For those of you who are self-publishing you have a lot of hard work ahead of you. So, to give you brain a break from editing and formatting, today we’ll talk the first step of covers.

Before we can get to that, will you be publishing a paperback? Do you even know your options? The best are Lulu and Create Space. Create Space lets you sell on Amazon where Lulu sells only on its site. Both let you control everything and charge you nothing….except for a proof. Lulu, last time I used it in 2011, straight out charges you for a proof copy. CreateSpace allows you to download it as a PDF for free or pay.

Now, why publish a paperback? There is only one reason: to put physical copies in the hands of friends and family because most of those assholes will never consider you a published author as an Indie, but you’ll foolishly believe a physical book can do it. That’s. It.

No one is going to buy it. Your eBook is going to be the “big” seller.  However, if you decide you need a paperback you need to factor that in when designing a cover. Let’s go over the anatomy of a cover for eBooks first. What does it contain?

- The title

- The Author Name

- An image that evokes a feeling or hints at a sense of the plot

Optionally you may include  a version of your catchphrase (we’ll cover that later) and any 1-2 word endorsements from published authors (along with their name and the title of their bestselling or most current work).

What we’re going to focus on in this lesson is the basic planning for a cover. We need to keep it simple, so, trust me on this, begin with a Smashwords size template (you can resize later for Amazon, etc). With the current state of eBook publishing (2015 at time of writing this) you’re best off starting with Smashwords and working on different versions later.

Now, you know the size. 1,600 X 2,400 is the best, most common. 1,800 X 2,400 will make your cover stand out. I do NOT recommend this for a first book. Try to blend with the herd here.

Maybe you’re wildly creative and you have a cover design in mind. Great! Hold on while we attend to those who don’t. Here’s what you need to do: remember when you were reading the top sellers in your genre?. I want you to save a copy of their image covers, then I want you to get all your favorite books, your top 10, and do the same. Just save it to a folder, and then I want you to close the folder. You need to ask yourself some questions:

1. Do I know how to use PhotoShop or JASC Paintshop?

2. Can I learn to use computer programs quickly?

3. Do I know that 100% of computer issues can be solved by a Google Search?

4. Am I easily frustrated?

5. Do you have disposable income?

The reasoning is simple. If you have image editing software, or can learn software quickly, time, patience, and no money, make your own. If you cannot do any of these things and you have money, hire a graphic artist.

As a note: usually around your first novel you are broke. It’s not pretty. So…just take a gander at these programs on torrent sites. I’m not saying download it, I’m just saying take a look. Wink. Wink.

Now, no matter what, open up that folder of cover images. Group them into two groups: the ones you really like, and the ones that pertain to your genre. There will be overlap.

You’re a writer, so write down a list. What do these covers have in common? Colors? Themes? Objects? Layout? Font? Characters? Whatever it is list it. Now, look at that list and cross off any objects that do not appear in your story. Sure, maybe all the science fiction you like has steampunk Zeppelins on the cover, but unless a mecha-Hindenberg is in your cyberpunk story, it has no place.

Color really only matters when you’re dealing with a novel designed to sell quickly and fast or piggyback on the look of a successful series. Otherwise, try to pick a color that reflects the story. For example, is it dark and gothic? Well…avoid pink. Black, red, purple, and grey are all better choices. Even if you know the layout of the cover in your head already, think carefully on colors.

Font…meh. Is it legible? You can do custom fonts if you like, but NO WINGDINGS. This will all come later. Right now we’re doing general planning.

So, what is the image going to be within the layout? A very simple image on a solid background?

Will be a collage image of things from the book you edit yourself and border?

Will it be stylized to look like something else like a newspaper, playbill, flyer, comic book, etc?

These are the best types of basic books. A simple image can be one important evocative object from the story such as an emblem or something from nature. It should be clearly visible in the thumbnail. You can make it yourself or get one.

A collage requires lots of editing, transparency, and layers. You have to know how to use PhotoShop or JASCP Paintshop and be patient enough to google questions on how to do something. Fun fact about Paintshop: the transparency feature doesn’t work so get to know free site like Online Image Editor.

The editing is most complex with the stylizing. Now, in a future lesson we’ll cover how to edit images, but now that you know the types of images you’ll need, where the hell do you find them?

Depending on your level of editing skills, money on hand, and networking skills, you have a few options:

1. If you know a photographer and someone willing to work as a model, for low pay, perhaps even a hair and/or makeup person you can arrange a photo shoot

2. You can go to The Library of Congress or other free sites to get free images

3. You can purchase stock photos

4. You can contact image blogs who may allow you to use photos if you credit the blog

5. You can steal stock photos and edit them until they’re untraceable

Now, let us dispense with childish thoughts. Am I advocating stealing? Yes. How can I do this as a kind of artist myself? Easily! Steal my writing or covers and let’s engage in a flame war. It might make the news, get lots of attention, free publicity! Then even more when we meet on the street and I punch you square in the nose.

Remember, good art is influence, great art is stealing. The idea of the last is to edit the images. Cut out one object. Change the size. Change the color, contrast, light balance. And do it smart. To make it untraceable, get a program called SnagIt again, torrent sites can provide great reviews of the product!

It allows you to capture anything, even images from sites that prevent downloads, and it will save it as a new image in any image format you like. Just know that if you literally just copy an image, do nothing with it, and it’s not free and legal to use, you are an asshole. Use a free image, an image you paid for, or steal an image and edit the shit out of it until you have a masterpiece.

Now, you should have a basic idea in your head. Colors, layout. Remember in this world most of us do judge a book by its cover so you want the overall image to appeal. Few of us are so bad with art we don’t know what we like, so try to have that image in your head. Is it a green background, a conch shell in the middle casting a shadow on the background, the title in white the name in black? Can you picture that?

You must plan according to your ability. If you can design things from scratch, fuck you, you’re awesome! If you can’t but you can use editing software, well, that works. If you can’t do any of this… you will need to pay others.

Now here are the places to get 100% free images (though if there is a credit listed for the photographer you must retain that information):

Still have no clue what design to use?:

Play the Demo at DIY Book Covers to see the covers of current bestsellers.

Not sure what colors you should use for fonts and borders?:

Clueless about fonts?:

At the end you should know the basic layout for your cover and before next step I want you to download all the images you think you will need. Plan to use a specific font that isn’t automatically in MS Word? Download it!

In the next lesson we’ll go over image editing in detail. For now, just harvest and dream!