I’ve been motivated to write this post to show all those Indy authors out there how to create a visually robust cover for your book. You don’t have to be a talent designer or creative artist to make something look professional. Today I received a mockup version for the cover of my upcoming book, “The Chaldean Legacy” and there were so many basic principles of design broken that by the time I’d written a full critique back to the publishers, I may have well have done the cover myself. But rather than bore you with my frustrations over this experience, here’s how you can create a cover that looks great with a professional finish.
CRAP, doesn’t mean what you think, unless you think it stands for Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity. These four principles can be found applied in all good design including book covers. I’ll now explain how keeping these in mind will help you produce great cover art..
First you will need a cover image. If you are not an artist you can get great stock art from Dreamstime and similar websites. If you’re book will be in print, whatever the size of your book cover in inches, the image will need to be 300 times bigger in pixels to allow for print quality that is 300 dpi (dots per inch). In addition, that size needs to have a buffer around the edge where cutting occurs. Without this buffer, the cover could be chopped a little way from the art leaving an ugly white line around the work. This buffer is called the bleed.
This image is the template used by CreateSpace for a 6 x 9 inch book cover, the dotted black line around the outside, within the orange section is the trim line. That’s where the machines will cut the paper. The orange bit is the buffer. You don’t want any text or other important items such as the bar code going in there. When I create cover art for my 6 x 9’s my image is 3934 x 2776 which makes the entire image big enough to cover the entire size including the orange parts.
Assuming you have your image sorted you can start applying the principles to add the text and other items.
The text needs to contrast from the background in order for it to be easily read. I prefer dark backgrounds and white text – but that’s just me. Pick a colour from the palette of your image. It’s the easiest way to get a colour that will look harmonious within the design – or go with basic black or white.
If you have a busy background you can still make any colour work. The artwork below show’s the text for one of my books on top of the image I will be using. On the left the book title is placed in three locations. Because the background image has a lot of contrast, pure white text won’t work in all locations. But as you will see, on the right, by placing a contrasting drop shadow and stroke around the text, it makes it work anywhere.
Whatever design choices you make, stick with them. Use the same font throughout (with the exception of title – its allowed to be different for contrast 🙂 ), use the same line style, drop shadow size, stroke width etc everywhere. One thing that annoyed me about the draft cover I received today was that the designer had one paragraph double spaced with no indent and the paragraph immediately underneath single spaced with a large indent. It looked dreadful.
Here’s a recreation. On the left notice how the font, font size and line space is different in each of the paragraphs? The version on the right looks a lot better with the repetition of fonts, spacing, drop shadows and strokes.
There’s no excuse for poor alignment. Word processors and illustration programs have built in rulers to assist with the task. But you can’t always rely on the software to do it for you. You need to use your eye. Make sure paragraphs are aligned on both the right and left. If you have columns of words, they should be aligned at the top. Images and illustrations also benefit from being aligned with each other.
In the example above I’ve left and right aligned the paragraphs with each other and right aligned them with the barcode. I’ve also made the spine text align neatly with the paragraphs and barcode. For the author picture, I’ve used centre alignment; centred both vertically and horizontally within the space allowed for it. Compare it with the previous example to see how much neater it appears.
In design, items should be grouped together according to function and the information they give. For a book cover, you’re already off to a good start as there are three main divisions where information is shown; the front, spine and back. This format is so ingrained that you’ll notice the first thing readers do when they pick up a book is turn it over to read the synopsis. Therefore your synopsis should appear there. Common sense really. When items are placed together they are seen as a single visual unit and the items in that unit should make sense as a whole.
On the back cover there are three lots of information that are given to a potential reader. First the synopsis, next the author bio and finally the barcode and publisher information.
To create a little interest you don’t want to have each section the same size. The most important part is the synopsis so use as much space as you need. However, between each section ensure there’s enough space that denotes each as a separate information area. That way the eye has areas to focus on and scan before the reader determines if they are something that needs to be read, such as the synopsis or they are publishing requirements such as the barcode.
You don’t need to know how to use software such as Photoshop to understand the design principles described in this post. They also apply should you be creating a poster, composing an artwork or laying out a website or newsletter.
If you’re not an artist but like to dabble with Photoshop to mock up your covers, all that is required other than the background image, is to be able to overlay text. If you are willing to do this it will save you a lot of money and hassle. Check out this excellent tutorial for working with text in Photoshop.
Good luck and I hope your next book cover is a best seller.