DIY Book Covers Have Come a Long Way — How to Create Professional-Quality Covers with Design Apps

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From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

In the early days of self-publishing, authors who didn’t know know coding had to hire formatters to make their books cyber-ready. Since then, formatting has become part of many writing programs. Word processors like MSWord, Scrivener and Pages will output ebook files and apps like Vellum (Mac only) and Jutoh (Pc and Mac) make it easy to create well-formatted, upload-ready files themselves.

The days of the pricey formatter and frustrating waits for edits and revisions or even minor corrections (typos!) are mostly gone.

Ian Andrew, a former Microsoft trainer turned indie author, offers a step-by-step guide to formatting an ebook in MSWord.

As similar transformation has been taking place with book design. Easy-to-use, drag-and-drop apps have made it possible for authors—even those who don’t know PhotoShop or think they don’t have design skills—to create attractive, pro-level, genre-appropriate book covers.

In my decades as an editor and publisher, I’ve spent a lot of time in cover meetings. While editors, marketing departments and sales managers contributed ideas, the art director quickly sketched images (called “thumbnails”) to show us what our ideas would look like when transformed into visual concepts. From that first quick sketch, more ideas would lead to new ideas, second thoughts, and other changes until everyone agreed on a version that would form the basis for the eventual cover.

We made decisions about:

  • Photo or illustration?
  • Poster or type cover?
  • Spot art or full page bleed?
  • genre?
  • color?
  • font?
  • The competition.
  • What’s selling?
  • Why?
  • What isn’t?
  • Why not?

. . . .

Several easy-to-use, drag-and-drop on-line apps (some FREE) will let you quickly transform your ideas into professional-looking, genre-specific covers.

BookBrush, offers customizable cover templates in a variety of genres, quick, easy ways to change fonts and text plus clickable buy buttons and one-click 3-D covers. There’s a user forum to help if you get stuck plus lots of extra templates.

Canva, similar to BookBrush, differs in the details and provides an excellent intro to design principles. Dave Chesson wrote a post about how to design a professional-looking book cover in Canva. He goes into detail about which fonts go with what fictional genres and how to add pro effects to your cover.

. . . .

A veteran (survivor?) of many cover meetings and plenty of follow-up one-on-one sessions standing over a drawing board hashing out pesky details and revisions with art directors, I’m not a designer. But, along the way, I have learned quite a bit about what the pros think about what works—and what doesn’t—when the subject is book covers.

First—and most important—is to put your creativity aside. Now is not the time to Think Different. Instead, you want to do what the other kids do.

Your goal when designing a cover should be to fit in rather than stand out. The reader wants to know at a glance what kind of book you’ve written.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

PG notes that there are lots of links in the OP to cover design tutorials and free or low-cost graphics tools to help you make covers.


PG made covers for several of Mrs. PG’s early self-published novels and thought they looked great.

Then, Mrs. PG decided to switch to a professional cover designer.

(PG’s ego was and is just fine. He’s pretty certain nothing can dent it.)

Mrs. PG’s books with professionally-designed covers sold better than her books with PG’s works of art on the front.

When she switched to writing in her most recent genre, Mrs. PG found a cover designer who was talented in designing for that genre and the era in which those books were set (and who charged a higher price than her previous cover artist). Those books have been selling extremely well, enough so that Mrs. PG believes the extra money she’s paid for her covers has generated an excellent return on her investment. Some of the Amazon reviews and emails from reader friends have mentioned how great the covers look.

PG has bloviated about Mrs. PG’s experience with homemade PG covers and professionally-designed covers.

Your results may vary.

While PG imagines himself to be a great artist from time to time, that feeling passes and he’s willing to admit that others are better than he is with book covers and probably a lot of other things as well.

The purpose of a book cover isn’t to be great art. It’s a very important marketing/advertising tool that’s designed to catch a reader’s positive attention, stop them from scrolling on and click on some related link.

If a book cover accomplishes that task, it’s done its job. Some book covers do their jobs better than others do.

Postscript: The OP mentions several online sources for free images. PG cautions that you need to make certain that the website does in fact offer images that have been properly licensed from the creator AND that such license permits your commercial use of the image in which you are interested, such as including it on a book cover and in your blog to promote sales of your book.

PG has a couple of clients who used images they found online that didn’t indicate their source or copyright status and who thereafter received letters from an attorney’s office asking for money.

So far, PG has been able to keep the lawyers away, but has explained to the client that he can huff and puff, but if the creator of the image (or the agency to which the creator has licensed the image) is not permanently intimidated by PG’s huffing and puffing, something unpleasant might happen in the future.

One additional point on this issue that won’t violate attorney/client privilege: PG suspects the law firm asserting the claim may be using some sort of a web search/web spider program to wander around the internet looking for images for which its client has licensing rights, including clicking down through a website or blog to find an image that the owner of the website posted a year or two earlier.

But PG could be wrong about that.

5 thoughts on “DIY Book Covers Have Come a Long Way — How to Create Professional-Quality Covers with Design Apps”

  1. Do beware of too much “industry compliance” in cover design, though. Back when this shark was on the dark side of the editorial desk (in-house at a category-leading specialty publisher), there was a purportedly genius Marketing Director who more than once screwed things up with his memes. One of those memes — and it’s one that I’ve seen repeated in the last couple of years by a major imprint’s Art Director — is that “green covers don’t sell.” Being the inquisitive sort I was and am, though, I didn’t buy it. I looked into the source of the meme, and discovered that two things had changed since it arose in the 1960s:
    (1) Dye chemistry and coatings had changed substantially, so that 1950s-era green dyes on the common high-acid papers used for covers (both dust jackets and softcovers) that faded so inconsistently under UV light were no longer in use. (And modern coatings would have delayed even that.)
    (2) The first-generation fluorescent lighting tubes, and worse yet incandescent bulbs, common in retail lighting have been replaced by wider-spectrum lights that no longer muddy greens, especially with corrective lenses. (There’s a lot of science involved in aircraft-display design that I was more than marginally familiar with…)

    And since then, we’re dealing now with refractive (screen) rather than reflective (physical object) displays. Especially, but not only, during lockdowns!

    Put all of this together, and I can reach only one conclusion: Don’t listen to a guru who seems to be spouting received wisdom if the guru can’t make that received wisdom make sense in the current purchasing environment. For example, right now, I’d worry a helluva lot more about how a cover looked in a 325-pixel-wide refractive display (cellphone, tablet, laptop, even horror-of-horrors a desktop!) than I would at full size, eight feet away, under B&N-standard fluorescent lighting. And if the cover-design guru focuses solely on the latter and ignores the former, perhaps getting a second and third opinion is called for. More to the point, when the revised/omnibus edition comes out in five years, don’t assume that the cover design principles should remain the same.

    For my next act, I’ll dump on metal-foil embossed lettering and its negative effect on profitability when all costs are extended and assessed against traceable sales. Presuming, of course, that the metal-foil embossed lettering isn’t scanned with sixteen-bit rendering making gold look orange…

    • Good comment! Although not sure why you’re calling screens “refractive.” Refraction is the bending of light. We’re talking about “transmission” here not “refraction” (or, technically: additive color vs. subtractive color).

      And I shoot for even smaller sizes when designing for digital: in the range of 230×350 pixels. But you’re right to emphasize that. Many DIYers do not get this point.

      • I refer to it as “refractive” because that’s how aircraft system design and maintenance referred to it in the 1980s. (And in the optics/laser-chemistry labs I was in before that, the prof emphasized that there’s no difference between “refractive” and “transmissive” not accounted for by the Atlantic Ocean… but he was a Brit. <vbeg>)

        • Well, if you’re going back to the ’80s, I must defer. 😉

          BTW, I may have posted this before, but here’s a fun color test to take

          It’s based on the Munsell Test, and as I recall, lower scores are better, and I think the best I did was an “8”. See how those old aircraft eyes of yours do. . .
          ***UPDATE: I just took the test again and got a perfect “0” score. Beat that!

          • I wasn’t a bus driver — I commanded the aircraft owners (the maintenance guys). So when the pilots were too busy shooting their wristwatches off in the O-Club bar, I was out making sure their aircraft were ready for their next unscheduled airline event.

            And I’ve been wearing bifocals since I was six, so I’m not even going to think about any visual acuity tests now!

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