Making Covers

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My online manga, Year of the God-Fox, is posting weekly over at Anyone who hasn’t already should seriously check it out! It also has an official Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook—so you can be kept up-to-date on the social media site of your choice. I post chapter previews, teasers, and also Production Notes (sort of like behind-the-scenes but for a comic) there, along with other neat things. (All content is mirrored across the three platforms, so you only have to follow one!)

Year of the God-Fox is a pay-for webcomic. There will be four books eventually; currently you can buy access to Book 1 for $5.99 or the Complete Series for $19.99. I’ve worked very (very) hard on it. I hope you like it.

Book 1 TeaserSM

I’ve also been busy working on personal commissions and getting ready for a major shift in my publishing business (more on this later). Part of the work involves releasing the various Adventures of Bouragner Felpz as a complete volume. I’ve spent the last week getting the cover ready, and I am very proud of it. So proud I want to show it off to everyone. As I said in my tweet I know it’s bad form to show off your cover before the book has a release date, but what’s the point of being your own publisher if you can’t break the stupid rules?

Here’s the cover for the first volume of The Adventures of Bouragner Felpz, which will contain all eleven stories so far published, plus a special introduction:

There will be a blog post about the making of it, I assure you.

There will be a blog post about the making of this cover, I assure you.

Volume 1 will be available as an eBook sometime in August or September and as a print book hopefully not too long afterwards. And in case you’re wondering, yes, there will be a Volume 2. I’ve already written the first four stories for it, and am in the process of writing the fifth. There will be twelve eventually (for a total of twenty-three short stories), plus three novellas—which will comprise Volume 3.

Now I must fly and enter edits for the first Driving Arcana story. The work of the self-published author is never done!

Goldeen Ogawa is a writer, illustrator and cartoonist. You can email her at or peck at her on Twitter @GrimbyTweets

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or: The Making of the Year of the God-Fox Cover, Book One

This week I’ve been working frantically getting materials for the launch of my latest webcomic, Year of the God-Fox, ready. One of these materials was the cover for Book One. Though the comic will be update one chapter at a time, I need to have the cover for the first book ready before the prologue is posted, since people will be able to purchase it at that time.

Since this cover was made using a rather unusual technique, I thought I would document the creative process and share it with you.

Step 1: Conceptualization and Design

Because YotGF will ultimately consist of four books (one for each of the year’s seasons), I knew I would need a design that could be used, with only minor modifications, for all four. Just like the way the original Harry Potter books all have essentially the same cover design. Or any other book series.

Because I was working on a very tight schedule with almost no time or energy to paint a special cover, I decided I wanted a design that could incorporate pre-existing art from within the comic itself, so I would not have to create more art. Personally I like the broad, sweeping covers with the title worked into the artwork, but that was not an option for me at this time. I decided to go with the “window” design: roughly half the space would be taken up with the title, and a little window of artwork in the center. I’ve seen this design used elsewhere, and I knew it could look quite graceful when executed correctly.

After many preliminary sketches blocking out where the text should go and muddling around in Photoshop deciding what fonts to use, I finally came up with this design:

00 YotGF Title1

Note that the E in “year” has been stretched manually. Compare it to the Es in “Goldeen”. I did this so that the word appeared more symmetrical, with the Y E taking up one side, and the A R the other. This is common on covers, where the large size of the text allows for more hanky-panky modifications. I also like it because it prevents your text from looking like it was just pulled off the shelf (even if this was, in fact, the case).

The biggest problem was actually deciding how to incorporate the kanji (Japanese characters). Since the story is heavily influenced by Japanese history and culture, and kanji are used extensively within the comic, I wanted to use them on the cover as well. However, since my audience are primarily English-speakers, I knew that the kanji would have to be comparatively small and easy to ignore, to allow people to read the title and the author name (the two most crucial parts of any cover). At the same time, I also wanted what they said to make a small amount of sense. Eventually I settled on the sequence you see above: putting the kanji for my last name: 小川 (Ogawa), book number: 本一 (book one), and the title of the series in Japanese: 神狐の年 (kami-kitsuné no tôshi) in the margins around “of the” and the character 夏 (summer) under my name. For the second book (Autumn) the book number will be changed to 二 (two) and 夏 to 秋 (autumn).

I had to bastardize the kanji a little bit, since technically Japanese is read top to bottom right to left, but in the case of this cover I was obliged to write them horizontally right to left. I have seen this used in other instances of Japanese and English being combined on book covers, and so felt justified in the choice.

For fonts I chose Trajan for my main title font and Lithos as my secondary caption font. I like using two fonts in my covers: one that is big and eye-catching, and another that is more modest, yet still compliments the other. I chose Trajan, despite the fact that it is already used extensively, because I liked its simple and elegant design, and thought it looked good alongside Hiragino Mincho (the font used for the kanji). I chose Lithos for similar reasons. The artwork is pulled from Chapter One, and is strictly a place-holder.

Step 2: Creating the Artwork

Now that I had a design, I thought about how to make it look more interesting. I knew I didn’t want a plain white background, but I also knew I didn’t want a cluttered one either—besides I had no time to do any complex painting.

I recalled an experiment I’d done years ago when making a distressed document: I’d soaked the paper in tea to stain it, then burnt the edges and scorched the interior to make it look like it had suffered intense damage. The result was quite striking. It occurred to me that, instead of putting the images together in photoshop, I could literally take a piece of paper, cut a hole in it, and scan it with the cover art from the comic behind it, giving it a dimension that Photoshop cannot (at least, not very well). Furthermore, I could distress the hole with fire. I liked this idea, since the stories centers on a God-Fox, and fire is heavily associated with him. It would look like there’d been this hole burned through a mundane piece of paper, revealing this incredible world beyond.

I liked this idea very much.

After messing about with various types of paper, I eventually settled on Hot Press watercolor paper—specifically because the pad of it I had was defective, and would exhibit a horrible texture once it had been gotten wet. This made it useless for fine art painting, but perfect for the distressed cover, where the more texture the better.

Instead of dying it in tea water, I hand-painting swirling leaves in light brown. The plan is I will paint a different “shell” cover for each book, with slightly different patterns. Since this is summer, I did full leaves interspersed with wheat sheaves. The result looked like this:


I then carefully measured edge-to-edge, and traced a square that would become the window on the back:


The double-line is from a false start. I decided I wanted a fatter rectangle than I originally estimated.

I then took an exacto-knife and cut out the center square:


That center square will be used in future as a template to determine the window in later covers.

Now I had my backdrop ready and dried, I set up my work station at the dis-used wood stove in my living room. When working with fire it is essential that you are on a non-burning surface, and you have a means of extinguishing the fire easily at hand. Mine looked like this:


I then lit a pilot candle (so I wouldn’t have to keep using matches) and began—using another candle—to light the edge of the hole on fire.


Once the paper was ignited I would let it burn a little, then blow it out and, using wet fingers, extinguish the embers. I also worked carefully to create scorch marks radiating out from the aperture. Many thanks to my brother for documenting the process.




The back was even more extreme.


Timing was critical, since I did not want the fire to burn too far, but I did want it to sufficiently disfigure the straight edge.

The completed scorching.

The completed scorching.


And the back side, for comparison.

And the back side, for comparison.

I then matched the aperture to an interior illustration from the comic. Because this is Book One I decided to draw on art from the early chapters. Due to the size of the hole, and the fact that I didn’t want any word balloons to be visible, this somewhat limited my choice in art. This is where assembling the whole thing in Photoshop would have been more advantageous, but I eventually settled on a picture that I liked, that I felt represented well the feeling of the book. Moreover, it gave you a sense of the world you were entering. Here is the initial layout:


This used an establishing shot from the middle of Chapter 1.

And what it looked like from the back:


I used easy-release tape, and was careful that none of it showed on the front.

After this I placed the whole assemblage in my scanner and scanned it in. The resulting raw image looked like this:

Note the find shadowy detailing around the aperture. That was the particular effect that is best achieved practically.

Note the find shadowy detailing around the aperture. That was the particular effect that is best achieved practically.

Step 3: Putting it all together…

Now I had my raw background image, I took a scan of a blank piece of Cold Press paper and overlaid it using the “Multiply” setting. Cold Press paper has more natural texture, and I carefully erased the center of it so that it would overlay texture on the “shell” but leave the contents of the “window” clear. I then duplicated the cropped layer to provide more depth.

The texture overlay is also closer to the dimension of the finished comic, hence the pale edges on either side.

The texture overlay is also closer to the dimension of the finished comic, hence the pale edges on either side.

Now the moment of truth! I ad the text, which I easily copied from the original design:

Since the text is made of vectors I can easily up-size it with no loss of quality.

Since the text is made of vectors I can easily size it up with no loss of quality.

Finished yet? Of course not! Next I twiddle around, getting the centering straight and working on the alignment so that the dark scorch marks do not interfere with the readability of the text. At last I cropped it down to its final dimensions and saved off a JPG that could be shared all over the internet.

And then I had my cover for Year of the God-Fox, Book One:

Book 1 CoverSm

[EDIT] And then I showed it to someone who actually spoke Japanese, and she kindly corrected my spelling. Now the corrected cover looks like this:

I had the spelling of "book 1" wrong. Since the correct spelling used two characters, I swapped the character for Summer and the characters for my last name. It makes more sense now anyway.

I had the spelling of “book 1” wrong. Since the correct spelling used two characters, I swapped the character for Summer and the characters for my last name. It makes more sense now anyway.

I hope this has been a fun read, and possibly useful to anyone designing their own cover art. I think cover design is fascinating, and if authors are invested in the fate of their books, they should learn at least how to design a good cover, even if they still have to hire an artist to do the actual painting. Even if you’re not involved in book-making, hopefully this will give you some idea of what goes in to making a cover!

Year of the God-Fox will go live, gods willing, on Monday June 24th, with the Prologue coming the following Friday. Though you’ll have to pay up to read the whole story, the Prologue will be free to read for the public. Stop in and check it out on the 28th:


Goldeen Ogawa is a writer, illustrator and cartoonist—and apparently book designer as well. She accepts custom commissions on a limited basis. For rates and information, go here. You can email her at or peck at her on Twitter @GrimbyTweets

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Foreword: This is the second in a series of journals I’ll be posting about book covers, and how to make them. It is intended for the self-publishing writer with limited resources, but anyone who has any interest in creating covers can hopefully find some helpful info here.

For my part, I am a self-publishing writer, but I have the very substantial resource of being a professional artist as well. So although I have a bit of a leg up on the average writer, I am still left with creating my own covers, and my experience as an artist has given me some interesting viewpoints into the matter of cover illustration and design.

All the covers I’m using as examples come from traditionally published books I happen to have in my collection, and they are posted only for the sake of illustrating different types of covers. I have endeavored to provide all possible credit, and do not make any money from the posting of this journal. If you are the copyright holder of a cover, and feel your copyright is being infringed, please email me at and I will remove your cover.

Making Covers: 2 — Pure Text Covers

By Kay Redfield Jamison, 1995. Jacket design by Carol Devine Carson. Hardback edition from Alfred A. Knopf.

As mentioned in my previous journal, a pure text cover is one that does not have any significant artwork or decorations. All it has is text and design. Since these are the two basic staples of any cover, and since making a pure text cover requires practically no artistic skill (as opposed to design skill), I felt it would be a good place to begin.

Now, before we get started, we are going to need some software that can set type (this is different from your regular text editing software, like Microsoft Word or TextEdit). If you’re on a Mac, you can probably work with Pages. If you’re running Windows, I imagine there is a plethora of free software out there that a few minutes with Google should turn up. However, if you’re in this for the long haul and you intend to make all your covers, I highly recommend investing in a copy of Adobe Photoshop. Not only can it set type, but it will prove invaluable with creating the look and feel of your covers with its photo-editing powers. The downside is that Photoshop is ridiculously expensive, so finding a cheaper alternative at first may be a good idea. But Photoshop (or PS) is what I use, and a lot of the tips and tricks I’ll go over center around its features (though parallels may be found in other pieces of software).

So, you’ve got your software open. Time to make a cover. Most book covers are rectangles, but that’s about it; you can make them practically any aspect ratio you want. I recommend 740×460 pixels at 100 DPI for eBook covers because this will fill the screen of the tablet reader. If this is going to be a cover for a printed book, you should go and find out the dimensions of the printed cover, allow for bleed and cropping, make it at 300 DPI, and go from there. And I better make one other distinction between digital covers and print covers: print covers need a crop area. This is an area of approximately half an inch all around the edges where there is nothing important, because it might get cut off when the cover is printed. With digital covers (obviously) there is no cutting and you can have your art/designs/text go right up to the edge with no worries.

Aside from the above considerations, there is no difference between designing a cover for print and designing a cover for an eBook—with perhaps the one exception that eBook covers do better with proportionately larger text, since they are typically displayed smaller.

All that aside, let’s get to making a cover. We have our rectangle, and the simplest cover of all is just that: a white rectangle, with the book’s title and the author’s name on it. This is the basis for all pure text covers, but even in this minimalist environment there is room for almost infinite variation. I’m talking about fonts. So let’s talk about them:

Fonts are different styles of type. The one you are reading right now is probably a font called Verdana or Trebuchet MS. They are both standard Sans Serif fonts that are supported by most all web browsers, and so they’re extremely common on the internet. An example of a Serif font in common usage is Times New Roman, which you can see in the titles of these journals. There are others: Blackletter, which is the sort of font one usually associates with medieval illuminated manuscripts, the title for Robin Hood, etc. Handwriting, Script and Symbol, most of which are self explanatory. A good resource for fonts (and the study of different kinds of fonts) is the index over at

But what category your font falls into is ultimately irrelevant: what matters is that you chose one that fits your story. So if you have a gothic fairytale you’ll probably want to look for a good Blackletter font, but you might find a Script font that you also like. It doesn’t matter; there are no rules for choosing fonts. Except one. And this is one that I made up to apply to myself, but I highly recommend you follow it as well. It will make your covers so much better. Here it is:


Papyrus is not the most overused font in existence; that dubious honor probably goes to the Helvetica family. The thing about Papyrus is that not only is it a free font on all Macs, it is incredibly distinctive. Unlike Helvetica, which takes a keen eye to distinguish from many other Sans Serif fonts, Papyrus is unique… and it is used everywhere. Unaltered. Unadorned. And not just on home-printed flyers for everything from herbal supplements to weekend retreats, but plastered over the side of the spaceship Serenity from the movie of the same name (2005). This was a professional film made by professional filmmakers with tons o’ special effects and professional actors—and they didn’t even bother to get a classy font for their title.

Here’s something perhaps not many of you know: the titles for movies (and indeed a lot of books) are unique fonts that they paid a font foundry or designer to create specially for their product—so they wouldn’t look cheap. Now, there are so many fonts out there that, with a little digging, you should be able to find one that isn’t terribly overused or recognizable that fits your book perfectly well.

So don’t use Papyrus. The problem with Papyrus is not that it’s a bad font: it actually looks rather cool And therein lies its problem: a lot of people recognize that it’s a cool font, so they want to use it. And part of what makes Papyrus cool is that it’s so recognizable. So not only is it overused, anyone can see that you’ve used it. And because it’s a FREE font on all Macs, it makes you look cheap.

So don’t use Papyrus. Spend a little more time font hunting, and I guarantee you’ll come up with something just as good that hasn’t already been used by everyone from Joss Whedon to just about every health food store/restaurant in the U.S. and beyond.

All that being said. If you have a book that absolutely, perfectly and completely fits with Papyrus… then use it. Because the most important thing in designing your cover is picking a font that fits your book. And if that font is Papyrus then… well. Then that’s that.

But you should at least look at some alternatives first.

Having spent all that time telling you why not to use a font, I suppose some font recommendations should follow. Problem is the whole point of this post is to help you find fonts that are unique and not overused, and it would defeat the purpose if I just told you what to use. Besides, only you know what’s in your book, and how it will relate to the font you choose. So instead let me give you some of my favorite resources: is a great place to find fonts, with tons and tons and tons of every font you can possibly imagine. is a one-man show run by Nate Piekos, and specializes in comic and pop-culture fonts. He has a wide array of pro and free fonts—which are free to use by indie comics publishers, and I’ve been going to him for character and presentation fonts for years. If Linotype doesn’t have it, Nate probably has made it.

A note on purchasing fonts: if possible, get the OpenType format, otherwise, don’t worry too much.

And finally, look through the free fonts that came with your computer. I know I bashed Papyrus earlier for being a free font, but as I explained that is only a part of its problem. If you can find a font already on your computer that works with your story (and it it isn’t Papyrus) go ahead and use it. I know someone posted a list of the ten worst fonts you should never use (it included Papyrus and Comic Sans), but really they were all so ugly I don’t think you need to be warned away from them. Except Brush Script. I actually used Brush Script, and I think the problem with it is mis-placement more than anything else. Basically, I believe that in the right context any font (even Comic Sans) can look good. Just make sure the context is right.

So when you go to chose a font, remember that: context is key. With an illustrated cover, the context is your story and the artwork. But with a pure text cover, it’s just your story. So start with that: recognize what kind of story you have, and fit the font to it.

Moving on to design:

By Ursual K. LeGuin, 2008. Jacket design by The Design Works Group/Charles Brock. Hardback edition from Harcourt, Inc.

There are several different ways you can place your text on your cover. Here follows some examples. For these I have used the font Vendetta, which comes with a wide array of italics, bold, small caps, petit caps, and ornaments, to demonstrate different variations of type setting. Note that small caps and petit caps are different from all caps, as they are a separate font within the family, not just capitals from the regular version. If you want to use a capitals on your cover, I recommend finding a font with small or petit caps, or approximating them as close as you can.

or, for the more distinguished writer:

 From here, you can start adding other bits of info, like your subtitle (if you have one), a tag-line, or other things. These can be arranged in variations on the first three forms, example:

Feel free to mess around with small caps, italics and bold to put the emphasis on different parts of the cover.


(if it is indeed a novel: I usually see this on books where apparently the designing thought that the fact that the book was novel was not self-evident.)

And so on and so on. Keep in mind you don’t have to use only one front for your cover. Two fonts work well, I find, especially when you pair up a fancy-if-hard-to-read font for the BIG TITLE and then a plain but complimentary font for the smaller text. You can also mix your sizes (and fonts) around, to put emphasis on certain words in a longer title. In the following example I used a combination of Trajan Pro and Charlemagne Std (a variation of which, I should mention, has already been used for the U.S. edition of the Harry Potter books).

Always keep in mind the readability of your fonts. As a general rule: fancy Script or Blackletter fonts are harder to read, so keep them big. Use clean Serif or Sans Serif fonts for the little things. Also remember: white on black is harder to read than vice versa, so in general try to make the white on black words the big ones, and the dark on white words the little ones.

For the placement of fonts, it is usually a good idea to keep them symmetrical: i.e., horizontally centered on the page. If you decide to break from this, be aware of the different feel this will confer. Whatever you do, don’t make text that is supposed to be centered not. Use the Command+A “center item” function in PS, or whatever counterpart is in the software you’re using. Vertical centering is not so important; feel free to slid your titles up and down until it creates the right aesthetic feel.

Be wary of ornaments. These are little decorative symbols that sometimes come with a pro font, and they can easily make your cover look tacky. With proper application, however, they can also add some elegant style to an otherwise blank cover:

Combined with alternating fonts, we are coming closer to a sophisticated cover. Here I use Trajan Pro, Goudy Text MS, and Type Embellishments:

One thing you may want to consider is blocking out your cover by hand on paper, since it is easier to scribble out different versions with a pencil, I find, than push the text around in PS. This is especially useful if you have a complex idea in mind, or if you are working with a background picture.

All in all, I could go on about fonts and type setting until your ears fall off, but I think I’ve given you enough pointers to be getting on with here when it comes to type. Now, onto the background.

It’s a good idea to give your background some character, either through textures or blocks of color. Of ornaments on text I have already spoken, and to be honest simply choosing a nice background color with complimenting text color and tasteful application of ornaments may be all you need. Thus:

For more intrepid designers, you may consider getting a bit more arch with your contrasting colors (but be careful, these can get garish rather fast):

The important thing is to experiment and have fun. Make several versions of your cover, then pick the one you like best. Remember: no one has to see the ugly versions, so don’t be afraid to try new things.

Textures and Designs

With a little bit of creativity, you can use ornaments as background decoration. In this instance, I used the Caeldera font from and a figure from Type Embellishments One LET, twisted and enlarged with PS.

You can also, if you are PS savvy and own a decent scanner, use textures from around the house. A piece of wood or a burnt bit of paper, when put through some PS filters, can serve admirably as background texture. But this is getting close to the next level of covers: text with decoration, so I’d better stop here and save that for next time.

All these examples I’ve shown here are not particularly impressive, but they are clear, simple, functional covers. They get the message across. They may not wow your readers, but they will provide a dignified face for your book.

One thing I haven’t covered, and perhaps the most important aspect of cover design, is to make your covers evocative of their story. This is something I’m afraid I can’t help you with. But you know your story, so it’s quite easy to tell if you got it right. Ask yourself: Does this cover accurately represent the style of my writing? If it does, then you’re set.

Even if you used Papyrus.

I hope this has been helpful: although there is a lot more to pure text covers, I think this enough for you to get started on. Remember: it is okay to experiment, and always try to match the feel of your cover with the feel of your book.

Next time I’ll be going over how you can incorporate bits of artwork and background imagery into your cover. I hope this has been informative and helpful, but if you have any comments or questions you can email me at, or tweet me your response in a blog entry @GrimbyTweets.

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Foreword: This is the first in a series of journals I’ll be posting about book covers, and how to make them. It is intended for the self-publishing writer with limited resources, but anyone who has any interest in creating covers can hopefully find some helpful info here.

For my part, I am a self-publishing writer, but I have the very substantial resource of being a professional artist as well. So although I have a bit of a leg up on the average writer, I am still left with creating my own covers, and my experience as an artist has given me some interesting viewpoints into the matter of cover illustration and design.

All the covers I’m using as examples come from traditionally published books I happen to have in my collection, and they are posted only for the sake of illustrating different types of covers. I have endeavored to provide all possible credit, and do not make any money from the posting of this journal. If you are the copyright holder of a cover, and feel your copyright is being infringed, please email me at and I will remove your cover.

Making Covers: 1 — Introduction

For the self-publishing author, the cover of your book can be a real hurdle. Sure, you can write, but drawing is a completely different skill—and drawing a cover is a particular skill not all artists have. Witness some of the terrible professional covers out there.

No, creating a good cover is difficult no matter your skill set for the simple reason that it requires many skills. You need a piece of artwork—and it must be the right piece of artwork; you need to pick the right font; you need to know how to set that font; you need to get the colors and the contrast right. Most of all, you need a cover the matches your book. In the usual course of things, this process is shared by many people. In making your own cover you are taking on the jobs of at least two people: the artist and the designer. And that is perfectly okay.

The best covers, in my opinion, are those that are representative of the book itself. This may seem like an obvious priority, but think of how many books you’ve read that felt nothing like their cover. Don’t judge a book by its cover, the saying goes, and it’s a sad fact that it’s true. The feeling you get off the cover of a book, and the feeling you get from reading the book itself, and usually two very different things. And this is bad. Suppose you have a really exciting cover on a slow, thoughtful book? Well, the reader is going to get all excited, and then be disappointed when they find the book doesn’t live up to its exciting cover. But if you had a simple, elegant cover, evocative of the nature of the story, then the reader will come in better prepared, and probably like the book more.

This disconnect between the book and its cover is, I think, due to the reason that the book and the cover are made by different people who do not always speak to each other. The usual process, as far as I have heard, goes something like this: Author writes book. Sells to publisher. Publisher contracts artist, designer, to make cover. Maybe allows author some input on picking said artist/designer. Gets cover made. Maybe sends galley proofs to author if they are Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. But usually not. Book goes out.

This is a terrible way to make a cover for a book. Worse, some publishers will intentionally handicap their “B-List” with sub-standard, cheap covers. It’s terrible!

This is where being a self-published author actually has its advantages: You know your story, and since you are in charge of the cover, you have the power to make that cover be the best cover it can be for your book. Maybe it won’t win any art show prizes, but by golly, it will fit your book.

Problem: You are not an artist. You have no artist friends. You are too poor/do not want to spend the money to contract a professional artist to do the cover for you (which IS a viable option, but you must make sure you have a suitable contract hammered out and pay the artist what they’re worth). So what can you do?

This is where, I hope, I can help you. What I’m going to try to do with this journal and its sequels is walk you through your various options as a self-publishing writer with limited resources when it comes to making a cover. First, though, before I get to the step-by-step, I want to go over different kinds of book covers. Because even in choosing what kind of cover you have, you are influencing what the reader thinks of your book. It is paramount (and I will keep repeating this) to have a cover that accurately reflects the contents of your book. Oh, and you also want it to look visually appealing.

So, with these two priorities in mind, let’s look at some different types of covers.

First: Pure Text Covers

By Kay Redfield Jamison, 1995. Jacket design by Carol Devine Carson. Hardback edition from Alfred A. Knopf.


These are the simplest, and therefor both the hardest and easiest covers to get right. They are difficult because the entire weight of conveying a feeling for the book rests on the text, and so it is crucially important to get that right. However, they are also the easiest for someone who can’t draw to make, because there is no drawing necessary.

I say drawing to distinguish it from art. I will use art is its broadest term, meaning writing, drawing, and cover design. The latter of which is what pure text covers are all about: design. The design of a pure text cover is paramount, because there is all there is. So a few simple pointers:

  • Large text is good: make it big enough to read even in thumbnail size, preferably.
  • At the same time, don’t be afraid to make use of negative space to place emphasis on other parts of the cover.
  • Take care when using light on dark text, because that is harder to read.
  • Be utterly precise when it comes to your choice in fonts! Try to avoid free fonts unless you find one that is absolutely perfect. Don’t be afraid to drop a little money on a pro font; they are worth it!
  • Using a split cover, like the example above, is a good way to keep a cover interesting without resorting to graphics. Consider contrasts of shade (light and dark) and hue (orange and teal) to split your cover.

But this is just a start. Later, I’ll have a whole journal dedicated to pure text covers, and how to make them.

Pure text covers work well for thoughtful, literary works. They are better for books aimed at mature audiences, I think, solely because adults will be more tolerant of a less-exciting cover. However, to the precocious reading ten-year-old, what’s in the book matters more than what’s on the cover, so don’t fret about using them for any kind of non-illustrated book.

Second: Text Covers with Decoration

By Susanna Clarke, 2004. Jacket design by William Webb, raven image by Portia Rosenberg. Hardback edition from Bloomsbury.


This is pretty much the next step up from pure text covers. Basically, it’s pure text, but with a little decorative graphic to liven things up. Some covers are so discourteous as to use really beautiful drawings, but shrink them down horribly to make room for the author’s name. I dislike this incarnation of the text cover with decoration, so I shall not be covering how to make them.

Using a simple graphic, however, is a very good way of adding flavor to your cover. It can be an economical option for the author that can only commission a cheap piece of art. Professional artists are likely to charge far less for a little doodle of a bird or a cat than for a fully-fleshed out cover illustration. And the enterprising author can create their own decorations by going out a taking photographs of objects that are relevant to their story. Just be sure these objects are not in of themselves copyrighted works, or you could get into trouble!

The same concerns for choosing your font and text size apply to text with decoration covers as to pure-text covers. In fact, let’s just say right now: your choice in font is dreadfully important no matter what kind of cover you have.

Text with decoration covers are wonderfully versatile, and can be used for any sort of book.

Thirdly: The Illustrated Cover

By Neal Stephenson, 2008. Jacket design by Ervin Serrano. Jack photographs by Yolande De Korte/Dave Well @ Archangel Images. Hardback edition from William Morrow.


By Connie Willis, 1998. Jacket design by Jamie S. Warren Youll. Jacket illustration by Eric Dinyer. Hardback edition from Bantam Books.


By Diana Wynne Jones, 1975. Jacket design by HarperCollins Publishers. Jacket art by Matt Stawicki. Hardback edition from Greenwillow Books.


This is where it gets really fun. Having a fully illustrated cover can be the best and worst thing that can happen to your book. Because if the illustration fits, it’s perfect and wonderful and adds life and dimension to your story. And if it doesn’t… well, at best it can be a source of bemusement for your readers. At worst it will mean you may not have as many, because some of them ran away in horror at the sight of it.

So be careful when choosing an illustrated cover. But again, as a self-publishing author you will have direct control and final say over what goes on the cover of your book, so this is not such a risk. The main inhibitor to a fully illustrated cover for the self-publishing author has got to be the price of the artist who makes the illustration. Now, this is a subject I have some personal experience with—from the artist’s point of view. But that really deserves it’s own entry, so it shall get one. For now let us pretend cost is no object: what are the different kinds of illustrated covers there are?

I can break these down into three broad categories:

1: Evocative illustrations, like the cover of Anathem, which are little more than a step up from text with decoration covers. Basically the illustration is there to support the text. It is background. But it’s still fun to look at.

2: Collage illustrations, like the hardback cover for To Say Nothing of the Dog. These are my least favorite; I find them jumbled and confusing and, in trying to represent many facets from the book, they end up giving an entirely false impression. Also, this particular kind of art style is powerfully difficult to do well. I don’t recommend it, even though it seems popular these days.

3: Good old cover paintings. This is where it’s at, for me, with fully illustrated covers. Get a real nice painting with good power and space for the author’s name and book title, and you’re set. Even better, as with Eight Days of Luke, get an artist who has clearly read the entire book and understands the importance of getting the characters to look right. This is absolutely the best kind of cover for a children’s book, but because you can pick an illustration that fits the story, you can use it for any book!

And there is one last kind of cover, though it isn’t really of much interest to the self-publishing author, because it is the Artbook Cover.

By Charles Vess, 2009. Cover illustration by Charles Vess. Hardback edition from Dark Horse Books.


This cover is nearly the opposite of the pure text cover: it is all about the art. The title and author name have be shoved off to the sides and corners to make room for the art, which isn’t really a cover illustration at all: there is no good place in it for a title, or text. Any text would ruin the picture, in fact, because it is such a glorious picture. Artbook covers are all about the picture, as you would think since the books are generally about pictures.

But I am including it here because it provides a good example of what to do when your art doesn’t lend itself well to having text slapped all over it. Sometimes the best thing you can do with your title and you name is to get them out of the way of the art.

But it’s got to be some pretty fabulous art.


Coming up, I’ll be taking a closer look at the different kinds of book covers, and how to make them. I’ll also be looking at the process of commissioning an artist or, if you have some drawing skills of your own, how you can bend them to serve your illustrative needs.

Next, I’ll be going over the process of creating a pure text cover, using no graphics whatsoever.

Have feedback, comments? Email me at, or tweet me the link to your own blog entry @GrimbyTweets.


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