DIY: Designing Your Own Cover

Greetings, and welcome to my first proper post of 2022! This is going to be the first of several posts on Do-It-Yourself aspects of book design for self-publishing authors. All authors write their own books and do a bit of editing themselves, obviously. However, there are certain aspects that most either let their publishers take care of (if they have one) or else hire someone else out to do. But for those on a budget, or who prefer to have as much creative control over their work as possible, there are other aspects of book production you can take on yourself, if you have the time and resources. The subject this week is how to design your own book cover.

Cover design can be quite an art in of itself, and I do not simply mean the actual artwork. Choosing the proper font for the title, writing a good cover blurb, and creating a layout that is both eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing can be a real challenge for anyone. However, I have found that the whole process can be broken down into essentially three elements: cover art, blurb, and layout.

Cover art is a topic worthy of its own post, and I may indeed make one on it at a future time. However, as this is perhaps the one element that can make or break book sales more than any other, it is worth going over in brief. There are three things to consider with cover art: size, genre, and audience. With the size aspect, one has to consider how much space he has to work with. Is it going to be a wraparound cover, or merely a front cover? Is the print book going to have a dust jacket or no? These are all things to consider when it comes to knowing what dimensions will be needed for the original artwork (assuming you are creating it from scratch).

Genre and audience are important aspects as well. Certain genres have a certain “feel” to their covers. If you are doing fantasy, the cover should somehow catch that fantastical element. Maybe the style seems somehow unreal, or else the subject matter itself contains something unusual. Romance covers naturally have a different “feel.” It all depends on the book and whose eye the cover is supposed to catch.

Another step in the process which can be done after the cover art is done or else at the same time is writing the cover blurb. Often it is ideal to have someone else do this for you, as they can summarize what the book is about in a way that you might not have considered before. However, barring this, you will have to create the blurb yourself. This is also a subject for another post, but I will say here that audience is once again key. The language you use in the cover blurb ought to match the language used in the work itself, to some extent. In most cases, it would make no sense to write a book for young adults, then turn around and make the back cover description a long-winded Shakespearean explanation in high literary style. Keep it brief, keep it exciting, and don’t give away too much. Keep them on the edge of their seat, eager to read on!

Finally comes layout. This can be the hardest part of the process, especially if you are designing layouts for multiple formats. It helps if you have templates to work with, either prefabricated or else from previous projects you have worked on. If you have no template, however, you will have to design from scratch. This is where having the exact dimensions is essential, as designing a cover file that is too large or too small can result in serious problems. Some publishing platforms won’t even accept files that are the wrong dimensions or type.

Of course, in order to get the right size, you have to know how big the finished product will be! For e-books, this is relatively easy, as you generally only need a front cover with a 2:3 ratio of width to height so it will fit nicely on an e-reader screen. For print books, this can be much harder due to the book spine, and misjudging size can lead to some pretty serious errors. But how do you find out how wide a print book is going to be beforehand?

There are some programs out there you can find that will calculate the print size of your book, and thereby tell you exactly what dimensions you need. Barnes and Noble Press has such a tool, and it is most helpful, though bear in mind that the dimensions that work for one platform may not be exactly correct for another platform. Another, less precise way to calculate spine width is to take your number of pages, divide it by 2 (your pages will be printed on both sides, after all), then multiply by the width of one sheet of paper (which will vary depending on the paper grade used).

Once you have that mess sorted out, you can place your cover art in whatever program you may be using to design your cover (cropped as needed), then begin working on the text design. This is the fun part of cover design, as you get to play with all kinds of font styles, colors, and sizes to see what looks right. When it comes to the back cover blurb, you will often want to separate it from the surroundings by placing it within a box–especially if your cover art wraps around to the back. If you are designing the jacket for a hardcover, you will probably want to place your cover blurb text on the jacket flaps, along with perhaps some sort of artistic design if there is space.

You can, of course, hire someone else to do any part of this process for you, or even the whole thing. However, the more you can do yourself in this, as in any project, the more money you will save and the greater will be your sense of satisfaction when the project is complete!

For those who are not artistically inclined, next week I will post on how to choose a good cover artist to suit your needs. Have a good day, and please note that my complete catalog of e-books can now be found on DriveTHRU Fiction, and both print and e-books can be found on Payhip.

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is a writer, linguist, historian, and nature-lover from Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the young adult series Sauragia and Knights of Aralia, as well as the 'Woodland Tales' anthology for children. Several of his shorter works have also appeared in various print and online periodicals over the years. In between writing and publishing, he likes to draw, spend long hours outdoors, and read. His favorite authors include M. I. McAllister, Brian Jacques, and Alexandre Dumas.

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