Making covers!

This is a hodgepodge of questions.

I'm curious about how people approach the process of establishing covers for ebook versions of their work (or for uploading to sites like Wattpad.) How are you approaching the following decision points?

* Commissioning painted art vs. purchasing stock/photo duplication rights. (If you are going to stock sites, which ones? And if you write fantasy what do you do then?What's your approach? Photomanipulation of stock?)

* Do you have a preconceived notion of the appropriate cover if you write for specific genres? For example - sci-fi/fantasy often use a particular painting style and type of cover (replete with things slashing, dragons smashing, you catch my drift) whereas YA/Adult romance tends to have a spare "Twilight" look or "pretty girl" on the cover.

* Have any you attempted to release different covers for different versions?

*Fonts! Where are you finding good book fonts?


One thing to keep in mind is that ebook covers are going to be in grayscale & are going to have a relatively limited number of shades of gray to them, so I might suggest keeping it simple (so it's clear in this format) and double checking what the art will look like on a screen before moving forward.

My intent, somewhere down the line, is to hire an artist to make some original art. It's not exorbitantly expensive, and I think it's something worth splurging on.

When I started self-publishing two years ago, I tried a number of different things and wasn't happy with any of them, and ended up deciding to do my own. But I'm enough of a designer that I can do that. (I also have the software and equipment.)

My big issue is this: you have to be able to match your genre's style. The audience will use your cover style to judge the genre, and probably the "flavor" of your book. Since I always write cross genre, I get more flexibility than most people.

Thriller writers have it easiest: the standard out there is big type. You can almost do anything else with the images, or have no image at all, if the title and author name dominate the design. But you do have to have a sense of typography. Hard SF can get away with this one too. Literature and some historical versions of various genres can get away with public domain classic art. Chicklit needs sassy cartoons, Romance needs torsos.

Look at what is being published in your genre. Look at authors who have the audience you want. Do their covers use photos, or illustration? Silhouettes, fine painting, moody lighting? Does it depict people or settings or abstract items?

When you're done with that, you'll know what the options for your genre is.

The good news is.... even if you write in a genre which has demanding and expensive standards, remember that there are hundreds of authors out there in the same boat, and many of them are established names who are looking to self-publish their backlists -- and they don't have money either. They're going to sell their books based on their names, and the cheaper style of cover they choose will bring that style into the fold for the genre.

If you decide to go with stock images, Shutterstock has great stuff, but they also have licenses that limit what you do. If your book becomes wildly successful, or you use the image as a template for a series, you may run up against the limits of how many "impressions" you can sell before you have to pay them more money. (Unlikely but it's a hassle I don't want to deal with.)

Fotolia considers book covers to be like ads or web graphics, and doesn't limit the sales count. (At least that's what they told me via email -- the sales count limit is for items where the customer is buying it for the image -- such as T-shirts.)

I'm generally too fussy to work with anything but the most expensive artists (and I can't afford them, so that's why I do my own). You do get what you pay for, and if you want to have redos, you need to compensate the artist for her time. Young artists are not as good at listening as experienced artists.

And as Wildbow said -- think about where the cover will be seen. I worry less about how it will look in grayscale than how it will look in a tiny thumbnail version.


Personally, I went through 1889 Labs with Legion of Nothing. They asked me what sort of cover I wanted, and my preference was for an illustrated cover.

It was a fairly obvious choice in this case. I'm writing a story about a teenage superhero. Should it look like the cover of a comic book? Hmmmn...

Actually, there were probably other options, but I like the idea of making it obvious what you're getting.

Actually Wildbow, they're only grayscale on e-ink devices. On tablets (including the Kindle fire) and phones the cover (and anything else with color) will render in color.

Camille has the right of it; no matter whether you want to do something Wild and New with your cover, your readers are going to be judging the interior by the cover and there is already an existing "language" that we all have been trained to recognize by the existing publishing industry.

This doesn't mean that language won't change over time. But if your aim is to connect the book with the right readers, it's a good idea to study the visual language of the covers in your genre, and to follow them.

(My observational data: I've designed a lot of covers, and redesigned several for the same book. Inevitably, when I make the cover look more like the covers of other, similar books, I make more sales/get more downloads, and the readers who do pick it up seem more pleased with their purchases.)

Thanks for your help guys and the site suggestions. (Had not realized some of the issues with Shutterstock!)

I still mull the cover choice issue as I'm well aware that what I'm doing is really more multi-genre or genre-less. Maybe I'll have to mock up several at some point with different "genres" in mind and run them by the readers for fun.

As for my favorite cover resource, I've been following Joel Friedlander for a long time. I love his cover-offs. (Once a month he lets readers submit covers. He'll highlight and critique a few examples for the reading audience.)

You can catch him at

Jim: You already know I really like your cover. I think the palette the artist used was really good. Also generally like the typography the 1889 lab folk use. Consistently their covers look good. Wonder if they'd ever just do covers? :)

The covers for The Dragon Wars Saga books are inexpensive stock art covers made for me by Scath at (since I'm a friend she throws in the paperback resolution at no extra cost but usually it's more). The Dragon Wars books are on a shoestring budget though. The brief got book one involved me pointing Scath at lots of fantasy covers that follow a very simple stock based pattern and talking about fire as I recall. My good fortune is that there is such a pattern for fantasy.

For Haventon, where I want to do a not shoestring budget release (if I can figure out how to get enough people to contribute), I have a quandry. I have no idea what the cover should look like (and this is a problem even if i end up shoestringing it). It's got vampires and werewolves (and other things) but it's not Horror so a Horror style cover is out but most Paranormal Fantasy is also Romance and the covers reflect that. I do not want to give potential readers the wrong impression.

With regard to licenses - most Stock sites have the same limitation (I know the one Scath uses does) but if you shift enough units for needing an extended license to become an issue you'll probably have made enough that the extra pennies are worth it.


Just caught this cover article from the Guardian :

Thought it was an amusing but interesting dissection of types of covers...