How to make a book cover (process of professional book cover design)

I was just reviewing my old book cover design gallery and thought I’d share a modern update on how book cover design works. This will include important things to watch out for, whether you’re going design your own book cover or hire a professional.

What IS a book cover?

Your book cover is packaging. It’s 75% of whether a reader will even begin the process of considering buying your book. Most cheap book cover solutions look homemade and unprofessional, but the process is the same – it’s just putting it all together takes time and skill.

Best photos and images for book cover design

Book designs spend hours searching for stock images for book cover designs. These are mostly photographs. So for book cover “art” we typically photobash – which means blending layers together in photoshop. We might add a big face and a landscape. Or a small figure and a scene.

The *size* of your main character on your cover depends on the genre. Closeup is more personal. Urban fantasy is more action and character-driven. Usually the top half of a character in an action pose. An epic fantasy would have a big sweeping landscape, and a small character, to show it’s a story-driven world.

All stories are about people: so you need a *humanizing element.* It doesn’t have to be a model or stock photography image. It could be a scene with some personal items.

Making a book cover scene illustration

Most book cover designers aren’t actually illustrators, and illustrations in genre fiction don’t sell. Photobashing stock photos is the best option. The *quality* of the book cover will depend on how well they can blend images together to look aesthetically pleasing. It should look like one scene, but sometimes it’s a blended scene of two images.

For nonfiction, one perfect stock photo might work; but there’s a chance someone else will publish a similar book with the same stock photo. That’s the problem with using stock images, but it’s the only real option (more on that later). Most authors want a specific scene from their book… but that probably won’t work.

The cover doesn’t tell them what the book is about or what happens. It only needs to communicate the genre to the right readers, and look professional and beautiful enough to catch their attention and get the click. Also traditionally published or classic books need different covers: they sell in bookstores or through marketing, or because the author is famous. They can take risks with covers because the books will sell anyway.

Indie authors have a huge advantage online, selling ebooks and controlling our own platform. But you need book covers that look great on Amazon and convert well so you don’t go broke. For most genre fiction, you don’t want a detailed illustrated scene. You want one character in one environment, looking cool and hinting at the unique and intriguing world you’ve bet.

But you also want to fit in, not stand out. Don’t whine that “all book covers look the same” – and try to do something *different*. You need your cover to look vaguely like the bestsellers in your genre, so readers can judge in a glance if it’s what they’re searching for. But it also needs to be better than your competition.

A great book cover will have depth: a background, a character, and a foreground. Usually, a book cover designer will buy about 10 images for a cover, and build everything together. It’s tricky to make it look natural and like one realistic scene, so it takes a lot of time to blend layers. And you need photoshop… unless you use my free online book cover maker, which does most of the same things.

Book cover design process

Some of the stuff I made on this website is over 10 years old, I started in 2012 – the same year I got married. A few are just sample projects. Since then I’ve designed hundreds of covers, earning over $200K in 5 years. But then I kind of dropped the ball. I was getting too much work and I didn’t feel confident in my design abilities.

You see, some genres aren’t too difficult to find stock photos for. I was good enough to be competitive and get clients, but it was difficult to make really powerful covers with limited stock photo options. But around 5 years ago, Daz 3D – a software to render character models – got really good. So a *lot* of new, cheaper designers were making really stunning art.

It’s like creating a virtual doll; you buy the character, the poses, the costumes, dress them up and then take pictures of them in different positions. This 3D character is a transparent PNG, so you just toss it against a background and add text – and the cover looks pretty great already. But the faces look plasticky, so most designers do a “headswap” replacing the face with a stock photo portrait, add some lighting and texture to the background, maybe some sparks or leaves to the forground, add some text… done.

It could take dozens of hours, or it could take one. It depends on the amount of time searching for the right images to use. People started selling these 3D images and other stock assets *just* for book cover design – which was great – but increased the chances that designers would use the same stock people or backgrounds and have too similar designs.

This week I spent redesigning one of my fantasy series, and it was maddening. I probably spent 20 hours staring at the computer for each cover. Making tiny changes to the lighting, the characters pose and clothing and face and hair, trying to make the scene look natural. It’s honestly a lot of work to get good results. You can make a passable cover pretty fast with the right stock resources and assets. But it will look flat and lifeless, without getting the depth and lighting right and making everything cohesive – including the typography!

It can be a lot of fun, or it can be work. And some things like fantasy and science fiction are really hard… no pictures! So we had to photobash or find creative solutions to make spaceships or spellcraft. Stock resources like Daz renders made it easier to put things together. The best designers did overpainting of illustration for that illustrated vivid look.

I know about 20 really good book designers. Some of their samples are better than mine (though I haven’t updated my gallery in awhile. I’m still pretty good). That list represents what I think is peak commercial genre book design – for the hard stuff like scifi/fantasy.

Choosing fonts for book cover design

The other huge part of book cover design is the typography. Designers have to purchase stock photos, and also the fonts they want to use on your cover. They will have invested a lot of money into design resources so that they have the capabilities to do things in photoshop you can’t do, like textured font effects (my free tool does that too)… but you’ll also need to choose the right fonts for your genre. That’s something a professional book cover designer would know.

*Tip* don’t just hire some illustrator or artist to create something, and then add your own text. Use my templates at least. Each genre has 10 or 20 fonts that everybody uses, it’s not that hard to get right but you need to try – or hire someone really good. Not all artists are book cover designers, and you have to get the typography right. Here’s a list of best fonts for book cover design.

Book cover premades and templates

So here’s the thing: designers often make stuff that looks pretty similar. And they can do it fast, by making a cover that is awesome and would sell a story. These are premades, and they sell for $150~$750 depending on quality. Big authors buy these. I’ve bought a ton even though I’m a designer! They are great for inspiring a story and staying motivated; a small author treat for yourself.

But they don’t always get used, cover design trends change, and once a book is written we may decided the cover doesn’t work anymore. (I’m sitting on a horde of premades). But premades can be a good, affordable option: designers can make something cool and pretty and sell it right away, no fuss. Authors can get something immediately, exactly as they see it. No complicated process trying to express their story and ideas.

Book cover templates are something else: it’s a sample cover, with typography that you can edit and save yourself. There are some options for online design software, like Canva, but they usually make flat covers (no blending, no erasing) and have limited fonts and text effects, that don’t work for most genres. Years ago I made a package of book cover templates in microsoft word and they’ve been popular – but they’re a makeshift solution. A few sites sell “ebook covers” that are loud and poorly designed, meant for online marketing and salesy stuff.

So I’m excited about the new cover design tool and templates I’m making for, and I think they’ll be a great, cheaper option (you provide your own art, but I have tutorials and resources for that). Basically unlimited book covers you can easily design yourself.

AI art and midjourney for book cover design

I’m suddenly demotivated and galvanized (at the same time). I was building templates for my new tool and playing with midjourney… and I stumbled on some prompts to get amazing AI art for book cover design. Combined with my templates (I spent months just coding the text effects), you can seriously make an amazing, $1000-cover for nearly free. It’s too powerful, it’s too easy. It makes me feel like quitting cover design and focusing exclusively on my writing – to make sure I have the best covers before anyone else does.

I’ll probably share the templates first, and then start building the new cover design tutorials, which will include a section on AI art and midjourney (with the exact prompts I’m using). But I’ll do it later, in a few months. I want to publish full series with my new AI covers and really establish a strong branded author platform, before everybody else starts using my resources to upgrade their covers. I think we’re going to see some huge shifts in publishing and book design, so there’s a lot of controversy right now.

But authors will continue to seek solutions, so they can get a great cover and publish their book, whether that’s custom, premade or DIY template book covers. Whatever you’re looking for, we have it! So stick around to watch tutorials and learn more about book cover design – or just let us do it for you!

AI generated images for book cover design (midjourney and dalle2)

A huge controversy is raging surrounding AI art tools that allow you to generate artwork with text prompts. Many cover designers are strongly against it, but we believe in consumers’ right to choose the best and easiest option for them to make great book covers.

We here at Creativindie covers do not use AI art, though if we do so in the future, they will be clearly labelled and explained – there are some copyright limitations to Midjourney and similar tools that authors need to be aware of.

Book covers are about more than just sourcing reliable copyright-free stock photos. The text and typography is also hugely important. So far, most AI art would need heavy photoshopping (actually, this week I discovered a few best midjourney prompts for book cover design that are unreasonable good, without needing any fixing…so I’m going to use them as templates and teach how to use AI for book cover design *if you choose to*.)

I understand that both cover designers and authors want to make sure they don’t get in any legal water over ill-defined AI art usage terms – which is why many cover designers are outright rejecting Midjourney as a tool.

That said, it’s an exciting possibility that is sure to shake up the publishing industry in huge ways over the next year, so you should read more about using AI art in commercial design and potential copyright issues.

Best midjourney prompts

Free Vella Covers (writing contest giveaway)

I’m excited about Amazon’s new platform for serialized fiction Vella (if you haven’t heard of it yet, here’s a post where I break down the details: “What is Kindle Vella?”). To celebrate I’m giving away 33 POC covers to promote diversity in publishing. You can see all the free covers on

Just upload a short sample/first chapter and win the cover of your choice. I may do more events like this in the future, so make sure to follow my main site or join the guerrilla publishing group on Facebook. I’ll also be making some tutorials on making quick Vella covers on YouTube.

Like this? Click here to win yours!

Free covers for Willamette writers



This is an old post! The makeovers were fun but the opportunity is over.

I’m presenting on book covers again at this year’s 46th Annual Willamette Writer’s Conference, but this year I’d like to focus on more case studies. So if you’re attending and aren’t confident about your book cover, send it to me and I can give you feedback and design strategy – I’ll also be picking out a handful of covers to redo (free makeovers!) and workshop during the event, which means you may get a $629 book cover for free.


Book Cover Makeover Ideas

An author asked for some feedback on a cover and introduced me to, where some awesome designers are helping authors by giving cover design feedback.

This was the cover in question:


It’s bad, but the badness of the hand-drawn sketches almost makes it cool enough to pull off. But that would be risky… probably safer to start over. Nathan on CoverCritics says:

Have a T-Rex wearing a conservative tie and holding an iPad! Zombies around the water cooler! An amoeba with black-rimmed glasses and a pocket protector!

Those are all fun ideas, if this is a fun, zany business book that can back them up, however, for most professional non-fiction books on business, simple is better and custom art will rarely work.

These samples are great, you could definitely do something more clever or interesting… but they get the point across.

The main problem is that there are no benefits. This should be the title:

The New Darwinian Laws Every Business Must Know

But it needs a subtitle, like “How to dominate the competition on a micro budget and become the King of your field.”

darwin2 darwin1

Bestselling Book Cover Design Secrets

I’ve spoken about book cover design at half a dozen writing conferences around the world; but I’ve also attended lectures from established traditionally published designers – and we all agree on the basics, of what book cover design is and what it needs to do.

I suggest taking an hour to watch this video, to make sure you avoid some common publishing mistakes or pay too much for a bad cover. Even if you don’t DIY, having a deeper understanding of book cover design will be beneficial to your author goals and writing career.

PS I have a bunch of other videos on book cover design, but you can also grab all the fast tips in my free guide to book design (cover design secrets). Or check out this post on how publishers use cover design to manipulate readers. It’s not as nefarious as it sounds: just that professionals know how to use colors, images and fonts to attract the right readers to your story.

I’ll send some book cover templates and a quick email course on cover design, self-publishing and book marketing. You can leave when you’re bored.

how to make a book cover (design tips)

Prices are going up this month!

I just wrote a pretty long post about book cover design on my blog and figured some things out.

One of which is that I’m not longer competing with other book cover designers.

As a 1-person business, I no longer have to appeal to a big range of authors with lots of price points.

And because I’m really good at what I do (and it’s instantly obvious by comparing my portfolio to others) I don’t need to compete on price.
It doesn’t matter if I’m “in the range of” other cover designers of my skill level.

I don’t need to be cheaper than the big mainstream options.

I’m not saying you should work with me – because maybe you shouldn’t. There are lots of other options, and I have a big list of other cover designers on my resources page who are amazing. What I am saying is that I can focus on providing the value I’m best at, and charge a higher than average price, and I will continue to get clients because they want the best book cover they can get.

It’s late, I’m rambling.

My main point is this: rather than offering a bunch of stuff, I’m going to start offering one-size-fits all packages.

While my stand alone cover design prices may seem high, my formatting+cover publishing packages are going to be very average, compared to the mainstream big services like Createspace, Lulu, or Author House, or small presses.

Which means a lot of authors can choose me, instead of them, for the same price and get much higher quality design.

But I’m ALSO going to offer something totally different; a hybrid publishing option…

In that scenario, authors will partner with me 50-50; I’ll do everything for free and guarantee them a bestselling book, and we’ll spit the proceeds of book sales (basically, just like a traditional publishing deal works, except you’d be earning 50%, which is much higher than traditional publishing contracts).

Tentative Pricing Plans

The main thing is that I’ve been trying to offer options (with formatting, without, extras, etc.) And I don’t like formatting, so I was almost ready to remove that option – the problem with that is then authors have to get it done elsewhere, like through Createspace, and the formatting won’t match the cover, and that means my covers are on less professional books.

Since nearly all authors need formatting, I’m just going to make formatting mandatory (ie if you want one of you covers, then you also need to let me do the formatting, so that the whole book will look great, not just the outside). I’m also going to include things I know authors need and want. If you compare my prices to other book cover designers, they may seem expensive (but so what – I can charge more because my reputation and talent is in demand). On the other hand, compared to publishing packages, you’ll get everything you need from me for about the same price – but everything will be much higher quality (because you’re paying me directly, rather than a big company that is going to farm out the work and make more money by giving you cheap design).

Ebook Package – $999

  • Ebook cover and ebook formatting
  • Unlimited revisions, unlimited image insertions
  • Help with distribution/publishing options
  • Help with title and subtitle, keyword research
  • Help writing/editing your sales copy and author bio
  • A blog header, Facebook or Twitter backgrounds
  • Advertisement boxes
  • 3D book mockups
  • One-on-one author support

Print Package – $1999

in addition to everything above…

  • Full print book cover and formatting in InDesign
  • 200 bookmarks and 200 business cards

Marketing Package – $2999

in addition to everything above…

  • Help building your social media platforms
  • Help getting your first 10 book reviews
  • Research partners or blogs for guest posts
  • Help writing/sending a press release (if it makes sense for your book)
  • Targeted Facebook ad campaign (managed for you).
  • Guaranteed #1 bestseller in your genre on launch day
  • Guaranteed 250 copies sold in first month*

*for this to work, you’ll need to give me a lot of control over the ebook pricing for the first month; and I probably can only take on books with real commercial appeal

Add ons:

  • One round of expert-quality copy editing and proofreading – $1000
  • Well designed and professional author website – $1000

I was a full-time book editor for many years and now run several book editing companies: I don’t really do book editing any more but I’m better at it than anyone I know, which is why I normally wouldn’t edit a book for less than about 4cents a word. $1000 to edit a book is a lot of money, but less than you’d pay on any of my editing sites. But it’s only for clients who buy a package.

I’ve been making WordPress websites for a long time; my sites are polished, work well and start getting traffic right away. I can help you set up your url or domain, hosting, install WordPress, pick a theme, add plugins and extras (email optin form, etc), help you organize the right pages, excerpts, links to Amazon, buy buttons, etc. What I won’t do is move everything around to where you think you want it. I’ll make it look nice, match your book or theme, and make it focused on selling the book or building your email list. It will be better than 90% of the indie author websites out there.

The full package

I can probably offer a full package deal, like everything included for $4500 (so you’d save $499).

If I’ve done my job right, you won’t have to pay for publicity or promotion, you won’t have to figure anything out or go with a small press for extra hand-holding, everything will be finished and taken care off.

You’ll have full access to me for any extra help or questions for a full year (I usually charge $500/hour for consulting).

I’ll try and take on 3 to 5 clients per month.

A mistake I’ve been making in all my book cover designs

I was browsing a bookstore today (a recreational hobby + business training) and noticed, not for the first time, that almost all the books have “COVER DESIGN BY …” with the designers name. Although I’ve been designing covers for a few years, and although I know it’s standard, expected, and for that reason essentially mandatory for indie authors who want to look as mainstream as possible, I rarely add my name on my covers.

Probably due to humility, insecurity, politeness or something like that.

But then later today a client emailed me back, once the cover was finished, to request that I add my name on the cover: and he’s right.

There’s no reason not to list the book cover designer’s name on the cover (unless you made your own cover, in which case it can be a little strange – something for which I’m prepared to solve for authors using my DIY cover templates by allowing them to use my name and brand).

So from now on I’ll add my name onto all my covers and force myself to get into the habit. It’s good for me, it’s good for the authors, it’s good for everyone.

How to be productive during a typhoon and on other days you don’t feel like doing anything.

995184_10153175169850790_491888439_nDear Authors – given my decade of living overseas and moving around pretty regularly, I didn’t think relocating to Tainan (Taiwan), a city I’ve already lived in for many years, would eat up too much of my productivity time. It only took a day to find an apartment, another day to pick out and order furniture.

What I didn’t count on was the raging typhoon outside, which is making it hard to hear myself think. We also don’t have a fridge (or shelves) yet so there’s nowhere to hoard the snacks I like to have available. My office is a folding chair in an empty room. Luckily I’m not feeling overwhelmed with orders yet (I’ve got about ten right now, most of them I’ve already started), although I don’t like to put things off when I could keep working.

Anyway, things should be pretty settled in a few days when the damn rain stops and I finish making my apartment comfortable and conducive to creativity and productivity; until then I’m reachable by email (thank goodness I already had a phone contract and my iphone can be used as a portable wireless hub).

The next 12 months are going to be life-changing for me, and for you too I hope. Good luck to us all in finishing our projects, creating something brilliant, and reaping success!

Why self-publishing authors are their own worst enemy

I just redid my website design. Pretty slick huh? I also rewrote a lot of my “sales copy.” I’m realizing that my tone often sounds harsh, judgmental, critical, rather than loving and supportive.

But after working with self-publishing authors for several years, this is why:

Traditionally published authors don’t have control over the final product. This means that the publishing company can hire book editors, book doctors and book designers to polish everything up and make it into something that will sell. The publisher spends a lot of money. They want a return. So obviously, they don’t ask the author, who has no experience in design, marketing and sales, for his/her feelings or opinions.

Self-publishing authors, on the other hand, have total control. They can hire the best designers, formatters, and then tell them exactly what they want. If they’re lucky, the person they hire will give them something different, but much better, than what they asked for.

If they’re unlucky, they’ll get someone who listens to them and does whatever they want.

I’m somewhere in the middle: after all, clients are my customers. They tell me what to do, I recommend something else. I tell them what I would do, or the cover design I would choose. Some listen, some don’t. But as a whole, self-publishing authors are by far their own worst enemy. Their book is a vanity project: they trust their own judgment and wishes and feelings more than the cold hard facts of market research, testing and professional experience.

I don’t hate authors. I love authors. I want to help them succeed. That’s my job, my duty, my passion: to make your publishing journey successful. I do the best I can… but sometimes you oppose me. There’s a conflict of interests. Not always. Some authors are brilliant marketing strategists who know everything about publishing and make smart, purely pragmatic, decisions.

Just be careful you know which kind of author you are.

See? There I go sounding harsh and judgmental again! Apologies. 🙂