Welcome back my Indie friends. You just finished editing and assembling the basic images for your cover. Feel like ritualistic suicide yet? If not, don’t worry, eBook formatting is yet to come. As my roommate and best friend will tell you, she’s known my twenty years, seen me in fistfights, and never has she seen me as angry as when I first dealt with Smashwords. 

But for now we get to ignore the looming dragon and assemble a cover! Let’s pull back. Did you study the psychology of color? Really? REALLY? Then riddle me this: why do action movies feature primarily a scheme of orange and blue?

Coincidence? I think not!

Here is why those colors work for action/thriller/mystery movies. Orange is the color of danger. It’s the color of fire, so we evolved to recognize it real easy, so we use it for safety jackets for road crews as it is the most visible color. But in our little primate brains, it equals danger.

Blue is a natural color. One of the most difficult dyes to make, nature abounds with it. Blue is water and the sky. If outrunning a forest fire, blue is the safety of water. So paired with orange it forms an opposite. However, blue can also be danger, floods are as bad as forest fires.

Lastly, what do you get when you combine these colors? Anyone with an artistic background will tell you, most opposites when combined give you gray, a neutral. A color we also use as a term when we can pinpoint how good or bad a person, action, or event may be.

So looking at those posters your mind sees danger, life, primal instincts, uncertainty, struggle. Your brain gets that before you even read the title or check out the stars.

So that’s the power of color. McDonald’s color scheme is proven to make you hungry. Mental wards are painted to make you happy and calm. Casinos are decorated to completely subvert your sense of time and space and lower your inhibitions. All this comes from color.

So got that? COLOR MATTERS. Think you’re gonna outsmart all this BS and go with black? Yeah? Well, what color is your font going to be, genius? Yeah…I think we’re beginning to see how color matters.

Now, it’s important to know color pairs. Remember some colors immediately convey a holiday. This is geared towards Americans, but every culture has this.

What holiday is orange and black?

What holiday is brown and orange?

What holiday is red and green?

What holiday is purple and yellow?

What holiday is white and blue?

What holiday is red, white, and blue?

That would be Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Hanukah, and Independence Day (aka the 4th of July to the unwashed masses). The only one there to give you trouble is likely Hanukah, unless you’re Jewish, have Jewish friends, or live near a large Jewish population. The rest are dead easy.

So…avoid using those color combos unless your book is a children’s book about that holiday. Beware of set pairings such as these, and try to be aware of other markets. Even if you’re based in America, you’ll sell books all over, particularly in English speaking countries, and they have strange holidays. Boxing Day: Canadians, Britons…what the fuck is that? I’ve read the Wikipedia entry and I still can’t figure it out.

That being said, whatever colors you pick be aware of how they mix. True opposites such as black and white and blue and orange mix into grey, conveying ambiguity. Not so much in black and white, however. That color combo is so imbued with the idea of good v. evil, day v. night, pure v. corrupted that we subconsciously do not mix them. A black and white film poster such as the once for Scarface conveys the character will transition from pure good to pure bad. 

Orange and blue, as covered, are mixed subconsciously. But if we keep the trope up for enough generations that the color combo becomes entrenched in our lexicon (like black and white has) that will stop.  And now you understand evolutionary psychology as an added bonus.

So the main color of your background must convey the main emotion you want your readers to feel when reading. The font must compliment it without evoking memories of Thanksgiving dinner at grandma’s. But before we get to the font color, we need to finish the background. And even if you plan to use a single edited image as the background, there will be one primary color that emanates from it, and these principles still apply.

First up, the nuance of color. Red: Danger. Sex. Sin. Amirite? Oh, but did you know the differences between reds? True story, Ferraris are colored red with orange undertones and Corvettes are red with blue undertones (except some classic Stingrays which have orange undertones). Why? 

Back up with me here. We evolved to be hunter gatherers, right? Men hunted, women gathered. That meant men roamed larger areas. If there was a brush or forest fire, they evolved to recognize red-orange flames with greater ease. Women who gathered learned to detect red berries with blueish undertones (typically non-poisonous edible) from the pure red and orangey-red (typically poisonous). In short, if you couldn’t see these things, you tended to die off with fewer offspring, and if you were good you had more, so the gene got stronger.

As such, in the modern world, blue under toned red calls to the ancient female mind. In short, it activates a kind of brain chemical reaction that reminds us of being gatherers waiting for the masculine hunter to come home for some hot Magdalenian lovin’.  Orange-red on the other hand makes the modern male mind go through a reaction that calls up hunting trips with the boys and male bonding.

Ferrari and Corvette know this. So if you want a good sports car and male bonding, to show off for your friend, get a Ferrari. Want a car to cruise for pussy? Get a Corvette. And most people purchasing these cars have no clue exactly why they do it, and talk about lines. But why do you think the Corvette is curved like a woman and the Ferrari is straight lines like a man? Mind blown yet?

The point is, who is your audience? Let’s say your novel is full of gunfights and sex. For a male audience you want a red with orange undertones, for a female audience you want the more subdued blue under tones in red. 

Tone matters for age range. Baby blue is strictly for kids unless the novel is about a woman either having a baby or pursing a baby. Baby blue means babies. Easy. Pink, often given to female babies, can appear on women’s novels. But only on YA and chick-lit or gentle romances (Regency, Christian, or other low-sex ones, Not the bodice-rippers). Orange implies danger or is a ploy for attention (Dean Koontz, I’m looking at you).

If you’re not convinced, go to a bookstore or library. Look at the colors of covers and note the genres and subject matter. There is a language of book covers, the same as there is a language of flowers, statues, and grave markers. You need to learn this language when making your own cover.

Now we come to patterns. Are. You. Fucking. Nuts? NO.


And again, NO!

No patterns. None. Fuck you, there is no excuse, don’t do it. Name me one bestseller with a patterned cover that was the first book published by an author and went onto the bestseller list when initially published? YOU CAN’T DO IT!

That being said, the hunt for the right color is a long one and it must be done right. People judge a book by its cover and the color will process in the human mind before the title is even read.

Now, what size do we use? Smashwords has a handy size guide (http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/06/new-ebook-cover-image-requirements.html ) but truthfully the best looking one is 1,600 x 2,400 pixels if you will publish on Smashwords only.

Amazon has a size guide as well (https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A2J0TRG6OPX0VM ) that is much more amorphous to navigate. Let me save you some time. Here is what they want, but refuse to outright say: 1,600 x 2,560 has the correct ratio, and works on Amazon and Smashwords.

Other sites such as Nook, Google Play, and any others will accept this size as well. The format they all want is JPEG, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Save it as a JPEG and if you ever encounter a seller platform that wants a different type, just use your JASC Paint Shop Pro to convert it to whatever type they require.

One last note on backgrounds: you do not need a background color, it can be a background image. But, remember, in the language of books a solid picture background of a cover indicates non-fiction or temporary fiction. Temporary fiction refers to books published by houses with little marketing push, not expected, usually in eBook format it's what boutique publishers default to, as they largely profit by volume.

If you take the time to notice, legacy publishers do this, but their background color appears on the spine and back even when the cover is a single photograph. And always it is a single photograph. The hastily Photoshopped-pinwheel of six layers is the hallmark of the Indie self-publisher or boutique publisher who didn't stop to think about color and psychological perceptions. Go log onto Amazon and double check. I’ll wait. And remember that non-fiction all too often reads like stereo instructions. All that registers in the subconscious before your title is even read.

Now, open JASC, and create a new image in your chosen size, in your chosen color.

Now you have your basic cover background. Now we open the edited image you created last time, and look at them side by side. How does it fit with the color you chose? If you have red background, is there enough green in the image to evoke Christmas feelings for your story set in the desert in July?

You must pair these things carefully. If your edited image is multicolored and bright, you might want your background and text to be subdued. If it’s dun, you want to keep it all dun. Less is more here, you don’t want to rape the eye ballers of prospective readers. You want something that fits in with the titles around it, but stands out. For example, with my Marly Jackson Mysteries, I use the same colors as most of the other books about female sleuths my customers also view/buy, but overwhelmingly those books have the chick-lit cartoon covers, I use real photos. I fit in, but stand out.

One last note before we get editing. Is this a series? If so, covers have to fit. Their either have to have all the same background color (see all urban fantasy and paranormal romance) or have the same layout in a volley of colors (take a look at the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin or the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich). Or think outside the box. E.G. for my Marly Jackson series, all covers will be red but grow darker. Like the Harry Potter series each book is darker. You didn’t see this in the books, but you did in the movies. It’s okay to use album covers or movies for inspiration and not just books. Do what feels right for you.

Now let’s resize your edited image to 1,600 pixels wide making sure to keep the aspect ratio locked:

Once resized select it, then cut it just as you learned to do last time. For this demonstration I’m using a quickly made up image intended to look silly, but shows you the basics. Now, you will paste it as a new selection onto the background image.

So select the background image, and then select paste as new selection:

Now move it until it feels right and then click to set it. But where do we set it? You should have an idea of the title. Assuming you’re a first time author, give more room at the top than the bottom. The top is for the title and subtitle (if any) and the bottom is for your name. The longer the title or your name, the more room you need.

There is no right and wrong here. Remember to save copies of every step. Save a copy of the blank background. Save a copy of your center image. Once that’s done, it’s time to add the title.

Start by selecting the text option:

Then click on the center of the target area and a text dialog pops up

As you can see you can choose a font, size, alignment, bold, italics…all the options of Microsoft Word. Do not worry about size right now. As for font choice…make it legible. If you choose Comic Sans, kill yourself. Other than that, there are no sins. You can use a custom font, just download it and install it into MS Word and JASC picks it right up.

Some people complain Arial is too common, but is it classic or cliché? Time will tell, eventually, but you likely don’t want to use it for the main title, however for subtitles, or extras such as “A Novel By” above the author name Arial is ideal as this will be smaller, and Arial makes it easier to read.

Once you pick the font that feels right (play around until you find it) make sure the color is what you want. Remember pairings! Avoid anything smacking of a holiday, and find contrasting colors which makes them easier to read. In our example, we’re going with white for the legibility, and Bookman Old Style because that’s my favorite.

Next hit APPLY and the text pops up where you put it. 

Now you can move it or change the size by dragging any of the blue boxes to where you want them…

…until you have it placed exactly as you want.

Once you have it and you like it, save a copy. Then add your subtitle, repeating this process, and your author name. SAVE A COPY AT EVERY STEP. This way, if you are unhappy with the final outcome, you can go back to the step where it went wrong. Once done, you’ll have something like this:

Do not forget to save it. it will ask you to merge into one layer, and you must accept. Make it a JPEG, make sure it’s the large size you want, and you’re done!

In reality you’ll spend about 2 hours doing this, more if you didn’t do the research into the psychology of color from the last lesson. Do several different versions. Play around.

The reason you want to do this before formatting your eBook is you’ll need a break, then come back and look with a fresh eye. At this time if you want to post it to Facebook or other social media and get opinions, feel free. But in the end, listen to your heart.

Next time we finalize the blurb and catchphrase, so you have a marketing respite before the eBook formatting, which I’ll try to make as painless as possible, cutting through the bullshit of manuals and telling you what actually works. So enjoy arts and crafts time for now, just don’t get stuck seeking perfection. You don’t want perfect, you want interesting and eye catching.

So good luck, Godspeed, and much Vicodin to you on your journey to your first book cover.