still have to make sure it’s available for commercial use and if you are allowed to alter it. Also remember that it’s always nice, and good manners to let the owner of the picture know you are going to use his–or her–picture and to what purpose. Most of the times the photographer will be pleased to hear their work will be published and might even help you with promotion once you publish.

I promised the owner of that beautiful Red Ridinghood photo–which I am using as the basis for my cover–a copy of the book and of course being mentioned as the photographer. It has resulted in a great working relation with Lee Turnbull and two great covers.
cover Red Gone Bad         a-menu-of-death-final-full-KLM
If you have money to spend and want a picture by a renowned photographer rather than support an upcoming great artist, you can always look for commercial content, sometimes those aren’t that expensive either. On sites like Istockphoto you can find pictures, not even that expensive. I’ve seen very nice ones for only $13 and high resolution, which you need if you want to be able to use it for a print too.There are many more sites with loads and loads of content to chose from, but these are the ones I prefer to browse.And then there’s ImageShack not a site to find pictures to use as cover, but certainly useful to upload your own pictures for safe keeping and sharing with others. They allow you to embed, or link to pictures on their site.
Now that you’ve found the perfect picture and the photographer has agreed for you to use and alter the photo for that cover the real work begins. Creating a cover is not as easy as you might think it is. Which font is the right one to use for the by line, the title, where to place those, do you need to add or remove anything from the picture?
The cover for Red Gone Bad for example started with the below picture. Great work of art, but too busy to use as a cover and however beautiful that lens flare is, it has no place on a book cover. So get rid of the ‘tossed salad’, the flare and to be able to place the title and by line in the right place the image was flipped.
Original RGB
The artist, Lee Turnbull, was very happy with the end result and up till this day we have a great contact, even developed a kind of friendship, and a working relation that serves us both, because I will depend on his great eye to shoot the cover for The Power Of Three too.
So, with the right picture you’re not there yet. You need to either learn how to use Photoshop, of Gimp which I prefer for the simple reason it is free software, easy to use and does everything Photoshop does too. There’s an abundance of tutorials on Gimp all over the interwebz, but I quite liked the Gimptalk forum.
How do you get your covers? Create them yourself? Buy them and get disappointed every now and then, or do you have friends helping you, like I have when I’m stuck and can’t see where to take the cover I’m working on.
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6 thoughts on “How To Create Great Cover Art

  1. Brilliant post, and very relevant at the moment as I’m coming up to this stage. I plan on using my mother as photographer (brilliant photographer, who I am very luck to have as a resource), my friend as a model and thankfully I have some skill at graphics. So, in the end, I want something that looks professional and engaging, not something that makes a potential reader cringe 😀

  2. I had mine done.

    The contemporary redoing cover of a classic often backfires. I remember some publisher who went with a cover for Anne of Green Gables that doesn’t look at all like the girl you’d expect.

    • Was that the one that turned Anne into a redhead with a checkered shirt? Awful, that one, almost as bad as the one that turned Huckleberry finn into a nude woman pouring water.

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