Self-publishing has become easy and viable for many authors. Even mid-list and best-selling authors are self-publishing either new books or books from their backlist. Choosing cover art, which is something most of us have little experience in, is suddenly a crucial decision we have to make. In the midst of all the other new techniques we have to learn it can be more than a bit intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Ideally you’ll want to hire a graphic designer, but finances being what they are that might not be possible. With a little practice you can design your own covers. Here are a few tips to help you on the way.
Once I’ve written a synopsis and have a fairly good idea of the story, I start searching the stock photo sites for images I think will work for a cover. There are a lot of stock photo sites out there. Some of them are insanely expensive, while others are reasonably priced. The most I’ve ever paid for a cover photo is $70, but most are somewhere around $30. If your cover will be figural it’s a good idea to find photos that look as close to your characters as possible. Obviously, if you’re self-publishing you can base your characters on the photo. Even when I traditionally publish, I attach any stock photos I like with the art form from the publisher. It’s a bit of a crapshoot, but they’ve used it more than once, and it certainly can’t hurt. A lot of writers use celebrity photos for inspiration, but to me, stock photos make more sense as you can actually use those pictures if need be. If you’re working with an artist, keep in mind when looking at the pictures that a good cover artist can change such things as hair and eye color, and even skin color within a certain range. Tattoos can be added or removed (though I understand removing can be a bit of a pain). It’s more important to convey the proper mood and concept of the story than to have exact representations of your characters.
Size: The vendor sites are requiring absolutely huge files these days, but you also must keep in mind that the first time a reader sees your cover it might literally be the size of a postage stamp. That being the case, it’s a good idea to use clear, crisp images. Highly cluttered images don’t read well, especially when reduced down to microscopic sizes. I always open a picture in Photoshop and look at it as small as possible to get a good idea of how it will look on the vendor site.
Orientation: This would seem to be a no-brainer, but I’ve seen some covers made with horizontal images. This just looks…wrong. Most of the stock sites will let you search with a filter for orientation. This limits the frustration of finding the perfect image with the wrong orientation. A good artist can do some cropping, but it’s best (and cheaper) to start with a good image to begin with.
Color: This is just a personal observation, but dark colors don’t seem to “read” as well on the vendor site as brighter colors. Obviously, if your book is a dark police procedural with serial killers and whatnot you’re probably not going to go with bright pinks and yellows, but you might want to add some lighter colors so the image “pops” more visually.
Fonts: Some beginners make major mistakes as it pertains to fonts. There are a lot of fonts out there and it’s easy to get caught up in all types of funky designs and special effects. That is not a good idea. It looks amateurish and it’s unreadable when your cover is the size of a postage stamp. Stick to one or two crisp and easy to read fonts. If you’re going to have two fonts on a cover they should be opposites, for instance, a nice traditional serif font with a script font is usually a safe bet.
These tips should help you calm any qualms you have about choosing a cover that’s perfect for the book you’ve worked so hard on.
Roslyn Hardy Holcomb is the author of the best-selling novel Rock Star. Her most recent books are: Hot for Teacher, Dark Star and Pussycat Death Squad The Lion in Russia. She grew up in North Alabama and currently lives in the Atlanta area with her husband and two young sons.
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