Following my less-than-excellent first experience with third party cover designers, I decided to give it another go.
This experience was more thought-through than the last one. I put a lot more effort into the process myself. Nevertheless, I wasn’t satisfied with the results and so I defaulted to another solution: do it yourself.
Not to be embarked upon lightly, this involved reading and watching videos about cover design, getting rid of my preconceived notions of how I wanted the cover to look, watching a ton of videos about graphic design in GIMP (because you don’t buy professional software for a one-off project) and scouring free image repositories for assest I could use (because you don’t sign up to depositphotos for a one-off project).
I’m undecided on the final result, but it’s at least more appropriate for the book. You be the judge.
Read on to hear about the process, and to see the results…
I read a metric ton of random articles on cover design and came to a few conclusions.
- “Designers” on Fiverr don’t actually design. They just put graphics together on a page. You have to provide them with the concept and the imagery, even if you’re using words to do it. The honest ones will tell you they refuse to work without your specific guidance, and the less honest ones will just deliver something generic.
- Fiverr is full of fakery. The images of covers sellers put on their profile photos are usually not at all representative of the style of their actual work. The reviews are often fake (unless someone is really able to generate 14 original, high-quality covers in just under two days, while holding down a perfect record of five-star ratings).
- Most people on fiverr have no idea what they’re doing.
- Professional cover designers charge a minimum of $100 for a pre-made cover that won’t be suitable for your book, and a great deal more for a custom cover that’s inspired by your writing. Given the work and skill it entails, this is actually no surprise.
I came across an article by author Matt Sullivan on Medium, from 2017, talking about his experience. He got designers to come to him by putting a request on Fiverr for the cover design, then he chose from the offers he received. His results were pretty good so I thought I’d give it a try.
I put the request up on a Monday afternoon around 6:20pm, and I didn’t have to wait long.
I think Fiverr maxes out your offers at 50. That’s what I got.
I then noticed, from the usernames and the style of the profile bio, that at least five of them were the same person. So I discarded those because that just felt sleazy.
I noticed that a few of them had real problems expressing themselves in basic English. I discarded them.
Two had literally written. “I see that you want…” and then copy-pasted my entire request into their response, letter for letter. I discarded them.
I researched the dozen or so that remained. Almost none of them had any reviews worth a damn, and the ones that had reviews had images attached to them that were not of the quality I was looking for.
I settled on two people, for a total of $15 (which, let’s face it, is a very, very small amount of money), and they both made significant efforts to provide what I wanted. Neither gave me what I was hoping for because for $5 nobody’s going to read your book to figure out what it’s about, and so you really can’t set your expectations that high.
I had unrealistic expectations. I need to give ‘designers’ on fiverr much clearer guidance if they are to have a chance at producing what I want. Or I need to multiply my budget by ten.
I resurrected my old graphic design skills (which are beginner-level) and watched a bunch of videos on cover design.
I read up on Urban Fantasy cover design, the style, fonts and reader expectations.
I watched more videos on graphic design and use of GIMP, layers, masks, blending modes, etc, etc.
I spent a whole day fiddling. Things take time when you’re a beginner. It was painful and involved backing out of a lot of dead ends. From the overuse of CTRL-Z on my keyboard (the shortcut for ‘undo’), I think the Z key is likely to be the first thing to wear out on my computer.
Eventually, something began to emerge that might be mistaken for a book cover, if you squint just right. I seized upon that and tried to improve it.
It was interative process that involved a lot of mistakes.
The Old Cover
Here’s the old cover. I thought it was graphically a nice image, but there were a number of things wrong with it.
- There’s no way to know it’s an urban fantasy cover
- The woman looks melancholy. That, combined with the title, gives the impression that it’s a book about depression, or a tragic romance or something. That’s a long way from what I want.
- There’s no way you could possibly expect any form of magic, any supernatural aspects or any concept of adventure or risk from this cover.
- It’s supposed to be an urban setting. There’s a wall, but that’s not the same thing.
I went with this cover originally because I had nothing else worthwhile to use.
The New Cover
Here’s what I just changed the cover to.
Is it better? Yes, I think so.
As far as the genre and reader expectations are concerned, it’s better. It’s set in New York, that’s obvious from the skyline. The main character is a woman and you don’t get your personal impressions forced into a mould by being shown her face. The picture has been manipulated enough to suggest something supernatural, or unnatural, is going on, but it’s not front and center. Finally, the fonts are appropriate for the genre.
What do you think? You can vote over on my Facebook page.
Postscript: Cover Design Resources
I did a lot of reading and youtube watching during this past week, and here are the things I ofund that gave me an insight into what I needed to be able to do if I wanted to make my own cover.
For an idea of what covers in the genre should look like, here’s one of many top-25 lists in urban fantasy: https://redwing.lib.mn.us/25-great-urban-fantasy-series/
Lots of people will tell you what needs to go into a cover, but few are as down-to-earth and blunt about it as Derek Murphy. I discovered his content this week and I recommend checking it out. Start with this video: https://youtu.be/nzmZqbb_np0
To look at someone who definitely knows what they’re doing with a graphics editor, making a fantasy book cover in time-lapse, check this out. But bear in mind that it’s depressing knowing how bad you are at something, and watching this video served to demonstrate how little I actually understand of layers, blending modes and masks. If Pixiecovers wants to do a tutorial on the techniques she used to do this cover, I’d be very grateful :). https://youtu.be/hmftgf1eRVk
I used GIMP because I don’t own a copy of Photoshop. It’s free, it has all the same tools (almost), it’s super-powerful, but it’s got a harder learning curve. https://www.gimp.org/
For free photos, I used the following three sites, which are truly, really, completely free. You need to make sure, however, that you do not use photos marked as “editorial only” in your commercial images. https://pixabay.com/ https://unsplash.com/ https://www.pexels.com/. There are many others, such as https://stocksnap.io/ or https://burst.shopify.com/ that I have not used personally.