Easy ebook cover design for indie authors

Contrary to popular myth, we do judge a book by its cover. But in the new ebook publishing¬†landscape, the book cover is not entirely what we’ve always thought it was. Hopefully, this blog will give writers new to indie publishing an insight into how an ebook cover works and provide some hints and tips on how to go indie with book cover design that ends up looking like the dog’s… not the dog’s dinner.

I’ve used two very talented designers for my ebook covers before, with some great results, and I think great book cover design is well worth shelling out for if you want your books to look professional.

Most writers don’t have the time to learn the skillset required for effective book cover design (and if you’re one of those, you need to email Pete Bradbury or Ian Dodds right now and hire them to do your book cover), but if you have a little experience with Photoshop and a half decent eye for design, it’s not so difficult to DIY and get great results.

I’m currently putting together the cover for the latest installment of my time travel series, Touchstone, and it has stretched me to the limits of my Photoshop knowledge.

Touchstone part 3 (All the Time in the World) takes place in 1966 against the backdrop of the World Cup Finals, and the key image from the book, prefigured at the end of the previous installment, is a photograph of heroine Rachel having a picnic with her guide from the past and possible love interest, Charlie. Rachel is aware of the photo before the event has happened, and the whole story is leading her towards the moment when the photo is taken.

In order to set it up, I needed a couple of models. Step forward Sallyanne Moss and Martyn Nelson, a couple of friends I know from my Hot Ginger club nights. They had the right look and the clothes to make it authentic.

Next we needed a sunny day – something in short supply during Britain’s summer of 2012. When I texted everyone at short notice to call the photo session, it looked like the perfect evening.

As soon as we set up, though, the rain began to fall again, giving us a frantic five minutes of shooting before we had to run back inside.

With a small selection of digital photographs in hand, it was time to make them look like they hadn’t been taken in a mate’s back garden on a dull, rainy evening. This is where Photoshop comes in.

Photoshop can be very daunting for a beginner. The problem with it is there are so many tools it seems impossible to ever master them all purely by playing around. But help is at hand. Whatever it is you need to do with your images, there is probably an online tutorial for it. Everything I needed to do for Touchstone 3 – and there was a lot – was explained in easy to understand terms in various tutorials once I’d done a bit of Googling (see big list of links at the biottom of this article).

So I learned how to get rid of the big blonde streak in Sallyanne’s hair, how to use the Background Eraser to isolate them and their picnic blanket from the back garden; then how to do the same with a 1966 iris blue MGB Roadster; and finally how to assemble them in three layers: the couple, the car and a nice backdrop of a meadow behind it all.

Difficult stuff, but all pretty easy once I’d found the online tutorials I needed.

Once I’d done all that I needed to make it look like an old photo. Step forward Pixlr-o-matic. This is an iphone app that will retro-ise your photos, but it now works through their web site as well so you can just upload your picture and then run it through any combination of pre-set exposures, film stocks and frames. A great free tool if your covers tend towards the retro look.

After trying out many combinations, I settle on the Harry-Wave-Soft combo and the photo starts to look much more like the evocative retro polaroid that is a key part of the story (it also softens the edges and hides a lot of the clumsiness of the montage).

Once my photos were fixed, I laid them out in Photoshop using the Createspace book cover template. This is because I know that Touchstone 3 will be released as a paperback, so it’s best to design at the large format HD size needed for that and then shrink down to the much smaller ebook cover size. Much more difficult to go in the other direction.

So I’m designing my entire book: front, back and spine, and I like the look of it. I think it conveys the period and the relationships in the story and gives a strong impression of the tone.

I will only need the front cover for my ebook version, and this is what it will look like…

And here comes the problem – and the essential difference between our traditional notion of a book cover and how ebook covers actually work.

My paperback cover works well, but when I shrink it down, all the detail is lost and it loses its effect.

Why shrink it down at all?

Because 99% of people who encounter your ebook online will never see your cover at its full size. In fact, this is about the size at which most people will see your ebook cover, assess it, and maybe make a decision to click-through and read more about it before buying……….

That’s right. The reader will probably only ever see your ebook cover at thumbnail size in a list of titles that fill a page.

An ebook cover is not really a book cover at all – it’s more of a button that invites the reader/customer to press in order to find out more and hopefully click-to-buy.

So even though I’m going to keep the above design for my paperback run, I have to accept that I need to design a different cover for my ebook version.

The solution, I feel, is to zoom in on the photo and make the image/thumbnail/button all about Rachel and Charlie. So here’s a sneak preview of the Touchstone 3 ebook cover, which will be available to download for Kindle and other ebook devices very soon:

I hope it works.

It’s been a steep learning curve with Photoshop, but with each new cover I design I think I’m learning more and more.

It’s not for everyone, but any indie publisher with a bit of design experience will find they can get great results with trial and error.


Massive book cover design articles archive – Joel Friedlander’s exhaustive list of articles and blogs on various aspects of ebook cover design

Monthly e-Book Cover Design Awards – Joel Friedlander’s invaluable monthly look at the best and worst ebook cover designs

56 Absolutely Brilliant and Intriguing Photoshop Video Tutorials

Pixlr-o-matic Рvintage-ise your photos

12 thoughts on “Easy ebook cover design for indie authors

  1. Most eBook authors that I know use the FREE online Book Cover Designer at copysafe.net which can easily create cover designs comparable to any that you see. Select from several different templates and 100’s of background images (or upload your own) to create main image and thumbnail for your online ads and eBook store promotions.

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