Simple steps and resources for cover art design

It appears the dilemma of cover art is one that can really delay an author in their self publishing journey. Having spent 10 years+ in the graphic design and web design field this is the part of the journey I actually find easiest. However, I can imagine this is a real problem for some creatives who favour the actual writing and hide away from the cover design area completely

However, in the fast paced digital world of ebooks it is often the case that your cover will be the reason a buyer clicks to read more or simply skips over your books on to the next one that looks much more appealing. Your cover needs to be eye-catching (but not garish), suit the target market and, often, hint at themes within your book without giving anything away. I always find it nice to look at a cover once I have finished a book and think ‘oh yeah, I see why they put that on or did this a certain way.’

What makes a book stand out on a bookshelf?

There are several supplier and services you can look to do this for you – for a price. occasionally you might find a designer who is willing to do this for free (or very little) whilst they attempt to boost their portfolio.

If you would like to do this yourself, or at least give it a try, there are several free tools and some good resources you need to be aware of.

Number 1 – the software

Without this you aren’t going to get very far. A licence for Photoshop is going to set you back a fair bit and there are alternatives you can use that are free.

  • GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed piece of software for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It works on many operating systems, in many languages
  • Paint.NET is free image and photo editing software for computers that run Windows. It features an intuitive and innovative user interface with support for layers, unlimited undo, special effects, and a wide variety of useful and powerful tools.
  • Pixlr is one of the most popular online photo editors in the world – offering Photoshop like functionality bu through a browser interface.

Number 2 – Imagery

The key factor here is cost. You will easily find free stock imagery if you look close enough (and check the terms and conditions carefully). Sometimes you might find imagery that you do not need to pay for but you must include a credit to the creator – not a bad price if the image is right. The final option is paying for an image. Again you must investigate that the terms and conditions allow you to use the image for this purpose (book print or e-book) but then it is just down to how much you want to pay.

  • stock.xchng – Browse through the categories of our huge gallery containing over 350.000 quality stock photos by more than 30.000 photographers!
  • Istockphoto – iStockphoto is the web’s original source for user-generated, royalty-free stock photos, illustrations, video, audio and Flash.
  • Shutterstock – Shutterstock is the largest subscription-based stock photo agency in the world.
  • Morguefile – The morgueFile free photo archive section. Here you can download a contribute to the free photo image archive.

Doing a simple Google search for Royalty Free images will provide several more sites that may be of help.

Number 3 – Typefaces

I would advise not going overboard with different fonts. Use a strong font for you book title that will be legible when the cover is thumbnail size. As a general rule of thumb make sure the type is legible at 15% of the size of the original book cover.

As with imagery, it is important to only use fonts you are licensed to do so. If you are purchasing fonts you need to buy ones that say ‘licenced for commercial use’ or follow whatever restrictions the owner of the typeface imposes. For example, as with imagery, there may be typefaces you can use by simply crediting the creator.

Number 4 – Inspiration

This is an easy one – search for books. Do searches on major stores such as Amazon and browse the local bookstores to see what jumps out at you and learn from the techniques they have used. If a particular cover stands out from the crowd work out why it caught your eye. Is it colour? Imagery? Placement of type?


The tools and resources are out there for you to create a cover that inspires readers. The main thing is research – research your target market, research other covers in your genre and research licence implications for images and fonts. If it doesn’t work out you always have a starting point to show a designer of the ideas you had to date.

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