Yet another self-publishing guide: covers (basics)

Before we talk about covers, I’d like to stress one thing. A beautiful cover won’t save a terrible book. And, if you get right down to it, a terrible cover won’t destroy a book’s chances of being read. So, above all else, work on knowing story, grammar, style, etc. The story is the key.


There’s so much I can talk about regarding covers, I could seriously write a whole book and not feel like I’ve covered (heh) everything. What I’ll try to do here is discuss the basics and see if I can’t give more specific tips next week. Heck, I may even do one specific to GIMP. Not sure. We’ll see.

The Basics of Building a Cover (according to what I’ve learned):

  1. Placement/Color Branding
  2. Font
  3. Picture/Illustration

1. First, figure out where you want your title, byline, series title, tagline, and please keep in mind that, for the most part, these things aren’t going to change much, especially if you’re sticking with the same genre for most of your publications. Also, try to figure out a general look you want to keep with that will also tell potential readers what kind of book they’re getting. Obviously, you’re not going to be a slave to this, but it’s good to have a general feel, especially for a series. Take a look at the series in your genre and take notes of what the designer keeps the same and what they change from book to book in the series.

2. Whatever fonts you pick need to be appropriate for the genre in which you’re writing.Take a look at fonts used on the covers of books in your genre and compare with fonts you can find online. Don’t just look at the type of font used. Look at placement, look at what’s done to the font. Look at the effects used (if any). Use books published only in the past year or two, btw, for your research. Most importantly, look at what does and doesn’t work.

Even professional covers aren’t perfect. Sometimes it’s hard to read the title. Sometimes the colors make your eyes scream in pain. Sometimes the words disappear into the artwork.

Talking of which…

3. You don’t need a picture. It’s not an absolute. However, in some genres, it’s pretty much expected. In fantasy, It’s practically a given that there will be something magical or medieval on the cover, and that the picture will likely be an illustration (though nowadays the trend seems to be leaning toward photographs that have been played with). SF has something science-like, like aliens or something metallic with rivets. Romance has “the clinch” as well as more neutral images that are still feminine. All these images, along with the appropriate font, are a kind of shorthand for readers. If you go with an image, try to get the one that works best with your genre and your book. And if you’re talking ebooks, for heaven’s sake, don’t worry about how detailed the image is. That doesn’t matter if the image can’t be made out when the cover is a thumbnail. KISS (Keep It Simple Sweetie) the whole way through.

If you decide to skip the picture, your fonts have to pick up the slack. Your fonts have, in essence, become the picture.

Next week, I’ll discuss point #1, general placement, with an example pic.



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