This is a culmination of my too many interests. It's is an in-between place. It's more focused than my Myspace blog, but less so than my author blog. Here you can find artwork, photography, writing, poetry, book covers, manga and pointless videos. All of these things mesh together to become a reflection of their creator in an in-between place colored like shadows and flavored like frappuccinos and chocolate. It's one heck of a world.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Adventures in Indie Publishing 5 - How to Get a Cheap Cover

indie publishing

Welcome to another exciting blog in the Adventures in Indie Publishing series where I *gasp* share my exciting experiences with you, in the hope you will learn from my mistakes- erm, I mean.. *cough* I the hope it will be helpful to someone out there. (If you missed any then click that link to go to the table of contents!)

All kidding aside, we’re getting ready to do some publishing here – or we soon will be. We have the manuscript, we have it edited and beta read, we’ve decided that we want to self publish and we’ve picked who we want to go through. Now, we’re going to get ourselves a cover!

Why am I going for a cover next? Because, depending on what method you choose, it may take some time to GET the cover, which means you can continue with the next steps instead of just sitting around twiddling your thumbs impatiently.

This is actually a pretty huge topic, but I’m going to try to be as brief – yet informative – as I can be. The first thing you really need is some kind of an idea what you want for your cover. I know you may be thinking here, “Hey! I’m the writer! I’m not an artist! This isn’t my department!” but you’ve looked at books before, haven’t you? You know what you like to see and what you don’t. Right there is half the battle!

First, though, you do need an idea. Even if you have someone else make the cover, you should come to them with an idea in mind, no matter how sketchy. A good place to start getting ideas is to go to or Barnes and Noble and browse through books that are like yours. In my case, I checked out vampire books. One thing that leaps out instantly is that they’re all black. They usually have a woman, often with special emphasis on the curves of her neck. There’s generally an old tree, or a full moon and often there’s blood – or something blood red like a rose – to make you think of blood. This is a formula, if you will. The black is like the night, the red is the blood, the woman symbolizes the sex appeal, etc. Every genre has things like this, and the more covers you look at, the more you’ll be able to quickly pick them out. For instance you know a romance book the minute you see the cover, or a thriller or a mystery.

This is where you can decide whether you want to go with everyone else or whether you want to be different. Different can be good, but it can also backfire. Did I do well by choosing to go white instead of black, or by choosing a more minimalistic red dawn (which I am aware prints up slightly pink-ish) approach for the background as opposed to a creepy midnight scene? I have no idea. I know I went with white because my thought was if you had a stack of black books and one white one in the middle it would stand out more. However, I’m not sure if that really translates well into selling online. Is it immediately recognizable as a vampire book – or even a thriller? No, probably not. I guess time will tell. Anyway, I’d like to lie here and say that, before I designed my “daring” and “different” cover, I went on to research a lot of theories and such, but I didn’t. I looked at other covers. I screwed around in Paint Shop Pro over and over again and finally came up with what I liked. I’ve never been an “art theory” person. That’s not to say they aren’t right, but I always just go by guts. Something either looks good or it doesn’t.

One thing I do suggest, though, is that you don’t have too many different colors. Pick a few and go with variations of that “color”, like for instance you might have twenty shades of purple, but purple is still the main color. Also, just FYI, the most eye catching color combination is a cover that is ½, or more, black and ¼ white/grays with something bright red, preferably in the center. Yes, knowing this I still went white because the ever lovely Twilight designers also knew this, and I have enough idiots comparing me to that series without similar colored covers.

Again, the best design theory I can give you is to look at other covers. Imagine that the cover you’re planning was already made and on a book in a store. Would you pick it up? If you saw the thumbnail online would you click it? Does it even look good as a thumbnail? Because it really should if you’re planning to sell it online.

So, you’ve now got a general idea in mind. This is where we start branching off into the many, many possibilities. Does your amazing cover idea need photographs or artwork? And if it needs wither one does it need custom work? For instance do you want your main characters splashed across the cover looking exactly as you describe them, or do you just want any old silhouette of a girl? Depending on your answer you have some options.

Custom Artwork:

Where, oh where can you get custom drawn/painted artwork cheap? The first thing you want to do is hit up friends, family and even friends of friends. Assuming none of them are professional artists and at least one has some talent, there’s a chance you can get them to make your cover art for cheap, or maybe even free.

But what if you truly don’t know anyone? Well, you can try going to and browsing through people’s galleries to find someone with a style you like. Some people commission rules/prices listed on the profile page for all to see, others you might need to message.

To message someone on deviantart you will need to make an account. You can always delete it alter, or leave it for posterity. You might get lucky and they might have a website or contact info listed on their profile, but otherwise you’ll need to leave a comments or send them a note. Before you do that, though, you might check the date on their last upload. Was it three years ago? Chances are they’ve abandoned the account. You could google search them if it’s really worth it to you, but I’d recommend just keep looking.

Of course, you do run certain risks by just “cold calling” someone so to speak. You have no idea if they’ll actually finish it, or if the work will be up to the quality you expect.

Another option is to contact the guy who runs He keeps a list of cover artists who will do covers starting at $30. And before you ask, yes, I’m on that list. A Custom artwork cover, complete with my doing the lettering and everything will run you 55$ unless it’s pretty simple – like mine – then it’s about $40. I am also willing to “trade” if you’re broke. Those are just my prices though, and I can’t guarantee what someone else’s will be. But, whereas smashwords doesn’t guarantee the artists either, they are on the list because they’ve done other covers on smashwords and people were happy with their results.

Your last option is, of course, to do it yourself. You might be surprised what you can do – even in a program like Paintbrush! (Anyone remember my blog series “how to draw with No Money and No talent? If not, now would be a good time to check it out. However, if you’re planning to use that method to make a book cover I suggest contacting the owner of the photograph first and getting their permission, just to be safe.)

Pre Existing Artwork:

Okay, so you’re not that picky, or you don’t have a really specific idea in mind, but you know you want it to be drawn/painted/illustrated/etc. Nothing wrong with that. Your first visit should be to the aforementioned There you can do a search for the kind of picture you’re looking for, such as “Dark Angel”. Find some possibilities and contact the artists. Don’t be surprised if some – or even all – want some kind of monetary compensation for their work. At the same time, you might catch someone who doesn’t. I know if someone asked to use a piece I’d already drawn and didn’t want me to edit it in any way I’d say “more power to you! Enjoy!” because the work’s already done. But, that’s me.

To message someone on deviantart you will need to make an account. You can always delete it alter, or leave it for posterity. You might get lucky and they might have a website or contact info listed on their profile, but otherwise you’ll need to leave a comments or send them a note. Before you do that, though, you might check the date on their last upload. Was it three years ago? Chances are they’ve abandoned the account. You could google search them if it’s really worth it to you, but I’d recommend just keep looking.

Of course, deviant art isn’t the only place to find artwork – or even artists. They’re literally scattered all over. You can’t spit without hitting one. You can find them on MySpace, and even by using Google Image search. In this case search terms are very important, for instance “angel drawing” is more likely to pull you more amateurs than “angel art” will. And let’s face it, on a budget you’re looking for a small time player. That doesn’t mean they don’t have to be good – just cheap.

One thing you MUST remember: YOU CAN NOT USE ANY ARTWORK ON YOUR COVER WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE ARTIST!! To do so is stealing, and copyright infringement and a lot of other nasty, nasty things. You might think it’s okay because the chances of the artist ever finding your book is slim, but think again.

Also, your cover artist must be credited in your book (I’ll get into the details in a future blog), so you need to find out what name they want you to use. Darkshadow1060 might be great on deviant art, but I’m sure they want their real name in the book credits.


So, you want a photo or photos for your cover art? No problem, there are places to find that too. In fact, this might be easier to find than the artwork was! The very first thing I recommend doing is going to and doing a search for the image you want – for instance burning house. On the individual photo pages scroll down, keeping an eye on the right hand side of the screen. You’ll see a colored square eventually, along with something like “All rights reserved” or “Creative Commons License” etc etc. (For a detailed explanation of licenses see the first blog in the “how to draw with No money and No talent” series). Just because it says all rights reserved doesn’t mean they won’t share it, but if you can find one that says Creative commons you’re more likely to get it.

So, you’ve found your photo – and it’s even a Creative Commons – now what? Now you need to message the photographer and ask them if you can use it. If you have a yahoo account sign in to Flickr with it and then you can just send them a message. If you don’t have one you can check the photographer’s profile to see if they have an email address - or a website that might have their address on it – listed. If they don’t then you’re going to have to sign up for an account. Yahoo accounts are pretty handy though, so not like it’s a BAD thing. I have several myself!

Just like with the artwork, check the date of their last upload. Again, if it was some time ago there’s a chance that they’ve abandoned the account. You can try google searching them, but I’d say just keep looking. However, when you do get a hold of them you run the same risk with this that you ran with the artists – they may well want monetary compensation or even a free copy of the book (I traded one of the pictures in my book trailer – which was licensed under Rights Reserved btw - for a free electronic copy.). At the very least they’ll want credited, so again be sure to get the name they want to appear in the book. KrisyKravesKrisyKreme is a great Flickr account name, but chances are they’re going to want their real name in the book!

DIY Photography:

Okay, so you want a photo of something in particular – that cool tree across from your house or the neighbor’s house or – erm. Well, there might be a catch. You see, you can’t just go about putting pictures of people’s houses on your book covers. If it’s recognizable property – eg if someone could look at it and say “Hey, that’s the Smith’s house!” then you have to ask them if they care and/or get a property release. How recognizable does it have to be. Well, a whole house/building shot for sure. However, a lone apple tree in a field not so much. Who’s going to recognize where a lone apple tree came from? The same thing goes with people. If you can see their face then you need a model release from them. Now you see why so many book covers show the back of people’s heads, or cut off at their faces, huh? Jolly big pain in the butt. But on the other hand, do you want to find out one day that you’re on the cover of a book about a psycho who murders children? Or that the house you’re trying to sell is the cover art for a book about the worst houses ever? No, probably not.

With this in mind, you still have a particular something/someone in mind. Fantastic! I’m going to assume you have a camera, and I’m going to assume you know how to use it. However, being a hobbyist photographer, I feel the need to give you some annoying tips.

You may think you want flash on close up object shots, but you don’t. At first glance they may look fantastic, but when you go back and look you’ll see all these annoying little “too bright” highlights. If you know how to use your manual settings then you’re set, but if not things can be trickier. One way around the flash problem is to take your photos outside, if possible. Not in full on sunlight, though, or you’ll have the glare again. The perfect light – in my opinion, is about two hours after dawn and about two hours before sunset, so long as you’re camera is not facing the east/west respectively.

Another thing is that you only need to have what is inside the view screen “set up”. You may be tempted to create some elaborate setup – but you don’t need to. Some of the photos I have of blood splattered on wood are on a cutting board, but you’d never know it because the edges of the board are cropped off.

(prime example)

bloody cross 2

Cropping is your friend.

And for a last tip, always, and I mean always, check exactly what you’re photographing. Make sure there aren’t ski poles sticking up out of someone’s head (hee-hee). Make sure there’s not an orange glow from a nearby lamp. Make sure your reflection isn’t visible in the chrome. Yes, all these things are fixable in an art program, but it’s so much easier on everyone involved if you don’t have to fix them!

So, enough of my tips! Get your shot and upload it to your computer. To do this you will need to do one of three things: Scan the hard copy photograph or – with your digital camera – plug the camera in via a cable to your USB port or pop your SD memory card out of the camera into the card reader/card slot. Something should pop up, or you can go to “My Computer” and open the camera/card directly from there. (look for something that has either the brand name of your camera or else a drive letter you don’t recognize, like D:) Copy the photo and save it in a place where you can find it – because you’re going to need it!

As far as photo editing goes, I’m not going to say a lot about this because I’ve done tutorials on this before. If you’re interested, you can check out Easy Image Manipulation where I cover the basics of “maniping” (aka Manipulating) or “photoshopping” an image and Photo Effects where I demonstrate a lot of photo effect, such as black and white, clone brushing things like electrical wires out and much, much more.

The One Stop Shop:

Maybe you’re on the fence, or maybe you;ve decided which one you want, either way, the Creative Commons website might make things easier for you. I’ll provide the exact link at the bottom, but through their website you can search flickr, yahoo, google, blip and others with an automatic Creative Commons License filter. You can narrow down your search results by ticking check boxes like “use for commercial purposes” or “Can modify”. However, keep in mind that just because something is labeled not for commercial use, or not for manipulation, doesn’t mean the artist/photographer won’t let you if you ask. All of my work is CC licensed with no commercial use, however I’ve given permission to a company making brochures to use one of my photos and to a website designer as well. Technically this is commercial, but to me they aren’t making money off the photo, but the finished product so more power to them.

Of note: the initial search is on “flowers”, so you’ll want to change that. To find art try adding ‘”drawing” or “art” after your keywords.

You should still message the artist/photographer – even if this means making an account through flickr or whatever to talk to them! An email can go a long way!

This is getting pretty long, so I think I’m going to break it off here and share some boring stuff with you now, like how I actually came at my cover for Shades of Gray.


In case no one knows, the cover is a mix of artwork and photography. Yes, that’s right. Those trees aren’t drawn – they’re from several different photos I’d taken on a trip to Iowa (specifically in June of 2009). As we were coming home, just after our refreshing stop at Adam Omdhi-whatever, the sun was setting (it was an amazing sky) and the trees against it came out black silhouettes.

trees against the clouds.png

There were several shots like that, so I just selected the black portion of them and pasted them together to make the line of trees you see. And since I’m telling the truth, I did the back of the book first, not the front. (Don’t panic, we’ll cover the back of the book later!). As soon as I plugged all those little trees in a row and changed the black to white (otherwise how was the black sky going to show up?) I had one of those “universe" moments where I simply"‘knew” that that was it. That image was “meant” to exist somewhere in the cosmos and so that was it.

So, how did I get to the cover. Ah. Well, I initially had a very different cover in mind because the book was supposed to be Legacy of Ghosts. It was going to be white (yes, still the white) with this lovely drawing of Patrick on it:

mock cover

Get it? Legacy of Ghosts? Patrick’s dead? (okay, maybe you didn’t know that, but I kill him on page one, so it’s not a real surprise). However, when I had to cut the book in half for length, I gave that title to book two and so the cover wouldn’t work anymore. Some time back, for fun, I’d drawn all the principal characters, and at the time I thought it would be cool to eventually (aka once I was famous) do some kind of a box set with fun covers that were something like this:

mock cover2

Yes, again with the white. Anyway, I’m sure you can see what’s wrong with that – it would be fun if it was part of a box set that came in a very cool box, but as a standalone cover, not so much. Still, it was the basis and from there I came up with a design and eventually redrew Jorick to give some life to it. Here I shall bore you with a few more rejections:

mock cover 3

mock cover 4

And I landed on this finally:

cover final

Right choice or not? So far I’ve only had two comments that could be construed as negative, but on the other hand I’ve only sold 21 (counting Kindle) so, who knows. (And yes, the series name also changed as I was working on it. I think best on my feet *shrugs*)

Look forward to my next Adventures in indie Publishing blog where we’re going to put the cover together – or get someone to do it for us!

And now, I don’t think we need much of a glossary on this one. However, let’s see some links!

Book Covers: **
The Book Cover Archive: (I don’t like most of these, but that’s MY taste)
60 “best bookcovers” -
Tips and Tricks for designing book covers: (some good stuff here!)
Tips for book cover design:
Dedicated to the appreciation of book covers:
Bad Sci-Fi book covers - (ie don’t do this, LOL!)

Places to look for art & photos
The Creative Commons One Stop Shop:
Deviant Art:
Sci-fi and fantasy art:
Flickr –
Creative common show room:
Stock xchange (stock photos):
Stock image resources (a list of links to stock image places)

Pay someone cheap:
Smashwords artist list: mc AT smashwords DOT com (change the @ and the dot) – tell him you want a book cover and he’ll hook you up.
Message me *cough*cough*

Pay someone professional: (I have not worked with the following people and do not endorse them)
Book cover express: (They have some very nice book cover examples on their page you should look at!)

WTF Are Licenses?!?!
My explanations on image license:
An simplified explanation of the CC license:
Creative Commons Website:

What Do You Mean “Releases”?
All about Model releases (includes a sample release):
Using property releases:
The Copyright Tutorial: (worth a read for all photographers!)

Image Editing:
Get GIMP – a free but powerful program!
41 amazing photoshop tutorials: (if you have another program and understand it these can be used to give you the general idea)
How to Draw with No Money and No Talent:

**Of note – if you check all these links you will notice that most of the “best” book covers completely IGNORE the tips and “rules” for making book covers found on the other pages. It’s that daring to be different phenomenon. A lot of the time it ends in disaster, but sometimes – well, it lands you on the 60 top book covers list.

If you have any links or advice to add please leave it in the comments below!


Kris said...

Well I really like the cover you decided on...but that banner is awesome!

Joleene Naylor said...

Thanks a lot! I just had a long discussion the other day trying to explain that it was a novel and not a manga and I was ready to despair that maybe I *had* picked wrong! This made me feel sooooooo much better! :D

hee-hee, I love making banners! :)

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