M. T. Dremer studied graphic design at Muskegon Community College and has been using Adobe Photoshop for more than a decade.
The first thing you’ll want to do, after you’ve decided to design your own e-book cover, is to locate a competent image editing program (I’ll be using Adobe Photoshop, but any program that lets you work with layers should be sufficient). The second thing you’ll want to do is find the image specifications from your publisher. Based on a quick search, it seems that each one has different specifications, so for my examples I’ll be using a generic 600 x 800 pixel base at 72dpi. If you’re unfamiliar with the things I’m talking about then I recommend reading my Guide to Photo Editing and my Guide to Computer Files as places to familiarize yourself.
The base image you use is dependent on a number of factors. The first is your genre. If you’ve written a fantasy novel, you might want a picture of a mountain landscape or a lush forest. If you’ve written a romance novel, you might want a Victorian ranch or a hidden villa. Think hard about what you want because how you find it will largely dictate what you end up with. Remember: under no circumstances should you ever do an image search on the internet and use whatever you find. Chances are good that these images are restricted in some form and you don’t want to get sued. If you have a good camera, you can venture out and take some pictures (provided you have permission for homes and people) or, if you’re a good artist, you can draw what you’re picturing in your head. Since I don’t draw particularly well and I don’t have a great camera, I would instead turn to stock photos. These are royalty free images you can use that cover a wide range of genres. Truly high quality images won’t be free, but the cost of acquiring these images will be worth it to have a professional looking book cover. Or, if you are patient, you can subscribe to each site and catch their weekly free images. They won’t necessarily hit on your subject matter when you want them to but, over time, all the images you save will create a strong catalogue for you to choose from. The links to three reputable stock photo websites are posted below:
Once you have a decent picture that you like, you can now decide how you want it portrayed on your cover. In some cases, the photo takes up the entire cover and the text overlaps it. In other cases, a banner is used to separate any text from the photo. This is largely based on personal preference and I’ve provided some examples on the right so you can get an idea which one will fit best for you. Keep in mind; this may change when it comes time to incorporate your text.
This part of your cover is only necessary if you want a character and/or item to have significance over the base, or background, image. Finding a picture of the person or item is more or less the same process as finding the background. Either have permission of a real person, draw it, or search for an appropriate stock photo. Another option is a 3D rendering program like DAZ Studio, Poser or Bryce. Essentially these programs give you 3D models to pose and dress however you like. The resulting render could then be something you incorporate into your cover. The only downside to this method is that, in order to compile the right character, it might cost a pretty penny with all the models and clothing you want. Again, free stuff is available to those who wait, but that’s an entirely different article. I’ll provide an example of a rendered cover on the right, and if you’re interested, you can read up further on the subject here.
Once you’ve selected, or created, your overlapping image, you will need to start working with layers. With my initial file, I’ve copy and pasted my base image onto the background. However, when I copy and paste my overlapping image, it covers up too much. At this point you can use the eraser tool to trace the edges of your character, or you can use the magic wand tool to select the space you don’t want and then hit the delete key. However, with the magic wand, you will probably end up with jagged edges and have to use the eraser anyway. I also describe this process in an article I wrote about turning yourself into a superhero, if you’re interested in practicing before trying it on your book cover. Take some time and care to ensure a high quality cover. If you discover that the two pictures don’t mesh well (usually because of a different light source in each image) then you can always change one image to something else.
Also note that, if you want, you can add some special effects to your two layers. It would take too long for me to cover all of the things Photoshop can do, but play around with the Filter gallery (found in the filter menu at the top) and the layer properties, which can be located by right clicking on the layer you want to adjust. You won’t want to use too much, but sometimes that right effect can make your cover pop.
Developing a Brand With Your Text
Choosing an appropriate text is extremely important. It can make or break your book cover in a single stroke. Many famous authors can be identified by their font alone; like Stephen King and Nora Roberts. You want it to be legible, but unique. Don’t go for the crazy texts that have a lot of unnecessary edges and dots. Even if the crazy text fits your story perfectly; try not to use it. Readers make a decision at a glance so you want to make that process as easy as possible for them.
Once you’ve picked an appropriate text, play around with the font size. The title should always be larger than the author name, unless you’re so famous that your name is more recognizable. And, make sure that both the title and the author name fit comfortably with the images you’ve chosen. Look for areas with negative space or solid colors and try to fit the text to those areas to preserve legibility. If there are no such places, then consider using the banners I mentioned above. Nothing screams amateur like text that blends into the background. And, if possible, try to avoid excessive glow effects on your text. There is a tendency, when text is hard to read, to add a glow effect. I know this because I’ve done it more times than I’d like to admit. But usually, in the end, it just makes the image look busy. Everything about your cover should be simple and easily recognizable. Why do you think so many successful books use close-ups on inanimate objects? Because everyone knows what it is from twenty feet away. Your e-book might not be on shelves, but the same concept applies when someone is browsing through a list.
Only a Symbol
Because of this emphasis on simplicity, you might consider skipping the whole photo thing and instead going with a very clean and straightforward symbol or logo. Think of the Hunger Games and how the Mockingjay pin is all that is visible on the cover of the book. While this is easiest if your book has a significant object/symbol in it, it can be done without one too. A lot of books have things on the cover that are never encountered in the story. And, who knows, the logo you devise might give you a new idea that you want to incorporate into the book. For an in-depth tutorial about how to design your logo, you can read more here, but in general, think of theme, symbolism and the heart of the book. If you had to describe your story as one thing, what would that be? The nice thing about this method is that if you create your shape as a vector graphic, it can be re-sized to anything and still retain its original quality.
When you’re ready to finalize, keep in mind that most e-readers are in black and white. So, before you send off that cover, try converting it to see what that would look like. While the publisher might not require you to send a black and white version, it’s important that you see what it looks like before sending it, so that if it converts terribly, you can make adjustments now. If it looks bad, consider adjusting the contrast of the base and overlapping images. These processes are also described in my photo editing guide which I linked to in the first paragraph.
If you decide, after hours of frustration, that you just can’t make your own cover, then consider getting in contact with an artist. Essentially you will want to search for an artist whose style is similar to the picture you have in your head. Then get in contact with them through the site where you found them. Some might be willing to work for free in exchange for a reference, but most will likely have their own system of compensation. Discussing it with them will outline where both of you stand. Below you’ll find a few links to sites with a large community of artists. (Be warned that some user content may contain nudity, though each site provides its own content filter.)
(Notice: If you’re reading this article anywhere but on hubpages.com it has been illegally reproduced without the author’s knowledge or permission.)
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on March 12, 2016:
heidithorne - Thank you for the comment and the compliment!
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on March 06, 2016:
Congrats on Hub of the Day! Great tips.
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on March 06, 2016:
Thelma Alberts - Thank you for the comment and the congratulations! :D
justthemessenger - I hope the information is helpful in your journey, and thank you for the comment!
Kristen Howe - Making our own e-covers can be a lot of fun, I hope it's helpful, and thank you for the comment/congratulations!
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on March 06, 2016:
Great hub on how to make your own cover for our e-books. Very useful and handy for those who are self-pubbing their work. Congrats on HOTD!
James C Moore from Joliet, IL on March 06, 2016:
Good tips. Very useful info for an aspiring ebook/estory author like me who isn't the most Internet savy writer.
Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on March 06, 2016:
Congratulations for the Hub of the Day award! A very well deserved award with loads of informations. Thanks for sharing.
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on June 10, 2015:
FatBoyThin - I was also very slow to get on the ebook bandwagon. For me, my opinion started to change when I thought of ebooks as an alternative, rather than a replacement, to physical books. I still prefer a good paperback, but having wireless access to new books (that will never take up any space) has become more and more appealing. Plus, free public domain books is a nice perk. Thank you for the comment!
Colin Garrow from Inverbervie, Scotland on June 10, 2015:
Very helpful guide and great images, though I'm not convinced e-books are the way to go for me. Still undecided. Great Hub, voted up.
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on March 04, 2013:
capricornrising - I haven't yet. I make covers for all of my books, just for fun, and I thought some of the things I've learned would be useful for those who want to make their own. However, self publishing an ebook is looking more and more attractive after my bruising battles with the publishing industry.
capricornrising from Wilmington, NC on March 04, 2013:
Have you gone the e-book route then, M.T.?
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on February 26, 2013:
Highvoltagewriter - Thank you for the compliment and the comment!
William Benner from Savannah GA. on February 25, 2013:
Some very interesting insights and ideas, this is one I will read again!
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on July 10, 2012:
vox vocis - Thank you for the compliment and the comment! It's amazing how a simple logo can make something instantly identifiable (even without text).
TToombso8 - Thank you also for the compliment and the comment! I hope it was helpful!
Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on July 10, 2012:
Excellent ideas and a wonderful hub! Nicely done. VUM!
Jasmine on July 10, 2012:
Great article, very useful for new beginners! I like the logo idea, too.