Monday, April 30, 2012

DIY: Cover Art - Creating My Own eBook, Part Two

Last Monday, I gave an overview of the process I used when creating my first eBook. One of the things that I said I'd go into more detail about at a later date was the creation of the cover art.

Everything I've read about the publication and marketing of eBooks over the last several months has suggested that one of the most important aspects of the whole process is having appropriate cover art. You want cover art that fits the genre/feel you intend for your book to have and you want to produce that cover art on a budget which fits your overall sales expectations for your book. There's obviously a quality factor, too, but that is both somewhat subjective and is dependent to a certain extent on the budget. Another important thing is for it to look good when seen in a thumbnail view.

Here's my cover for "Gravity's Pull":

So, first let's talk about how it fits the criteria I laid out above.
  • Fits the genre/feel - Well, this is a hard SF story that involves asteroids as a primary plot component. So, I think that it meets that criteria at some basic level. Someone presumably wouldn't confuse this for a fantasy story or a literary story where the "pull" of gravity is metaphorical.
  • On a budget which fits the overall sales expectations for your book - I had no specific expectations, per se. I have a goal -- I'd like to sell 100 copies by the end of 2012, which would net me $35. So, clearly, I wanted to not be putting much money (or, for that matter, time which I could be spending on writing) into the cover.
  • Quality factor - It's hard to judge your own work. In my opinion, relative to the amount of time I put into this and for a first attempt at eBook cover design, I felt like this was decent. Now, that's all heavily-qualified, I admit. But I don't feel embarrassed by this cover and I don't believe that I should be. For the purposes of this particular title, that was sufficient for me.
  • Look good in a thumbnail view - I feel like this may be the best strength of this cover. I've looked at it on multiple devices in multiple sizes and the text is legible.
Since producing this, I got some feedback from a professor I know locally who deals with design. He gave me some suggestions on ways I could easily improve it -- make "MICHAEL" and "HAYNES" be the same width by changing font sizes and tighten up the distance between "GRAVITY'S" and "PULL." Both of those make sense to me and I may do that at some point. It's not hard to upload a new cover. If nothing else, I plan to use those tips when designing future covers.

OK, so now let's get down to the nuts and bolts of putting this cover together. I needed several things: A font, an image, and a tool to design the cover in.

(A quick disclaimer here: I am not a lawyer and am not offering legal advice. I'm describing the process I followed. Before you use any intellectual property please make sure to review the terms of use and not rely on my descriptions.)

Now that we have that out of the way... Back to the three things I needed.
  1. A font to use. - Not all fonts are free to use for commercial purposes. I went to the Open Font Library and looked for a font which I felt had a nice clean look and which was licensed under the SIL Open Font License. The font I chose was Pfennig. I downloaded the relevant files and installed them on my computer.
  2. An image. - I ended up using an asteroid image from NASA. My understanding of NASA's terms of use for images is that they are not copyrighted unless specifically stated as such and that they are free to be used as long as they don't imply that NASA is endorsing something and as long as they don't feature a publicly-identifiable person. I actually located the image while I was performing a search using Flickr's Advanced Search with the Creative Commons Licensing options. If you're going to use an image found that way it is very, very important that you understand CCL and the various rules and restrictions around it. (My understanding is that the only way you could adapt a CCL image for a cover would be if it had the loosest license -- Attribution-Only -- and you acknowledged the image source and provided a link to that license. I haven't researched this 100% since I ended up using the NASA image.)
  3. A tool to design the cover with - I've used Gimp for quite a while to do photo editing. It's somewhat similar in terms of abilities to a tool like Photoshop but has the benefit of being free to use. There's a bit of a learning curve with it, especially if you haven't used similar tools in the past, but once you learn how to use it, it's a very powerful tool.
Once I assembled those materials, it was time to make the cover. I chose a black background since it matched the background of the asteroid image. I centered the image on the page (roughly speaking) and then applied the text for the title and my name above and below the image. Finally, I used a starburst effect in Gimp to add the... well, the starburst... in the upper-left corner.

I ended up playing around with this for a while, trying to get things to look the way I wanted them. A lot of that was, again, sort of a learning-curve thing. My original cover design had a serifed font rather than Pfennig and I didn't like how the results looked in the preview in KDP. As it turns out, the preview in KDP seems to render text poorly compared to almost every other place I saw it. So, the lesson I took from that was that if it looks okay when you shrink it down to thumbnail size in your design tool then it should look fine for most purposes.

By far, the most important thing I want to say about all this is that if you decide to make your own cover please -- please -- make sure that you take the time to be comfortable that you understand the licenses for anything you use in the design such as fonts, images, etc.  If you can use images you've taken yourself, all the better, since you own the rights to them completely.

I'm sure there's much more that could be discussed about this and I hope it's clear that I view what I did hear as making a passable low-budget cover.

Have any of you created your own eBook covers? Have you worked with someone else to design a cover? I'd be interested to hear what your experiences were like as well.


  1. Hi Michael.

    Congrats on W1S1, and good luck with your book :)

  2. So much to learn, especially since I'm embarking on a self-publishing project of my own. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. You're quite welcome. Good luck with your project, Angela!

  3. It's very interesting to follow your test of the self-publishing waters. I like that you are going slowly and explaining each part. It's encouraging - I might try it someday.
    Congrats on W1S1 - lots of great stuff this month!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Lee! Glad that you are finding the posts interesting to read.

  4. Thanks for the lesson and the tips. They are greatly appreciated!

    1. You're quite welcome. Thanks for commenting!

  5. I'm intrigued by the whole process of self publishing and hugely daunted too. Great posts.

  6. Images on book covers are very important in drawing readers.
    I hope you don't mind my suggesting: Have you considered going for a swirling plughole type image instead? Cos the rock on your cover looks static and doesn't appear to be being pulled anywhere.

    1. That's an interesting thought about the cover image. If I opt to create a new cover for this one someday, I'll keep that in mind.

      Thanks for stopping by and for the suggestion!