DIY or Professional: Crafting a Book Cover for Self-Publishing Authors

Are you a self-publishing author struggling to create a book cover? Continue reading to discover tips and tricks to help make the process easier for you!

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Woman brainstorming ideas.

While authors who go the more traditional route of publishing books put an immense amount of effort into their work, self-publishing authors are not only writing but also doing all the other things that come with releasing a successful book. Writing, publishing, marketing, and sales are just a few of the things self-publishing authors are responsible for. One other important aspect of being a self-publishing author is picking the perfect book cover for your work.

After conducting research and an interview with a personal friend, the author of Stained Glass: Willow Springs, Isla May, we’ll be going over the following aspects of how to brainstorm, create, and settle on a book cover:

  • The First Two Steps To Creating a Cover
  • DIY or Hire?
  • Settling on a Cover/Tips

The First Two Steps To Creating a Cover

Understanding Your Audience

The first and most important step to picking and designing a wonderful, eye-catching book cover is to have a good understanding of your audience. Before even brainstorming designs for your book cover, think about your audience’s preferences and demographics. You should also consider the genre of your book in relation to your cover. Think about what your spectators would enjoy.

Each genre has its own parameters for what will be most successful. When it comes to science fiction, the best kind of cover will be a 3D remodeling, creating realistic images of the characters or items in the book. Typography could also just work on the cover alone itself. The fonts that work best for science fiction are Obtitron Medium, Michroma, or Titillium Web. If you’re trying to create a romance cover, a colorful, welcoming, illustration, floral motifs, or a pop retro artwork paired with fonts such as Red Hat Display or Neutron Light, would work best. Symbolic items or complex patterns on the covers work for both mystery and thriller novels. For fonts, Amarante or Anton will work best. For thriller novels, fonts like Futura and Gill Sans are good options. For nonfiction books abstract cover designs paired with fonts such as Libre Caslon Display and Paytone One work the best.

Be sure to look over all the options and combinations before searching for your imagery. Once doing this, completing the next step of creating your book cover will become a lot easier.

Picking Imagery

The next step in picking a book cover is finding images, artwork, and illustrations that relate to the genre and theme of your book. Find inspiration by using sites like Instagram and Pinterest. You can also use Google or Amazon to search the bestselling books in your specific genre to get an idea of what works for other authors.

When speaking with personal friend Isla May about her process of picking book covers, she broke it down into two major steps. The first step is asking herself which kind of book cover she wants. Does she want it more simple, more animated? She stated in her interview:

I tend to lean toward something more illustrated, and lately, a lot of the book community on social media has also been leaning toward illustrated designs because of the cutesy and appealing aesthetic.

Isla May

If you prefer images for your book covers, there are plenty of websites that offer free stock images that you can make use of as long as you give credit to the artist. Some of these sites are:

Keep in mind that if you decide to use one of the websites above unless paying for a membership, there is no protection if you are hit with a copyright lawsuit one day. Be sure to do your own research before using any images.

If you would rather pay for images to avoid the chance of copyrighting, you can utilize websites like Shutterstock and Stockunlimited. Canva, the free or paid version, is another great option for images as they have an extremely generous amount of images, graphics, etc. They also have templates, specifically a book cover template that can be used later on once you’re done brainstorming and searching for images.

Once deciding on illustrations for her cover, Isla May moves on to her second step which is to pick main colors and fonts. She shared that she picks the colors for her covers based on things where the story takes place, the weather, and the aesthetic. Making sure all things on the cover correlate is important in order to create a cohesive and understandable design for your readers. When the first two steps are complete, she moves on to the next which is actually drafting your work.

Drafting Your Cover

Putting your ideas onto paper (or tablet) is the next step in this process. Have a simple draft or list of necessary components ready for when it’s time to actually execute your design. Whether you’re going to create a cover yourself or hire someone, having a place to start is always helpful. When discussing her own covers, Isla May stated:

The cover I come up with or have ideas for always comes from what the book is about, what the personalities of the characters are, or even the plot. I enjoy using Easter eggs that would make the most sense if you read the story and things like that.

Isla May

When drafting ideas, think of aspects of your story or characters that you can take and use as inspiration for your cover. Having more ideas is better than having none, so don’t limit your imagination! All of these ideas will be helpful to the artist helping to create your cover or to yourself, down the line.

DIY or Hire?

While some of us may be amazing artists, others struggle in that department. If you feel confident enough in your artwork, you can design your own cover. If you’d like some extra assistance, you can hire an artist to help bring your vision to life.

create art or hire someone to do it for you
IMAGE VIA CANVA / DANIELA PELLERITO

Hiring An Artist

If you decide to go the route of hiring an artist, there are many useful websites that can be of help to you. Before hiring someone, you should have some idea or inspiration that you can share with your artist so they have a feel of what you’re expecting. Some artists will even ask for a synopsis in order to get a better understanding of your book. Here are some useful websites where you can hire artists:

  • 99Designs– This website allows you to design book covers, author logos, and anything else you may need. After writing a description of what you want, and what is mandatory in your cover, 99Designs will produce multiple options for you to choose from. Once you receive your options back, you go over any details you may want fixed with your designer, the artist receives the money you budgeted for the art and you get copyright ownership of the design.
  • Damonza– Damonza is a team of artists who help self-publishing authors design their book covers. They offer four different plans to fit everyone’s budgets and needs. Their Standard Front Cover and most popular package is $645 and includes ebook cover designs, unlimited changes, two different draft options within the first 10 business days, and much, much more. Their other packages range from $395 to $1645 and all include add-ons, if needed.
  • GetCovers– GetCovers offers a quick turnaround for book covers as well as things such as logos, movie posters, and audio covers at a low price. Like many other sites, their skills vary in complexity and price, making it easy to choose an option that’s best for you.

Isla May suggested other self-publishing authors take a look at Books and Moods, a website that “works with indie self-published authors, offering packages that include book designing both interior and exterior.”

They offer six different packages and once hearing about what your requirements are for a cover, they’ll quote you. Personally, Isla May uses Instagram to source her artists, which is exactly what you can do too. She discovered her designer through one of her favorite authors, who was always posting her cover teasers. She decided to follow the designer and their relationship blossomed from there.

Creating Your Own Art

If you choose to create your own design, that’s totally fine too! Your book, your rules! Don’t feel like hiring a designer is necessary. There are plenty of self-published authors who have brainstormed, mocked up, and created their own book covers. When it comes to creating your own cover, there are many platforms and softwares you can utilize, both beginner-friendly and advanced. Here are some softwares you can try when designing your own covers:

  • Canva – Canva is super beginner friendly. Not only does it offer users a drag-and-drop system which allows for extremely easy designing, but most of its features are free. As mentioned earlier, users can choose to pay for certain elements but a lot of amazing projects can be completed on Canva without paying. They even have a Design School, which gives tutorials to beginners, even specifying in designing book covers, absolutely free. 
  • Procreate – Procreate is a graphics creator app. After purchasing the app for a one-time fee, you can create some of the most amazing art, as well as your covers. Once you have a few quick practice trials playing around with all the features and tools they offer, you can create your covers on the app without having to hire an artist.   
  • GIMP – GIMP stands for “GNU Image Manipulation Program”. With GIMP, users can retouch photos and compose images. Providing users with an abundance of tools, this software is perfect for someone a little more advanced in the art department. Available on macOS, GNU/Linux, and Windows, users will have to download it on their computers first before use.
  • Microsoft Word – This hugely popular software allows people to create book covers and so much more. If you’re unfamiliar with how to exactly do that on Word, there are a profuse amount of tutorials on the internet that will guide and instruct you on the do’s and don’ts of creating a book cover.

Whether you hire a designer or you’re creating your own art, one thing you should keep in mind and give some thought to is the dimensions of your book. Each separate market has its own suggestions for book dimensions. Remember to check your specific market and determine which dimensions will result in your book becoming as successful as it can be. Remember, your cover is the first thing a customer will see, so make sure you give a great first impression!

Be sure to really think through which option you’ll pick: hiring a designer or creating your own art. While both can be great, they each have their own set of pros and cons. While hiring an artist can result in your book cover being more cohesive and professional-looking, the price of hiring artists or buying a package may be out of some self-publishing authors’ budget. On the other hand, although you’ll have unlimited creativity while making a cover yourself, the lack of experience in designing might result in lower sales. Each of these options may be perfect for authors in their own specific ways, so make it a point to pick the option that works best for you.

Settling on a Cover/Tips

When it comes to picking your final design, it’s simple. Go with your gut! At the end of the day, it’s your book. Look at all your options, created yourself or designed by a hired artist, and pick the one that feels right. Remember to look at the pros and cons of each choice.

Woman making a decision.
IMAGE VIA CANVA / DANIELA PELLERITO

When speaking with Isla May, I asked her process of coming to a final decision on a book cover. She commutes her ideas to her graphic designers through Google Forms. When she really doesn’t have any ideas or can’t mock something up on Canva, she’ll upload images or illustrations for the designer to work with, saying that in some cases, it’s a hit or miss when she receives a mock-up back from a designer. She described the feeling of choosing a book cover as, “When you know, you know”, so don’t fret about how your book cover will look or the success it will bring you because when you see the book cover that is meant to be yours, you will feel it.

Extra Help

If you happen to struggle to finalize a choice, that’s totally okay! You can ask for opinions, and test your covers out. Reach out to friends, family, or even social media to help decide which cover works best for your book. If that’s not an available option for you, you can check out PickFu. PickFu is a website that allows authors to poll their audience and other writers as well. Although there is a small price to pay for their services, their services can be really impactful for the success of your book. Not only can you ask the PickFu panel to help pick a book cover but you can ask for help with any aspects of your books such as book titles and descriptions.

In my final question to Isla May, I asked if she had any final tips and words for self-publishing authors and she said:

My advice would be to pick what is appealing to you. At the end of the day, yes we care about our audience and readers, but we are the artist and a cover is what makes our art work. The artist should love their art more than anyone else and that includes the cover too.

Isla May

When picking your own cover art, remember to think about your audience, find inspiring images or illustrations, decide on who’s designing your cover, and pick a cover that makes you happy and proud. At the end of the day, it is your work that you are sharing and it should make you happy first. Make use of these tips when creating your next cover and happy writing!


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FEATURED IMAGE SOURCE VIA BOOKSTR / DANIELA PELLERITO