The Other SideI get a lot of questions about the covers of my books: Where’d I get them? Who made them? Where do I get the images for them?

The answer is simply… Me. I’m a designer and illustrator, so I make (almost1) every part of the cover myself. However, that answer doesn’t seem to satisfy the questioner… They seem to wish that my answer would lead to them getting one too!

Unfortunately, I simply don’t have the time to make free custom covers for everyone. I may, one day, offer my design services, but not any time soon. However, that doesn’t mean you guys are out of luck… I figure I’d help you guys out to make your own covers by sharing my process, resources, as well as some design tips.

Tips & Tweeting

After showing a friend the process I went through to design the cover for The Psychic Next Door (above), she mentioned it’d be cool if I shared the process online. I had been wanting to do a cover design tutorial for a while now, but every time I attempted it got to be very unwieldily… spanning multiple posts! Yikes!

I really wanted to do something short and simple… And what’s shorter and simpler than Twitter? The limitation of 140 characters would stop me from getting too longwinded, and it’d let me instantly answer any questions that might get sent my way. So anyway, I went for it, using the hashtag #LiveCoverDesign.

For easy reference, I’ve collected my tweets — and expanded on some points with extra notes and resources — from the session below. 🙂

Step 1: Finding an Image

Step 1: Finding an image: good free stock photos are hard to find! My fave resources are @unsplash & www.thestocks.im #LiveCoverDesign

Tweet by Yvette Russell

There are lots of other good resources that you can check out. If you’re pretty good at photo editing — or want to practice getting better, you might want to check out the DeviantArt stock image category. Note, though, that unlike Unsplash, not all of the images here are available to be used for commercial projects. If you’re making a cover for your free book on Wattpad, it should be fine, but just remember to look at the creators notes to see usage terms!

Don’t just go & grab any pic you find on Google Image Search… You may be stealing from an artist/photog. & that’s uncool 🙁 #LiveCoverDesign

Tweet by Yvette Russell

This is such an important point! You would hate it if someone took some work of yours — a story, a character, something — and didn’t credit for you, right? Artists and photographers feel the same way. Be nice!

Sometimes you can try asking, and they may grant you the opportunity to use their work within limits. But even if they say no, they’re within their rights… Don’t be a jerk to them! (I’m just speaking from experience.)

Before you go searching for an image, you’ll want to think about what themes/mood you want to highlight in your cover. #LiveCoverDesign

Tweet by Yvette Russell

For my example, I’m going to do a cover for a (non-existent :P) YA novel about a pyrokinetic teen called THE FIRE IN HER… #LiveCoverDesign

Tweet by Yvette Russell

Yes, I totally just made up a book and a quick synopsis. If you’re wondering where the idea came from, it was actually inspired by Hellboy’s Liz Sherman. 😉

…so I want it to be modern, moody, and dark. So with that in mind, I’m heading to www.thestocks.im BRB! #LiveCoverDesign

Tweet by Yvette Russell

(Some suggest sketching before looking for images, and usually I’d agree! But w/FREE pics you have to use what’s available… #LiveCoverDesign

Tweet by Yvette Russell

…and sometimes it simply doesn’t match up to what’s in your head. Using free stock means being flexible!) #LiveCoverDesign

Tweet by Yvette Russell

Yes, as an illustrator, sketching and idea generation is a huge part! But that is a lot more difficult to use a sketch for a basis when you don’t have control over the images you can use, and are just using whatever you can find.

My tip for this sort of situation… Make a list of keywords of things you want to represent in your cover. You may not want to include all of them (that could lead to cluttering) but it will help you keep an eye out for pictures that have features that you want.

Another strategy is to save a lot of images… If you like something, open it in a new tab. After you’ve tired of searching, you can go back through your tabs and take a look what what you’ve gathered, then you can choose your favourite(s) to piece together into a cover.

Okay, so I was planning on just show you guys who to use multiple pics in one design, but… #LiveCoverDesign

Tweet by Yvette Russell

…I found this beautiful pic by @joshua_earle on @unsplash. It seems perfect so I’m going to use it. Start off simple! pic.twitter.com/CloHOGJklH

Tweet by Yvette Russell

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Step 2: Editing the Images

Step 2: Editing and arranging your pics! Now, in this case, this step will be a lot easier ‘cause we just have the one pic. #LiveCoverDesign

Tweet by Yvette Russell

But there is one issue… The pic is in landscape & the book cover is portrait! How do we make it fit? #LiveCoverDesign pic.twitter.com/KXFF8NDAgY

Tweet by Yvette Russell

You may want to squeeze/stretch to make it fit—but DON’T! It’ll end up looking odd & unprofessional #LiveCoverDesignpic.twitter.com/TIqf31yhV0

Tweet by Yvette Russell

Don't stretch images!

Don’t stretch images!

This is, personally, is the thing that makes me cringe the most when I see people making their own covers. It makes it really obvious that this is an amateur effort. There’s nothing wrong with doing it yourself (obviously!) but you should always try to make your best attempt at having it seem professional.

Instead, I’m going shrink it without stretching & blend into a background #LiveCoverDesign pic.twitter.com/wqATNecoaQ

Tweet by Yvette Russell

The image takes up about half the cover. That's more than enough!

The image takes up about half the cover. That’s more than enough!

As I mention below — I should’ve actually mentioned it here, but forgot to! — it’s important to leave room for your title. Don’t worry about covering every inch of your cover (erm) with images! You don’t want things to get obscured by the title!

A couple ways to do that: 1) use eyedropper to select colour from the pic bg that you can blend into… #LiveCoverDesign

Tweet by Yvette Russell

…Or 2) Use levels to darken/lighten it to a flat colour (black in this case). #LiveCoverDesign pic.twitter.com/2LzcL00LZO

Tweet by Yvette Russell

Left: blending, Right: levelling

Left: blending the image into the background by sampling colours from the image itself. Right: altering the image to blend into a background with levels.

Of course, messing with the levels of your image isn’t always the best solution and doesn’t work in every case. It only works with images like this, with a flat, uncluttered background that leans either towards very dark or very light.

I think I prefer 1—blending into bg—so we’ll go forward with that. #LiveCoverDesign

Tweet by Yvette Russell

I’ve added a gradient to the top now too, just to add some more depth. Now I’ll remove this elbow… #LiveCoverDesign pic.twitter.com/yYHM9EP25K

Tweet by Yvette Russell

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There are always going to be parts of the image that aren’t perfect, and — especially if you’re using free resources — you can’t get too hung up on it. Most things you can fix with some subtle editing.

In this case, it didn’t work out perfectly because it darkened the rest of the image too much, and I didn’t want to get into a complicated mask to target only the background — which is an option, but slightly more complicated, and this was a beginner tutorial, so… Another time, perhaps? 😉

Luckily, there’s a good piece of background that we can use to copy&paste onto the elbow… #LiveCoverDesign pic.twitter.com/wWDdF0mace

Tweet by Yvette Russell

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Cloning patches from within in the image, like I have done above, is a probably the best way to fix/cover things up. That way it will already have the same texture and colour palette, making it seem more natural.

This is with the piece inverted to show how I erased the edges with a soft brush to blend #LiveCoverDesign pic.twitter.com/l8igvl6egT

Tweet by Yvette Russell

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A soft brush is your most important tool when editing images! It really helps with blending. The softer the edge, the smoother the blend… But in tight quarters like this, I couldn’t get away with too much.

However, even when blending, the piece still looks off ‘cause it’s too dark; so on a new layer, I… #LiveCoverDesign pic.twitter.com/KNhA3Jn632

Tweet by Yvette Russell

…made a small white gradient and used Overlay to lighten the piece slightly. Much better 🙂 #LiveCoverDesignpic.twitter.com/ZY6CXv5giS

Tweet by Yvette Russell

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Of course, no patch will be perfect after just copying and pasting, so you might need to tweak the colours. This was a very simple tweak, using the Overlay blending mode and a soft touch of white to lighten up the edge where it blends. It’s nearly seamless afterwards! And you can really see what I meant by keeping the same texture.

So, after that, the image is pretty much done. Now we can start adding the text/title! #LiveCoverDesign pic.twitter.com/l4a46YW2xf

Tweet by Yvette Russell

Step 3: Adding the Title

Step 3: Text&Title! The most important part of this is making sure it’s very readable, at a glance or small sizes. #LiveCoverDesign

Tweet by Yvette Russell

And the title for this (fake) book is pretty long (THE FIRE INSIDE HER) so we need lots of room for it… #LiveCoverDesign

Tweet by Yvette Russell

So now you can see how it can be good not to take up the whole image with a pic! Now we have room for our long title. #LiveCoverDesign

Tweet by Yvette Russell

I should have mentioned that earlier in my tweet session, but I did in this post! But either way, it bears re-mentioning: consider where your text is going to go!

#LiveCoverDesign Now I’m playing with different fonts & placement. Experimenting is important! Make a few versions. pic.twitter.com/J0zMeH3y4H

Tweet by Yvette Russell

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Instead of fussing with just a single text arrangement like there can only be one, I suggest making several different combinations and making new copies as you tweak. That way you can go back and check to see if you’re going in the right direction, or switch between them easily if you are trying to decide on the right one.

Once you’ve chosen one, of course, you can delete the extra layers.

#LiveCoverDesign All the fonts I’m using are from @googlefonts! dafont.com also has some good ones. Both sites are free!

Tweet by Yvette Russell

I didn’t have a chance to get into it on Twitter, because it borders on a rant (heh) but be careful of choosing busy fonts! Another common issue I see amongst new designers is trying to find the flashiest, wildest font they can to use for their title. They can often get to be too much, and make the title unreadable rather than stand out.

My advice: use flashy fonts in moderation! If you really, really have your heart set on one, then perhaps only use it for a single word of your title. That way it won’t overpower the whole cover, but will still add that bit of flavour you’re looking for. I’ll probably expand upon this in a later post/live tweet session.

#LiveCoverDesign So I ended up liking the layout of the 3rd one, but the 2nd one’s font. Here’s how that looks: pic.twitter.com/dKDnKUnBwQ

Tweet by Yvette Russell

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I forgot to mention this during my tweet session, but the font I ended up using was called Abel and you can get it on Google Fonts.

#LiveCoverDesign I also adjusted the image beneath so it fit the title more. But now I find the white is kinda plain… pic.twitter.com/htD8uVknih

Tweet by Yvette Russell

#LiveCoverDesign So I set the white titles to “Overlay”, but they were hard to read, so I layered a few more on top… pic.twitter.com/2m4VgZ1kPE

Tweet by Yvette Russell

Once again with the Overlay… Always with the Overlay! Blending modes are so useful!

I also added a fire texture that I had overtop of the text and set it to a low opacity “Screen” #LiveCoverDesignpic.twitter.com/dgbanCVE7p

Tweet by Yvette Russell

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Adding textures to your cover is a great way to add that subtle extra punch to it!

Step 4: Finishing Touches

#LiveCoverDesign One little detail I wanted to fix… I didn’t like how the edges of the letters cut into her head… pic.twitter.com/IEXj10XO9C

Tweet by Yvette Russell

…so I used a layer mask to tuck the letters behind her head. 🙂 It brings her to the front as well! #LiveCoverDesignpic.twitter.com/V5coULn6qI

Tweet by Yvette Russell

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Another great subtle effect is to make your title seem like it’s part of the image rather than just laid overtop. Tucking it behind the girl in the picture makes it seem like it’s hanging between her and the bonfire in the background, giving it a tangible feel, and makes the image seem more joined together.

#LiveCoverDesign At this point the cover is pretty much done… But I like to play with a low opacity layer of colour… pic.twitter.com/wQ88pJQJtC

Tweet by Yvette Russell

#LiveCoverDesign …to make it pop a bit.  I’m using dark purples & pinks to compliment the yellows & oranges pic.twitter.com/acNALYxdNh

Tweet by Yvette Russell

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Once again, I am using blending modes to edit the colours of the whole image. I’m using the coloured layer on Screen mode, to target the dark colours rather than the light ones. Multiply is great if you want to target the light colours, but we’ll cover that in another session.

And voilà! That’s pretty much it… Here’s the final cover! #LiveCoverDesign pic.twitter.com/5ZfxTXrLi2

Tweet by Yvette Russell

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The cover is fairly simple (I did do this all — including tweeting —in two hours, after all), but I am still pretty happy with it. So, what did you think? Is it an effective cover? Did you find this little session useful? Is there anything that I left out that you wished I would expand on more? Leave a comment or send me a tweet at @yvetterussell!

Footnotes:
  1. I (of course) use resources, like textures, brushes, stock photography, and fonts, but primarily the work is my own.