Author How-To: Creating Book Covers — Finding a Method that Works for you

(The Observations of a Minor Designer)

If you are a traditionally published author, cover design is easy… Your publisher takes care of it. But with that comes a problem. What if you hate the design? In most circumstances, you have no say-so, meaning you simply must deal no matter how much you might loathe said cover.

That said, if you’re an indie author, whether that means you’re self-published or working with select small publishers, you get somewhere between no input and complete creative control over your covers. For my past three novels, including the one set for an August 1, 2018, release and the one set for a March 2019 release, I’ve had some, to all control, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I like the covers I’ve created and feel they represent their novels more than any outside designer could manage. In fact, I’ve enjoyed the entire process from beginning to end.

But I also have a minor in Art and Design, which definitely helps.

That said, how does an indie author go about designing a book cover? Choices. Lots of choices. You can…

1) Buy a premade cover

2) Hire a designer

3) Strike out on your own


Here are my thoughts on each.

1) Buy a premade cover.

I advise against this for two reasons.

  • These covers often get recycled between sites and you’ll run into your cover sooner or later with a different name and author applied.
  • These covers generally take advantage of overused stock imagery. Again, you’ll run into yourself… a lot.



2) Hire a designer

  • This works, if you can afford the cost, but beware of stock imagery. What’s convenient for you and a cover designer is just as convenient to everyone else looking to create a cover.
  • Original artwork is even better if you can afford it, and I can’t.

3) Strike out on your own.

  • A) Great if you have the skill or have the time and patience to figure things out.
  • B) Not such a good idea if your creativity ends at the written word.



So you want to take the plunge and try to create your own cover? Okay, great! But there are concerns there as well.

1) Which program do you use?

I have experience with serious design software that includes Photoshop, but that was some fifteen years ago, so my skills are pretty much null and void at this point and, besides, Photoshop is expensive, even on the monthly plan, and it takes months to learn and years to master.

There are other programs out there too, some of them free, including Gimp, but the fact remains… you need lots and lots of practice.

Note: I have hand tremors which prevent me from drawing, painting, or manipulating a drawing tablet for any real length of time.

What do I use? Canva. It’s relatively easy, considering. No, it’s not a full-featured design program. In fact, it’s an online design tool, but the free version has been acceptable for me to a point. (Note, I’ve now moved on to Canva Pro because I’m designing ads and other material for myself and others) Canva does take some practice and it does have its limits, but it’s easy to learn. There are default sizes to fit your needs and a good selection of .jpg and .pngs to choose from at a free to reasonable $1 cost. (Note: read the licensing before you purchase anything anywhere, including Canva)

2) Where do I get my images?

I pluck my images from several sources that include Canva Pro’s expanded free library, Unsplash, and Pixabay (Pixabay can be tricky where human models are concerned, so be careful). I also use pngtree, but I purchased a membership there for a flat rate. Sure, there are lots of other places including Shutterstock and Depositphotos, but those will cost you, so be you should understand the licensing and be certain you’re going to use the image before you make the investment. And those sites have the problem of overused images as well, though Depositphotos has less of an issue.

3) How do I achieve some of my effects?

Well, Canva lets me do transparency and layering and a handful of filter effects, but there are numerous other free online programs out there that’ll let you do just about anything you wish. Use Google, type your desired effect into the search box and add the words “free online.” You’ll have to sort the trash from the treasure, but trial and error will get you exactly what you want. I’ve used free, no credit-required programs to cut, color, mask, create wonderful text… you name it and there’s probably a site that’ll do it, but no site does it all free of charge.

So how much have I spent? As of today, 7/30/2018, I’ve spent…

  • just under $13 a month on Canva Pro x 3 months
  • $29.99 on Shutterstock images (meaning one collection bought with a discount code)
  • $10 at a custom site for old photograph tab imagery for a children’s book (I did the inside design)
  • $60 for a yearlong membership to pngtree (with discount code)
  • $4 at Canva for images for various projects.

This is over the course of one children’s book, one YA novel, four, going on five adult novels, and dozens of blog post images and promo ads.

Don’t call me cheap, call me frugal. I’m not a graphic artist, nor do I claim to be. I’m a minor designer at best and, yes, you’ll see bits and pieces of my covers elsewhere. But you’ll never see designs quite like mine. That much, I promise.

Next up in this blog series: Developing the cover for Cleaning House – A Contemporary Appalachian Fantasy.


All jpg images (aside from my covers – and even bits and pieces there) used in this post come from Unsplash – a site I highly recommend for free, quality, royalty-free imagery.

Headdesk gif comes from giphy.

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