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“Never judge a book by its cover…”

Whilst that may be true as a metaphor for not judging people or things by the first physical impression, I think we can say quite fairly, that people DO judge actual books by their covers. Just take a look at the home page of the Kindle store and observe how you yourself scan through – certain things will draw your eye and make you interested enough to click.

That is why a striking and interesting cover is so very important for your book!

Since I finished the second draft of my debut novel, I’ve been dreaming of cover ideas. At first I wanted to go big, spare no expensive, get the absolute most beautiful cover from an acclaimed artist, with beautiful hand drawn details and gorgeous elements. This was my baby, my masterpiece, and it deserved the very best!

However, as time went on, and as I began to learn more about the many things involved in publishing a book, I began to revise that wild notion. After all, as beautiful as the book may be, should I really spend a thousand dollars on the cover when the likelihood of any return on that investment is woefully low? Well, maybe. If I decide I deserve to do this for me and me alone, and to hell with it. But if you are like many people writing stories, you’re doing this with a minimal budget, and that money would honestly be better spent in editing.

That’s not to say you don’t need a great cover though! Au contrare! You need a fabulous cover, that will do your story justice, but not break the bank. A good cover is one of the key tools in your self publishing toolkit to giving your book a fighting chance in the cut throat world of self publishing. You want it to stand out to make readers click on it, rather than have it get lost in a sea of generic cover art.

I have a bit of graphic and web design background, so I’ve been looking into what I can accomplish myself for free or low cost. My heyday in design was back when I coded websites in HTML using Notepad and there was no such thing as content management systems or blog platforms. Technology has moved fast, and so many amazing services have sprung up that can help you create things that were once the purview of specialists only.

If you have cash to splash around, engage a pro designer. If not, beg your creative artist friends to help you, or have a go yourself. But if you have limited skills and budget, check out the many book cover tools which are available at the mere click of the Google. I’ve tried out both KDP’s and Canva’s book cover tools, and Canva is by far superior in my view.

So this week, I’ve been playing around with Canva to create some designs for my upcoming novel, Somniloquy. Canva is a free service that allows you to make all sorts of designs using their huge catalogue of backgrounds, frames, photographs, and other elements. You can make logos, business cards, and… book covers! There is also a premium version and an enterprise version for businesses.

I have a free account, and there are heaps of amazing design elements you can use without paying a cent. If you take your time to search you are sure to find what you need to make a killer cover. You can also use existing templates!

However, if you have a very specific vision (like me!), you might find you need to access some of the premium items. Now, I’ve discovered (after trawling the terms and conditions and licensing agreements) that you don’t need to pay for a premium account to access premium elements. A premium account will give you access to all premium elements plus a bunch of other features – these are great if you need to create a lot of designs. However, if you are just wanting to do a cover here or there, but want to incorporate some of the premium elements, you can simply pay a license for each individual element.

I merrily created my cover using a mix of free and premium elements. I played around picking out things I liked and throwing them on to the page regardless of free or premium status, then I refined my cover down to a simple design. To my delight, I’d cut it down to just four premium elements. The grand total damage to my wallet for those elements: just $4. That’s right, licenses are just one single buck per premium element!

Here’s the design I’ve landed on for now; excuse the watermarks – they will disappear when I buy those elements. And please, if you use premium elements in your designs, don’t try and skip out on paying the licensing. Those artists deserve their royalties, so don’t steal.

Which one do you like best?

The great thing about Canva is you can easily change background colours, choose from a huge library of fonts, move things around, copy and paste between pages and duplicate designs to try different colourways like I have. You can then export a draft (with watermarks if you haven’t paid for licensed elements yet) and share them on your website or social media to get feedback on preferences from your readers and followers. I ran a quick test on my Facebook page to see which of these three my few followers liked best. As to be expected, there were lots of different opinions, and so further testing and refining will come next.

But I think you can agree, the design is pretty good, especially for a first try with a new tool. You don’t need to be a graphic designer, but it helps if you spent a bit of time thinking about what elements or themes you’d like to portray for your cover. Do some research on what’s popular on Amazon, and think of ways your cover can stand out. People don’t need to have read your book to know if the cover is a good cover, you just want it to be interesting enough for them to click and take a chance. Then your book description blurb will hopefully take care of the rest!

What other cover art tools have you used? Let me know in the comments!

Oh, and if you really do want that beautifully hand illustrated cover? Save that for your limited edition hardcover run when you are a bestselling novelist!

2 Replies to “Creating your own cover art”

    1. That’s my favourite too. I’m trying out a couple of other background colours, because it was pointed out the black/orange theme may be seen as “Halloween-y” to US folks.

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