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    4. Choosing Stock

    For this section we’re going to look at stock. If you haven’t done this before, it seems exciting at first but rapidly turns into a soul-destroying experience. :) So many white toothpaste smiles, so many fashion and advertising shots that are unsuitable for a book cover. Very little in the way of action shots or proper costuming unless you go with a more expensive genre-specific stock site. 

    How much of your cover do you need to purchase stock for? “All of it” is the simplest and most accurate answer. I know that seems expensive but it is nothing in comparison with the risks of using unlicensed images. There are, however, a few things that you can do to bring the cost down.

    1. Watch for sales. I normally use Depositphotos, as they run yearly specials where you can buy large amounts of stock for very little. I’ll usually buy two or three of these packages of 100 images at a time which brings my stock cost down to under £1 or so per image. I’ve learned from past experiences to try as much as possible to keep stock purchases to a single site so that you don’t have wasted blocks of credits on a lot of sites just sitting there. 
    2. Start a library of images that you can reuse bits of for composited images. I have a library of commercial stock images and my own photography that I can use for skies, birds, ground cover, the perfect braided hair or loose curls that can be applied to other models. 
    3. Fonts need to be purchased as well. I try to use fonts which are licensed free for commercial use (I’ll donate to them as well as a thank you for that), reasonably priced fonts from small designers, and a smaller set of expensive commercial fonts, mostly from places like Letterhead Fonts. These I’ll usually wait to purchase until they run a sale.
    4. Take your own images. Modern smartphones usually have a camera that is good enough for taking supplementary images: be aware of great sunsets, interesting woodland paths, clumps of wildflowers in the sun, stone walls, etc., that you can photograph. This won’t be adequate for model shots, but will be fine for background images. Photograph things around the house as well: old books, keys, feathers, etc. All of this is usable and will cut your stock costs down.

    So, stock images. Aside from having the right look, age, colouring, etc., I also look for good lighting. For the purposes of this tutorial we’ll be adding a head to a different body, as you need to do that all the time on covers. Below is an example of how the lighting can make your job easier, or much more difficult.

    The first image is nicely lit with a good balance of shadow and light. The middle one is washed out, with flecks of light that would need to be painted out, and the third is lit much too harshly with dark shadow on the face (this is the one that I grab locks of hair from, though!).

    When you’re matching a head with a body the lighting will have to be relatively the same, with the main light source on the same side and in roughly the same range of tones (or be fixable to be in the same range of tones, more on that later). Look for a good expression on the face, with some life to it (as though the model was actually thinking something). Again, the first image is a good example of that.

    These are the images that I’m going to be using later on as my base stock:

    The body is an image that I’ve created in a 3D program and the head is a stock image that I’ve been dying to use as I love her expression, but unfortunately she doesn’t have many other images available which makes her a bad choice for anything that might turn into a series. We’ll be doing a (hopefully!) badass urban fantasy cover.

    In the next installment we’ll start putting this together…finally. I know, right? 

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    3. Making a Template

    Quick post today because I haven’t been able to work on this as much as I had planned!

    Today’s topic: making a starting template. Specifically, this will be an ebook template and I will show you later on how I turn those into POD (print on demand) templates. I know that some people work on a wraparound template which is designed to wrap around the front, spine and back of the book. It does make it easier to visualise the entirety of the book, but I find that it throws my visual sense of balance off.

    At this point I’ll have to make a disclaimer that will cover the entirety, every word and thought, of this series: this is how I work. I am self-taught, and although there are a universe of tools and hotkeys and proper ways of doing things, this is how I work in Photoshop. Tricks, old dogs, and all that mean that I’m not going to change at this point so just use this as a starting point to develop your own workflow – your method may be better!

    Anyhow, I start with a basic .psd template that I use as a starting point for all the covers that I do. The image below will show you where these options can be found. Open Photoshop CC, and:

    1. Create a new file that is 6×9″ and 300 dpi. With the Paint Bucket tool, fill the Background layer with a colour that will complement your intended cover.
    2. Either use View>New Guide (twice) to add two vertical guidelines, or
    3. Using the Move tool, drag them out from the left-hand side of your image. Either way works.
    4. Using the ruler at the top, set these lines at an equal distance from the sides. 200 pixels, 300px, whatever. This gives you a visual guide to help you centre things such as your author name.
    5. On separate layers, use the Text tool to add your name, the book title, and the series name if that applies. We’ll make these pretty later on, at the moment they’re just a placeholder.
    6. While holding down the Control key, click on each of your text layers in the Layers menu on the right hand side of your workspace to highlight them at the same time. Once selected, use the symbol marked #6 on the image below to open the context menu and choose New Group from Layers. Name that group “Text.”
    7. Save this document. This forms the basis of your cover, so name accordingly: title_book1.psd or whatever.

    That’s it. :) Now you have a blank canvas of the correct large trade paperback size* and your text layers in a convenient group so you can turn them off and on as needed. You’ll be doing a lot of that, which is why we’ve grouped them.

    *If you know in advance that your book will be printed at 5.25×8.25, you can go ahead and make your template in those dimensions. For me it makes a lot more sense to work at maximum size so I can resize it as needed later on.

    Know Your Competition: Research

    Choosing Stock

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    2. Know Your Competition: Research

    Aside from learning how to use the tools of the trade, one of the most important things that you can do prior to creating your cover is to research current trends in your genre, as well as cover trends overall for the current year.

    Cover styles go in and out just as fashion does, and while it can be worthwhile to ride the crest of whatever trend is current, it’s usually not a good idea to be behind it. It’s better yet to come up with the next Hot New Trend and have everyone follow you, of course. :D

    In the genre that I usually work in (YA fantasy, urban fantasy, fairytale retellings) we’ve all seen the styles of past years: big face covers where a closeup of the face takes up most of the cover, drowning/sleeping/floating girl covers, covers where every single character has mysteriously had their heads cut off, pretty dress covers. In science fiction covers right now the trend seems to be stylised illustrated covers of ships, planets, explosions, very little character representation except in the genre of military sci fi.

    I normally keep a Pinterest board of book cover art that I really admire – mood boards are an excellent way of collecting ideas for your cover. I also have a feed reader stuffed full of book bloggers and book review sites which I follow, both from a reader’s perpective and also as a way of seeing new covers.

    Always take a look at the top-selling books in your genre to see what sells, but to be honest personally I find this less helpful as you’ll see an awful lot of crap there. It may be selling, but lord are there some damned ugly covers there!

    I also look at movie poster art: you’ll see some of the most powerful designs here. Make your cover cinematic!

    Another thing you want to watch for are trends in typography. I admit that typography is my weak point, which is why I rarely do covers with an emphasis on title typography rather than character art – it’s not my forte. But keep an eye out for new ideas, and also to see which fonts are becoming overused.

    Overused stock is another thing to look for – there are really gorgeous images out there that I would love to use, models that I adore but cannot use because I’ve seen them on so many books. Rule these out completely unless you have the skill to totally change the image (in which case why are you reading this?). Find something new and change it to make it your own. If you use straight stock without creating a unique image you’ll see other books with your cover.

    These rules aside, the most important thing is to create a cover that you really love. The adage in writing is “Write the book that you want to read,” and I suppose the same holds true for the covers that you create. You want something that gives you that “grabby hands” feeling, a cover that makes you immediately want to know more about the book. What looking at current trends does is to try to rule out anything that make people give it a pass, or have misconceptions of genre and theme.

    The links below probably say it better than I have done here:


    1. Getting Started: Tools

    3. Making a Template

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    1. Getting Started: Tools

    This is the first in what will (hopefully) be a series on basic book cover design. Nothing scary, nothing too complicated, just a guide for authors who want to design their own covers or graphic designers just starting out. More experienced designers will know all of this and will probably have their own shortcuts or ways of working, but this is how I work.

    To start with, you’re going to need a graphics program, some stock images, and a few basic tools. I know there are template software programs out there that will help you design your cover, but this tutorial doesn’t cover that. We’re going to make the assumption that you want to do it properly, gain skills and build on them, and apply those same skills to other projects: swag, doing your own ads, graphics for your site, social media headers and so on.

    This type of thing allows for a hell of a lot of fumbling along the way, but very little in the way of shortcuts. :)

    First, software. Personally I have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription and for me it is invaluable. The basic Photography rate is under $10 a month, which is a huge bargain. You can also use Gimp, which is free. Anything that I post here will be using information and screenshots from Photoshop.

    Next, you’re going to need a basic graphics tablet. You really, really can’t do this stuff with a mouse. It’s the type of thing they make bad designers do all day in hell, it’s that bad. I have a Wacom Intuos Pro tablet that I’m happy with, but in the past I have used one of the Huion tablets which was dead cheap and did a fine job.

    You need something to work with, right? You’ll need stock…and by that I mean commercial stock from a reputable site, or good images that you have created yourself. Never, ever, ever risk using something that you don’t have the rights to as it isn’t worth it. Since I use so much stock I usually watch out for the yearly deals that Depositphotos runs on Appsumo, as you can pay $49 for 100 images. I’ve had subscriptions in the past to Shutterstock and so on, and for me it was a lot of pressure to download my quota of images every month when I may or may not have needed them at the time, or known what I did want. Having credits means that I can use them whenever I need to, to suit my current needs. For specific genres there are sites such as Period Images where you can find good images from various historical periods for romance covers.

    Do you need all of that to start off with? No.

    You’ll need some kind of graphics program, of course. And you’ll thank me once you get a graphics tablet. The key throughout all of this, however, is to just start playing with it. Play, as in have fun with it! Do images of the kids, photoshop wings and a halo on the dog, whatever. Everything you do is a learning experience. Keep doing this during the next step, which is looking at current trends in cover art and deciding what would suit your book best.


    Links in this article:


    Next Article:

    Know Your Competition: Research

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    Hide and Seek

    Arting is difficult when your eyes will barely open…sooo damned tired. I woke up at just after 2:00 am this morning and am now in a fog of cotton wool and numbness. Anyway, some art stuff from this afternoon. :)

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    Free Cover Giveaway 2017

    Last year I had a mini-contest of sorts for a free cover, and ended up giving away two. More about the motivation behind the giveaway and specifics as to what I was looking for here.

    I plan on doing this again for 2017 and announcing the winner just before the holidays, so send me a short synopsis of your project and your ideas for a cover either through comments below or by emailing me here. If it isn’t clear why your project supports diversity in some way (themes, main character, etc.), add a note saying why you would like to be chosen.

    This year I’d love to do a cover for a kickass female main character, bonus points for science fiction and bonus points as well for a POC main character. It’s increasingly not a great time to be a young woman or girl right now, and I would love to do some art featuring a strong, sassy, tech-y woman to give us all hope for a better tomorrow.

    As I said last year, representation is important and I would have killed for more diverse books when I was growing up…stuck in a small cow town in Northern California I dreamed of other worlds, I dreamed of starships, I dreamed of anything other than what I could see around me. Give me kickass girls with dreams. :)

    EDIT: Winners have been chosen and notified, thank you SO much to all who entered! You guys rock so hard.


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    Stock Images: Ideas?

    As and when I have the time (which isn’t as often as I’d like, unfortunately!) I’ve been working on 3D/CGI art for stock images. I use them myself in covers and art, and I have a small portfolio of stock images on Depositphotos. These are mainly for poses and costumes only, as it can be very difficult to find any type of action pose on stock sites, and genre-specific costumes can also be difficult to find. Use the body, replace head/hair with photo textures, and quite often you can’t tell the difference.

    These are mainly in the science fiction, urban fantasy or steampunk genres, as romance and historical stock is very well covered. There also isn’t exactly a shortage of hunky shirtless male models in normal stock. :)

    I’m also trying to build a portfolio of PoC models, as that can be difficult to find – especially in science fiction, fantasy, etc.

    My question is: what are the types of things that you look for, but can’t find? The stuff that I can create is somewhat limited in terms of costume to the outfits that I have access to, of course.

    There are always images that you assume you’ll be able to find TONS of, but upon looking realise that you don’t have a lot of choices: things such as back views of girls in jeans. Lots of unusable/cringeworthy ones, but very few cool-looking ones of tough urban fantasy girls with long hair. Just one example…what is yours?

    I’d honestly like to know.