Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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October 9, 2013

Covers: A Challenge for the Self-Published

Jacqueline Diamond   Writers in the Storm welcomes Jacqueline Diamond, author of over 95 novels, including romantic comedy, romantic suspense, fantasy, mystery and Regency historical romance. A two-time finalist for the Rita Award, Jackie received a Career Achievement Award from Romantic Times and is a former reporter and TV columnist for the Associated Press. She writes the Safe Harbor Medical miniseries for Harlequin American Romance and is revising and reissuing some of her old favorites as e-books.

 By Jacqueline Diamond

As a reader, you may scan dozens of covers each time you select a book. Some appeal to you instantly; some put you off. Others are confusing. You wonder, Why isn’t this obvious to the cover designer?

Then one day you self-publish a book and have to design, choose or commission a cover of your own. Even a previously published book needs a new design since rights to the original cover usually remain with the original publisher.

As your own artistic director, you’ll discover this seemingly simple task is more challenging than expected.

Five Tips To Get You Started:

  1. The genre should be immediately apparent to the reader
  2. The image and words should be easy to discern in a very small reproduction.
  3. The colors should show up well against a white background.
  4. Keep it uncluttered. Don’t try to include every element in the book.
  5. Strive for an emotional connection with the reader.

One reader told me she bought my romantic comedy The Cowboy and the Heiress partly  JackieCowboyHeiressbecause the cowboy was so cute. I designed this cover myself using Photoshop Elements and a model whose image I bought for $10 from a stock photo site. I also used visual elements (a wooden frame and magical wedding rings) from free sites such as Stock Xchng and RGBS Free Stock Photos, making sure to thank the artists.

Some authors are trained artists or have a family member who is. Others may choose to pay several hundred dollars for a professional cover.

Here are the basic cover design options:

  •  Find and hire a professional designer. The results are likely (but not guaranteed) to please you and readers.
  • Buy a cover from a site that will adapt pre-designed covers to your name and title. There are numerous choices, and the look is professional. However, you risk having a cover very similar to other books.
  • Use an aspiring cover designer or other talented semiprofessional. You will pay less, or possibly nothing, and in return provide a credit and exposure. Results vary and you are not necessarily guaranteed exclusivity of design.
  • If you have an artistic eye and are willing to spend the time, learn to use a program such as Photoshop or the simplified version, Photoshop Elements. You can purchase photos of models from a stock site such as  iStockphoto.com and Dreamstime.com. There are various pricing arrangements. I also buy many of images at ShutterStock. Canva has free as well as photos to purchase.
  • Cobble something together with a less sophisticated program and hope for the best. This is risky in today’s competitive e-book market, especially for novels, but it suits some authors.

 A word on Photoshop: I don’t recommend trying the professional edition unless you’re a serious graphic designer. Photoshop Elements is more beginner-friendly, but if you have no digital design experience at all (I didn’t), it too can be daunting. If, like me, you would enjoy learning to design covers, it can be fun, but it’s definitely not easy. For starters, I recommend buying a copy of Photoshop Elements: The Missing Manual (here’s the link for the latest version, Photoshop Elements 11). This book provides an overview and a lot of helpful information. I also recommend subscribing to Photoshop Elements User.

Caution: if you use a picture of a “real” person, make sure you have a signed model release or buy it from a stock photo site that keeps these on record. I recommend against JackieLadyInDisguiseusing any image that was simply posted on a sharing site, as you risk infringing on copyright.

There is no perfect answer for every writer or every book. I’ve used several approaches. My Regency romance covers, Lady in Disguise and A Lady's Point of View, etc. were professionally designed by Kelly at Custom Graphics at Etsy.

JackieYoursMineOursFor my romantic comedy Yours, Mine and Ours, about a nanny who discovers she’s supervising her own triplets via egg donation, I bought a delightful stock photo of three children (I looked at hundreds of pictures before finding it). The background is a courtyard I photographed while on vacation, and touched up with Photoshop Elements.

Hope this helps start you on your journey to e-book cover success

Visit Jacqueline at:


27 comments on “Covers: A Challenge for the Self-Published”

  1. This is one of the scariest, but most intriguing challenges of self publishing, I'd expect, Jackie! I love photos, and playing with them (I did my own website) but I don't think I'd have the guts to do my own!

    But I'm saving this, for in case I ever get brave...
    Thanks for blogging with us!

  2. Thanks for the Photoshop Element User link. I have an older addition of PE and love it...now that I've figured somethings out. It's not as a great as the professional version for the selection of fonts, but it's great for things such as photo teasers.

  3. I got very very lucky. I am image handicapped to the extreme. I have a good friend who is a designer of book covers. She makes all my covers for me. She's doing some for my sister in England for her next book. Sis loves it now it is just if her publishers love it. I told her now if I can simply write as well as you design.

    I can't tell you what a relief it is not to have to worry about a cover, back cover, spine or any other graphics I need. And she's great a handling whining male writers who are graphic inept.

    I honestly can't tell you if I would have even thought of publishing if I didn't have her quality of covers. I've seen too many horror versions out there by authors who deserve better.

  4. Reblogged this on Juliana Writes and commented:
    I'm nowhere near ready to have any of my work published. That being said, I still look for advice and opinions on publishing. Cover design is ver important. I'm one of those people who picks up a book based on the cover. I look at the title first, then the cover and finally the back cover (if you only have reviews of your other books, I'm not buying it). The make or break decision comes down to if I'm going to buy the book. If it's an ebook, I'm actually less likely to pay any attention to the cover. I don't have to look at an ebook cover sitting on my coffee table or shelf and be annoyed if I don't like it.

  5. This is great - such an important subject. Thanks! Having a graphic design background, I would caution anyone using stock photography to double check the site's license/usage agreement, as you may potentially need a special agreement to use the image for creating products for sale/resale (or over a certain amount). For example, you can see what istockphoto's standard license covers here: http://www.istockphoto.com/help/licenses. (For book purposes, they list "Books and book covers, CD & DVD covers,...up to 499,999 impressions" as included under a standard license, but I'm not a lawyer, so check it out 🙂 )

  6. Excellent essay! Covers are challenging, as I learned when I published my first mystery. I did that one myself (I was in a hurry and, folks, that is a huge mistake) and the results were ok. When the sales were much better than I anticipated, for book two I used the talented amateur. Better. Now I use professional designers and it is worth it. Here's my take: budget for as much design help as you can. It is just part of the game. Ms Diamond is absolutely right about Photoshop in either flavor. If you like working with it (i do) and have some talent (I don't) and have time to invest in the learning curve you can produce professional results. Me? I'll mow lawns and use the money to hire somebody who's good at it.

      1. Right! You are very fortunate to be able to do both. I think the kindest thing to say of me is, uh, my talents lie in other areas. If I could do a cover like The Cowboy and the Heiress, I certainly would.

    1. It was a friend of mine, author Elda Minger, who commented on the importance of a cover making an emotional connection with the reader. That seems so obvious to me now, although I do see some books (by other people) selling well with covers that don't touch me at all. I guess we're all different.

  7. This was a really helpful post and timely as I have two books due to self-publish by the end of the year. I was wondering what to do about the covers.... 🙂

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