Cover Design: Three Blended Elements

Book Cover - Bigger

The cover for “This Broken Earth”. I used a desert landscape, a picture of two friends, and photos of tanks and planes I shot at the local 45th Armory Museum. The filter is burned paper.

I haven’t written much about cover design, but as an indie writer who is a complete do-it-yourselfer, I have designed the covers for the last two books I have written.

In this quest to create a great cover, I have followed what I call the cardinal rules of great cover design as laid out by several professional cover designers.  This list is an amalgam of many cover designer’s tips:

  1. The title should be big and easy to read, not in a font that is illegible, and not Comic Sans or Papyrus.
  2. Don’t use cheap clip art.
  3. Don’t stick an image inside a box on the cover.
  4. No gradients, especially rainbows.
  5. No garish color combinations.  The colors should be no more than three.
  6. Photos should set the mood and not be literal.
  7. Avoid stock photos.  Take your own photos, and make sure that the lines in the photo lead to your title.
  8. Don’t use 3D effects.
  9. Keep it simple.  Don’t put too much on the cover.
  10. Look at other best selling covers for ideas, and by all means if you are not talented then don’t design your own cover.

But if you have talent with photoshop or GIMP, by all means save the money and design your own cover.  I’ve spent a lot of time in graphic design (one of the many hats I wear as a teacher) and know the basics of what looks good to a book printer.  I also know what is pleasing to the eye, and use very little colors in my color palate.

My suggestion is as follows:

Artwork by Kim Martin.  She used a silver pen to give the metal of the locket a sheen.

Artwork by Kim Martin. She used a silver pen to give the metal of the locket a sheen.

Pick three major themes or iconic items from your novel and write them down on a piece of paper.  For my latest novel, Come Apart, I felt that a silver locket was central to the plot of the novel, that the entire novel is laid out using computer terminology as chapter titles (the ending reveals the reason for this), and that the novel was a puzzle that the reader has to put together as they read (It’s a science-fiction mystery story).

I chose three images: a silver locket, a computer screen (Matrix style), and puzzle pieces.  I paid an artist to draw the locket, and she did a fantastic job, with one side of the locket containing the picture of a woman and the other side containing a broken clock with the numbers falling into the bottom.

My progress so far before inserting the jigsaw puzzle design over it.

My progress so far before inserting the jigsaw puzzle design over it.

I then cut out the locket using GIMP and inserted it on a black background.  I filled the photo with green numbers ala The Matrix and gave it a green hue and a fish eye perspective without making it 3D.  I will then take a picture of downtown Noble (where the novel is set) give the picture a greenish hue, and then turn it into a jigsaw puzzle which will be inserted over the locket picture in fragments, as if a jigsaw puzzle is being put together over the picture.

Hopefully I will have something to post on this blog soon, and then you can see the finished product.

I think that if the cover is not too gaudy, focuses on the three main aspects or icons of the novel, that it will be a successful cover.  It has to be pleasing enough to the eye to make a reader want to see what is inside, and at the same time the lines have to draw the reader to the title.

Have any of you tried your hand at cover design?  Post below with your experiences.


5 thoughts on “Cover Design: Three Blended Elements

  1. Pingback: Self-Publishing Part 4: Covers and Other Nightmares | HANNAH A. KRYNICKI

  2. lovely post Roger, and very interesting too. I have been forced to have a go at making our own covers, as we have tried commissioning one in the past but was not that happy with the result. As usual, ‘how hard can it be’ raised its ugly head, and I am reseanably pleased with the results. Obviously I would love to master the finer arts one day…

  3. I liked the design for This Broken Earth. Looks really good. Far more technique involved than I have. But one comment. Your name is too small and stuck down there in the corner, it is almost overlooked. It would be better put in place of ‘A novel’, which isn’t necessary. I always wonder why people put that. Also, if you publish at B&N, they show the cover with the bottom right corner turned up, which would render your name unreadable. Remember you are selling yourself as an author. Your name matters.

  4. Great post Roger. I came from a family of good painters and illustrators, but I inherited none of it. Right now I’m pushing my son into graphic arts, mostly for the free graphics.

    I spent a long time trying to come up with a logo for a music project I do with a friend. When I finally had something I thought was cool, I sent it to a graphic designer I know. She said, ‘What’s the significance of [this, this, and this]?” I said, ‘Uh… nothing really.” She said, “So I can get rid of it?” Then she sent back a design that blew the doors off my idea.

    Such is life.

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