Cover Art 101

Cover art requires a little creativity but if you’re a reader (and you must be if you write) you have lots of samples around you in the books you’ve read. Find a cover by a writer whose style is similar to your own, or the style of book you wrote, and look for art like it.  Google can help you here. (Forgive me, but I’ll use my own book covers to illustrate, something I rarely do but there’s no copyright issues this way.)


  1. Start by Googling the general description of the type of image you’re looking for (guy with gun for a mystery, embracing couple for a romance) and go to Images at the top left of the screen. Scan the images that pop up. If nothing clicks, change the wording of your search.
  2. For the cover of my book A Convocation of Kings, I wanted something similar to the cover of the first book, The Coming Storm, which had a simple image of three swords – representing the three main characters. So I typed in ‘three swords’ and found a number of images – including the one I used. Double clicking will take you to the site where it’s available, a stock photo site called Dreamstime. DO NOT USE ART FOUND BY GOOGLE without first checking for copyright. You don’t want your work used for free and neither do they! Ask them if they’ll allow you to use it for an e-book cover. (Print requires different rights) Always, always, always, credit the artist in your book, if you know their name. That promotes them and they might just promote you.
  3. There are a number of stock photo sites that will come up also. Dreamstime and 123rf are the cheapest I’ve found but there are others. Most charge a nominal fee for groups of pictures – a medium sized image may cost as little as three or four dollars, some quite a bit more. The cover for The Coming Storm I purchased for three credits, about three dollars, from Dreamstime. Many fantasy artists do charge more. One of my most beautiful covers, for Not Magic Enough , I purchased for $60.00 from a wonderful artist I found on the internet.
  4. To adjust your image without it costing an arm and a leg try a free program called Picnik, available from Google. You may have to get a bit creative with it – I use the eye color, hair highlights and a lot of other features there as my paintbrushes. If you look closely at the image on the cover of Song of the Fairy Queen, you’ll see that the stone she sits on, as well as her wings, reflect a reddish light from below her and that she has a pendant on a chain in her hand. Both are key elements  of the plot of the book. The pendant existed in the original picture but I highlighted it to emphasize it and added the rest by using a combination of red and reddish gold highlights.  The effect is subtle but eye-catching, and that’s what you want to do – catch the eye. You can also use Microsoft Paint but it’s clunkier. Don’t make your cover art too busy either, because once you add your title and name, they could disappear in all the visual noise. (You can also purchase better photo editing software but the purpose of this article is to create covers inexpensively.)
  5. Picnik also allows you to add text and has a number of unique fonts available. Don’t get too creative with fonts, it needs to be readable and eye-catching as a thumbnail image on sites like Amazon and B&N amid hundreds of other books. You don’t want people to bypass yours because they can’t read the title or author. And it’s usually best  to stick to only one or two fonts (I tend to use only one for a unified look). Oh, ummmm…. it’s been suggested that you should check your ego at the door until you’ve hit the big time. No one knows your name yet, so they want the title of your book to catch their eye. That should be larger than your name and easy to read, whether it’s at the top, bottom or sideways. Once people start to recognize who you are, then you can switch things around.
  6. Each of my covers is perfectly evocative of the stories contained within them. It did take some time to find them and a few false starts. The advantage I had and you have is that no one knows your stories as well as you do, so you can find just the right art for your book. And, as an Indie author, you can always change it if you find a better one (In fact I did). Even the big name writers do it with new editions, so why can’t you?
  7. If you also want to also do a Print on Demand paperback at some time, first check the rights, then format the cover art to the size of your book to 4 X 6 (paperback) or 5 X 8 (trade paperback) in Picnik, that will cover most book sizes, both are easily adaptable to e-books.
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