Yes, I admit it. In spite of all the advice about not making your own book cover and getting a proper designer/cover artist/using an appropriate stock photo/getting a quality premade cover, I went ahead and designed my own.
- I had a very strong idea of how I wanted the cover to look. The introduction to The Secret Notebook of Sherlock Holmes talks about the discovery of a red leather notebook, so I wanted a red leather-effect cover with gold lettering in an interesting font which could have come from the late Victorian period (think Dangerous Book for Boys), and maybe a few other bits and pieces.
- I enjoy messing around with software and learning new things.
- It seemed daft to pay someone to do a cover which I thought would be quite simple.
- Designing a book cover would be fun!
So I got a 30-day trial of Adobe Photoshop and plunged in. It was fun. And here, for your benefit, are some things I learned along the way (good and less so).
- Photoshop is not the easiest program to get to grips with if you’re never encountered anything like it before. It’s great once you start to get the hang of what you’re doing, and I will be genuinely sad when my free trial expires. However, at first all the layers, effects, different types of masks, and difficulty of finding anything in the menus flummoxed me.
- Most people will only see a thumbnail version of your book cover (think of Amazon etc) so clarity at that size is really important. I found lots of gorgeous swirly script fonts in Google Fonts and elsewhere, but they weren’t as clear in a small size as the one I finally chose. Another concern was legibility. I’d read a few articles which talked about kids being unable to read joined-up or cursive writing because they weren’t taught it at school (here’s one from Grammarly). Therefore I wanted to make sure people didn’t scroll past my book because they couldn’t make out the title. I went for Macondo Swash Caps as it has swirliness without being joined-up.
- There are heaps of resources out there to help you. I found blog posts about cover sizes, whether to use RGB or CMYK, lettering, adding textures, making your text look stamped or embossed, etc etc. In fact Google was consistently more helpful than Photoshop Help. I also found a free background and gold leaf texture (if you want to know where, go to my credits post); however, make sure anything you use is available for commercial use.
- Get opinions, lots of opinions. I took a deep breath and posted my cover to the Fiction Writers Group on Facebook (this group is promotion-free but critiques on draft covers are permitted). The feedback I received was invaluable, and helped me to adjust the letter spacing, brighten hard-to-see elements, and also work out why I’d fix one shadow and another would go awry (entirely the fault of Use Global Light). Those tweaks made the cover look much better.
- Sometimes you just can’t find the right stock photo. I had ideas about a lock, a key, and brass corners, but I couldn’t find quite what I wanted online. In the end I went into a stationery store, took a photo of a diary with metal corners, and edited it in Photoshop. Likewise, I prowled around a junk shop looking for furniture with brass locks and keys before realising that our desk at home had a key which would probably fit the bill. So I gave the key a polish and a starring role on the cover.
- At some point you have to stop fiddling. When I’d got to the point of changing things and then changing them back again (version 9), I decided it was probably time to stop.
Here is the finished article. I would definitely design more (simple) covers in the future. It takes time, but getting the cover pretty much exactly how I wanted it was so satisfying. And if you have any questions, ask away.