Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Self-Publishing 102: Creating a Captivating Cover

Welcome to another addition of Writer's Wednesday.  A number of you seemed to enjoy my self-pub tips on the last go around, so I thought I'd share the nuts and bolts with you about creating a captivating cover. 
I cannot emphasis enough that you do not want to skimp on your cover. This is the single-biggest marketing investment you will make in yourself.  Unfortunately, if your cover looks unprofessional, readers will tend to assume that what's inside isn't any better.

Let me also point out that if you intend to publish paperback (or hard bound) copies of your novel, you have a lot more work cut out for you.  Just making the front cover is relatively easy compared to creating a whole cover (including the spine and back).  If you, like me, are not tech savvy, you will find you are entirely dependent on your cover designer to get the details right.  Which means -- do your homework and pick someone you want to work with.

But for now, let's just start with the front cover and the artwork or photography that will grace it.  Basically, you have three options: (1) use your own photo/art (un-comissioned); (2) buy stock photos/art; (3) commission photos/art.

Using your own photograph can yield good results if you or your designer have the skills to manipulate the photo well.  The first example that comes to mind is book one in Willow Cross's Dark Gifts series.  The girl on the cover is Willow's daughter and her neighbor was cover artist.  If you can get lucky enough to have a free model and designer, go for it!

The next option -- to which most of us will be relegated -- is using stock photography and art.  Here's my biggest concern about stock photography: anyone else can buy the same picture and use it on their cover.  You'd think with the millions of images out there (check out for example), that this wouldn't be a big concern.  Unfortunately, it is.  Just check out these examples if you don't believe me.
 This this is problem is limited to Indie authors?  Think again. This one shocked me when I saw it recently.  While the dress and hair color had been changed, the girl is obviously the same in both photos.

The way I got around this with Destined was to look for art on  The image I fell in love with was not for sale (meaning it wasn't a stock image), but I contacted the artist to see if she'd be willing to sell me the rights to use it.  She was not only flattered, but sold me rights at stock price.  This is not always going to happen.  Some artists won't want to sell; some will want exorbitant prices.  But the bottom line is, you won't know if you don't ask.  So what's the harm?

Finally, you can commission the cover art.  That means either hiring an artist to digitally paint your cover or hiring a photographer to shoot a model and then manipulate the image into a cover.  Here are some really stunning examples by Indie authors.
 The most important benefit of spending this extra money is that no one will have a cover like yours.  Plus, you get to pick every last detail.  No worries about manipulating polka dots off pillows and making a dress look less modern (see my example above).

Don't forget when designing your cover that you will oftentimes need to pay for the right to commercially use the font you select (see, but your cover artist should already own the digital brushes or be able to purchase them economically.

Finally, for your spine and back cover, how you format will depend on who you decide to use to print your books. I used Lightning Source and Create Space and both have different formats and templates.  So yes, my designer had to put the full cover together twice (although, since I'm not tech savvy, I have no idea how much work this actually was).  You're also going to need to know your final page count because that determines the width of your spine.  Just some things to keep in mind.

Regardless of which route you take to create your cover, I recommend combing Amazon and Goodreads for covers that you love.  Once you have an idea of what you like, it will make the process of selecting art/photography and a feel for your book that much easier.  Just for fun, here are some of the covers that had me drooling when we created the Destined cover.  Can you tell??

 Have any questions or tips ? Please share!


  1. The cover for Destined is beautiful!

  2. I was immediately drawn to Destined's cover, and I think that's the true test. Does it make you stop and look? I love that you found your own unique photo! And gathering together covers that you like (also bestselling covers in your genre) gives you (or your designer) a good place to start.


  3. Great article. So many indie authors try to go it alone on their covers, and frankly it shows. I agree with Katie, Destined is beautiful.

  4. Is the scantily clad beautiful young woman laying down on a bed with some type of vegetation or swirly lines a standard for young adult paranormal?

    I wasn't sure if that was just a hallmark of this genre, or if it was a trend.

  5. Thanks, Jessie. This is a very helpful post for those looking to self-publish. Keep up the great work, and I wish you much success in your literary endeavors.

    Take care,

  6. Fantastic post! Cover art is so frequently what kills an indie author because their covers don't look professional enough. Your cover is amazing!

  7. Love this article because you are spot on! I've gotten covers from all different sources. But the great thing is - you can change it just like the big guys to freshen up a book. We will be updating all of our YA covers when book 2 comes out in each series. Just like the large pubs do.

  8. oh, LM, that's a great idea! I hadn't thought of that, but I like it!

  9. Simply great advice! If things don't pan out with the publisher I'm currently working with, I may turn to the self-published route, so this is wonderful information. BTW...I love the cover for Destined.


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