Now, this is a cover that will work for today’s Amazon KDP and frankly, all online sites, and also for Create Space printing. (Yes, I need to tweak that tag line, and there’s too much white showing around the space under his arm, but that’s blendable.)
However, the standards weren’t always so high, and the covers I (and others) put up when KDP was young are borderline offensive to the eye now. Which probably explains why so few of my old stories that are up there sell.
So, we’ll take one — The Blood of Dreams — because I’ve never liked it, and also because I happened to see it the other day and find it offensive.
The Blood of Dreams is a vampire short story set in post-Soviet Russia. It was published in The Secret History of Vampires, where the conceit was you had to use and historic figure. (I was invited to contribute and had to come up with something.) The rights have reverted to me. So I put it out, I think over a year ago. And this is what the cover looks like:
Is this the most horrible cover I have out there? Not even close. And that’s me, and my covers were never the MOST horrible ones out there. (They were pretty close, though.) However, seriously, no one could mistake that for a professional cover, either. Let me count the ways:
It’s two photoshopped together (not convincingly) photos. The lettering work is Times New Roman, I think. It’s not even centered. And it doesn’t in any way signal genre.
In fact, if you considered this as a traditionally published book, you’d expect it to be “my experiences escaping the East in the eighties” or something.
So, let’s give this much abused story a new look, shall we?
So, first I go to Morguefile and let my fingers do the walking (if I can find something in morgue file I don’t need to pay for it. So I’d like to at least get the background in morgue file.) My first search term is Russia. I’m looking for something (like that background) identifiable as “Russian.”
This is the photo I decided on:
It’s by fmfm166 at morguefile.
While I’m running it by Filter Forge, I’m going to look for a photo of a woman. Last resort, I’ll go to Dreamstime.com but the problem is that this limits how much I can show you. (I.e. picture of a woman pre-manipulation is right out, and in fact, I shouldn’t show you anything but the finished cover. It’s a license thing.) Look, the story involves a woman and vampires, and Moscow and Lenin and Stalin. I could, I grant you, use a drawing of Lenin or Stalin, but a woman on the cover will sell better.
If I go to dreamstime I won’t be able to put the raw picture here, because dreamstime is a specific license, though. I will put the transformed picture of the background, and then the full cover. But meanwhile let me look other places.
Success. Wikimedia commons has a photo of a painting by Ferdinand Keller which, since he died in 1922 is fair game. It’s a highly dystopic looking painting, so perfect. (It is by the way, photographed by Hampel Auctions.)
Since the image is an oil and in a certain style, it restricts what I can do with the background, too.
So I ran the image through the Sketchy Painting filter on Filter Forge, looking for something with a yellow greenish background, kind of like the one behind the figure. Meanwhile, I’m figuring out how to give her two convincingly painted/matching neck wounds vampire style.
And now I wait on Filter Forge which on this detailed a render takes one or two centuries to finish.
Right, so this is what the painting looks like after going through Filter Forge:
The colors are far too pale for the background of that painting, so I brought it up in JASC paintshop and did some manual color adjustment. I also reduced the size of the picture, since I’m only making an ebook, and there’s no point having a massive image (besides lowing everything down.) So I brought it down to 1563×2500 pixels, the dimensions for an Amazon e cover.
Okay, so I do the next step and add the woman from the painting to the background (and mirror them both, since she’s supposed to be facing the right (book covers are supposed to, that’s how you think of a book opening, at least in English.))
Note I’ve set two vampire marks on her neck. But it still doesn’t look right. I can’t push her to the left till her hand disappears because that gives the impression of “character being eaten by edge of book.”
So, I need something to replace the green copper
dino lyre (until I looked at it on the page, it looked like a dino to me. need new glasses.) Um… Enter that old communist (and worse in this story) Comrade Vladimir Ilyich.
So, I downloaded this, and cut off the revolting pedestal, and am going to do stuff to it…
Okay, so I removed the lyre monstrosity and added the communist monstrosity. And put Lenin through the painter thingy.
If you read the story, this cover is ALMOST too literal, but since I committed myself to using free elements so I could show you the progression, and since the woman in the painting was cuddling a metal lyre, something had to be done. At least now, she’s reacting to something and not being eaten by the edge of the page as when I tried to make her hand vanish. Which is, of course — always late — when an idea occurs to me. What if I bring her lower on the page, and make that entire arm vanish?
Okay, just because it’s a horror story, we don’t need to have a monster on the cover — so I got rid of Lenin. I’m still not happy with the luminosity of the figure vs. background. I had to make her stand out (she was fading into it) but now it’s too contrasting. Um….
So, I played with the contrast, the transparency of the layers, and inserted a yellowish layer underneath, and I have this:
If this were a novel cover, I’d probably play with it for a few more rounds, but it’s a short story, and it’s approaching the point where it REALLY won’t pay for my effort. So, I’m going to go to lettering.
I’m going to use Shrewsbury condensed because it’s by the way of being my house’s “historic” font. Though this is set in the nineties, it echoes back to the history of Soviet Russia, so… let’s try it.
Shrewsbury Condensed looks fine, and I added the other stuff (Tag, and “A short story” in Candara, so it doesn’t compete with the title and author name. Normally I put the title at the bottom, but here the color of her dress would interfere. After putting down the letters, I play a bit with the kerning, the idea being to bring the letters closer together but not touching, which takes some individual adjustments. Then I used 3d effects “inner chisel” and then I insert ‘drop shadow’ in a slight contrasting color.
And that’s the cover. Is it perfect? Oh, heck, no. Covers, like books, are never perfect. But — page to the beginning and tell me if it’s not a whole lot better. At least, it seems to do a better job of signaling “vampire” and “historical.” The “A short story” is something I learned to add, so that I don’t get awful reviews by people who don’t look at the page count and assume it’s a novel.
And that’s how I do a cover.
Am I setting up as an expert? Nope. I’m still a beginner — but I can make acceptable, if not extraordinary covers.If you want to learn for yourself, I recommend WGM Publishing Workshops. If you can’t afford it, I hope at least I’ve given you enough pointers that you can play with it and get better on your own. It’s not impossible. All it takes is a willingness to play with it and to keep trying out new ways of doing things.