Cover Me, I’m Going In

In Uncategorized on March 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm

I think it’s a rule all selfpub websites have to do at least one article on cover design.

I had someone get in touch with me a while back about my opinion on the success odds of a website that provided design assistance for selfpub covers. I had to be honest that I didn’t think it was very high. Most selfpub authors essentially fall into two camps — people who can’t design a cover at all, and people who are competent enough with Photoshop or some other graphics program to do it themselves. There’s a small middle area of people who think they’re better than they are, and those people do tend to produce hilariously ugly covers, but they’re few and far between.

The folks who can’t do it at all usually use the built-in cover designer at their selfpub website, and honestly you can produce some pretty slick-looking stuff there. A cover-design service is a useful thing and something a lot of self-publishers need, but the niche is already essentially filled by the self-pub websites. Especially since most selfpub sites offer pro design services as well, and that’s where the sites make their bread-and-butter: professional design, proofing, and marketing services authors can buy as an optional package to help make their book more salable.

I’m not going to get into the aesthetics of cover design, because frankly it’s not my specialty and when I manage to make a slick-looking cover it’s more happenstance than it is talent. But I did want to provide some resources for people who are considering making their own cover.

I work exclusively with lulu.com as a self-publisher, but I believe their setup is pretty much universal: you can use their cover designer, upload your own image to the cover designer, or do a “one piece” cover — in other words, if you ripped the entire front-back-and-spine cover off a book and flattened it out, that’s what the one-piece would look like. They have templates and careful measurements they can give you to help with your one-piece cover, but a lot of the time for images, fonts, and ideas, you’re on your own.

Fortunately, there are several good places to get those, if you know where to look. It can be difficult to find stuff online that’s not mildly-illegal or downright-stolen, but they are out there, and the professionals know about them, so why shouldn’t we?

Two locations for genuinely free (as opposed to bootleg) fonts are dafont.com and fontsquirrel.com. Don’t anger the hipsters by using Papyrus!

A great place to go for images — though sometimes they’re too low-res to use — is university library image collections. Usually the images are either out of copyright or owned by the library, and lots of places have disclaimers saying they’re free for use as long as the original source is credited (ie, “Cover image courtesy of the University Library” with a link attached, in your front-matter copyright page). When browsing archives you should always check for “copyright info” or “terms of use” on the front page, but at least they’re large, diverse resources. One of my favorites for just plain cool stuff is The Fantastic In Art And Fiction at Cornell. There’s a good one at Duke dedicated to old-timey ads. The New York Public Library even has one.

The more you learn what a useful free stock image gallery looks like, the easier it is to separate out galleries that are trying to rip you off. And by far the best free stock image gallery I’ve ever come across is remarkably public: Flickr’s Creative Commons. Anything marked “Attribution” on Flickr’s Creative Commons is free for you to use, as long as you credit the individual who posted the image. It’s fun to browse, relatively easy to search, and lots of the images are posted with deliberately high resolution, so that they’re easy to use for book covers, which demand a fairly high-res image to produce professional-level quality.

At any rate, there’s a start; I could list off half a dozen other stock-image websites, but I’ve never found them especially useful, so why pass them on? The best thing you can do when looking for images is to chase the idea of the site — the image gallery owned by a not-for-profit or the artist licensing their work out to other creatives in return for credit.

It’s important, if you believe strongly in not being plagiarised, that you not rip someone else off for the very first visual your book presents!


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