Self-published authors need an eye-catching cover design that immediately communicates the feeling of their book, its genre, and intended audience, but often cannot afford custom illustrations and photography or hand-lettered type treatments.
But that doesn’t mean they have to settle for low-quality printing or bad design!
Major publishing houses, who print in large quantities, have an economy of scale that self-published authors do not. Special printing effects, like embossing and spot varnish, are cost prohibitive in the smaller quantities indie authors typically print.
Digital printing has advanced so that you can not tell it from traditional 4-color offset printing, and is cost-effective in low quantities. “Print On Demand (P.O.D.)” means that you can wait until you have orders for your books to have them printed.
Of course, many books today are published as e-books and audiobooks, but they still need good cover art.
Stock photography is a good option for a low-budget poject. It has skyrocketed in quality and availability in recent years while decreasing in cost. When using stock photos, I do the research to be as sure as possible that a particular photo is not already being used.
Typography is a critical element, setting apart a well-designed book cover from one that will make your design look amateurish and unappealing. I recommend buying a professional font from a reputable type foundry rather than using free fonts you find online or those included in your computer’s operating system. These are often badly designed and overused. Many professional fonts include stylistic alternates and decorative elements, and can be manipulated by a graphic designer to make your title more unique.
I redesigned these sample book covers to fit within the constraints of a low budget while still utilizing basic elements of good design such as contrast, balance, color complimentarity, and, above all, legibility.
Genre: Science Fiction
Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge is an excellent novella, winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards, but the cover is, let’s just say, less than excellent. The photo of the monkey is so off-putting, readers may skim over this one just because the eye does not want to linger there.
Olduvai Gorge is a real place on Earth, where the human race is said to have emerged. Amazingly, I was able to find an excellent stock photo of it. You may notice that it is very similar to the photo used on the original book cover. The novel is set there, but the scope of the story is universal in scale, so I chose to warp the photo and provide seven doorways into this cosmic plane.
Many book cover designers say that it is not necessary to read the book, but in this case, I was glad I had. One character says “I don’t trust the brown monkeys – there is something about their eyes…”. In the stock photo as purchased, the monkey’s expression did not look threatening, but I was able to edit it in Photoshop, pointing his eyebrows down in the center, which totally changed the feeling of the photo!
The original design features a typeface that may be representative of Africa, (p.s. it’s not about Africa!) but I chose Futura Bold for its clean and modern lines (and the little inside joke of its name!)
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, from a major publishing house, included a special trim on the front cover that revealed a portion of a page inside which served as an accentuating stripe down the right side. I liked this eye-catching detail, but my indie authors probably could not afford the custom print job, so I simulated it with a printed stripe and included a subtle drop shadow to give the illusion of depth. A small detail, but hey, it don’t cost nuthin!
The original cover lacks the main element of an eye-catching design: contrast. And not just color contrast, but contrast in value, which is the degree of light and dark. A good test of contrast is to view the design in black & white. See how the word “Quiet” turns to the same muddy gray as the background when converted to grayscale?
When people say “make it pop!” they mean make it have contrast in both color and value. So, let’s punch it up!
The book’s description of how introverts need to retreat to a quiet place to recharge inspired my illustration of the head filled with peaceful imagery. I also find the cool blues to be more appropriate than the energetic red of the original design. To add to the peaceful feeling, I chose a cool gray for the type rather than a harsher, more contrasting black.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rules For Werewolves is the debut novel by the talented Austin-based author and playwright, Kirk Lynn. It is a dark tale of young people living outside of society who desperately want to belong, “quirky, innovative, hilarious, and menacing.” (p.s. it’s not about werewolves!) The existing cover captures the bleakness of the novel’s suburban setting, but where is the darkness and the menace?
For my redesign, I chose two stock photos, one of a neighborhood at night, an excellent example of the eye-catching principle of contrasting warm colors with cool. I combined it with a silhouette of a young man. (A silhouette or rear view allows readers to create their own mental image of the character.) I placed him far away from the neighborhood scene to indicate his position outside of society, and his threat of menace.
The title’s type treatment, representative of the characters’ attempt to create their own society, is hand-drawn by me, but quick and simple enough to fit within a low budget.
It is interesting to see how a change in typeface can change the feeling of a cover design. I wonder if the hand-drawn type makes the book look more like a Young Adult novel compared to the block typestyle on the right? What do you think?
Genre: Romance/Historical Fiction
Alouette in Venezia is not a re-do, but my original design, I was able to find two unusually tasteful stock photos – the young woman and the panoramic scene of Venice — that I combined with a third photo of a sunset.
This cover is an excellent example of what my old watercolor teacher called "a delightful interplay of warm against cool". This type of vivid color contrast is very eye-catching and a proven way to boost book sales. (Yoiu'll see it a lot in movie posters, as well.)
For the title treatment, I used a method of typography I call “semi-custom”. Starting with an Open Type font and taking advantage of its built-in ornaments, stylistic character alternates, and custom ligatures, I can bring the type into a vector-oriented graphics program like Adobe Illustrator and edit the outlines, for instance cutting the swash off one letter, rotating it 90° and attaching it to another letter – fun!!
In keeping with historical accuracy, I used Goudy Oldstyle for the body text. Nothing destroys the mood of a good cover design like using a typeface that was not even invented in the timeframe of the book!
For more information on book cover design for indie authors, contact Carol Gunn at Gunn Graphics.
Email: gunngraphics.@austin.rr.com. Website: www.gunngraphics.biz.
Email: gunngraphics.@austin.rr.com. Website: www.gunngraphics.biz.