I do this stuff for a living

How I Made Your Book Cover

Images Eternal - Book one of the New Adult series The Shoalman Chronicles

Images Eternal – Book one of the New Adult series The Shoalman Chronicles


Not long ago, I joined the Toni Decker Books team to produce a book cover for a series of fiction books in the New Adult genre. Authors, Toni Picker and Kira Decker had decided to join the growing list of self-published writers. This strategy, like any strategy, has both advantages and disadvantages. The self-publishing option is still relatively new as far as the industry goes, however the take-up rate continues to show no signs of stopping its upward trend. This is largely due to the rise of online and other software tools allowing anyone to become a producer of digital content, bypassing the need for a publisher or producer. Books, music and other creative wares have been big winners as the early adopters. This does not mean that the desire by a writer for a publisher is waning or traditional publishing will die any time soon. It just means that there is another option available. And having choice, is always a good thing.

Signing with a book publisher would have included a cover in the contract. It would have given Toni and Kira access to an editor, marketing support and taken away much of the administrative and strategic burdens. A traditional publisher will increase the likelihood that your book is success in an over saturated marketplace. These are massive advantages. But there are also trade-offs. Contracts from publishers are highly contested and rejection is common place. Many turn to agents to help, but assuming you can catch the wandering eye of a reputable agent, it’s still no guarantee they can get you an deal with a publisher. Signing with the wrong agent or publisher can spell disaster for your dreams before your project even gets off the ground. Loss of creative control and ownership rights is not unheard of. While undertaking my own research for this project, I spoke with an award-winning novel writer, who has several books on the shelves and more on the way. I was quite shocked to learn that authors are rarely given a choice in what the cover looks like, or invited to participate in its creation.

I’ve said countless times that a client’s level of participation is a direct correlation to the likelihood a successful project. Toni and Kira were highly-engaged from the project’s inception to completion, had a clear and concise vision that they could communicate, gave me access to everything I asked for and entrusted me to bring that vision into the cover with unlimited creative license. But more than that, they were interested in the process and wanted to understand it better. So at the end of the project, I produced a series of images showing them how their cover was made and titled it How I Made Your Book Cover. It was my simple way of showing them, after all the decisions were made, how the artwork is put together. Below, I have expanded that into a short tutorial demonstrating what was involved in constructing that final image.

This tutorial could apply to anyone interested in producing and selling a product through online marketplaces. It might also be of interest to baby graphic designers wanting to learn about tools in your graphic design tool kit and how I used them to achieve the results I was after. While it isn’t mandatory to know any of it unless you’re planning on doing your own artwork, having a basic high-level understanding of what goes into it will help you better communicate with the ones you employ to do it for you. While this artifact was an eBook cover, the principles, techniques and considerations apply to any project whether it is a record album, poster or flyer, or even a non-creative product.

How I Made Your Book Cover

A blank canvas

No Kira, I can assure you that is not black.

1. Start with a blank canvas. But first, lets take a moment to set up the file correctly from the outset. This cover was produced using Photoshop CC 2014 but most tools, effects and features I used are also available in graphics editors with a much lower price tag. In my experience, I have found Gimp to be an exceptional alternative to Photoshop and…. it’s free to use!
The various publishing platforms, Amazon, Kobo, iTunes (iBooks), Barnes & Noble (Nook), and others, all have different technical specifications where it comes to the artwork. If you’re planning on using more than one publishing platform, the final version should be created to match the largest of these specifications. Images can always be scaled down but they can’t be scaled up without causing the image to become fuzzy, stretched or warped. If you need to make a version for another platform then make a copy of your largest version and save it with a different name. Making a copy first will always ensure you don’t save over your original. Once you have a copy, make the necessary adjustments and crop it to the required size. Starting with the largest artifact will save you hours of time. Web and digital versions can be made at 72 dpi (dots per inch) and print should be no less than 150 dpi. 250-300 dpi is typical for most printing jobs but again, check the specifications of the printing company you are planning to use. You may need to produce versions from anywhere with a 1:5 – 1:8 (width:height) ratio for portrait artwork. It’s different again for landscape.

In other words, you may need to make several final versions of your artwork. Having a single final version for use everywhere, will not cut it. If you’re looking to achieve the best results possible in all cases, this won’t happen by accident nor will it happen if you use artwork that was prepared for another purpose entirely. So only present artwork that meets the specific set of specifications of the publishing platform or print house. You will also need thumbnail versions. This may mean you need to tweak the design yet again. Do not assume your great big beautiful wonderful piece of artwork will be just as beautiful and wonderful when its made into a teeny weeny little thing. Focus on ensuring your text is readable and that the thumbnail presents what you’re selling in the best way possible. And remember, it is not mandatory that large, medium and small versions are all identical.


camera - position and crop

Add an image of a camera lens, then position and crop

2. If you plan on adding images that you do not create yourself, be wary of the temptation to use what you can source from the internet for free. If you cannot verify you can use the image without infringing on the copyright of others or without needing to pay a licence fee, then it is probably wiser not to use it. In this instance, we used a stock image of a camera lens obtained from Shutterstock.









Add a blur and some highlights

3. To bring some depth to the image, and to ensure the viewer’s eye was focussed to the areas I wanted, I added two layers of filtering. I first added an Iris blur, adjusting both the light range and light bokeh until I brought in some highlights to the lower arc where the blur starts to take effect. The image needed to retain some vibrancy for what I was about to do next. The highlights ensure that vibrancy was achievable.








Adding a red-as-possible red hue

Add a red hue

4. Red was chosen as the primary colour for this cover. This was not a random choice. Each book in this series has one more colours appearing as a subtle subtext. Red belongs in this story. So to wash away the original colours of the camera I applied a red hue. The rest of the book’s colour palette was based around other colours present in the series’ subtext.









Make Me Vibrant Baby

Make me vibrant, baby!

5. To bring forth that vibrancy I mentioned earlier, I added a vibrancy adjustment layer and tweaked the settings until I had the mix of vibrancy and saturation I was happy with.









Add one couple, then blend here, here and here.

Add one couple, then blend here, here and here

6. Next, I set about adding the young couple that has been chosen and blending it in to the rest of the artwork. This involved a two-stage process. The original image contained a baby blue background, a lot brighter than what it shows here. After dropping the young couple onto the canvas, I resized and positioned the image where I wanted it. I then added a hue/saturation adjustment layer to tone down the blue, and a brightness adjustment layer that dimmed the couple slightly, taking care not to make the result too dark.







Shifting the colours

Shifting the colours

7. Stage two of the process that would complete the addition of the young couple involved altering the colour balance. I increased the red and gold mid tones. This resulted in the background becoming a smokey grey resembling more of a dark overcast sky. Gold and red highlights around the edges of the silhouette bring the illusion that the overcast sky hides a glorious yellow-orange setting sun. The goal was to convey some of the ‘moods’ the reader will likely encounter in the story’s scenes. It also completed the process of bringing this young couple into the rest of the artwork.







Adding the infinity and gold overlay

Adding the infinity and gold overlay

8. The infinity symbol is central to the story’s mythology and paranormal themes. This symbol was a custom made tattoo-like design that readers will see a lot more of if they choose to follow the series. It was positioned smack-bang in the vertical and horizontal centre of the artwork creating a segue between the top and bottom horizontal thirds. The transparency was halved and a gold overlay was placed over the top.









Adding the text elements

Adding the text elements

9. The final step was to add the text elements. The book title was positioned a little lower than centre so it was being ‘cradled’ by the infinity symbol. I added an outer glow, set it to Screen Blend and lowered the opacity by half. Increasing the spread, size and range of the outer glow blended it into the background and reduced the harshness, while still achieving that ‘pop’ I wanted.

I could write a whole other article on the importance of font choice in your artwork project. Maybe sometime I will. But for now, let’s just agree that a font has the power to send lots of messages to an audience in of itself. In this case, part of the scope of this project included the selection of the perfect font that will traverse the series. Together with the infinity symbol, the font will used to bind the books as a series, an essential feature to the branding strategy. Once again, be wary of copyright and licensing when selecting your font. The good news is that there are millions of legitimately free fonts available via online font libraries if you go look. It may take a while to find the font you decide on so start your search early. Ideally, you should have a short-list before you begin. So how do you know the perfect font? Choosing a font is not a scientific process, and there are few rules. As clichéd as it sounds, let your feelings be your guide. When you see a font you think might work, add it to a short-list, download and install it. Do not allow more than three fonts on your short-list at any point in time. Use them in your mock ups. I suggest you use all three short-listed fonts on each mock up because fonts look very different once applied to your canvas from what you saw at the font library. Pay attention to how it looks in both lower and uppercase. Eventually your eye will be drawn to one font above the rest, your gut scream a quiet ‘yeeeeeees’ that will grow louder. And when that happens, that font, is the perfect font. Accept no substitutes.

Ultimately my aim was to ensure the final product gave all three horizontal thirds – the top third, the centre third and the bottom third – equal billing. If you’re a design purist, and just spit your tea all over your device or keyboard, I humbly apologise. If you’re confuddled as to why a design purist might find what I just said cringe worthy, it’s because I broke one of the fundamental rules of design with that approach. But as I occasionally say, sometimes rules are made for breaking and if you’re going to do anything at all, do it properly 😉

And that, dear readers, is how I made the cover.

With the increasing number of DIY tools that cover everything from website construction, to phone apps and graphic art, the average person has been empowered like never before. Provided you still do old fashioned research and are prepared to tackle that learning curve, there is nothing stopping anyone from making their own artwork with a professional-looking spit and polish.

Do not be lulled into thinking the production of graphics and artwork, an the issues arising from, is any less complex than creating the product you’re looking to sell. Long before you open whatever graphics editor you have access to, and create a MyAwesomeNewArtwork file, you need to know how your images will be displayed to the world and understand what it will take in order to achieve that. This encompasses both the digital and print domains. Screen resolutions for hand-held devices, tablets and paper vary significantly. They are a fundamental factor in the approach for the design of your artifacts so you need to make time to research those requirements. Ignore them, and you will likely suffer the unpleasantness and disappointment of having to conduct re-work. At worst, you have to ditch your project entirely and start from scratch.

For gaining skills in the production of digital artwork, I recommend free tutorials for your chosen graphics editor. After creating a few artefacts, you will have learned all the basic skills needed for any project. Over time, you can further your skills by taking more advanced tutorials. Do not become disheartened or frustrated if it takes a little practice to get there. We were all new once and we know how tricky it can sometimes be to achieve the results you want. Even if you’re wanting to do it all yourself, consider the benefit, at least in the early days, of having access to professional who can advise you. Sometimes, you may want someone to help you work though a challenge you’re facing or perhaps review of your artwork and provide some feedback. When you’re doing DIY digital production, maybe all you need is a little steer in the right direction now and then. Pre-purchasing hourly blocks of consultative time to have up your sleeve may be a wise investment, especially if you are subject to deadlines. But don’t leave it too late. Early intervention is always less painful than cure.

Once you overcome these learning curves and understand the challenges, you should expect to save a great deal of money and have no need for an expert. Some people, and rightfully so, need to focus their time elsewhere. I often hear that while people would like do it all themselves, they are not in the position to do it and their reasons vary widely. That is when a professional can help. Most of us, will want to work collaboratively involving you in the process from end to end. We want you to be empowered so we will gladly share our knowledge and experience. A smart designer can help you avoid making costly fundamental mistakes and will take the time to explain to you why in some instances, ‘no’ is the only correct answer. But we will do so while still fulfilling all your mandatory requirements and giving as many items from your wish list as possible.

The next challenge for software architects, designers and developers is to take the technical requirements and operating environmental aspects and make them invisible for these users as much as possible. A DIYer with minimum technical abilities cannot avoid these large learning curves today. Unfortunately, that challenge won’t be an easy one and will require time and investment. But I predict the coming generations of these types of tools to be heavily focused in these areas as more people are drawn into using the self-publishing, self-service and SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms that help them achieve their goals.

Images Eternal will be available from 15th September on Amazon. Other platforms will be announced as they are known.

Get further information on the series, including teasers and updates at the Toni Decker Books website.

Follow Toni Decker Books on twitter at @ToniDeckerBooks

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4 Responses to “How I Made Your Book Cover”

  1. On August 14, 2014 at 11:42 pm Toni responded with... #

    So much pretty in one book cover. It took my breath away the first time I saw it! Loved it then, love it even more now!

    • On August 16, 2014 at 11:51 am Sharon Carpenter responded with... #

      I’m so so pleased you like it 🙂


  1. It’s so revealing! A Cover Revealed | mondaylove2013 - August 14, 2014

    […] Special behind-the-image exclusive: The cover was designed by an incredibly talented graphic artist, Sharon Carpenter. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to work with her and we can’t wait to see what she comes up with for the next cover in the series. Want to see how she works her magic?? Check it out here. […]

  2. IMAGES ETERNAL – Free for a Limited Time « Toni Decker Books - December 9, 2014

    […] We can’t wait to show off the AMAZING cover designed by Sharon Carpenter! (You can even read how she did our first cover for IMAGES ETERNAL here.) […]

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