Creating eBook Covers: My Examples

For my first cover I used a single photo

Title Fire Starter
Author Diane J Cornwell
Genre Science Fiction
Sub Genre Adventure
Series Standalone
Length Short Story (6152 words / 24 pages)
Quotes None

I searched for photos of flames and found three or four that could be used. I settled on the clearest photo.

I created a new image in Photoshop Elements.

I renamed Layer 1 background and filled it with black.

I created a second layer and positioned the photo in the middle.

I created three more layers and added one text field to each layer, for the title, author and length. Note: I only put “A Short Story” in the length field at first. I came back later and added SciFi to the field to make it clear it was a science fiction story, not a firebug in today’s society, nor a paranormal or fantasy story using magic.

The completed cover is in the right hand column.

Question to Ask for Selected Cover Answer Y/N
Genre? Science Fiction
Sub Genre? Adventure
Image:
Does the cover imply the genre and subgenre? Yes
Is there a character on the cover?Eg: If one of the main characters is a dragon, is the dragon shown? If one of the main characters is an alien, is the alien shown? No
Does the clothing of the character portray the genre?Eg: If western is the main character carrying a gun and wearing western clothing? If historical is the main character wearing clothing from that era?
Does the background imply the genre and subgenre?Eg: If the story is based on a volcano exploding, is the volcano shown? If the story is an adventure, is that portrayed by the background? No
If no character, is there an icon to show genre?Eg: If murder mystery is there a bloody knife or smoking gun? If science fiction is there either a space ship or stars or planet in background? Yes
Text?
Can you clearly read the title in the small image? Yes
Is the title suitable for the genre? Yes
Can you clearly read the Author Name in the small image? Yes
Does the title stand out from the image behind it? Yes
Are other text or tag lines readable? Yes
Can you tell the length of the ebook from the cover? Yes
Can you tell it is part of a series? Yes
Theme?
Even if you can’t read the title or author name, can you guess the theme of the story?Eg: dark and mysterious? Light and funny? Yes

Notice the No answers. I did not understand about the image implying the genre when I created this cover. If I had known, I would have used a photo of a boy with flame erupting from his pointing finger.

This cover for Fire Starter is now on Amazon and Smashwords and is my best seller.

However, I do not know if the attraction is the cover, or the blurb, or the price.

For the first 6 months it was free, but since then it is US$0.99 and is still selling on Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Apple and Smashwords. I put it on Amazon in December, 2011, so it is too soon to compare Amazon sales with the other sites.

It just goes to show I may have used a wrong image on the cover but it is still attracting readers.

My Series Cover Development Example

Lets look at a series I am writing.

This is an image I drew, inked, scanned into Photoshop Elements and added the Title, Author and Length text fields.

I was going for a modern version of the pulp fiction look. Not sure if the illustration portrays that.

Title Crash Landing
Author Diane J Cornwell
Genre Science Fiction
Sub Genre Adventure
Series Galaxy Freight
Length Novelettes
Quotes None

Then I answered the following questions.

Question to Ask for Selected Cover

Answer Y/N

Genre? Science Fiction
Sub Genre? Adventure
Image:
Does the cover imply the genre and subgenre?

No

Is there a character on the cover?Eg: If one of the main characters is a dragon, is the dragon shown? If one of the main characters is an alien, is the alien shown?

Yes

Does the clothing of the character portray the genre?Eg: If western is the main character carrying a gun and wearing western clothing? If historical is the main character wearing clothing from that era?

No (maybe)

Does the background imply the genre and subgenre?Eg: If the story is based on a volcano exploding, is the volcano shown?If the story is an adventure, is that portrayed by the background?

No

If no character, is there an icon to show genre?Eg: If murder mystery is there a bloody knife or smoking gun? If science fiction is there either a space ship or stars or planet in background?

Text?
Can you clearly read the title in the small image?

Yes

Is the title suitable for the genre?

No

Can you clearly read the Author Name in the small image?

Yes

Does the title stand out from the image behind it?

Yes

Are other text or tag lines readable?

Yes

Can you tell the length of the ebook from the cover?

Yes

Can you tell it is part of a series?

No

Theme?
Even if you can’t read the title or author name, can you guess the theme of the story?Eg: dark and mysterious? Light and funny?

No

From the answers, I now realise that the genre is not clear from either the title or the image.

So, how to fix that?

I looked at redoing the image in either water colour or oils. Or creating a new image in Photoshop or GIMP of a planet, stars and the space ship.

Instead I chose to leave the image alone and display the genre as text.

I also created a logo of the series, showing the freight company name and the series number. The logo text can not be read at this small size.

I also changed the colours because I thought the colours were washed out.

Then I repeated for the second novelette in the series.

   

Now, look at the answers again, after I made the changes.

 Question to Ask for Selected Cover Answer Y/N
Genre? Science Fiction
Sub Genre? Adventure
Image:
Does the cover imply the genre and subgenre? Yes
Is there a character on the cover?Eg: If one of the main characters is a dragon, is the dragon shown? If one of the main characters is an alien, is the alien shown? Yes (both)
Does the clothing of the character portray the genre?Eg: If western is the main character carrying a gun and wearing western clothing? If historical is the main character wearing clothing from that era? Maybe
Does the background imply the genre and subgenre?Eg: If the story is based on a volcano exploding, is the volcano shown? If the story is an adventure, is that portrayed by the background? Yes (book 2)
If no character, is there an icon to show genre?Eg: If murder mystery is there a bloody knife or smoking gun? If science fiction is there either a space ship or stars or planet in background? Yes (book 2)
Text?
Can you clearly read the title in the small image? Yes
Is the title suitable for the genre? Yes
Can you clearly read the Author Name in the small image? Yes
Does the title stand out from the image behind it? Yes
Are other text or tag lines readable? Yes
Can you tell the length of the ebook from the cover? Yes
Can you tell it is part of a series? Yes
Theme?
Even if you can’t read the title or author name, can you guess the theme of the story?Eg: dark and mysterious? Light and funny? Yes

Before the title only implied falling out of the sky. Now the title becomes suitable because of the Galaxy Freight logo. It now implies falling from space. The clothing is now suitable for travelling in a space ship. I can tell both covers are part of a series.

One last step is to look at the final image as black and white.

Click Image, Mode, Greyscale. A window will open asking to merge the layers. Click on Don’t Merge. Note if any part of the text is unreadable. Do not save the changes.

The quickest way to back out is click the Undo Arrow button, or Edit => Step Backwards, or if you prefer short cut keys, Ctrl+Z,

If any part of the text is lost, I look at changing the text colours, saving again, and testing in Greyscale again.

I was going to show the steps for scanning a drawing or illustration into the software, using layers to colour each section, then more layers to add the text boxes but this post is already long enough.

Summary

What I discovered from researching covers and writing this article:

My first short story far outsells all the other stories, whether novel, novella or novelette length.

I do not believe it is the price. All my stories are priced on length.

eBook covers are not the same as print book covers, so do not try to imitate them.

eBook covers need a simple image that is still clearly seen at a small size.

When I heard about Wattpad I repeated the research steps for science fiction on the site and discovered it confirms what I have concluded.

Most of the eBook covers have a simple image, with an uncluttered background or no background at all.

They do not all have clear text, but the layout of the site makes that redundant. The title and blurb, with other details are displayed to the right of each cover and quickly read.

Another interesting point is you can see the page length, and how many readers, votes and comments are associated with each eBook without leaving the displayed list.

Amazon’s Kindle store does not display the blurb, page length or other information next to the eBook cover in the lists. You have to click and leave the list to read the blurb so the simple image is better when it includes genre and mood.

At the same time I read an article by The Book Designer who has come to the same conclusion as me. His article, 3 Secrets to e-Book Cover Design Success lists the main points as Simple, Small and Strategic. Worth the read.

His wording is different, but simple is the same description I use for an image that portrays one element that can clearly be seen in a reduced size.

A new article by the Book Designer, Print and eBook Covers displays what I concluded.

Create the print book cover, equal to the grey area in his article. For ebooks choose an area of the print book cover equal to the blue area displayed for an ebook cover.

For example, if the print book cover is an ‘army on the move’ scene, then the ebook cover should just be the army leader. In other words, create the cover for the print book (grey area above), then look for the best section of the image to fit in the blue small square area and use that for the ebook cover.

So, I now understand that eBook covers should only show one element, hopefully portraying genre and mood in the image or title, but genre and mood are not necessary. Genre is known from the selected list the reader is searching. Mood is understood from reading the sample.

Doing this will result in the cover image remaining visible in a small size.

When I understood this fact, I studied Dean Wesley Smith’s covers again. I can not tell the genre from the covers, unless the title or subtitle hints at it. He understands this fact. Some other Indie authors have already came to this conclusion.

I am off to redesign all my covers, except for Fire Starter. I accidently got it correct. However, if I had to create a print cover for Fire Starter, I would have the male character holding his hand out with flame shooting across the page and something burning. It would include the dress of the male and background, implying genre.

What is your take on this concept?

Is my thinking wrong?

Should I add lots of detail into the eBook cover knowing it will be lost in the genre lists postage stamp sized images?

Part A: Introduction

Part B: Basics

Part C: Software

Part D: Research Genre

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11 comments so far

  1. Rabia on

    I’m enjoying your posts on cover art. One thing that I think you might look into is typography. Book covers produced by publishing houses use fonts that just look professional. I’m not sure how to describe it, but I can see right away whether a cover is homemade or made by a professional just based on the fonts used. It’s a small detail, but font choice can really make a cover pop.

    • D J Mills on

      Hi Rabia. Thanks for dropping by.

      I agree with using certain fonts on print covers, however, as with everything, it is subjective. If one font was the best, then every print cover would use it. Ebook covers are not the same as print covers, so the selection of fonts is more important. eBooks need fonts to be clear and readable, even at a postage stamp size. This lessens the variety of available fonts to choose from.

      When I get some free time I should research which is the most used font on bestsellers on Amazon. 🙂 If you find out first, let me know.

  2. Shayne Winters on

    I went and took a look at the Amazon Top 100 Paid Bestsellers. Here’s what I noticed:
    – a large percentage of the titles were done in either all capitals, or large caps/small caps
    – a large percentage were also done in a basic, professional looking sans-serif font
    – as it got more toward the back end of the list, I started seeing a few more titles in lower case and serif font

    • D J Mills on

      Thanks for the info, Shane. Yes, most of the published books I have are large cap/small caps for both heading and author while only a small percentage have title case. I need to look at how many are UK publishers vs. US publishers. I have no idea which font is which, but will look into that. I also noticed lower case in a lot of the indie books.

  3. Angela/Curiocat on

    When I choose a book to read I do not buy because of the cover. I have read truly good stories with perfectly awful covers. That being said I think a beautiful cover enhances the reading experience and I enjoy just looking at them.

    It seems as though the ebook revolution has made book covers more important than ever because of the quantity of books flooding the market. Readers have to have some way of filtering what they don’t want to read and more importantly what they do read.

    Book covers are a quick comprehensive way to do that. With a glance the readers will judge the quality of writing inside. This means the cover must not only be great but convey in 30 seconds or less a concept.

    Some of the best, powerful covers I’ve seen are very simple ideas but they’ve stayed with me through the years and I still enjoy them.

    Some of my favs:

    http://www.amazon.com/Sword-Born-Novel-Tiger-Sword-Dancer-Saga/dp/0886778271/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328666358&sr=1-4

    http://www.amazon.com/Explorer-Foreigner-Universe-C-Cherryh/dp/0756401313/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328666441&sr=1-6

    http://www.amazon.com/Book-Atrix-Wolfe-Patricia-McKillip/dp/0441015654/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328666506&sr=1-9

    • D J Mills on

      I already own Sword Born and Explorer and most of the rest by both the authors. Love them! The third one I do not know.

      I find if the cover is different to all the rest of the covers listed on the page, I am attracted to it, so I read the genre, and blurb, and if they sound good, I will read a sample or look for it at the library if I don’t know the author. Once I like the voice of the author I will search for all the others that author has written.

      Still, the small size of the cover leads me to believe the best image is a close up with not much background.

      I am busy writing, but will take time each week to work on new covers for most of my books. 🙂 I can not improve without trying. 🙂

  4. Shayne on

    “Yes, most of the published books I have are large cap/small caps for both heading and author while only a small percentage have title case.”

    Actually, DJ, the covers in your sidebar all have capitals and lower case letters. Small caps are actually capital letters that are sized down, to correspond to what would be a lower case letter if it weren’t on a cover.

    • D J Mills on

      Sorry, I was referring to print books I purchased from publishers before ebooks started, not my ebooks I published. I deliberately chose title case for all my ebooks.

  5. Shayne on

    I’ve never heard of ‘title’ case. What is that?

    • D J Mills on

      Shayne, google it. 🙂 Wikipedia even lists the different rules for different versions of title case.

  6. […] If you want to read how I dissected the different areas of cover design, you can find it here. […]


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