Author How-To: Cover Development – How this Author Designs her Covers

Here’s the thing about book covers… I’ve seen some good ones and a lot of really, really bad ones. We all have, but I’ll not put any one cover on the spot. You know who you are.

I had absolutely no input on my first novel series of four titles, but that’s fairly standard in the publishing industry. However, I’m now working with small publishers, and I have much more control… a lot more than I expected. I take ownership over my last three covers and the upcoming one shown below. They’re not perfect, but they’re mine, and you can see my learning curve displayed on each one. Oh, and there’s a bit of a peek at the next novel in the Appalachian Elementals series – Keeping House won’t be released until next year, but its cover is almost complete.

Surrogate (published March 2017 print and ebook)

This is a secondary cover created in May 2017 because cover one was my first attempt at cover design, and I was floored that the publisher not only accepted but paid me for it.




Surrogate: Hunted (published March 2018 print and ebook) This one is a sequel so you can see a theme building.





Surrogate: Traditions (Coming 2019 print and ebook)

Third in the series… the theme continues and my skills are improving.




Cleaning House (August 2018 print and ebook)

IMO my best effort yet





I have two other covers to share with you too, both my design, but one is not my novel, so it’ll have to wait until the author is ready to share it with the universe, which will be very soon. The other? Well, I’m happy to announce that I’ll be releasing a new title in the Surrogate series, a novella titled Hidden Child. The cover is below.

Hidden Child  – A Surrogate Series Novella

(November 2018 ebook)

This will eventually be part of a larger collection tentatively titled Stardust Women – Tales from the Surrogate SeriesLook for it in 2020.




8/8/18 Edit: Here’s that other cover I spoke of. The author’s ready to share now.

The Summer Between,  A YA novel authored by my lovely sister, Anne G’Fellers-Mason, will be released on October 1, 2018.  The cover design is mine, but the rest is all hers.





I’ve clearly learned a few things over the course of these covers. My program of choice is easily Canva, but I’ve also tried:

  • GIMP (free) an open-source graphics program similar to Photoshop, including the steep learning curve. This would be my choice if I was a graphic artist, but I’m not nor do I have the drive to become one.
  • Adobe Spark (free version) So-so. This one has lots of limits unless you purchase the full version. I’ve seen this as both free and as a basic version at 9.99 a month… pick your poison, they’re both pretty basic.
  • Placeit (free) I didn’t like it. Covers come out flat and unimaginative IMO.

Canva is my choice, hands down, for several reasons.

  • Limited selection of free images (sometimes easier than hunting, but everyone uses them, so they’ll be anything but original)
  • Layering, resizing, cropping
  • Filters – not as many as some programs, but better than many of them
  • Fonts – They have a nice selection, default colors, or you can customize your own.
  • Templates – Yes or no. I’ve done both. Using one is not a requirement, but it sometimes helps.
  • Unlimited uploads – I’ve created my own library of images and effects (PNGs mostly) that I can use
  • Grouping, transparency, and flipping – useful

The paid version, which I now own, lets me resize anything I’ve created (the entire composition)… highly convenient when you’re making differently sized ads.

So how do I compose a cover via Canva? Okay, like I said above, I now have the paid version. There aren’t significant differences between the free and pro versions but enough to warrant it for me because I use it almost daily.

I work in stages, probably the same method many artists designers do:

  • Concept
  • Working Version
  • Final Version
  • Epic Fail

Here are those stages applied to the cover of Cleaning House.

Concept: DARK COVER  🤨 (hmmm)

This one isn’t that bad, but it’s far too dark, depressingly so, and doesn’t really represent what’s going on inside the novel.

VERDICT: I need a different image for the background



Working Version: EDGED COVER 🤔 (thinking)

It’s painterly and magical, the colors are perfect, and I generally love it, but I quickly decided that the edging had to go. It got in the way to the point of distraction. This is the version where I believe I finally conquered layering with Canva. Yes, it can be done, but it takes practice.

VERDICT: This is much closer to what I wanted but not quite there yet.


Final Version: MAGIC 😂 (tears of joy)

This version is essentially an upgraded form of the working version with more layering, movement, tweaking, and tinkering with the font. Oh, and that edge is gone.

VERDICT: Perfect! It even translated to the print cover with a little finagling.



Fourth Attempt: EPIC FAIL 😒 (unimpressed)

I had to try one more time, and this cover, the one where I attempted to add a human element, failed miserably. I put this one along with the final version up for a vote with friends and family and this one flopped… for good reason. The final tally was 26:1 in favor of the final version above.

VERDICT: In hindsight, I hate this cover. It’s nothing that I’d ever use, but I’m still sharing because, well… at least I tried.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So, that’s my process. I use Canva, I make (at least) three drafts then I wallow in doubt and create one more that I generally trash. This obviously means I don’t create covers in one day. No, my covers take weeks to months to fully create, meaning I work on them on-and-off until I get what I believe works.

Have I started the cover for the sequel to Cleaning House, Keeping House? Yep. It’s almost finished, to the late working stage, but it’s so far from the publication date that I can’t justify sharing the entire cover. That said, I will share a glimpse.

Sneak peak at Keeping House (2019)






Are my covers spectacular? Well, I like them. Are they pro-level? Probably not, but I can’t afford a graphic artist, I can do as well as most designers (or so I’ve been told), and I possess a few skills, so why not use them?

So how do you get your covers? Do you make them yourself? Buy them premade? Hire a designer or an artist? Whatever you choose, make your next novel cover uniquely yours.

Read more of my Author How-To (Or How NOT to) HERE.



  1. Beautiful…I love the cover of Cleaning House! You’ve grown a lot as a cover artist…I’ll admit, I’m inspired by what you’ve managed to do with Canva!

    For a lot of blogs and yet unpublished works, I used pictures I’ve taken as temporary cover art. You’ve seen the results at Rainbow Snippets. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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