How To Design A Book Cover For Free And Make It Look Good

In this free tutorial you will learn how to design a book cover that you can be proud of. And it will take less than an hour.

 

I love the creativity of indie authors. There are many fantastic indie novels on the market. But there is one area where indie writers could stand to improve: their ebook covers.

Ebook covers are very important. In fact they are one of the most important parts of self marketing an ebook.  Simply put, you have to get your cover right.

There is no excuse for a badly designed ebook cover in this day and age, it is so easy to design a good cover for an ebook. There are online design tools, including fully-functional ebook cover makers. There’s Photoshop. There’s free online versions of Photoshop like Pixlr…

If your novel cover looks bad, just breathe.

Go ahead and take a deep breath.

I am about to become your bestest friend in the whole wide world.

I am about to show you how to design a book cover online for free. Yes, for completely free.

And I know what you’re thinking.

“I have no design skills. I am pants at graphics”.

Doesn’t matter.

This tutorial on designing a book cover is going to make it so easy my nan could do it. And, God bless her, she was laid to rest three years ago (love you, nan).

 

 

In order to do this tutorial I am going to create a book cover from scratch.

And right now I don’t even know what book the cover is for.

So, I am going to create an idea for  a novel. And then I’m going to use that for my example of cover design.

I write fantasy so I will go with that idea. And I also write spiritual articles, so I’ll use that. And earlier today I actually wrote an article about meditation. So….

Brain working…

Okay, my book is going to be a young adult fantasy (my genre) in which a teenage martial artist ­­learns to control magic using meditation.

Weird idea but I’m going to run with it, after all, even if the premise isn’t perfect it is good enough to use for an example.

We are now ready to launch into this tutorial.

 

Step 1: The Basics Of Book Design

The first thing we need to do is to find the right formats and sizes for our cover.

So, based on what Amazon’s ebook cover specifications.

File Types

Amazon recommends that we create our book covers in JPEG or TIFF format.

Dimensions

Cover art should have a ratio of 1:6:1. This means that if we create a width of 1000, the height should be 1600 precisely. However, Amazon also recommends a cover be 2500 pixels tall, which means the width would be 1600.

These are the cover sizes we will use for this tutorial. You might like to note this information in WORD. We’ll put this aside for now, but it will be important to refer to.

 

 

Step 2: Analyse Your Book. Covers are all about the story. 

 

The first step to creating a good ebook cover is to write down what your book is about.

You need to write down:

  • Your book’s title.
  • Premise.
  • Genre.
  • Description of lead character (and other characters if they are to be on the cover).
  • Mood / Emotion of the book (this will be reflected in the cover).

 

My story is a young adult fantasy that has a young female teenage martial artist as the protagonist. She learns to control magic by using meditation. And let’s say that the entire point in the story is that the character learns that all the power she needs is inside her, once she learns to control her own mind.

I’m going to use the example title Magic And The Martial Mind (this is just something I came up with on the spot and not actually the title of a book I’m writing).

 

So here is the vital information for my book. 

Title: Magic And The Martial Mind

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Protagonist:  Teenage girl, martial artist, meditator, magician

Premise: A teenage female martial artist discovers she has the power to conjure magic using her mind

Mood  / Emotion: exciting / adventure

 

I recommend that you open a Word document and write these points down. 

 

Step 2: Knowing the conventions for book designs in your genre

We are going to try to stick to conventions as we design this book cover. Why? Because psychologically, shoppers use pattern recognition to decide what to buy. You have to make the book look familiar so your reader knows what it’s about the moment they look at it. You have to tell your readers that your book is right for them. And you have to do that in a split second (because that is all the time you will get).

By the way, I absolutely hate conventions and clichés. I love creativity. However, I have learned something in my years. I’ve learned that because I am so creative, even when I try to write to-genre I will still deviate. That’s important. It means that you can do what other successful authors have done and trust that your natural creativity will make your work unique. Of course that is, if you truly are creative. Which you are, because you are an author… right?

So, we need to stick to conventions.

The conventions depend on your genre.

The genre for our book, “Magic And The Martial Mind” is Young Adult Fantasy. So we’re going to use the conventions of that genre.

The easiest way to find the conventions of your genre is to hop over to Amazon and browse your genre’s bookshelf.

While you’re browsing Amazon, make a list of all the similarities between books.

book cover designs on Amazon

Browsing the YA Fantasy section, the vast majority of book covers share the following features:

  • A character or two on the cover
  • The character is sexy
  • The character takes up about a third of the cover space horizontally, and two third vertically
  • The font is a very angular font for the title (Baskerville is a popular choice)
  • Most of the title fonts use background shading to make them stand out
  • Triad colour schemes are very popular
  • Usually the colours and shapes are smudged into a black background.

 

These are just some very quick notes I took about the genre we’re working in for our example.

When you make your notes consider:

  • What fonts are used?
  • What size of font?
  • Are the fonts for the author’s name and the book title the same or different?
  • What colours are used for the font / character / background?
  • Where are the characters on the page?
  • How busy are the graphics?
  • How many colour schemes are used? What specific colour schemes?
  • Any similarities in layouts between books?

Again, just write these down for now, and then put them beneath the other notes you have in your word document.

 

 

Step 3: Combine The Conventions With Your Story

This is a recap stage to let us know where we are so far.

Simply go through the notes you already have in mind and begin to get ideas on how you might combine the conventions with your own novel notes to create a visual design.

For our example book cover, we have the following notes and conventions.

Title: Magic And The Martial Mind

Genre of book:  YA Fantasy

Protagonist:  Teenage girl, martial artist, meditator, magician

Premise: A teenage female martial artist discovers she has the power to conjure magic using her mind.

And our conventions:

  • A character or two on the cover
  • The character is sexy
  • The character takes up about a third of the cover space horizontally, and two third vertically
  • The font is a very angular font for the title (gothic sans fonts are very popular)
  • Most of the title fonts use background shading to make them stand out
  • Triad colour schemes are very popular
  • Usually the colours and shapes are smudged into a black background.

 

Step 4: The Basics Of Good Cover Design 

As well as understanding the conventions of our genre, it is also good to know about the basics of design.

There are some essentials that go into good cover design. They are:

Less is more: You want the reader to immediately be drawn to the important details. You do not want them to be looking at superfluities. Remember, you have to make the book cover work in a split second. And to do that you need to focus on the details and remove anything unnecessary.

Emotion: This is actually something most book covers lack, even the good ones. You want your reader to get a sense of the primary emotion of the book. And to do that you need your character to be experiencing that emotion in the visual. Or, if you are not using a character on your cover, you need to communicate emotion using iconography (we all get a strong feeling from the image of a leafless tree blowing in the wind, for instance).

Create a mood: You want to choose a key mood and make everything reflect that. You want the font, the colours, the image, and the title to all carry the same mood so that you get one very strong mood rather than a hodge podge of different ones.

Make the font stand out: You need your font to be big enough and clear enough to stand out in the thumbnail images that you see on Amazon.

Rule of Thirds: The “Rule of Thirds” is a concept in graphics that a page should be divided into thirds. The image below shows you how this works.

rule of thirds book cover

Above, the page is divided into thirds by two evenly space lines up the page, and two evenly spaced lines across the page. The focal points are then placed at the cross-section of those lines. Horizontal elements (e.g. the horizon) and vertical elements (the line of the character’s body) should be on or near the horizontal or vertical lines.

Cover Design Studio tells us,

“The premise of the Rule of Thirds is that when key elements or objects (such as horizon lines) cross the page at a division of thirds, rather than in half, the image is more appealing. By using the Rule of Thirds as the basis of your layouts, you can design visually appealing book covers with little time or effort.”

Note, there are times when professional book designers will break the rule of thirds. But because this is beginners tutorial, it is best to stick to this convention.

 

 

When you put those points together, it comes down to this. You need your book cover to:

  • Be clear
  • Have one powerful mood and emotion
  • Have harmony between the different elements
  • Use the rule of thirds.

 

 

5. Now we are ready to create our book cover

We now have a strong idea of how our book cover should work. It’s time to get down to the nitty gritty.

When it comes to actually creating a book cover, we will require some or all of the following:

  • A layout
  • A font
  • A background image
  • An image of the character
  • Perhaps some additional special-effect elements.
  • any logos or icons (for instance if you have a publishing house logo, you will need that graphic before you start designing your book cover).

Let’s go through each of these in turn.

 

 

 

6. How To Get Fonts For A Book Cover. And Which Fonts To Use

One of the most important parts of your book cover is your font choice.

Typeography is a very deep subject. InDesignSkill.com says,

“Typography can make or break a book cover design. The extensive variety of typography on covers is mind-boggling – from conservative serifs to charmingly handwritten typefaces. Book cover typography has never looked so good.”

 

Thankfully, there are lots of online font generators that are free to use. My personal favorite is DaFont. DaFont has tons of default fonts, and there are user-generated fonts too. You will even find the fonts used for Harry Potter, Star Wars and other fan favorite movies, books and games.

Because we have done our research on genre conventions, we know that we want a Baskerville font. So we can hop over to DaFont and find a suitable font.

Later we will be putting this all together using a free online book creator called Canva and your choice of either Photoshop, GIMP, or Pixlr (which are all image-editing software). These services have their own font options. But I find that for the best fonts you should use a free online font creator that is dedicated exclusively to font. (Note: I actually ended up using Pixlr’s Baskerville font for the book cover. But it is definitely worth taking a look at DaFont and other font websites).

So, grab your fonts from DaFont or any other font service.

  • In order to use the font you can either download it and use it in a program like Photoshop. Or you can just take a screenshot, open it in Photoshop, GIMP (which is a free alternative to Photoshop) or Pixlr, which is a free online Photoshop-style service. If you do not know how to do this, don’t worry, you can use the free font from Canva, which we will be using later on.

 

 

7. Next, we need to find some free image that we can use for our cover

There are lots of different ways to get free graphics. You can:

  • Create your own.
  • Ask an artist to create them for you.
  • Use Google Advanced Search to find images that have been designated as copyright-free.
  • Use free-image repositories like Pixabay.
  • Or if you want to pay a minimal fee, you can use Shutterstock and other stock photography websites.

 

The aim of this tutorial is to show you how to create a book cover for free. So I am going to use the quick and free option that is  Google’s Advanced Image Search tool.

Go to  Google.com > Image Search > Settings > Advanced Search > Usage Rights > Free To Use, Share, Or Modify, Even Commercially.

The images that Google shows will now be free to use. So search around and find the best images you can.

I managed to find the following images which were listed on Google as being free to use.

This picture will be used for my character

character art for book cover

This is a special effect I will use for the magic.

graphic 1

This sai, which will be cool in the foreground.

book cover graphic elements

 

And this is a background image.

background for a book cover

Find the images that you will use. And make sure they are copyright free.

So we now have a font, and images. Next, we need to put it all together and come up with a layout.

 

 

 

6. Creating a design layout for our book cover

For the next step we are going to use the fantastic free online book creator service Canva.

canva front screen

Canva has its own guide. And it also has lots of templates you can use to create your book cover.

To create our cover, we’re going to go to Canva.com and then select “Ebook Cover”. This will launch the ebook cover creator.

Take your time to take a look around the book creator and to get used to it. There is also the Help section.

So, we’re going to start making our book cover using a blank template.

Click UPLOAD and upload the images we’ve gathered from the steps above.

Once they are uploaded, simply drag and drop the image onto the page and arrange them so they look correct (remember to use the “Rule of Third”, which we looked at above).

When you design your own cover, drag and drop your elements where you like. But make sure that:

  • There is clear distinction between background and foreground.
  • You use the rule of thirds (which we discussed above).
  • The cover does not get too crowded (less is more).

 

 

Our example book cover now looks like this.

It’s starting to look pretty good.

 

 

7. Now we need to add the title and author name to our book cover

The next step is to add the writing, the author name and the book title. To do this, you can either use the fonts that we created earlier, or you can use the font option in Canva / Photoshop / GIMP / Pixlr. Remember, Canva has its own fonts, but a dedicated font service like DaFont.com will have more options.

When we add the writing, we want it to also follow the rule of thirds.

Once the writing has been added, all focal points on the page should fall on one of the intersections of the Rule Of Third lines. You can see this below.

As you can see from the image, the author name and book title are within their own Rule Of Thirds area, and the character’s face, which is the focal point, falls on an intersection. Using the rule of thirds in this way helps us to decide where the elements should be.

book cover design 1

 

 

 

 

7. The Book Cover Review

It is very unusual that you will create a book cover that immediately looks right. More likely, you will end up with a book cover that you like some parts of and dislike other parts of. That’s great. It gives us room for improvement.

Now we need to go back and compare what we have against what is on the market.

So let’s take two of the most popular young adult fantasy books and compare our cover to them.

harry potter cover and percy jackson lightning thief cover

 

Above, you can see the book covers for Harry Potter And The Sorceror’s Stone and Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief. So let’s compare these two covers to ours.

What differences do you see?

  • The backgrounds are more open and have more of a scene.
  • The fonts do not have their own individual background, they are directly on top of the scene.
  • They use bright colours with a limited colour palette.
  • They have more depth, and they achieve this by having clearly defined objects in the foreground, mid-ground, and background.

 

8. Redo our cover with these point in mind

The next phase is a series of iterations as we gradually improve our book cover.

Everything we do here is a direct extension of what we’ve already done.

I went through the steps above a second time bearing these points in mind. Again, I got more images from the sources we discussed above. And I compiled them using the techniques we have already looked at.

The one thing that I did differently was that I remove the background behind the fonts, and instead used the stroke option, which you will find in Photoshop / GIMP / PIXLR.

This is the end result I came up with after revision.

how to design a book cover final

 

Conclusion

There are lots of fantastic free tools for designing book covers. These tools make it possible to design a book cover for free and make it actually look decent. Of course, we re not aiming for a book cover award here. For that we need to hire a professional book cover designer. But what we have achieved is a good looking book cover that will sell our fiction. And we’ve done it for free in about an hour. Not bad.

If you would like me to design your book cover for you, get in touch.

Leave a comment.

Paul Harrison

Paul M Harrison is an entertainment journalist, novelist, and blogger, and a specialist in the theory of storytelling. Paul Harrison can be contacted via his personal website or on Twitter or Facebook.

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