Sunday, January 11, 2015

Adventures in Self Publishing - Do Your Own Covers

If you're poor or cheap or ambitious you can take a hand at making your own cover.  The best advice is to probably keep it simple.  Too many self published covers look like a angelfire page from the 90s, with bling and lens flares and the whole works.

First, get and learn the basics of GIMP, basically the free version of Photoshop.

You'll want a nice font - try dafont or my favorite fontspace.  Enter your title or whatever in the preview box to see what it looks like, and make sure to only use 100% free or commercial-use fonts - this isn't for personal use.  I've seen it as a rule of thumb never to use more than three fonts on one document.

You may want to use photos or images. You can take them yourself or use someone else's.  You can always ask people - many amateur artists or photographers would be happy to let you.  You can use images on flickr, but you'll probably at least need to attribute the photographer, and make sure to filter results for Creative Commons with Commercial and Modifications checked.  There is way too much noise to signal for my liking at flickr, but it can be good if you just want a basic shot of a forest or skyline or something.  There are more artsy options at DeviantArt, but more hoops to jump through if you want to do things honestly.  You go through hundreds of photos to find a "maybe", then click through to find out you have to click to a separate website to find out that you can only use the photo in anti-capitalist feelings poems or some such crap, and it's just too much hassle for me.

Or you could buy stock photos for around $2 each.  There are a lot of rip offs here, so google around for customer reviews.  Avoid any claims of free trials - all that I've come across hit your credit card way before the trial ends.  Most sites will let you create an account and save favorites, or "lightbox", for free.  Also, if you find a picture on one site, you can probably find it on another by searching by picture title.  The pricing is all over the place.  You can get pics for like $12 for a single, or $0.12 each if you have an expensive subscription.  Keep in mind that you can sometimes actually get twice as many as advertised, as you'll only need a "medium" size picture, unless you intend on using it for a print cover or need to zoom in a ton.  You'll probably want to avoid the temptation to get a package deal and buy cover pictures for your next 20 books, unless you plan ahead really well.  Can Stock Photo is my current favorite.  For $9 in credits you can get 5 photos.  Fotolia is also good.

Now that you have your elements, you're on your own, but here are a few links that might help:

Fancying up text:
Text outline:
3D text:

Cutting out pictures/removing backgrounds - the trick is to get the feathering right.  I'm not great at this, and doing this wrong will make your cover look amateurish more than almost anything else:

How to fade from one color (or image) to the next:

I'll add more here as I come across it.  Some topics that will help you as you become familiar with GIMP include using Layer Masks, fiddling with the opacity slider between two layers, applying filters, and adjusting color elements.  Remember to save lots of project files of every change and element.  You may find yourself wanting to use the title in the same style in an advertisement or something, and you can just drag it off one window onto another.

Your image should be at least 1400 pixels wide - this number keeps getting bigger and bigger, I think mostly thanks to Apple and all the ebooks they aren't selling, so go ahead and make it ginormous.  Export your final product to a jpg.  I will usually come up with a dozen candidates with subtle variations, and I'll export them all to one folder and flip through them.  Also look at them at thumbnail size - some pictures that look good at regular size become smudgy blobs when shrunk down.

And if you end up being unhappy with the cover you submit (and you will), changing it is easy, though it can take a day or more to show up at the various vendors.

Covers for print books are a different animal, which I may or may not go into later.

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