Making Digital Books: Creating Effective Ebook Covers

Making Digital Books: Add your ebook to the top of the stack!

In all my research into self-publishing (y’know, that word still has a bit of a negative connotation in my brain, I’m sorry to say) and indie publishing (yeah, that’s much cooler-sounding), I’ve read over and over that the following three things are the keys to grabbing readers:

  1. A great novel or story with a strong opening
  2. An eye-catching, compelling cover
  3. A snappy description that quickly tells the reader what the novel, story, or comic is about

Okay, you’re on your own for number 1. ;)

(But seriously, take a good look at your opening chapter, and especially your first few paragraphs, because ebook readers are going to want to sample your book, and that opening has to grab them right away. Do you have conflict up front? Error-free writing? Your best work, up-front? Make sure you do.)

And for item number 3 — snappy descriptions — I’ll cover that in the next blog.

So let’s go with item number 2 today and judge some ebooks by their covers, shall we?

Thinking About Book Covers

First off, keep it simple.

The key elements you must have are the title, the author’s name, and some sort of image, color, or object. Everything else — like blurbs, one-sentence synopses or summaries, “Best-selling so and so!” and other text — is icing on the cake.

Just be careful not to put too much extra text and design elements like fancy borders on the cover, which could distract from the artwork, title, and your name.

I recommend taking a moment to look at your bookshelves and see what covers work for you. Try to determine what it is you like about certain covers — what draws your eye and makes you want to pick up that book?

Me, I like evocative images, usually landscapes, that tell me something about the setting and maybe even the mood of the book.

Take the covers to Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain and Elizabeth Hand’s Generation Loss over on the right, there.

Both are lovely landscape photographs, but one is more sedate and calm, while the other is a bit hyper-real, and maybe a bit over-exposed. Both covers fit the content and themes of the books.

How I Did Covers, For Free/Cheap

Three things I did with all the covers to my ebook stories:

  • Used only (free or cheap) photographs for the main art
  • Used the same font, font color, and black background for all my titles and author name text boxes
  • Included a tiny logo of my press in one of the corners of the cover

I think that consistency works well to group my stories together and also distinguish them from my novels.

I also used images and font sizes that were clear enough and big enough to be seen when I had to resize the cover down to 125 pixels wide. That’s tiny, man! It’s also the size of my two story covers over there on the right.

Find a method that works for you. Make it fun — this is all part of the creative act of making your book.

Designing Your Ebook Cover

In a nutshell, when I make my ebook covers, I do the following:

  1. I download a hi-resolution “stock” image from a site like MorgueFile (no charge) or Dreamstime (small charge). Sometimes I have an image in mind, and sometimes I’ll just do a search and see what I find. It’s fun, if a little time-consuming.
  2. Next, I launch PowerPoint and insert the hi-res image into a new slide in my template. Feel free to download my template if you’d like to experiment with it: JasperEbookCoverTemplate.ppt.
  3. I move around the image on the slide, cropping as needed.
  4. I add my book’s title and my author name as a text box, again tweaking and resizing the text and adjusting the fonts as needed.
    Note: Titles and author names tend to be in ALL CAPS. It just looks more professional, for some reason.
  5. If I’m doing a back cover for a PoD book, I create two new slides (front cover, back cover) in my template and:
    1. Add the back cover text (I use 14 point Garamond, which might be a tad big)
    2. Insert a small logo for my press
    3. Insert some sort of image around the text — I like to crop the front cover image in some way.
    4. Make sure I leave a .5″ border around every image and text box on my front and back cover so nothing gets cropped when CreateSpace pulls the cover into their cover editor. See my cover template .ppt file above for an example of this. Also, I use the CreateSpace template “Charlemagne Sophistication”(or the “Palm” for smaller books), which allows me to upload both a front and a back cover.
    5. Make sure the CreateSpace-generated barcode area on the back page does not cover up any of your text or a key part of your graphics. Also, you don’t have to generate the barcode — CreateSpace does that for you.
  6. When I’m happy with how the slide for my cover (or front and back covers) looks,
  7. I do a File >  Save As and save as type .jpg. The result is a 600 x 900 pixel .jpg image that I can open with Paint Shop Pro (our your image editor of choice) for resizing.

Tip: You can set up PowerPoint to export a very hi-resolution .jpg or .tif file for your cover.  This works great for PoD books. You can learn how to set up PowerPoint to do this  at this article at the Microsoft Support Site: “How to change the resolution of a slide.” After you update this setting, you can spit out a 300-dpi image for your PoD cover. Sweeeet.

So go ahead and experiment a bit — you’ll probably need some sort of simple image software for your computer. I use good old Paint Shop Pro and PowerPoint, just because that’s what I’m used to using. (Also, Photoshop scares me!)

Also, whenever possible, try to locate the name of the person who created the photograph or stock art for your cover, and give them credit. I’ve tried to do that whenever I could, though some people don’t leave sufficient information about themselves at a site for me to give ‘em credit.

Image Specifics for Various Distributors

As I said earlier about the tiny cover size of my story ebook covers, you need to make sure your cover looks good both big and small. I usually export my final covers as 600 x 900 .jpg and resize as needed.

So to help you out a bit, here are some requirements and/or suggestions for the various sites when it comes to cover specifications:

  • Smashwords: Accepts .jpg, .gif, and .png files. Minimum height of 600 pixels. Maximum file size of 20 MB.  Cover displays at 133 x 200 pixels on the ebook’s landing page.
  • Kindle: Accepts .tif or .jpg files. Minimum height of 800 pixels and width of 500 pixels. Save at 72 dots per inch (dpi). Cover displays at 300 x 300 pixels on the ebook’s landing page. *
  • Nook: Accepts .jpg files. Minimum height of 750 pixels, and maximum height of 2000 pixels. Maximum file size of 2 MB. Cover displays at 175 x 280 pixels on the ebook’s landing page.
  • CreateSpace (PoD): Use their cover creator, which requires images with a minimum resolution of 300 DPI. Cover displays at 160 x 240 pixels on the ebook’s landing page at CreateSpace.
  • Google ebookstore: Accepts .tif, .pdf, or .tif files of any size. Cover displays at 128 x 192 pixels on the ebook’s landing page.
  • DriveThruComics: Accepts .jpg files with a maximum width of 220 pixels. Try to keep the file size under 50 KB. Cover displays at 220 x 352 pixels on the ebook’s landing page.

* I know I still need to do some tweaking to my covers in the Kindle Store — for some reason they’re fuzzy there. One day…

Some of My Favorite Covers (Designed by Meeee!)

Here’s a quick mini-gallery of my favorite home-brewed book covers:

 
 
 

I think they work pretty well. Not professional-grade covers, but effective. I like the similar style to the stories (with the similar layout and use of the UnWrecked Press logo), and the simplicity of just the image and the title/author combo.

I try to find images that fit the story, but convey a sense of strangeness or mystery. Something to get you to click on the book cover and learn more about that weird image.

One thing I wish I would’ve built into all these covers?

A thin, black border that goes around the outside of cover. I always end up adding the cover to my website images or blog entries, whenever I have a cover image. Duh!

One of the many nice things about ebooks is that you can always go back and fix something if it’s not working, or if you’ve learned something new and better and can improve your book or its cover. That’s what I ended up doing with over half of my 50+ covers to my ebook stories. Not fun! But I’m proud of how those covers look now.

And as the author of your book, you are the best person to design your own cover, really. You know the book better than anyone.Why  farm it out to someone else, and let them have all the fun?

If you have any tips or questions, feel free to share in the comments or via Facebook or Twitter! And thanks for reading.

Back to the Making Digital Books Table of Contents.


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6 thoughts on “Making Digital Books: Creating Effective Ebook Covers

  1. Scott Nicholson

    I love your simplicity of image. But I am a BIG believer in BIG TITLE and BIG AUTHOR NAME. You do okay on the title but I’d fail you on the author name, for this reason: The primary introduction to your book cover for your potential audience will be as a tiny black-and-white thumbnail on a handheld Kindle. I design for that purpose first and all else is gray. The main reason I started doing my own book covers is that the pro designers I sought kept designing “book covers” that looked really great on their really big, expensive computer. We no longer need book covers. We need tiny buttons for digital doorways. But that’s just me. I admit I am weird.

    Reply
    1. Michael Jasper Post author

      Great point! I think it’s me being humble and not wanting to see my name so big on the cover.

      And that’s a great point about the tiny button aspect of covers.

      Sigh. Guess I need to redesign those covers again… All 70 or so of ‘em… ;)

      Reply
  2. Moira Munro (@MoiraFMunro)

    I love how you’re giving us all the info – things like cover image sizes for all these different types of e-readers. Great to have it all in one place, handed on a plate.
    I’d be happy to have a look at one of your Kindle cover files to see if I can tell you what’s happening with the fuzziness (as someone who’s not scared of Photoshop – well not so scared).
    Moira

    Reply
    1. Michael Jasper Post author

      Thanks, Moira, for reading and responding! And thanks for your very kind offer to help!

      Let’s use my recent story “In the Process of Disappearing” as an example. Here’s the Amazon.com page for it: http://www.amazon.com/Process-Disappearing-Fiction-Friday-ebook/dp/B005UQHUE8/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_3

      Note how it’s fuzzy in the thumbnail?

      Luckily Amazon’s KDP lets you now embed the cover image in the file itself, so when you click the cover to look inside the book, I can show readers the cover in all its glory.

      Here’s the original .jpg file: http://michaeljasper.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/disappearing.jpg (720×960 pixels)

      (I’ll also email you this stuff.)

      Reply
  3. Ruth Nestvold

    Nice covers, Michael! I’ve done several of my own ebook covers (with the help of my daughter), but I have yet to tackle CreateSpace. But I have been learning Photoshop! :)

    Reply
    1. Michael Jasper Post author

      Thanks, Ruth! I was just thinking about updating them, actually. They seem to need a bit… more. We’ll see.

      With CreateSpace, you need some seriously high resolution. 300 dpi minimum. That’s the secret there…

      Reply

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