DIY Book Cover Design, pt. 1

DIY Cover Design

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may remember a post of mine from a while back discussing making your own book covers. If not, and you’d like to check it out, here it is.

This is going to be a fairly lengthy blog series, and I hope you’re in it until the end. Hell, after the year I’ve had so far, I hope am in it until the end. 😉

The Hard Truth

Most people should not make their own covers.

Most people should not make their own covers.

One more time for the cheap seats:

Most people should not make their own covers!

It would be insensitive of me to point out a slew of horrible book covers, so I’m not going to do that, but I know you’ve seen them. We all have. They’re rampant in the indie publishing world.

We’ve all heard the adage: Don’t Judge A Book  By Its Cover.

Hogwash. We all judge books by their covers. So if you are doubtful of your design abilities, then please seek a cover designer if your budget allows.

Eight Little Pages has some amazing-looking work, and their pricing isn’t astronomical. I haven’t used them, probably won’t use them, but I did see their work after watching a video by Jenna Moreci.

If your heart (or budget) is set on making your own cover, then read on, my friend.

Step One: Know Your Limitations

It’s time for a gut check. You need to be honest with yourself and ask yourself these two questions:

1.| Do you really have an eye for design?

2.| What design software are you familiar with, and what are you capable of learning?

If you haven’t seen The Book Designer’s eBook cover awards, I highly recommend checking it out. Every month someone from the publishing or design world is invited to critique dozens of covers submitted by authors and publishing houses. The critics are sometimes brutally honest and you can always count on them to point out what doesn’t work and what does.

Three different script fonts probably doesn’t work, much like overused fonts like Papyrus just don’t cut it most of the time. Sift through several months worth, look at what you like, read what the experts don’t like.

You can also wander into Barnes and Noble and look at covers in your genre…but that may give you unrealistic goals and expectations. Those books were designed with big(ger) budgets and teams of graphic designers. It’s good to know what they are coming up with, but be realistic in what you’ll be able to create on your own.

Step Two: Budget

Can you create a book cover for free?


Can  you create a book cover on the cheap?


But it still helps to figure out what your budget is. If you can spare $100 on a cover, then by all means, I suggest purchasing one.

If you’re still adamant about going the DIY route here are the places you’re most likely to spend money.

Images: You can find free images all over the place. Personally, I use a site called Pexels first, even before Google Images, because every image on the site is free and requires no attribution. (If you aren’t sure what attribution is, it is when you are required to give credit to the photographer or artist who created the image, regardless of cost.)

Personally, I like finding images with a creative commons license. It takes a lot of the headache out of figuring out what you can and cannot do legally with the images you obtain.

Sometimes, though, finding the perfect image for free is impossible.

You can find lots of amazing images on Canva for $1.00 (also many free ones) but sometimes even Canva’s immense image library has left me lacking. The image I used on the cover of Sex, Love, and Formalities I sourced from a pay-per-image site and it cost me $15. That’s a relatively small amount of money, but I wasn’t excited about any I found for free or $1.

Fonts: Finding the perfect font can be a daunting task. One of my favorite sites to browse for fonts is 1001FreeFonts but I’ve also recently been using Google’s font collection.

If you’re going to use 1001FreeFonts, let me show you something to be very careful of:


Be sure you’re looking at what permissions you have for the font you choose. Some fonts are free for personal and commercial use. More times than not, they’re going to be free for personal use only. You need to make sure you’re purchasing the commercial license for any font you choose.

I’m not going to go over downloading and installing fonts to your computer, there’s Google for that.

And finally:

Design Software: There are plenty of choices out there, but I have three main ones for you to consider, two are free and one is decidedly not.

Photoshop is not free, but you can purchase a subscription from Adobe:


Or, alternatively, you can purchase the program for $239. Photoshop is what the professionals use. It takes a long time to master it, and I have not mastered it. I know it well enough to serve my purposes, but there’s a lot left for me to figure out.

If Photoshop isn’t in your budget, or you’d like to “try it before you buy it,” I suggest trying out Pixlr Editor.


Pixlr has a bit of a learning curve and some things are downright aggravating, but it is a capable image editor—though I probably wouldn’t use it to completely design my cover. The way use Pixlr most often is to modify an image I’m utilizing in the next suggestion, Canva.

I cannot sing Canva’s praises enough. When it comes to putting images together and moving things around, trying new fonts, etc. etc. Canva is the handiest, easiest to use tool I’ve found so far.

I actually combine all three of these programs frequently.

I use Canva to build my cover, spine, and back cover. I use Pixlr to edit images wherever I am, and I finish everything in Photoshop, mostly blending and shading and tweaking the most minute things.

Step Three: Play Around

Here’s a little known fact about me, or at least I think it is: I make a book cover for each of my projects at the earliest stages of writing. Why? Because I like to spend a lot of time tinkering with them. I like to learn new tricks and apply them. I like to have the cover ready when the book is ready. This has worked well for me so far, I think. It gives the cover time to evolve as the book evolves and I don’t fear settling for the sake of a publication date. I’m able to let my betas and author friends see what I’ve designed and get their thoughts and opinions on what works and what doesn’t.

So, my suggestion is don’t wait to get started on your cover. Don’t devote all of your time to it, of course, otherwise you’ll never write your book. But play around with it here and there. Read and watch tutorials on how to accomplish what you want to accomplish.

Here are the covers for my published works and how much they  cost me, if I have the original covers handy, I’ll show them too.


Alabama Rain’s final cover was designed in Canva, using images sourced from both Canva and Pexels. The image of the woman’s face was heavily edited in Pixlr, and then the whole thing was finished in Photoshop.

The grand total for Alabama Rain’s cover (including images on the back cover and images found in the interior) was a whopping $5.

Yep. Five smackaroos. I’m still immensely pleased with how it turned out.


Alabama Rain
This was the placeholder cover I created for AR a few years ago. It’s not terrible as it is. That was where my skill level was at the time. I wasn’t ready for overlays and transparencies and shading and all of that other stuff. At the time, I needed a decent photograph and a font that worked.

This cover cost me $1 to create, and while I am happier with what I ultimately wound up with, this wouldn’t have been the worst cover ever had I kept it.



Sex Love and Technialities Cover.png

Sex, Love, and Technicalities final cover…good grief this book had several covers before it landed on this one.

There are a lot of elements I like about this cover, not the least of which are the giant ampersand and the slightly ominous image on the left-hand side, which was actually quite innocuous until I started playing with saturation levels and the like—in fact it’s an image of satin sheets! There’s something unsettling about it to me the way it is, which was what I was going for.

Designed in Canva, finished in Photoshop (mostly blending those images) Cost? $3.

Unfortunately I cannot find earlier cover images. I have changed computers since then and cleaned out files and the like, but believe me when I say they were baaaaaad. 

SLF Cover
Another cover where earlier versions no longer exist, which is a shame, because they weren’t terrible, unlike SLT’s earlier versions.

I did spend $15 on the image, which I still feel was a smart decision. It’s quite sexy, I think. Which is good, since sex is in the title. 😉 That and I had specifically mentioned red pearls in the book—not the easiest thing for me to find at the time.

With the cost of the ampersand, that brought this cover to $16.


I don’t know if I’ve ever shared a cover so early in a WIP’s life before, but the cover I’ve made for my current WIP has already transitioned once, so I thought I’d share with you an image while I’m working on it.

Here’s the first cover I did for The Harlot of Blue Ridge:

The first thing I chose for this cover was the font for Harlot. I don’t know if it’ll change or not…I’m quite smitten with it. But, it’s already seen a face lift.







Copy of Harlot of Blue Ridge (1)
As more of the story revealed itself to me, I knew more of what I wanted the cover to convey. I added a castle element because the setting for this book is largely inspired by The Biltmore House, and I just adored the image of the lady.

Cost for this cover? $0.00. All images sourced either for free from Canva or using a Creative Common license.





Step Four: Homework

If you’re set on creating your own cover for whatever reason, your homework is to ask yourself those questions from earlier, be insanely honest with yourself even if it hurts. Go through the cover design awards from months prior, really read what is said about them. And then start playing.

Spoiler alert: Keep it simple.

Next week I’m going to go further into detail about getting started, using Canva as the jumping off point. We’ll talk about book sizes, image sizes, etc. etc. I don’t plan on spending a lot of time on the basics of using Canva, but I will go through a crash course, so if you’re unfamiliar with it, I suggest playing around with the website.

Got a suggestion for titling this upcoming fictitious fictional book I’ll be using as our demo? Leave it in the comments below—and tell me if you have any tips or tricks other readers need to know!

See ya next week, loves. ♥


5 thoughts on “DIY Book Cover Design, pt. 1

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