Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Tip On Making a Self-Published Cover

My Favorite Cover Tip: Textures

I love covers. I love making covers. I especially love that moment in creating a cover where everything just suddenly comes together and the clouds part and angels sing. I'm absolutely no expert, but the cover for my first book in the Marionettes series got some really positive attention for standing out amongst a slew of professionally made Young Adult fiction covers. That's some pretty solid cred right there.

So, in this little image-heavy article, I'll explain how I used the above textures to take my image and make it into a cover.

If you're opting out of hiring your own cover artist for your soon-to-be self-published book, you'd better know your stuff. A stellar cover can seriously sell a story that might otherwise get left in the deluge of the genre. But as long as you take it seriously and put in the time, you can pull something together too.

Here're some of the basic skills you'll need to make your own awesome cover:

  • A command of some sort of photo editing program (Photoshop CS2 is currently free, and Gimp is a similar program that's always free).
  • Adequate knowledge of advertising design (What catches the eye and why, how it's used to attract the correct audience -- or, your intended readership).
  • Adequate knowledge with typography (How to make words pop, including spacing and sizing and font choice and legibility).
  • Adequate knowledge of composition (In the sense of photography, how to make the eye dance from element to element and how to avoid busy and distracting stuff).
  • Adequate knowledge of color theory (What colors look good together, what they mean, how they influence thought and emotions).

These things, of course, can be learned through other various tutorials, but we're not going to tackle them here. If you're unfamiliar or inexperienced with the list above, better either learn them hard or hire an artist.

Textures are an awesome way to make your cover POP, which is a necessity. A standout cover sells a book, whereas a weak cover will make your story look just as weak and amateur and very "obviously self-published".

So, what do you need to play along?

  • A large, high-quality image. (Photo websites provide a selection of images to purchase. Our photo was taken with our own DSLR. A good image has a high resolution and is very clear.)
  • Access to textures. (The textures I use can be found on Sirius-sdz's Deviantart Page. They're high quality, high resolution, and completely free. Make sure you're not violating the copyright of the artist when you use their image.)

We'll stick with this for now.

Take your image and clean it up. Boost contrast if you need to, do any color corrections, what have you. For my image, I needed to make the contrast in the clouds more dramatic, since that's the focal point of the image, so here's what it looked like before and after:

The definition in cloud shadows becomes crisper, and this is good. When I throw on the textures, a lot of this might get lost.

Next up, let's take the following texture:

And apply it to the image. Now, if you know your photo editing programs, then you know that the checkered grid at the bottom is because I erased part of the texture at an even gradient for perfect blending. I did this to preserve the final touch-up effects.

So, here's a few versions when I set this texture to "overlay" at various percentiles:

The last version might seem like the best, but actually, I used the middle version. What you want to avoid when creating a cover is absolute texture vomit. Find a good balance, something that highlights the image or creates the perfect composition that leads the eye in a dance through the cover. A mess of elements will create such a busy atmosphere that a passing glance won't linger upon very long.

So, here's the image we have now:

The next texture we'll take is this:

Why this texture? I'm looking for something that will balance the weight in the photo, because the right corner is heavier than the left, and overall the image has no focus, too busy and distracting. So I have to find a texture that can more properly "frame" the image. The darker and lighter proportions of the texture above is a good pick, because now, at "Soft Light" 100%, I get:

Now we start to see more of the "framing" going on, more balance. From here, I added in some gradients to frame the image and balance out the bottom even more. Here's what that ended up looking like:

At the bottom, I added a gradient of black since the trees aren't quite even. On the top, I added a gradient of purple to give it a nice gradation of daylight sky to night sky. I also added a speckle of stars, which are visible on the e-readers, but not here in its minimized form. Here's a closeup:

These were hand-drawn on a tablet with a simple brush at various sizes. Simple, but tedious like all heck. It's a nice touch, though.

So, after this, I applied the text. A tip I definitely will give about text is to either choose a color from the cover, or utilize your knowledge of the color wheel. Complementary colors are often fun to experiment with, but always keep in mind your audience and the atmosphere/mood you're trying to convey.

To keep with the theme of my series, I stuck to Georgia (a free standard font -- always be aware if you're using a font that you need to pay for if using commercially). I also borrowed a design from the first book, taking the swirls that I drew by hand to apply here for a spark of fantasy. Here's what it looked like:

Looks pretty good now, right? The gradient at the bottom sends all the distraction of the trees to the background and helps elevate the author names and keep them clear. "Interlude" also is brought forward by the white light (which was created by going to the "Select" menu and hitting "Color Range" in Photoshop CS2, and once I had the text highlighted, feathering the selection and using the bucket tool to drop down some white).

But, there's a little spark that's missing. A little something-something.

Ah, yes, it's this texture, which I only needed a small portion of:

The image on the left is the full texture, while the image on the right is the part I used. This is an interesting one, and as I moved around the original enlarged texture on the left, I ended up with the rightmost image striking out the text in a particularly brilliant way -- a lot like electricity. Perfect.

I increased the contrast values and then took the "dodge" tool to brighten that middle line there, and then I ended up with what is now the final cover image:

Tah-dahhh~~ The final version. At least, the final digital version. I made this cover before I was thinking about bleed ranges for the paperback version. I originally didn't think we'd even have a paperback version because I thought our story would be too small. Well, 30k words isn't all that small. So, here's how the paperback version ended up:

And that's it.

Wait, I had one more texture up there, right? Well, remember how I said texture vomit is a bad thing and should be avoided? I tried out that texture before I landed on the final lightning texture:

This is an example of a texture that takes away more than it gives to the image. The nice framing thing I had going, well, this texture breaks it, and the lighting effect (set to "Screen" at 100%), is too invasive and distracting. The texture I played with after this one had a much better outcome.

So, in the end, this cover only took three textures. The first cover also took three textures, while the second and third cover took only two (but they do have copies of the same texture layered over each other). What I have for book four, however, has a total of five textures so far. So, really, it just takes that right "Aha!" moment before we decide it looks right -- or even before we decide what we're going for.

Test and play around with different things, but always look for that perfect composition.

Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this looks really cool! I think the lightning-esque texture gives it quite a dramatic feel, personally, and it looks a bit like a storm is coming where it's darker in the sky- a nice bit of possible symbolism. :) I'm really sorry my review is taking a while- school's been getting in the way, but so far I haven't found any issues and the way you don't fit your characters into one gender role is something I like. People complain if male/female characters aren't 'male/female' enough, but I think everyone is a mix of masculine/feminine traits so I like your characterisation there. Also your descriptions are original, I think, and I like the way you show through the narration that Kali isn't completely used to modern ways. Good job so far. I loved the scene near the beginning with Yuuhi's temporary 'ghost-world' kind of place- that was shocking. :O