Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tutorial on Cover Making

But first!  Shameless product placement!

Bobbing for Boyfriends has gone live on Amazon Kindle, for .99 cents in the US and £.71 in the UK store.  Here's a link for both of them and the pertinent information.

Bobbing for Boyfriends - US
Bobbing for Boyfriends - UK

In this third installment of The Adventures of Kitty Malone, Katharine "Kitty" Anne Malone dreams back to the time of prohibition and flappers with the help of her psychic friend Heather. Between the bobbed haircuts, spangled dresses, and illicit alcohol, will Kitty be able to find out the identity of the sexy and handsome stranger plaguing her dreams? And if she does, will she be able to survive the encounter?

And as an added bonus, here's a preview.
“Very.”  His fingers find her spine, stroke it, and she melts on the inside, body going hot and cold in tandem with the rhythm of his movements, boiling under his fingertips, cooling once they move somewhere else.  “You should relax.”  He leans closer, presses his leg against hers, and something hot and heavy coils in her lower abdomen, drips down lower into her legs.  Her skin starts to tingle, pinpricks at every pore.

“And you can help with that?”  She presses her arm to his, tilts her head so she can catch his gaze.  His face is close, too close, but she wants him there anyhow.  She can smell the slightly sour odor of alcohol on his breath, the musky scent of cologne or aftershave clinging to neck and chin, and she wonders how far down it goes.  She wonders if she’ll find out.

“That depends on what you find...relaxing.”  His hand cups her cheek, pulls her inexorably closer, and her eyes flutter closed, body tensed in anticipation.  She can almost taste him, almost, he’s that close.  Her lips part, and she can feel his breath, and her heart hammers against her chest in a frenzied dance of necessity.

    Close, so close.  His mouth brushes against hers very lightly, too tentative to be called a kiss.  Close.  So very close.
 Copyright Marlena Cassidy.

There is drama, I swear.  So much drama.  There is suspense!

Bobbing for Boyfriends is 37 pages in Word and great for a lunch/coffee break or even a quick read at the beach during the holidays.

Anyway, if I haven't lost you all yet, now on to the main purpose of this post.  Like I said before, covers are an essential and integral part of your writing.  A good cover means more people will read your book which means that you'll make more money and have a bigger fanbase who will support you.  You want your cover to be eye-catching but also relevant to your story; if it's about dogs, don't out a picture of a bus on your cover.  Some covers are abstract, some are bright, some are dark, and some are just plain crazy.

I don't think there's one 'best' cover to make.  Yes, there are 'rules' that you want to take into account when designing your own cover, but there's no set way to make one.  Experiment with colors, textures, combination, shapes, geometries, whatever you like.  Consult books about designing for more inspiration.  Even those little booklet things you get at Holmes Depot or Lowes' can help.

So let's look at some more examples of covers to get a better idea of what you want to do with your book.
I would put this under the 'bad' category.

The most appealing thing about this cover is the man, which is probably the reason why they have him on it.  The colors work fairly well, with the browns in the grass, the castle, and his pants, along with his skin color.  The transition between brown and sky serves to frame his body from the shoulders up and draw attention to his face.  His abs, however, are where you're going to be staring at because that's the middle of the composition and the widest strip of color.  The castle in the background I guess alludes to some plot device in the book.  The juxtaposition between the modern dress of the man and the intact castle draws the reader in.  Why is there a castle?  What does it have to do with the man?  Is that where her bed is?

Let's look at another.

What on earth?

This cover is...interesting.  We have a Native American man dressed in a stereotypical loincloth and a beautiful woman with her face at crotch height.  We know what we're getting into.  This is also the typical 'damsel' pose, with the woman leaning on the man for support, he providing the strength she either lacks or needs.  The arrow/spear thing serves two purposes.  It lets you know this is part of a series and is also a phallic symbol.  The dark sky serves to symbolize some foreboding event on the horizon.  I love how their hair matches each other's perfectly.

This next cover is one of my favorite books from C.J. Cherryh.  Read her stuff.  It's good.

Sci-fi at its best.
Hammerfall's cover is pretty neat.  The colors are warm and cool, creating a contrast.  The title is in bright white, which arrests your attention.  There's a crazy space-ship thing that might have to do with the title, and even crazier animal things heading towards it.  It seems like an exodus of sorts.  The falling stars in sky serves to highlight the reason behind the hammerfall maybe?  Who knows?  Overall, the cover introduces you to an alien landscape and prepares you for the story you'll be reading in a few short seconds.
I chose Amanda Hocking's cover for my next one because she's an Indie author on Kindle and is probably one the best-known stories of success.  She's also an amazing cover designer.  I wonder if she has someone helping her of it's all on her own.  Because these covers are good.
Her audience is teens, and the title font is reminiscent of a teenage girl's writing.  Lowercase, soft, very light and neat, cute little loops in the loopy letters.  My handwriting never looked like that.  The soft purple of the lighting alludes to some sort of supernatural occurrence, as does the crescent moon.  They both evoke feelings of mystery and maybe even suspense.  The crow and the cross are both symbols of death, which ties into the title.  We know vampires are going to abound.  The black, leafless tree is also a symbol of death and foreboding, which creates an atmosphere of controlled terror and teenage angst.  Like I said, she's good.  It's not surprising she's the darling of self-publishing.

So, basically, know your audience and target them.  If you're looking for a romance crowd, find hot men and get them on your cover and highlight their faces and abs.  If you're looking at teens who wear dark makeup and roll around in Tripp jeans, use blues, purples, greens, blacks, and death symbology.

However, it can be really hard if you don't have the right tools, like me.  I have iPhoto and about nothing else, and Photoshop is really the most important/useful tool you will ever have.  What you can do to make your own covers on a budget is to find a public domain picture and manipulate it to what you want it to be.

For example, take this picture I ganked from Wikipedia:

I doubt all these people want to find themselves on the cover of an Indie romance novel, so we'll crop them out and make the picture smaller at the same time, highlighting the adspace of Times Square.

The photo is a lot smaller now, so later, I'll have to keep some black bordering around it.  Now let's have some have fun with colors.

I saturated the colors a bit, darkened it up, warmed it up, then boosted it one level, which honestly I don't really know what that does for the picture, but it looks pretty damn cool when I put into black and white.  I use a gray gradient because it's easier for me to manipulate it.  With Photoshop and all the crazy tools that come with it, I would be able to do more with the colors, like choosing which colors to keep in the black and white, or over-saturating certain colors over other.  Layering would be nice to, but Photoshop is expensive and I don't want to spend an arm and leg on Apple products.

The fade didn't work too well in it, so I didn't use it.  I like the gray gradient, not the blue one.

Some of these ads might be a problem if I use this as-is as a cover.  Coke and Corona probably don't want to inadvertently promote my product.

I used the retouch tool to play with the ad space and create some different patterns in there.  You don't really have to have a pattern in mind; you can just move the retouch tool around on the spaces you want to play with and it'll do the work for you.

Now, I don't like the darkness of this picture too much.  It seems way too subdued for me.  So I'm going to revert to no black and white and fix it up.

There, now it's good to work with.

I'm going to take a screenshot of it and put it into Text Edit.

I added my name in gray at the bottom by doing a really cheap trick.  I wrote it out on the top, then dragged it down onto the black while using a timed screen grab to capture the image.  The pointer won't show up if you do that.  Just highlight the text you want and drag it to where you want it to be, but don't let it go until after the picture is taken.

Normally I would add a title, but I don't know yet what my next installment will be, so I'm just going to call it at the next step, which is to take a final screenshot of the picture without all the extraneous bits in it.

You'll notice there's some white on it.  I'm going to have to go back and fix it by taking another screenshot.  But my mouse is freaking out right now, and I can't really do much about it.  The cover might also be a bit too small for Kindle's image parameter, so I might have to upload this to iPhoto again and take a screengrab with more black border in it.  I also didn't notice the Samsung ad on the top, so I'm probably going to go back and swirl that out.

So yeah, that's what I do with my time.  Once I figure out a title, I'll post the finished product.

Bobbing for Boyfriend's cover is this:


There are reasons for the fireworks which I'm not at liberty to discuss.  


  1. Of the examples you gave, I like the Amanda Hocking one the best. Looks all sultry and mysterious...

    This is really helpful, and it has reminded me why I really need to get some kind of proper image editing software. It looks like your covers are really simple, but striking. If I saw them on a shelf I'd definitely be interested!

  2. Yeah, Amanda Hocking just has really amazing covers that work. I saved hers for last because it was an example of an eye-catching image. Sultry is a good word for it. I would definitely check it out if I saw it in the bookstore.

    And thank you! That makes me feel about a thousand times better about my covers and gives me hope.

  3. This was very fascinating and a reminder of just how important a good cover it. :)

  4. So true! I've been working on the cover -- and back matter! for months, and finally got to the point of "happy" with it.

    What are you views on the "back matter"? (the preview, or the "praise for"? love to hear about that.

  5. Awesome, Rebecca! Aren't covers crazy to work on?

    My next post will be about back matter, since that is also an incredibly important aspect of writing.


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