Are you sending your daughter to the prom in a Halloween costume? I know I did when I first published some short stories.
Your book is your baby. Don't send it off into the world in scary clothing. If you can't afford a designer, there are alternatives.
You may be wondering why I would blog about making your own covers when it's one of the services I offer. Let me be clear. I can't teach you to be a graphic designer in a blog post but I can help you with some of the basics.
Get a program that can handle the job and learn to use it. If you can't afford Photoshop or Illustrator, get GIMP. It's free. Still too hard? Try Paint.net. You can't do as much with it but it can do a basic job and there are lots of tutorials. There is no way around this. If you want to make it yourself, you have to spend some time on it.
Let's look at some bad stuff. That's always fun! Each cover below has used the same elements. The first was tossed together from an image and some bad effects. The second is simply resized as is for Kindle. The third has also been resized for Kindle but in this case, the background was extended to avoid distortion. The title font is more readable and effects were removed. Capitalizing some of the letters creates "is able" and the skewed letter E is part of the throwaway idea. It also connects visually with the eye. Shadows are deepened and the bed now looks more sinister. All in all, it's the best of a bad lot. Click on them for a better view.
What works: This shade of green is ideal for horror. Sometimes entire films are tinted and the Saw series is an example. The iris has been 'demonized' and the title color is pulled from it. The elements are lined up in relation to each other. The eye is drawn to the right and encourages the reader to open the book.
What doesn't work: The first cover has a poor title font that is hard to read and this is messed up further by adding drop shadow. The main photo has been edited a bit but there is still too much going on and the overall feel of horror isn't really there. In the second cover, it was simply resized to fit Kindle and the entire cover is distorted. Now that is the wrong kind of horror! The hospital bracelet for the author name is kind of cheesy and I would not do that again. It is also out of balance in tone in the first two.
Make it work!
- Keep it simple. We make fewer mistakes when we use fewer elements.
- Print requires high resolution so always work with this in mind. You can reduce size successfully but you can't increase without making a mess. The recommended size for Amazon Kindle books is 1563px x 2500px. Always pay attention to proportions! Nothing looks worse than a stretched image on a book cover!
- Use display fonts for your title. They are designed to be easily read and work well in thumbnail sizes. There are a lot of choices but League Gothic, Franchise, Chunk Five, Baskerville, and Trajan are good places to start. Even though it's tempting, don't use effects. Unless you really know what you are doing, it's going to be a huge fail. Keep your font choices limited to two.
- You know your book but do you know your reader? Think about who will most likely want to read your book and design for them.
- Pay attention to how your eye moves over the design. Organize the size of each element (photos, graphics, type) according to importance and use color to stand out and to harmonize. If the overall design leads the eye off the page, it should be towards the right, where the book opens. Watch for attention-grabbers and make sure elements are balanced.
- Line the elements up in relation to each other and to the underlying image if you are using one. This means watching the spacing on either side of text, aligning the title with the author name, paying attention to spaces at the top and bottom of your cover. In other words, relationship and balance.
Don't be afraid of white space or black space. It's neutral and lets the eye rest while drawing attention to the main elements.
When working with large block fonts like Impact, you can experience problems with 'hot' colors like red or orange and end up with dark blobs in your beautiful font when the image is resized. Test it brutally!
Set your fonts in Photoshop to Crisp. It reads better when the cover is reduced to small jpegs.