Hey people of Earth!
Around this time last year, I mentioned I would have a video up on how I make book covers/cover making tips, and to summarize: I did not do the thing, and this year old script is still sitting in my drafts.
SO, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and post a written version of these tips! Going to get straight into this because I imagine this will be rather long!
This post will be divided into 6 parts: finding inspiration, concept art, incorporating elements of design, composition, tools and software, and resources. Feel free to skip around to whatever section interests you most!
***Before we get started, really quick disclaimer. I am in no way a professional cover designer. Cover design
is merely something I picked up on my own, and I don’t have any formal
education/credentials in graphic design. So of course
take my advice with that in mind. These are also just my personal thoughts and
opinions. So take everything with a grain of salt!
1. Finding Inspiration
What’s the deal?
- A really great way to start out in design
- Finding cover designs or designers you admire may help you see what works technically
- Helps nail down a style you like
- In turn, can help you find your cover design style
What should you do?
- Look at covers in your genre!
- Whenever I design a cover, I take a scroll through Goodreads to pick up some inspiration in designs I personally love
- I also love walking around my bookstore and taking a look at physical copies
- Find a cover design you like, and point out the specific reasons you like it
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was actually not an inspo cover for this edition of I’M DISAPPOINTED, but as you can see, things I liked from it spilled over into my own design. By pointing out aspects of graphic design you like, you’ll better be able to understand your style as a cover artist.
Some personal thoughts:
I like covers that include a
textured backgrounds, as seen in the collage below:
So for the I’M DISAPPOINTED cover above, I included a textured background. I also love handwritten fonts/lettering, which I include in almost all of my book covers.
What I did:
- Off-white colour from A List of Cages and Holding Up The Universe
- Silhouette from Painless and previous cover design of I’m Disappointed
- Speech bubble from Simon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Say What You Will
- Marker texture from A List of Cages
Obviously my thought process wasn’t to put 4 covers in a blender and thus create my product, ha, this is just an example for the ease of understanding!
2. Concept art
What’s the deal?
- Coming up with concept art is a super important part of designing a successful book cover.
- Acts as
the skeleton of your book cover
- Your book cover’s roadmap
- Saves time/effort
- Similar to an outline for a novel.
- Can be a very quick sketch, or full fledged
- I like keeping my concept art quick, but if this is your first cover,
making a more detailed mockup can help.
What should you do?
- Sketch out book cover ideas once you get them/take notes of concepts you’d like to explore
- If you can’t come up with concepts, take a look at your inspiration folder and pull concepts/ideas from covers you love
- This does not mean copying another book cover (this is notttt a good idea!). BUT, pulling inspiration from elements you like on a cover can be helpful in generating your own concepts
- You don’t have to come up with concept art (sometimes winging it works!) but I do recommend jotting notes down, and drawing out loose sketches when applicable!
- Keep a list of ideas for book covers as you accumulate them (almost like a little vault of concepts lol) and reference them in the future!
- Take a look at as many book covers as you can and make a list of elements you like and don’t like
- This is one of the easiest ways to accumulate ideas/concepts!
^^^ Concept art for two book covers
Likes and dislikes in book covers:
Of course this list is not my be all and end all (nor should it be), and obviously, I still use these things (besides clunky composition I hope!) in some designs!
3. Incorporating the elements of
What’s the deal?
- There are 7 elements of design: line, shape,
texture, form, space, value, and colour.
- These sometimes vary depending on
where you look, but this is what I was taught, so I’m going to be working off
- I’m going to go through them really quickly via an assignment I did for my comm tech class
- Keep in mind this assignment is 2 years old and is only meant to give you an idea of what these elements are
- Line is probably the most important element of design as every piece of art starts with one.
are various types of lines. You can have curved lines, straight lines, vertical
lines, horizontal lines and so on.
- You can have more mathematical, geometric shapes, or more abstract, free form shapes.
- Texture is the feel of a particular surface.
- Texture in my opinion is one of the most important elements when it comes to graphic design, especially book covers.
- My favourite thing to see in book covers is texture, whether that be paper textures like construction paper, crumpled paper, wallpaper, lace, wall textures, paint textures, or marker textures
- Texture adds depth to designs, and if there’s any element of design you focus on in this post, I’d highly recommend it be this one.
- (i’m biased but still)
- Form is almost like shape, except instead of flat objects, we’re dealing with 3-dimensional objects.
- I don’t often use it in my covers since I like drawings and flat shapes in my designs, but if you want to include objects on your cover, or any sort of 3D shape, this would be form.
- The distance around an object, to put it simply
- Space in covers can help emphasize what’s important, and what is less important, or can draw attention to a particular piece of your design.
Examples of space:
Colour coding: yellow = space, teal = focal point/movement of viewer’s eye
- In Twilight, the black space helps emphasize the main image, the hands holding the apple.
- This also occurs in the Red Queen book covers. The empty space around the crown draws attention immediately to the focal point
- You can also lack space. In The Duff, the girl’s face is the only thing you can see on the cover.
- Is determined by how much light or dark is incorporated into design.
Example of value:
- A great example of value in book covers is on Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger. As you can see, the green at the top fades down in a gradient as more white is added to the centre.
- Light reflecting off objects
- Can make certain elements of your design stand out
Why should you incorporate the elements of design into your designs?
- Adds layers of depth to your work
- Thus can take your cover-making skills to another level
- Can help in producing ideas
What’s the deal?
- In my opinion, can make or break a design
- Can mean clutter of things, OR too much or too little space between elements
- Title placement
- Composition is sometimes subjective from design to design
What you can do:
- Pay close attention to detail and spacing
- Look out for natural shapes in your design you can fit elements into
- Watch the linked video from Mango Street (one of my favourite photography channels) on composition
- While photography and design are two different things, the tips in this video can also be applied to various ideas in design such as headroom and leading lines
*Before I get into this, I want to
make it clear that these examples are exaggerations for the purpose of showing
you good and bad composition. If you make these mistakes, that doesn’t mean
your design is bad, and again, I’m no professional. This comes from what I believe
could be considered bad composition, but trust your gut.
Example 1: Stick People
- doesn’t effectively use space
- no headroom for text
- text is covering 200 element (looks very clunky)
- text is cut off
- No focal point
- Can’t read the title
- Textual elements are better spread out
- Title is now focal point
- Slightly imbalanced
- 200 element is distracting
- Addition of stick figures balances out cover
- Text follows natural shape of photograph
- Removed 200 element makes cover look less clunky
Example 2: Sixteen Cents
- Half the title is on a dark background
- Lacks readability
- Last name is cut off by window
- Uninteresting composition (everything is on one line)
- No movement
- Title placement is better
- Better readability
- ‘A novel’ fits under windowsill
- Last name is smaller to avoid cutting it off
- Still slightly boring
- Uses free space of wall wisely
- Title is easy to read
- Text is shaped around photo elements
- Gives the cover some movement
Example 3: Fostered
- Title is covering the focal point (the girl)
- Title doesn’t seem to be incorporated into the design
- By moving title down, we’ve made space for the subject
- Title placement makes cover look less clunky
- Same composition as prior but image is colour-graded
- Embossed title adds texture/depth
I’ve mentioned this a few times in this post: focal point. What is it?
- Is defined as the main attraction of your book cover
- This is where you want your readers’ eyes to focus
- Focal points can sometimes define themselves in areas where more contrast happens to be
- Doesn’t have to be the centre of the page.
- Keep focal point in mind for composition because if you put it in the wrong spot, you could end up drawing your readers’ attention to the wrong area of the cover.
- The point of most interest in a cover is the focal point, so if you want a particular subject of your book cover, such as a person, to stand out make sure you don’t make the other areas of the cover too high contrast or busy.
- Framing subjects also helps, so be creative!
- The human eye tends to focus on areas with increased contrast so keep this in mind
- The Host
- The camera has focused on the eye of the model, with the nose bridge and forehead shadowing each corner of the cover
- Helps lead eye to focal point (the eye)
- The Girls
- Blue around the edges encircles the focal point (the girl), leading the viewer’s eye directly to her
- Girl is also scarlet in colour, contrasting the background
- The Hunger Games
- Grey outlines on the cover lead straight to the mockingjay
- Mockingjay is bright gold in comparison to the black background
- Creates contrast, thus viewer’s eye is lead there
- The Female of the Species
- ‘Straight’ composition
- No particular focal point, viewer’s eye instead moves horizontally across the design
What should you do?
- Use the natural shapes and outlines in your design/photo to fill your cover
- Use your space wisely (see examples above)
- Use leading lines to draw attention to your focal point
- Manipulate text to fill empty spaces
5. Tools and software
- You do not need Photoshop to make a good book cover
- I made my first book covers in GIMP, a free image manipulation program (kinda like Photoshop’s little brother)
This is the stick people cover I made in photoshop, and the same cover made in GIMP.
- Other tools you may want to use are CreateSpace’s cover templates.
OPTIONAL (what I use):
- Graphics tablet
- I use the Huion H610 which I really enjoy!
- I use this to hand letter, draw silhouettes, create concept art, and so on
- Paper and my Faber Castell India Ink Artist Pens.
- These are fine tip markers, and are what I used to create the text on I’m Disappointed
- Thin sharpies and pens will also do the job, and you can always clean any mistakes up in photoshop or gimp.
- A scanner so I can transfer what I’ve hand drawn onto my computer
- If you don’t have a scanner you can take a clear photograph on a camera or phone
- I also use a few custom marker brushes that now come with the 2018 version of Photoshop
- The main one I use is Kyle’s AM – Watercolour Paper from the art markers set (you have to load these into Photoshop, but if you have PS 2018, you should have access to ‘em).
- (I’ve lettered everything in this post with that brush)
Here’s a list of amazing resources you might need when making your own book covers!
1. Stock image websites
- Check out THIS post for a master list of my favourite stock photo websites!
- Is my main source for finding fonts
- A huge
resource I use to find cover inspiration
- I’ll often browse the new releases
section to look at new covers and so on
- Easy way
to narrow down the genre of cover you’re looking for, as well as the age
4. Keyboard shortcuts
- Check out a masterlist for Photoshop HERE
- GIMP masterlist HERE
- Makes workflow super efficient
- My fave I highly recommend in Photoshop is ctrl > shift > alt > e (merge all layers into new layer)
- I’ve made TWO custom shortcuts: ctrl > shift > o is now open as layer, and ctrl > shift > alt > r is now rasterize layer (these save so much time!)
So to conclude this post, I’m going to list out some of my favourite tips when it comes to cover making (sort of a reiteration of this post)
- Add texture!
- Texture is a super easy way to add dimension to your book cover
- Try lettering with a paper and marker when starting out
- I find this a lot easier than digital lettering!
- Google is your friendddd
- If you can’t figure out how to do something in Photoshop or GIMP, the internet is a vast depository of information!
- Pay attention to detail
- Cover design is alllll about the small details. Making sure you’ve centred something properly can seriously help in making your cover go from amateur to whoaaa who made thatttt
- Get a second opinion
- Been looking at your screen for 8 hours straight? Ask someone you know what they think of your design! I find this has sparked a lot of secondhand ideas!
- If it doesn’t work out, doesn’t mean it was a fail
- If a particular concept just doesn’t work, don’t worry! As you practice you’ll get better, and you can always revisit the concept for another novel!
- EDIT: a really great suggestion from @sarahkelsiwrites: print out your design if you need a fresh perspective! You’d be surprised by what you notice on screen VS off!
So that’s it for this post! I hope this was helpful for some of you guys, I know it was looooong overdue. If it helped you out, let me know, and if you have any questions, feel free to send ‘em my way! :))