boy with dragon

July 11, 2016

We all know we judge books by their covers.

Whether your browsing through Goodreads, skimming over ebooks, or drifting through the library a good cover makes you want to read the synopsis. It can convince you a book might be more interesting than it sounds. When you’ve got a rockin’ novel, you want to rock that book cover too!

Covers are a different beast, though. Having written a novel you probably used Word or some variation thereof. So most authors can figure out how to format their ebook and paperback as well as how to write their synopsis and bio. Creating a book cover doesn’t involve words or writing or formatting.

Covers are the most likely area a DIY author will choose not to do it themselves.

Because it’s a different skill set altogether. If you don’t have much (or any) photo editing experience plenty of designers sell either pre-made book covers or offer custom work. This is a DIY series though, so let’s delve into the nuts and bolts of creating a cover!

I assume you have some software you’re familiar with that you’ll be using. I use PhotoImpact, not Photoshop. I’ve also heard of GIMP which is free photo editing software, but I haven’t tried it.


Before I start any new project, I check ebookindiecovers’ information on ebook cover sizes since Melody does a great job of keeping her information up to date.

Currently, I start projects at 3200×4800 and 72 dpi. Because I also use Pixelmator, I end up with an image size of 2500×3750. It’s still a great, high quality image that scales down easily.

Once all is said and done, I also save 400×600 and 200×300 versions. Smaller sizes work great for website graphics, Goodreads, Book Bub, and other places you don’t need a larger file.

Speaking of size, you need a file size less than 2MB for Barnes & Noble if you’re releasing a Nook version.

Source Images

Always, always, always make sure you own the images you use or that you have permission to use them.

A quick search will give you different places to find stock images. The cost of the image will vary, obviously, on what you choose and how many images you need.

I found the cover models for both Tattered Heart and Enchanted Storms on DeviantArt and I used my own photography for the background images. The photographers were gracious enough to give me permission to use their images and I credited them on the copyright pages of my novels.


Fonts are easy to take for granted, but often they’re copyrighted as much as images. It’s important to find public domain fonts so you don’t have to worry about copyright infringement. Or, if you find a font you must have, reach out to the creator for permission and pay the appropriate license fee.

1001 Fonts is a good resource for fonts available for commercial use. You’ll likely want a few you can work with so you have a different font for the book title and your author by line.

Rock that Book Cover

If you’re not sure exactly where to start creating your book cover, look at covers you love. Identify what you like about them, whether it’s the cover model, the colors, the fonts. Then figure out how you can apply that to your cover.

Also keep in mind that different genres tend to have a certain vibe to them. You, of course, want your cover to be unique. But you also want your audience to know at a quick glance if it’s dystopian or high fantasy or contemporary romance. Fortunately for me, girls in gorgeous dresses fit the tone of fairy tale and fantasy novels. Because I love covers with big dresses.

Keep your Layers

That is probably photo editing 101, in the same vein as ‘save early, save often.’ But I learned my lesson with the Tattered Heart cover.
You are going to have to merge at some point during your process. But it’s worth it to strategize the order that you add elements to your image so you can them keep some as layers. Some pieces you’ll want so you can edit them apart from the whole image. Other elements you’ll want for use in places other than your cover.

With Enchanted Storms I kept the fleurons, title and by line as separate layers.

Why Layers

There are a few reasons you’ll want pieces of your cover even after it’s finished:

  • You’re going to want pieces for marketing items (like bookmarks or social media headers). I mixed and matched the background sky and the model and the title for Enchanted Storms in all sorts of places.
  • You’re also probably going to want pieces of the image for the back cover of your paperback.
  • A png of your title with a transparent background is incredibly helpful!
    • First, for the title page of your book. Using an image enables you to maintain a more interesting font that may not be available in all ereaders instead of a text title defaulting to Ariel or something.
    • Then you’ll want to use the title image on the spine of your paperback.
    • And again, you’re going to want to use your title all over the place on social media headers, marketing items, who knows all the fun places you’ll think of to use it.
  • A vertical 3200×4800 image probably isn’t going to fit perfectly on a paperback template.

    The biggest issue I had with Tattered Heart was adjusting the image to fit within the cut boundaries because I couldn’t get the image and the title to both fit correctly. Since they were merged, I was rather stuck. In the end, I sized the whole thing to fit the title, then added new elements to the image to make it look good with the cut boundaries.

In the end, you’ll want 2 versions of your cover (layered and fully merged jpg).


Since the paperback has both a front and back, it’s a bit more involved. I start with my ebook image (without the title and by line layers) and adjust it to fit. Then fit the title the by line independently.

You’ll likely want your synopsis for the back.

If you’ve used any distinctive glyphs or themes on the front (which of course you kept as a separate layer or two), you’ll want those pieces for the back – both to connect the front and back and also to give the back a bit of style.

You can also add blurbs from early reviews, if you have any, or your author photo and bio.

Finally, you’ll also probably want to use a base color to cover the whole front and back that compliments your front cover. Once you fill the whole template with that color, you won’t see the cut lines any longer so this is a good last step before you merge everything. (But also keep a layered copy, in case you need to make any adjustments or changes.)

Cover Reveal

The great thing about your book cover is that it exists independently of your novel. You can create (and release) it any time you want ahead of your novel.

I tend to wait until my penultimate draft because then I have a really solid sense of the novel. But that means my cover is only revealed about a month before I release the book. My marketing efforts for the novel’s release pile right on the heels of the cover reveal.

There’s no reason you can’t do it earlier in the lifecycle of the book and enjoy your own cover as inspiration to keep writing!

Would you try your hand at creating your own cover? Do you have any favorite book covers you might use for inspiration?

Check out the entire DIY Publishing series.

Posted in: Publishing ~

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