So, I just finished making a new cover for my novella, We Only Come Out At Night. And yes, I’m pretty damned proud of it. It came out better than I had hoped. I’ve had a few people say, “Whoah, dude, how did you do that?” So I thought I’d explain some of the free resources available online that can help you make a pretty decent looking cover.
Before I begin, let me say: This isn’t an article about graphic design. I can’t help you with artistic decisions. If you’re really bad at that sort of thing, you should probably just find a professional to help you out. But if you’ve decided, hey, I took an art class or two, I can make my own book cover, then here are some of my favorite resources to get you started.
Step 1: Bring out the Gimp
Gimp stands for Gnu Image Manipulation Program. It also stands for free, open-source program that basically does what Adobe Photoshop does. This powerful, versatile program does everything you need for photo manipulation, cropping, adding text, whatever. But be warned, there is a learning curve. It is a powerful program, and like most powerful programs, it’s not terribly intuitive. But for any and every thing you could possibly want to do with this program, there’s a YouTube tutorial. Every day I learn new things that you can do with this amazing, totally free software. You can always start a bizarre comedy news blog to practice your photo manipulation skills.
Gimp is, sadly, not a shortcut. It’s a hell of a hammer, but it won’t build your house for you. If you want clean, professional results, you have to put in the time and pay attention to the details. It can be extremely frustrating, and at some point you will find yourself crying and shaking your fist at a cruel, uncaring God.
Step 2: Find a fresh one at the morgue
Find yourself something to work with. Either as a background, or a subject, or just as a reference, you’re going to need some picture. So get some stock photographs. Cut ’em, paste ’em, apply filters to ’em, make ’em black and white, make ’em purple, whatever.
I actually like Pixabay better, but that doesn’t make for a snappy title. Morguefile and Pixabay are two of my favorite sources for public domain photographs, pictures that you can use for free without infringing on anybody’s intellectual property rights. Wikimedia Commons is good too. But pay attention, because even though pictures are on a public domain photo website, they aren’t always in the public domain. Read the fine print before you spend a few hours making your cover with a copyrighted photo.
Step 3: What dafont?
It’s super easy. Just click the download button. View, rather than download, the file. Double click on the .ttf file. When the new window pops up, click “install.” Shebams. You’ve got yourself a sweet new font. If you’re going to use your text over a light background, consider using the ‘drop shadow’ tool in gimp to make it really pop.
Step 4: ???
Past that, it’s really up to you. But don’t be afraid to get creative! Familiarize yourself with the layers window in Gimp, so you can easily move and adjust the different elements in your cover. Then change it up. Put the text on the bottom. Put the text on the top. Put it to one side. Make it bigger. Make it smaller. Change the color. Flip the image around. Play with the filters. The possibilities are endless.