Inspired by She Latitude’s recent post Top Ten Book Cover Turn Offs (https://shelatitude.com/2017/05/02/top-ten-book-cover-turn-offs/), I’ve decided to write a post about my own experience creating book covers.
Since the day I decided to get serious about my writing and try to get my works published, I’ve wanted to do it the traditional way. I’m insecure about my abilities to sell my own product, so getting an agent and a publishing company to help me do the work has always been appealing. But the more query letter rejects I got, the more discouraged I became. I did my research; I must have read at least twenty articles on the pros and cons of self-publishing and self-publishing versus traditional publishing. I even chatted with some self-published authors through Facebook about their experience with self-publishing. It’s a lot of work, they all said, but it’s worth it! Why? Because the author gets to have complete and total creative freedom, they get to keep all the rights to their work, they get all the money when their books sell, and they don’t have to deal with the middle man or rejection letters.
Sounds perfect, right? Just what I’ve always wanted. But there’s a catch. A huge one. The self-published author has to pay for the publication of their novel. Now, there are websites and softwares designed to help with formatting, editing, getting an ISBN number, getting the book copyrighted, and creating a cover. There are smallish companies willing to do the same things for you, even freelancers who are willing to help. For a fee, of course. I’m not bashing these people; they’re talented and want to make a living off what they do. I totally get that. That’s what the self-published author is trying to do too! But for me, a young adult who is earning two dollars above minimum wage, has to pay for bills, rent, groceries, gas, tuition, school books, and is saving up for a car, and is trying to keep money in the savings account, and is still wearing the same clothes and shoes she bought two years ago, the thought of paying to publish a book is overwhelming. (That’s not to say I’m poor or anything. My husband works too and all our needs are met. We just have priorities and a budget that don’t include publishing my books.)
Anyway, I eventually decided that I should stick to traditional publishing. At least for now. But during the time when I was debating publishing my own book, I did even more research on ways to create spectacular but cheap book covers. The cover of a book is the first thing I look at when browsing through a bookstore or library. If the cover attracts my attention, I read the blurb. If the blurb grabs me too, I’m definitely buying/check out the book. That’s why the blurb and the cover are so stinkin’ important. They have to be engaging, unique, and good enough representations of the content of the book in order to get a reader to take a chance. The book itself could be amazing and a perfect fit for em, but if the cover picture quality is bad or if the picture itself is overly dramatic or tells me absolutely nothing about the book itself, I’m not going to read it. Sad, right? But true.
Knowing all of this, I looked for websites and free photo editing programs online that I might be able to experiment with. I stumbled upon Canva.com thanks to a fellow writer in one of my writer’s forums. Canva has a free version and a membership with a fee, but unlike similar creative websites, Canva actually offers you a variety of stuff for their free members. It offers stock photos, fonts, layouts, icons, background textures, frames, illustrations, and it even gives the option of uploading your own pictures to the site. (Many sites offer “variety” to their free members; Canva is, so far, the only one I’ve seen that actually delivers.) The site doesn’t only give you the option to create book covers either. You can create social media images, presentations, blog post images, professional-looking letterheads, magazine pages, certificates, desktop wallpapers, and album covers. With this site, and online picture editors like Befunky and Autodesk Pixlr, I’ve been able to create some pretty cool-looking book covers for some of my own books.
Free stock photos arranged and overlapped through the photo editors, uploaded into Canva, with some different filters applied, some cool fonts added, and presto! (Canva didn’t have all the photos I needed to create these covers so I went on Google Images, Pexels, and Pixabay.)
For Asta and the Barbarians, the era or time period I was trying to imitate was similar to 19th century England. When looking for the pictures that best resembled the three main characters of the story, I made sure the clothing they were wearing was older and close to the style used in that time period. I didn’t know how much of each picture I was going to use but I was careful anyway, just in case I decided to use the whole body shot. The ship picture in the background was the trickiest. In the story, these characters are “blessed” with certain abilities; the mark of the “blessed” is golden eyes. I couldn’t apply a golden hue to the eyes of these characters (not without it being totally obvious that the gold was fake) so I found a background picture of a sunset with gold and orange hues instead. That way, the gold is still a prominent part of the book cover. That and the sunset makes it a tad bit more dramatic and pretty, no?
I Dare You to Love Me was trickier. I couldn’t find a girl with dark curly hair and bright green eyes who looked just serious enough and just sad enough to resemble the picture of the female lead that I had in my head. Iris is grieving the loss of her father. She’s short-tempered, independent, and would do anything to protect her family. But she also has that fourteen-year-old girl inside of her that yearns for the freedom to be vulnerable without coming across as weak. The picture I ended up with was the closest match to what I wanted so I went with that. The locket and the beach are both significant in the book, so I knew right away that I needed to feature them on the cover. I hoped the locket especially would entice some sense of curiosity.
In the Dark was harder still. This is a paranormal/urban fantasy involving werewolves, the mafia, and a kidnapping. It was easy enough to find the images I wanted to use (you have to use a full moon for a werewolf story). Lindsay spends most of the book worrying about the safety of her brother (the one who was kidnapped) and wondering about her feelings for the male lead (Wayne, guy with the silver eyes). The picture of this blonde woman, I thought, had the perfect combination of worry and thoughtfulness. Wayne was the easiest picture to find; most male models have that brooding look down. It was the arrangement of all these photos that I had trouble with. The full moon picture with the silvery blue clouds was beautiful and breathtaking on its own. But inserting the two main characters in there without the lines of silver and blue obscuring their faces proved problematic. (If you check out the excerpt of the story I have on my website here, you’ll see that there is a similar image on it’s page but that one has wolves in it. I wanted to keep the wolves for this book cover, but I just ran out of room.) Eventually, after much fiddling, I ended up with the final result.
(Right about now, some of you are wondering, “What is the point of all this? You just said you weren’t going to self-publish your books. Why are you putting so much time and effort into making covers for them?” The answer is simple: social media promotion. I’m trying to build my readership through my social media accounts, and I need an image to post with the quote/reader’s review/comment. My books may not be published yet but, with the help of writer’s forums, I can post content there and herd traffic to those sites through social media. Like when browsing through the bookstore or library, readers scrolling through book promotion sites or their homepages are going to stop and take a second look if they stumble upon an amazing book cover.)
The Sentinel’s Test was by far the hardest cover I’ve made. It took me hours to find the right pictures to convey the magical aspects of this story. (The main character is a faerie elemental who can control fire and she lives on an island filled with other magical creatures.) I knew I wanted the girl to have her back turned like this, but I couldn’t seem to find a red headed girl in this pose. I ended up finding a close up of a red head’s hair just after it was cut, and had to combine that picture with a picture of a blond with her back turned. Once the pictures were merged and the extra parts erased, it was only a matter of finding the right kind of wings and the balls of fire. (In the book, the main character’s wings appear to be made out of smoke, but this was the closest I could get to that.) Despite it all, I’m very pleased with the result.
So what’s the point?
As She Latitude so eloquently pointed out in her post, there are a lot of book cover turn-offs today. Why? I have no idea. With the rise of self-published authors who have complete creative control of what their books look and sound like, shouldn’t there be a rise in unique book covers as well? It takes time and work, but making a unique, good quality, eye-catching cover is totally doable. If I can do it, without formal education or photo editing knowledge, others can most certainly do it! I’d say it’s high time we start a new trend of book covers that actually cater to the audiences we’re writing for and represent the overall themes of our stories. Who’s with me?