My e-publishing bug bear is bad covers. I can’t stand them. And it’s not just self-publishers that are responsible, but small presses and even the odd “bigger” name. It’s not costly to make a good cover – it just takes time and effort.
The first rule is to keep it simple. I see a lot of covers that squash every element of the story onto the cover, with the result it looks busy full-scale and incomprehensible as a thumbnail. Artists will need a programme like Photoshop or Paintshop Pro. I have an old version latter, because I hate changes in the workspace. Don’t, for the love of all that’s holy, use Paint.
Second rule is to learn about the file sizes and formats. “DPI” stands for “dots per inch” and indicates the quality of the image – the higher the DPI, the better the quality. Standard print requires 300dpi, whereas digital should be no lower than 72. But if you can afford the higher grade, then go for it – the end results are so much better.
Size of image is also important. My publisher uses lulu.com to process print copies, and their “pocket” size is 1313 by 2138. I make cover art in this size and then reduce the final image for e-publishing. Remember that the length is roughly 1.5 times the width (400 x 600 for instance) but always check the guidelines of whatever site you’re loading up to.
Having a rough idea of what you want to produce helps, then it’s off to a stock image site (123rf and dreamstime are my favourites as they’re fairly cheap). Searching for the ideal photograph can take time, but get creative with your search terms, have patience and be willing to make some compromises.
Once you have your stocks, make copies - you don’t want to overwrite your stock with a mistake – and save frequently. I keep each image on its own layer, as that makes slight adjustments possible. If you’re considering print at all, then remember to keep important elements, especially titles and names, well away from the edges, otherwise it’ll get cut off. Again, refer to the guidelines and make use of any downloadable templates.
Layering the images is the most important part of creating good cover art. Strive for balance and use feathering to blur edges so that the images appear to “sit” together. Decreasing the opacity of layers also has this effect, though be careful not to fade out too much – check the cover at 100% as well as zooming out to get an idea of how a thumbnail would look.
Photoshop and Paintshop have effects like drop shadow and tonal settings that can add to the overall look, but use them sparingly. Too many effects can be off putting and appear less than professional. Remember to keep it simple and you should end up with cover art to be proud of – and that sells your book!