How to Make Your Own Book Cover (And Should You?)
Updated: Mar 16, 2019
We've all heard the saying, "Don't judge a book by it's cover," but - news flash - almost everyone does exactly that. A cover gives readers a first impression of what the book is about and whether or not it's something they'd be interested in. For better or worse, they may even judge the quality of the story inside by the cover it's packaged in. Right or wrong, that's the world we live in, so you need to make sure your book has the best cover you can get in order to appeal to as many readers as possible.
Most advice given to independent authors about covers goes something like this: Hire someone else to do that for you. Under no circumstances should you make a book cover yourself. I'm sure that sounds familiar to a lot of you.
Unfortunately, book covers can be expensive, and many indie authors don't have that kind of budget. I certainly didn't, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn't really want to give someone else control over that aspect of my book. Against all the advice I'd ever heard and read, I decided to make my own. I know a couple of other indie authors who have successfully made their own covers, too. It can be done, and it can be done well. Here's how. (Fair warning: This is going to be a pretty long post because there's a lot of ground to cover, so settle in.)
Before we talk about all the steps involved in making a book cover, we need to answer an important question: should you? Yes, it is possible to make a great book cover yourself, but I definitely don't think it's for everyone, or even for most people. Sure, you'll save money, but making a cover takes time. Those are hours that could be spent writing, and only you can decide whether or not it's worth it. I enjoy making graphics and working with colors and text, so the whole process was enjoyable for me and I didn't really view it as a sacrifice of my time.
More importantly, though, do you have the necessary skills to make a captivating cover? I'm an artist as well as a writer, so I like to think I have a decent eye for composition, color, and what looks good. You definitely don't have to be an artist to make a good book cover, but you should have a good eye for aesthetics and at least some understanding of how different elements will work together. You'll also need to know how to use a program like GIMP (which can be downloaded for free and is all I've ever used) or Photoshop. Both of those programs are pretty complex and can be overwhelming at first, so if you've never used either before, expect to spend a good chunk of time just figuring things out.
If you're looking at all of that and thinking that maybe you shouldn't be making your own book cover, don't worry. You're definitely not alone, and there are plenty of other options available to you. You can easily find hundreds of resources on the Internet about finding a good cover designer. Buying a premade cover is another great option and, from what I've seen, seems to be a little more affordable. I'm not going to get into that here since that's not what the post is about, but the information is out there and easily accessible if you look around the Internet.
On to what this post is really about - making your own book cover.
Step 1: Look at Examples
Before you even start working on your cover, you should look at other covers within your genre to see what works and what doesn't. Amazon is great for this. Find your book's category and start looking through them. Pick out the covers you really like and try to figure out why you like them. You'll probably stumble across some bad covers too, but that can also be useful. Try to decide what you don't like about them or why they don't work for the story. Do you notice any common elements about the book covers for your genre? Do you notice any shared characteristics in the books that most capture your interest?
You can also just search the internet. I love to Google things like, "Best fantasy book covers" or "Best indie book covers" to get inspiration. There are a ton of lists out there, and with a little time and effort, you can get a better understanding of what makes a good cover.
Step 2: Make a Plan
This is arguably the most important part of cover design. You can't just slap a bunch of things together and expect it to come out right. First, decide how the cover art can best serve the story. It should give readers an idea of what the story is about (without giving too much away) and be eye-catching enough to make them want to find out more. I think it goes without saying that a good cover should also be visually appealing.
That's a lot to ask of a cover, and you're not going to be able to achieve all of it without a little planning. Some people can probably just visualize what they want the cover to look like in their heads and then go from there. I find it extremely helpful to make a few sketches and play with a few different ideas first. Sometimes I get feedback from other people about which one they like best and why. Sometimes, certain elements from one cover get moved to another, and once I've got the basic design nailed down, I'll move on to designing the real thing.
Step 3: Size, resolution, and other concerns
Once you actually start making your cover, there are a few things you'll need to take into consideration. First of all, you should make sure your resolution is at least 300 dpi. Any less than that and you risk losing image quality, which is even more important for print books.
If you're just going to make an ebook, you don't need to worry so much about the specific size in inches, but as a guideline, Amazon KDP says that cover art should have "an ideal height/width ratio of 8:5," which looks pretty standard for most books. If you are planning to make your book available for print on demand, you'll want to pay more attention to what size you're using. I'm sure every POD platform has its own guidelines to follow on their respective websites, but here are a few things you won't want to forget.
Bleed/Trim - The cover will actually get trimmed down during the printing process, and it may not always get trimmed down in exactly the same place. In order to avoid having wonky blank space at the edges of your cover, you'll want to make sure the cover image extends a little bit further than whatever size it's actually going to be. Check with CreateSpace or LuLu or whoever you're using to find their specific guidelines about this.
Spine width - The measurements for the spine of the book will depend on the number of pages the final version has and, if using CreateSpace, will have to be calculated using their guidelines. It's probably best to work on the front and back covers fairly early on (something to do while you're letting your draft stew a while before making more revisions), and then go back and tie them together with the spine once the interior is completely done and you know exactly how many pages it is.
Colors may print darker than they appear on screen. Just take it from someone who had the brilliant idea to do their cover almost entirely in black/shades of gray. I'm currently on my third proof copy because if I don't get the colors right, it will drive me insane, and getting the colors right can be a nightmare. Other writers I've talked to have said the exact same thing, so just be aware that what you see on the screen may not be exactly what you get and that colors often print darker. One thing that might help is to print test versions of your cover through Walmart or another photo center. It probably won't look exactly the same as the final product (mine didn't), but it might give you a good idea of whether or not you've gone way too dark.
Step 4: Order a proof copy
I know CreateSpace offers the choice between ordering a physical proof copy for approval and just looking at a digital proof. I don't know why anyone would just go ahead and approve a digital proof, but I strongly believe that everyone should order at least one physical proof. Especially if you're new to this. Sure, you'll have to pay a few bucks, but wouldn't you rather know if you've made any mistakes before the book is released to the public? Not only will you be able to check your cover, you can also read through it to check for errors and do some final edits. Plus, holding a copy of your book in your hands for the first time is immensely satisfying. What do you have to lose?
That's about all there is to it. The hardest part is getting the design right, but if you can do that, the rest isn't too bad. Good luck, and happy cover designing!