Poll veterans of self-publishing, and you’ll likely hear the same advice from all of them: get an editor and get a professional cover designer. There are many factors to consider, but if you’re an author with aspirations for your book, you cannot forego an interior edit and a well-designed cover.
The editorial assistance you may be able to solicit from friends or family to avoid paying for the professional touch. The contents could end up less than pristine, but the book may not suffer. Readers can forgive a misspelling here and there, or a clunky sentence now and then. If the story compels them and is well crafted otherwise, editing for content can be done without paying a professional editor (though if you have the option, I strongly recommend getting a professional editor).
The cover though, that’s another story. Without an eye-grabbing cover, the book is likely to struggle just to get a reader to consider it. A bad cover can ruin a great book. I bet you’ve heard the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, the saying is true: you can’t always tell how good the book will be just looking at the cover. A terrible book might have an eye-catching cover, and a terrific book might have a bland and unexciting cover. But the terrible book will have a leg up when it comes to marketing and promoting with that eye-catching cover.
Don’t let your book be held back by a poorly designed cover. It can be easy not to think to much about the cover if your focus is on writing, but if you plan to self-publish and want to grab some readers, you’re going to need to spend some time really thinking about and working on your cover.
I’m not trying to say you have to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a professionally designed cover either. If you can afford to do so, you should. You’ll be glad you did, when your book is as visually pleasing and well represented as your content deserves.
Some authors may not want to incur the expense, others may simply enjoy taking on all the tasks in the publishing process. No matter what drives you, we think that you deserve a great cover even if you choose to do it yourself. To help you out, today’s article is a look at how you can create your own cover using Lulu’s publishing tools.
When self-publishing with Lulu, you’ve got two options for designing you cover. Our cover wizard is an in browser layout tool using a variety of templates to build your cover, while our one-piece tool is a size and upload option that requires designing the cover outside of Lulu and uploading the file directly.
1. Use the Lulu Cover Wizard
The cover wizard offers some basic templates and text options. You’ll have 18 different themes to choose from, and a range of layout options within each theme, providing customization for text and image layout. Even with our themes and layout options, you may find the cover wizard a bit limiting. Text and image boxes cannot be custom sized, and their locations are restricted to the predefined spaces the themes allow. While the basic themes and layouts can be used to create a very nice cover, you won’t get the full control you’ll want to make a cover that really stands out.
But you can still make use of the cover wizard for the most critical piece of the cover – the spine.
One of the hardest parts of designing your cover will be correctly sizing and placing the spine. Our cover wizard has a very cool feature that facilitates using your own cover design, while assisting with the spine placement and sizing.
Here’s what you can do:
- Design a cover for the front and back, using the software you prefer (Photoshop, InDesign, Word, etc.).
- Get these files sized each to match the size of your book. For example, you’d size the front and back each to 6 x 9 for a US Trade size book.
- Create your covers and save them as an image (JPG or PNG). Be sure the options for high quality are all selected when you export your cover.
Printed images should be sized to 300 pixels per inch (ppi) or higher for the best clarity. Remember that an image on your computer screen will appear clear at much lower resolution, so something that looks good on your monitor will not be guaranteed to look good when printed.
Once you’ve got your designs for the front and back created and ready as image files, use the Lulu cover wizard’s “Image Only” theme to add your front and back covers. Our tool will set a spine for you, and you can easily adjust the color and text. The options for the spine will still be a little limited (such as being able to choose only a single color for the spine) but this method will ensure the spine is correctly sized and located for you. The front and back cover files will adjust automatically to allow for bleed and to ensure nothing runs over onto the spine area.
2. Use the One-Piece Cover tool
The One-Piece tool is less interactive than our cover wizard. If you are planning to create a one-piece cover, the information on our cover step provides measurements for the entire cover (front, spine, and back) as a single PDF or Image file. If you opt to build your cover this way, we’ll provide you the exact specifications and location of the spine.
The one-piece cover provides you the freedom and flexibility to design your own cover exactly as you’d like, but with that comes the added challenge of actually designing the cover. Because this method uses a file upload, you’ll need to create the cover outside of Lulu using software like Photoshop or InDesign, then bring the file to your project on Lulu for uploading.
The upside of creating a one-piece cover is the option to build a complete, wrap-around style cover. You can incorporate the spine layout directly into the cover file, and you’ll be in complete control over all elements and locations of images and text on the cover. Be wary when following this method though. Our system will not be able to verify the spine location, so you’ll have to be careful to get it positioned just right.
Cover Creations Best Practice
1. Know your readers, know your genre
What kind of book are you publishing? Is it a science fiction adventure story set in the far reaches of outer space? Or is it an instructional guide for bicycle repair? Knowing what your readers like and expect should inform your cover design choices. Referencing the above examples, the Sci-Fi story will do well with an active cover, something cluing a potential reader into the action and technology your book will include. The bicycle repair manual will want to be simpler, perhaps an image of a bike or a person working on a bike. Something to draw the reader in and convince them to give your book a closer look.
The first step when preparing your cover should be research. Go to a bookstore or perform an online search and hunt down books with similar themes. Do you have any direct inspirations for your work? Look at the covers those books use. Compare different books in the genre your book will most closely align with, and use this to get inspiration. It’s important that your cover define for a potential reader the genre and general theme of the book, hopefully while hinting at the content just enough to intrigue a would be reader.
It boils down to knowing what your readers expect and look for, then working with that in mind while designing your cover. I suggest developing at least three designs so you have some variety to consider, though depending on your cover creation skills, you may want to stick with simple sketches and only create the one you decide to go with. However you end up creating your cover, be aware of the other books your potential readers will be looking at. You want something that fits their expectations, but still stands out enough to be remembered.
2. Professional Design
Okay, you’re looking at other books you know are similar in content or genre to your book, you’re taking notes and making rough sketches to get a feeling for how your cover should look, you’re doing all the right homework to lead up to your cover design.
Now you’ll want to dive in and actually create a cover mock up. How you go about doing so will vary with your individual software, the specifics of your cover, and the plan you have for promoting your book, but in general the most important question as you start designing should be “does this look professional?”
“Professional” need not be flashy or complicated. Plenty of terrific covers exist that look incredibly professional, without employing a lot of flair or graphic effects. Use the research you’ve done to get a sense of what “professional” design looks like for your book, and work from there. If you’re writing a piece of fiction, you’ll have a lot more leeway in the design, but if you’re a non-fiction author with a textbook or manual, you’ll want to stick pretty close to the conventions other books in your genre utilize. Let’s get into some specific best practice that will help you achieve the level of professional design you’re after.
3. Image Resolution
The resolution of an image is a measurement of the “dots” or “pixels” present per inch. The more pixels crammed in each inch, the clearer the picture can be. For the best printing of images, we recommend at least 300 dots per inch (DPI). This resolution is the standard high resolution value for images. If you use an image in any of our tools with lower than 300 DPI resolution, you’ll see a warning.
But this can be complicated when making your own cover. If you use lower resolution images to create the cover, but set the file to 300 DPI resolution, the low res images may be converted, but they still will technically be low resolution and may print grainy or blurred. Be very careful to review your cover and images for resolution prior to uploading, as a blurry cover (unless intentional) can be a real turn off for potential readers.
4. Think Thumbnail
This is a fairly new concern for authors, but one you should be keenly aware of. Gone are the days when physical bookstores are the primary means of selling books. Now most books are sold online. With that shift in the shopping patterns of your customers, you’ll want to adapt your design to accommodate their preferred shopping methods.
For the most part, this means creating a front cover aware of the fact that it will be represented as a small thumbnail image. In case you don’t know or are unfamiliar with the lingo, a thumbnail as defined by PC Mag:
A miniature representation of a page or image that is used to identify a file by its contents. Clicking the thumbnail opens the file. Thumbnails are an option in file managers, such as Windows Explorer, and they are found in photo editing and graphics program to quickly browse multiple images in a folder.
The thumbnail is going to serve a couple of purposes. It will be a link to your product page on whatever commerce site your readers are viewing. That’s just a given with thumbnails. But most importantly, it will be the one visual representation of your book your readers see. Just like when they pick up a physical book and hold it in their hands, the thumbnail is their tactile (as close as that can be done online) representation of the book. The cover needs to render well as a small thumbnail image, which can be a challenge for graphically dense covers, or a cover with a great deal of text. A good example would be my “not professional” cover image (see above). The subtitle is a massive six lines of text. Even if I hadn’t used a gradient and terrible color, this text would be almost impossible to read in the thumbnail image.
Nearly as important was what the words on your cover say, is the font, kerning, color, and layout of those words. Unlike the contents of your book, which will use words to paint a picture for your reader, the cover is a picture that should act as a gentle reference point for a small number of words. The title, subtitle, and author information are about all you want on the cover, and you’ll want to be very conscious of how you display even those few words on your cover. Here are the specific elements of typography you should keep in mind with regard to your cover:
- Tracking – the spacing between letters, tracking will apply to all text uniformly
- Kerning – the individual space between letters, allowing for more specific alterations when letters appear together
- Font – selecting the right font for your text requires a fair amount of experimenting and opinion gathering
Selecting and using the right typography for the cover you’re creating can be an art all to itself. If you are not entirely comfortable with picking out fonts, definitely solicit help from friends, family, or anyone else you share your writing with for advice. I know I personally do not have a good eye for fonts, so when looking at covers for my own work, I always seek outside opinions. For me, I publish for fun and as a way to preserve my writing, so I don’t stress about bad font when I do use it, but if I had intentions of actually marketing and selling my book, I would absolutely have to redo my cover before I even attempted to make sales.
It is also important to keep in mind the thumbnail while making choices about your fonts. Some particular thick fonts like “Cooper Black” or “Impact” are not going to be ideal for a cover, as the thickness will require a lot of touching up the Kerning and Tracking to make the text readable. Others, like “Arial” may take up too little space and leave room that distracts or disorients.
6. Color Combinations
Much like selecting the right typography, your cover should use the right colors, not only to compliment your text, but to catch your reader’s eye and retain their attention. I like to think about the process a potential reader goes through when look for a book like this:
- Search a genre or for title keywords,
- Browse the titles their preferred search tool returns,
- Look for authors they recognize,
- Look for cover thumbnails with interesting or compelling graphics
Now, that above list is entirely based on my own experience with online book shoppers, and is completely subjective. But even if your experience has been different, it’s undeniable that the cover matters, and the cover matters in particular when it comes to grabbing the attention of a new reader. Color, the use of certain colors, and the combinations you choose, all have a direct impact on the immediate perception of your book.
Here’s an online tool you might try while considering how you pick the colors for your cover – ColorCombos. The site is designed for web developers to pick their website colors, but the principle behind this applies for book covers too. Remember, the majority of your readers will find you online, and will be viewing your book online as a thumbnail image. So picking a color scheme optimized for online viewing is a very good idea. There are a number of variables and factors to consider, so just like the typography, researching the color options is very wise.
For instance, most cover design pros agree that darker backgrounds imply seriousness, while lighter shades or pastels point to personal stories. Layer on to that the text colors and any images, and you have a variety of colors to pair in order to generate the impression and reaction you’re looking for. Red text with a striking image and dark backgrounds will produce a more intense reaction than subdued colors on a vibrant background.
The final piece of advice I can offer if you plan to create your own cover is Focus. Your cover is a critical piece of your book’s marketing plan, and if you hope to achieve sales and draw in new readers, you’ll want to put a lot of thought and consideration into how you create the cover. Most authors and experts in the publishing world will strongly encourage hiring a professional to work with you on building your cover. I have to agree with that too. If you can budget in a cover designer, do so.
But if you opt to go it yourself, keep the above points in mind, and your readers will thank you for not only publishing your awesome book, but taking the time to make a stunning cover to go with it.
Paul is the Technical Writer at Lulu, responsible for all the words you see on our site (misspellings included). He also manages the community site – http://connect.lulu.com/en/ – and in his free time, he’s an avid reader and short story writer.