5 Days to a Self-Published Book: Day 3 – A Cover Story


All this ‘Day 3’ and ‘A.M./P.M.’ business is really putting me in the mood for a 24 DVD marathon, and makes me want to start this blog post by saying in the gravelly voice of a male American smoker, ‘The following takes place between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. on the day of the Californian presidential primary…

But I won’t.

On Monday we wrote our book and yesterday we proofread it, formatted it and swore never to do anything like this ever again. But this morning we get to have some fun, because this morning we’re going to make ourselves our cover.

Designing a cover is treacherous POD territory. More than anywhere else, here lies a wealth of opportunities to make your book look self-published, unattractive or just, well, crap. It’s a minefield. While at first glance you might cower in a corner and swear you’re never coming out, traversing it isn’t as difficult as you might think. Just like the whole business of POD itself, there are ways around the path to unprofessionalism.

You can make your cover a number of ways:

1. Use CreateSpace Cover Creator

Both Createspace and Lulu have cover design wizards that are extremely easy to use. Some of the themes let you upload your own photos and you can of course edit the text that appears on them. That’s great, right? Actually no. They only have limited themes and in CreateSpace’s case, there’s no ‘advanced editing’ – you can stick your stuff into the blank spaces in the theme’s rigid template, and that’s that. The templates are simplistic and will make your book look self-published (at least, to the trained eye) no matter what you do with them. (Scroll down for examples.) But then they are free.

2. Make the Cover Yourself – Graphic Design Software

Createspace has a handy little template generator that will give you a template correctly sized for your book which you can use in any graphic design software program, such as Photoshop. If you don’t have the time to learn how to use Photoshop, you can purchase something like BookCoverPro, which makes designing a cover pretty easy and also has a number of templates available (at additional cost) which are of a higher quality than CS’s. CS automatically inserts the barcode for you after you upload it.

3. Make the Cover Yourself – Microsoft Word

I’m not convinced this is a viable way to go, but apparently it can be done. It involves sizing a Word document to match the exact dimensions of your cover template (using a two column layout and a vertical text box for your spine) and then converting to PDF; you can find out exactly how to do it in Perfect Pages by Aaron Shepard. My problem with this approach is that, first of all, the quality just cannot be the same. Second of all, creating a bulleted list in MS Word makes me want to hunt down Bill Gates and make him feel my pain, so manipulating a complicated document filled with exact measurements, images and text boxes all layered on top of one another sounds like the very last thing I want to do.

4. Get Someone Else To Do It

Or No. 2, but contracted out. Getting your book cover professionally designed is, of course, ideal, but it’s also extremely expensive. It will also mean a lot of back and forth as you try to tell the designer what you want – if you even know what you want – and the designer tries to make it a reality for you.

5. Sort of Get Someone Else To Do It

This is what I did. I knew exactly what I wanted on my cover, so I made a ‘mock-up’ using Microsoft Word. (Yes, it was a stressful day.) Then I gave this mock-up to my graphic designer, along with the template I’d had CreateSpace generate for me. He built the cover (using PhotoShop, I presume), make the kind of tweaks that only someone with an eye for design (i.e. not me) could make and delivered the cover to me, ready for submission, in PDF format. This cost money of course, but nowhere near as much as a design from scratch would have.


What did I want from my cover?

Obviously I wanted it to reflect the varied subject matter of the book while feeling as fun and as sunny as Orlando does. I really didn’t want people to look at it and automatically declare, ‘Self-published!’ but I also didn’t want to even think about having artwork done or photographs taken especially. (I couldn’t afford to, anyway.) I also had to be very, very, very careful about not including or even hinting at things that were shaped like Mickey’s famous silhouette, as Disney HQ has more law degrees than grains of pixie dust and besides, the book isn’t about Disney; only parts of it are.

My DIY cover image

I decided to make the best of what I had, which was the approximately 2,000 photographs I’d taken during my time in Florida and the hefty Disney scrapbook I’d made when I got back. I used a combination of one of the scrapbook pages, some photographs I slipped out of their frames and a couple of souvenirs (like my Kennedy Space Centre annual pass and my learner’s permit – both integral to the story!) to make the photo above, which I then cropped to fit the cover. (And to hide all the personal details on the license from identity stealers, of course!)

Cover 1.0

Cover 1.0 was thrown together in a matter of minutes using Lulu’s own cover designer, a photograph I had of some palm trees against a beautiful blue sky and a (bad) snapshot of the cover page of my Disney scrapbook. When I put this cover up on Facebook for appraisal, the comments had a common theme: everyone like the white strip but hated the big ‘Florida’ in the pic as it distracted from the text I wanted people to read, i.e. the title and subtitle. (Today this looks like a tragic eyesore but at the time I actually didn’t think it was that bad. For shame!)

Cover 1.01

Cover 1.01 was the best I felt I could do with Createspace’s God awful Cover Creator whose templates may as well have had ‘I’M A CRAPPY SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK!’ printed in bold black type across them repeatedly.

Cover 2.0

Cover 2.0 is the mock-up I made with Microsoft Word to show the graphic designer what I wanted. The new scrapbook photo – in a lucky coincidence – had more of a cohesive blue tone, and I centered and enlarged the text and added a little blurb to the top of it so potential shelf or Amazon browsers might get a better idea of what the book was about. (Not to scale.)

Cover 3.0: Final

And – ta da! – this is it: Cover 3.0, the final design. You can see the benefits of getting a professional designer involved. He took my basic structure and images and vastly improved on them with some major and minor tweaks.

Mousetrapped by Catherine Ryan Howard

Isn’t she pretty?

I truly love the cover. Back when I was writing Mousetrapped – in 2008! – and hoping that one day an actual, real live publishing house would have their hands on it, I wondered what the cover might be. I never had any idea – how could you translate such a weird book (in terms of subject matter) into a cover? My biggest fear when it came to doing it myself was finding something that avoided lawsuits while still giving the reader a fairly good idea of what the book was about, and reflecting its intended tone in the process. I really think this design does all that. It looks sunny, fun and bright, which (I hope) is what the book is like.

Want to see what the back looks like? Well, you’ll just have to buy a copy…

Tomorrow: Get ready, folks. It’s upload time!

Read the next post, 5 Days to a Self-Published Book: Day 4 – An Upload Extravaganza.

Read all my self-printing posts or read about the book I’m self-printing.

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3 thoughts on “5 Days to a Self-Published Book: Day 3 – A Cover Story

  1. Taffy says:

    Congrats! I’m in the process of self publishing with CreatSpace next week. I decided to design my cover and interior. However, I decided on the comprehensive copy editing which is quite expensive but hopefully worth it.

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