One of the services that traditional publishing still provides is art. Many writers aren’t graphic artists, or at least not illustrators, and when I saw a post over at Cheapass Fiction, I realized that people might be able to benefit from my experience. First, let us define what we want to achieve with a cover: We want people to buy/download our stories. To make that happen, the cover should be professional looking and eye-catching (in a good way). Ideally it would have artistic merit in its own right and give the potential reader some idea of what the story is about, but both of those things, if poorly executed, will detract from point #1 (being professional looking). So, how do we go about doing this? Here are some basic rules:
- Read the guidelines. If you are going to publish at Amazon, check out their guidelines. Same goes for Smashwords. Same goes for Apple (apparently they reject anything that has a web address on it). Same goes for anywhere you want to put it that isn’t your own website.
- Keep it simple. Many people will be viewing your story from a list, which means that they will see a thumbnail. Many will also be viewing it on a smartphone. What this means is that your cover needs to look good postage stamp sized, so keep it down to what is necessary: Title, Author, image, and possibly story type.
- Use a light or white background. As a general rule, the darker a background, the more difficult it is to make it look professional. This is partially because you need high contrast for the image to look good as a thumbnail, and with a black background that means white or light text.
- Use a border. The problem with a light background is that it can blend into its surroundings, which is bad. So add border in black or grey.
- Use as high quality graphics as you can find/afford. If you are a photographer or know one, this can be to your advantage. Same goes for illustrators. If not, go with professional stock graphics from places like iStockphoto.com or dreamstime (dreamstime has a catalog of free royalty-free images that you can use). You can usually get what you need for $20 or less. A tiny, professional icon is almost always better than a large-scale piece of amateur art. I hope that this next bit is unnecessary, but attention to licenses, do not screw other artists by stealing their work.
- Look at how everyone else is doing it and don’t be afraid to ask them. Find covers that you like, and figure out what makes you like them. Also, if you see an author doing their own covers and you like it, ask them about it, they will probably tell you, this is how I learned about iStockphoto, I asked Tobias Buckell how he could afford to do the covers for his short stories, and he told me.
Keep in mind that these are just guidelines, all but the first can be broken once you know what you are doing. Also keep in mind that I’m not a professional Graphic Designer, and I’ll probably look back at the stuff I’m making now and wince, so if you have anything to add, feel free to drop a line in the comments.
If you look at the stories in the sidebar, all of them with the exception of the Drones cover were created by me, and all of them inexpensively. In a future post, I plan on spending a bit more time on how to actually make them, and will probably post a template or two for you to use.