Updated: Jan 12
One of the most rewarding parts of writing, I find (and this is more in terms of self-publishing than traditional publishing), is when you’ve got the story all done and dusted and you’re looking to sort out the cover. Whether you’re buying a pre-made one, getting a designer to do a bespoke cover for you, or making one yourself, this is the moment when everything starts coming together. You can finally picture what your book will look like listed on the web or when you’re handing out copies to your family, and you can look at that cover and know you’ve achieved your first goal – completing that novel. It’s a great feeling, but it’s not one you necessarily have to wait for.
Even if you’re thinking about going down the traditional publishing route (where, if you’re successful, you’ll be unlikely to have much input into what your cover looks like), this is still a great motivational exercise to do. And, at the very least, it will get you thinking about covers, genres, and your brand.
First of all, have a look at several book cover designer sites and see which style you like. Some websites are run by individuals, so their designs are all likely to have a similar, uniform style to them, while others feature covers from hundreds of different designers, so take a while to have a good look around. Then, browse through the covers while thinking about the story you want to write. It doesn’t matter if you have the entire novel already planned out or if you only have an idea of a genre and a main character; if you see a cover that would fit your story perfectly, you’ll know it.
Now, you can leave it there and just picture that cover every time you need a burst of inspiration, or you can go one step further. If you see a cover you love and that would fit your book anyway, it’s a good idea to buy it right there and then, as it may not be available when you’ve finished your book. Purchasing that cover could be the difference between finishing your novel and giving up, especially if you start to lose track of why you’re writing it in the first place. Plus, you’ve spent money on it – you’ve put skin in the game – so you’re less likely to walk away when the going gets tough.
Now, if you’re going to buy a cover, the designer will ask you for the details: author name, title of book, subtitle etc. If you don’t yet know what your book is going to be called, you can either decide on a title now (what’s on the cover may give you some inspiration here), or you can ask the designer if you can pay now and get the details updated in a few weeks or months. At the very least you can come up with a temporary title for now and get it changed later (although you’ll probably have to pay more money to get this done).
The idea is that you have a finished book cover (probably just an ebook cover for now as you won’t know the dimensions of your paperback until after you’ve written it) that you can open on your computer and look at whenever you’re starting to feel hopeless about the whole project (and there more than likely will be those moments, believe me!). Better yet, print out the cover and stick it on your wall next to your computer, or on your mirror so you’ll see it when you wake up in the morning. I suppose it’s the same thing some people do when they want to lose weight – they stick a photo of themselves at their optimum weight on the front of the fridge, or a picture of someone whose figure they admire. It’s all about motivation and having a constant reminder of what you’re working towards, of what you want to achieve. Of course, this will only really work if you’ve got a kick-ass cover, so maybe don’t use one of your own designs if you have no experience of making graphics (it may even put you off)!
Another way of doing this is by looking at photos or images instead of predesigned book covers. Head over to Google Images and take a look around, or use stock photo sites and apps such as iStockphoto, Shutterstock, Fotalia and others. Just see what’s available, and what kind of images you can imagine using on your cover (or covers if you’re planning a series). These images might even give you more ideas, and you can start creating a virtual (or actual) scrapbook for inspiration.
If you do end up buying any stock photos, be aware of the licensing rules (also applicable if you purchase any fonts). If you go for just the basic standard license, there will be conditions you need to know about, the main one being that you can only use the image so many times. In Fotalia’s case (just to give you an example), a standard license will not allow you to use the image more than 500,000 times. For most people, this will be fine, but if you’re thinking big (and if you’re not – why not?) it may be worth going for the extended license (sometimes called commercial license) where there’s no limit to the amount of times you can use it.
It’s worth reading through all the terms and conditions on stock photo websites (and font sites) just to make sure you know what you’re getting into, and it’s also worth noting that you don’t actually own the image you buy – other people can buy it too (which is why you’ll often see very similar book covers by authors who have just taken the stock image and done nothing to change it). You’re essentially renting it, and just like when you’re renting a house, there’s nothing to stop the landlord/stock photo owner from ‘evicting’ you from its use. If they pull down the photo, you simply have to use another image – a bit annoying if you’ve successfully got sales from your amazing book cover, but there’s not much you can do about it. It’s just something to be aware of.
Pre-made book covers can vary in price – from around £15 to £80 – and obviously bespoke covers will cost much more, but even if you don’t end up using the exact same cover when you come to self-publish (and even if you’re sending your manuscript out to agents and publishers), I still think it’s a great investment if it gives you that push you need to get your book finished (or even started!). Just picture how good that book is going to look on your shelf, with its awesome shiny cover and your name in capitals across the front. Keep picturing the finished product until you get there!
By spending real money on it, you’re also more likely to carry on using it as a motivational tool, instead of just forgetting about it. So, whenever you’re feeling a lack of inspiration, you can open up that book cover and have a good old stare at it: this is what your book will look like when it’s finished, and it looks awesome, so you’d better get writing! Plus, you spent money on it, so it would be a waste if you weren’t to get that book finished.
Of course, you don’t have to go elsewhere to get a kick-ass cover (although it helps). If you’re in any way creative when it comes to visuals, and you have a program like Photoshop (and, more importantly, know how to use it), why not try making some of your own covers? Even if you don’t end up using any of your designs for your finished book, just the act of creatively putting together images and seeing at least a semi-finished book cover can give you the motivation you need to get writing. Plus, it can be fun!
Play around with different images, colours and themes, and scour the internet for the perfect font for your book. As I’ve mentioned with stock photos, fonts come with different licenses, and if you do plan on using it on your actual cover (or website, or any printed material), you will have to purchase the commercial font. Don’t worry, though, this doesn’t have to break the bank; the most recent font I purchased for commercial use was about £25.
Fonts can make or break a cover, so it’s worth spending some time finding the perfect one for you. Check out some of your favourite authors’ book covers first and see what they use (in terms of fonts, images, and colour schemes), and then have a think about what you’re trying to convey with your own cover. What genre is this book? Who is it aimed at? What do you want your cover to say to any potential readers? E.g. do you want it to shout out: Thriller! Whodunit! Crime! Mystery!? Or do you want it to shout out: Comedy! Romance! Holiday read!? You don’t have to stick to obvious genre cover stereotypes, of course, but readers like to know what they’re getting for their money, and they won’t be happy buying a book with a smiling female on the cover, lounging on a beach, if it’s about a grisly murder in the heart of London.
It’s obvious to stick to genre stereotypes and you may think it’s a bit cliché, but sometimes you have to be a bit cliché when it comes to covers just to reel the reader in. We all know the phrase, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, but we also know that when it comes to books, this is exactly what people do, and even more so when buying online; if they’re scrolling through several tiny thumbnails on a page listing hundreds of books, they’re going to go for the one whose cover pops out at them, and the one that tells them what kind of book they’re going to be getting. If you’re still not sure, spend some time browsing the internet for blog posts on covers, or just have a poke around as many categories of books as you can. Of course, for non-fiction, it’s a whole different kettle of fish, but the basics are the same: your cover needs to tell the reader what the book’s about, and it needs to be eye-catching, with a readable, appropriate font.
If you have fun putting together a ‘motivational’ cover but don’t think it’s good enough to use, don’t delete it in a hasty moment of self-doubt. Why not use it for something good, and email it to a book designer to show them what you want? Hopefully they’ll get the gist of it, and if you already know what images and fonts you want to use, this will make the whole process a lot quicker and smoother.
So, why not give it a try? Go against the grain and get your book cover before you write it – it could be exactly the kind of boost you need.