- Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book Cover Design Tutorial

Q: Do you have a tutorial on how to design a book cover?

A: No, but I will write one. 

Start with a Template

CreateSpace and other places that print books will provide a template you create based on the amount of pages in the book. This is awesome because the spine changes size based on the amount of pages you have. In addition, some will provide a UPC code for your design with your ISB information.

In using those templates, what I did was I opened them in photoshop as they were, and I kept the layer with the template on it at 50% and built new layers under it. I boxed around the UPC code and copied it to a new layer (keep that one at 100%). Then when saving, I turned the template layer off. 

I have never designed an ebook cover. When I go to purchase an ebook, I usually only see a square like a cover design. I honestly, if I were going to publish an ebook that wasn't going to be in print, and no template is provided by the place I'm using to publish an e-book, I would just copy a design from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and create a new graphic in photoshop that matches the dimensions in the clipboard, and then use those dimensions (or open something large, paste the image, and crop to the right dimensions). Then I would delete the design and design from that. 

When I google Ebook Cover design tutorials, I see a lot of articles where people seem to want it to look like a printed book. They have templates for that, but this article lists "generators" and tells you how to do it in Photoshop using Actions. I don't understand the need for this, honestly.

I assume wherever you upload the information for your ebook, they will probably have instructions for ebook covers. If they do, you'll want to read those and follow them because they are designed for the process the company has. 


When you see a graphic on your computer, that's an RGB graphic. The colors are designed for light to be behind the color. In print, we use CMYK and spot colors (premixed). Those colors are designed to put on paper in the matter of ink. Most printers prefer graphics saved in CMYK mode (as opposed to RGB mode). You can design something in RGB and then switch to CMYK mode before saving. I think that's what most people do, but you have to pay attention to colors... 

I've seen many self-publishers design a fabulous cover that looks different in print than it does on the computer screen. Take for instance a book I'm in (you should go buy it) Clash of the Couples. 

This is Clash of the Couples
Book Cover Design

This is Clash of the Couples
In Print.

Notice the slight change in color? The design was more red and the book came out more of a retro orange.

When working with color going into print, the safest route to go is to use colors defined by Pantone Color Systems. In print, many factors contribute to the color you get: the paper, whether or not a gloss is used... You can purchase or find Pantone Swatches on various types of paper, and in matte, printed on gloss, and coated with gloss. Then you can choose a color from there and find it in Photoshop (or tell the Printer what color to use). 

Or you can kind of see what you are going to get in Photoshop. If you click on the color picker, and choose Color Libraries, and choose the Pantone Libraries (different options of those too), then you'll see two blocks of color. One is the color on your screen that you chose. The other is the closest Pantone color match to it. As you can see here, Clash of the Couples red from the corner looks more orange already doesn't it?

The bottom color box is the color I chose from the image (the color we thought we were going to get). The top color box is the color closest on Pantone's colors (the color we got). It doesn't always work that way exactly, but it gives you a better idea of what you are dealing with.

The CMYK color process is also something one should probably understand when designing for print. "In additive color models such as RGB, white is the "additive" combination of all primary colored lights, while black is the absence of light. In the CMYK model, it is the opposite: white is the natural color of the paper or other background, while black results from a full combination of colored inks. To save money on ink, and to produce deeper black tones, unsaturated and dark colors are produced by using black ink instead of the combination of cyan, magenta and yellow." They usually print CMYK in layers matching them up using printers marks outside of the image or document. You can see the layers in effect the best on a newspaper where sometimes on a full color image, you see a shadow of pink, yellow or blue a millimeter off to the side. 

The main issue is because there are so many variables, it's almost impossible to see exactly what you are going to get in print by looking at a computer screen. As a result, anytime you have a print project, what you are going to want to do is order some mock prints. First, in design, print it up on your printer using the type of paper you plan to use. Then as you tweak it and design it the best way you can, order a print from the printer you will be hiring, and then see what changes you need to make to the color, especially if you are applying a gloss to it. 

When it comes to ebooks, all the places the cover is going to be will be on a screen. You can do that in RGB mode, and you really don't have to worry too much about the colors you use. You do want to pay attention to how much disk space you use because you want it to load quickly without taking away from the quality. 


Many people interchange both of those terms, but they are different. DPI is dots per inch. It's a setting on a printer (not a computer). The printing device decides how many dots of color will be printed per inch of print. For graphic designers, you don't need to know anything about that outside of telling the printer to print it a certain way (like if you go through a local printer where you can decide these things). Choosing how much dpi depends on cost considerations, objectives, expected quality, and so forth. For instance, you'd probably use a smaller dpi for a newspaper than you would a magazine. 

PPI is pixels per inch, and that's what a graphic designer needs to worry about. Again, you want to consider if this is going to print or monitor? Why? In print, the higher the ppi, the better the quality (most are content with 300 ppi). In print, it also depends on the project. For instance, large dimensions do not require as high of a ppi as smaller dimensions, and the higher the ppi, the more space you use to store the graphic and the more time it takes to upload. 

On the computer, you don't need high ppi. Most monitors convert ppi to 72 ppi. If you upload a 300 ppi image to Facebook, and then click on the image, right click, save as... the new image you download will be at 72 ppi. The reason is the higher the ppi, the longer it takes to load. 72 ppi for the computer screen is pretty standard; however, if you are wanting to share the picture with other designers where it's useful to them in print, you'll have to find a means that preserves the higher ppi. 

Generally, when I grab a picture from google drive, if I right click and save as, I get 72 ppi. If I download the image using the down arrow in the upper right corner somewhere, then I get the original ppi of the image. 

This is important for print because for most book covers, you want the final design to be saved at 300 ppi. In photoshop, when I hit File, New, a box appears, and the field for Resolution is where I determine my PPI for that image before I create it (remember, pixels per inch). If I've already created it, I can change the resolution in image size. While the ppi for images you input your design is important to make sure you are using the best quality images you can, the most important part is the output ppi of your graphic (how you save it). If you use an image that's 72ppi, and you keep it small enough where it looks nice on your screen at 100%, you are probably fine to save that at 300 ppi for printing purposes. Again, the importance is size and dimensions of the image. If you have an incredibly large image you are scaling down for a book cover, and it's at 72 ppi, it will probably look no different than had it been saved as 300 ppi. 

The Design

FRONT Book Cover Elements:

1. The Title
2. The Author or Editor
3. A blurb telling you what the book is about (optional)
4. Image (optional)

BACK Book Cover Elements:

1. Description
2. Testimony (quoting someone's review)
3. Publisher
4. UPC with correct ISB
5. Whatever you want (i.e. picture of author, brief author bio, websites, logos...)

As I write this article, I'm still working on Elements of Design series, but those are a vital role to the design as a whole. 

The next factor to consider is emotional appeal. Your book cover is your number one piece of advertisement for your book. People are more apt to grab something that has emotional appeal. The cover should make them feel a feeling, preferably one that matches the content of the book. If you are writing a thriller, the cover should scare people, or give them one of those evil, creepy, unsettling vibes (the kind that gives you a little tummy ache). If you are writing humor, the cover should make people laugh. If you are writing a heart-felt story, the cover should make you cry, tears of joy or tears of sadness. If you are writing a controversial piece, the cover should make people pick a side, or make them angry, or make angry people who picked your side want your book. 

Some ways to appeal to emotions... 

I get into some of the psychological components behind going viral on the internet on this post about Going Viral. In it, I also discuss emotions. 
People are suckers for conflict. Juxtapose contrasting elements. For instance, here I have a mother trying to sleep, and children bringing chaos. Notice the glass of wine on the night stand? Everything to the right of center is peaceful, and everything to the left is the complete opposite. 

People love to laugh. The previous example is also funny. I always had the idea for a Mom for the Holidays book to have a conservative looking mom (preferably an older lady that resembles Julia Child or Ethel from Lucy's show) straddled over a Christmas Tree knocked on its side waving a spatula in the air. See, that's funny. 

People are psychotically addicted to fear. My 4 year old is afraid of zombies, so every time she sees a picture of a zombie I glance through on the computer, she screams at me to go back to it. She wants to stare at it only because she's afraid of it. Look at how fear is used in the media. People use fear all the time as a motivating factor behind their rhetoric, such as promoting vaccinations (fear the polio), promoting not to vaccinate (fear the autism), promoting gun control (fear school shootings), promoting anti-gun control (fear losing your rights)... We used fear of 9/11 to start a war, open a lot of security based programs like Department of Homeland Security and TSA, funding of military and security programs... Your book cover can induce fear whether you use a scary picture of a clown zombie with an axe covered in blood, or if you use fear inducing rhetoric, "The end is near!" A fiction about an apocalypse might show the world at it's worst according to the story like NYC in flames, or a military police state, or people in concentration camps. 

Shock Factor gets people's attention. I noticed I get a better response by invoking a little shock for everything I put out there online. For instance, if I say "Penis," ok, that's kind of shocking, but "pork sword" and "Bobbit Plunderage" really packed a punch that got more responses. Some of the most shared images I've seen include a naked, passed-out guy covered in lollipops stuck to him (including in his butt crack), wedding gowns with huge plush vaginas sewn on them, and of course, your run of the mill SHOCKING footage of... Blue Waffle and Two Girls One Cup both went viral for shocking reasons. A good book cover might have one shocking appeal to it, whether it's naked people dressed up as Adam and Eve in the earlier example I used (Clash of the Couples, buy it now), or if you throw in a good urban-dictionary-friendly word. Just beware, as I list later, you want something people won't be afraid to share. 

People want to belong to the Cool Kids Club. People's sense of belonging is pretty serious. It's the concept behind, "all exclusive," and "by invite only," statements. And if you notice, most of those exclusive clubs seem to represent themselves as better than everyone else, and that is what brings the feelings, "Those people are cool, and I want to be cool like them." While this is a very important marketing gimmick, it's also something to consider in cover design. You want to highlight the blurbs written by "cool" people who have a tribe to where people want to belong. Your "What this book is about statement" can also appeal to this sensation with a simple, "Join Us..." such as "Join us in discovering new ways to..." 

People don't know what they want until you tell them what they want. This is more of a component to sales, but it's true. Ever notice that most of your friends' opinions on a topic sounds like an internet meme or something you heard someone famous already say? If you read about website design and direct mail, you'll see a lot of people tell you one of the most important components is a Call to Action, like "Click here" or "Shop Now." In addition, they say you are more apt to get likes and shares on a Facebook picture by saying, "Please like or share this." It's because people like being told what to do on a weird subconscious level. Keep this in mind when putting together the cover. The back of the cover is a perfect opportunity to put a "You have to read this" statement. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, but a Face Expression is priceless. The best and easiest way to convey an emotion is with a good face expression on the right candidate. For instance, the idea I mentioned earlier, a mom straddling a Christmas tree tipped on its side... While it would be funny with a young woman dressed in a polka dot dress, it would be even funnier with an older woman in an apron making a psycho or fun-loving face expression. While you can get a face of yourself showing puppy dog eyes, they look much better on babies, kids and puppies. The face of a mom making a shame-on-you face isn't as effective as a kid doing it. Think of epic face expressions... John Candy's face walking through a crowd, Chevy Chase's happy face, Will Ferrell's serious face (and his yelling face), Lucille Ball's "ice-in-the-shirt" surprise face, Jackie Chan's constipated sour face....  

In addition, other things to consider... 

You want something Marketable and Shareable. Your book cover is the basis of your over-all marketing strategy. You want something you can tweak around for posters and shareable images. For instance, in the earlier example of Clash of the Couples, the posters and media kit focused on the Adam and Eve (sometimes on a white background) and the apple with a heart bitten out of it. The apple was also used in other marketing endeavors, including providing a recipe to Apple Pie. 

You want something that Stands Out from the Others. If red is a common color in your book's category, do something in green. If blue is a common color, do something orange. Really check out the books you are competing with on the shelf (virtual or real-life) and try to come up with something that will make yours stand out from the rest. 

You want something that Christians will share. For purposes of PR, you probably don't want the word Douche written on your book because some uptight pearl clutcher is not going to share a picture like that for sake of reputation, and more importantly, reputable media outlets might avoid saying anything about your book because you have the word ASS written in big letters on it and they try to keep their sites at least rated PG. The more mature your material is, the less you have that will promote it. If you go that route, you'll want to already have a great platform for marketing to that market with an idea well worth it (like if your book is about porn, well then you already are stuck with a mature audience). 

Keep it simple. People glance at book covers at first glance, meaning your design has exactly 1 millisecond to appeal to someone enough to make them look deeper. A design that is too busy isn't going to exactly appeal to that first glance. Imagine your book cover blurred, like someone is running so fast passed it that it looks like a blur (that's how fast most people look at it). That blurred image needs to grab their eyes and bring it back to it. Of those it grabbed, they will then see some detail in the design. The detail in the design has to make them want to keep looking deeper, like read the back cover or the description on an e-store. Then those things make them want to either buy the book, or keep looking at reviews and other things book related. Some of the things I've seen book covers do is focus on a simple image or a part of a bigger image. Instead of using a photograph that covers the entire book cover front, consider deleting unnecessary details around the main idea (erasing the background of the photograph), or choose a photograph that zooms in on the main concept. Some book covers have used something as simple as a circle as the only image on the cover. It doesn't really convey emotions outside of an abstract art appeal, but it has been effective in the past. If you have a busy cover, you'll want to at least organize the content in a way that it makes sense enough to the visual appeal (like use of symmetry). 


Updated to add the following link for the back cover information: