Culture

Creating Covers for your Indie Works – The Tool Box Post

Supplemental Cover Series to Selling Your Writing in 13 Weeks — post 3

Start with a cat picture taken from Morguefile, and take it to JASC paintshop and do one step photo correction?  Could you use this as a cover?  probably not.  Most stories that would take a cat on the cover require drawings to signal right genre.  This photo is by SimoneSantos btw.

Start with a cat picture taken from Morguefile, and take it to JASC paintshop and do one step photo correction? Could you use this as a cover? probably not. Most stories that would take a cat on the cover require drawings to signal right genre. This photo is by SimoneSantos btw.

Before we start this, I’d best come clean and explain that I never do things with standard programs or in the standard way.  This is not on purpose.  It’s because my brain seems to be wired backwards and sideways from every other human being on the planet and, if there are aliens, from every other alien too.  No, seriously.  Trying to follow along and do things the exact way I do them is probably a fool’s game.

For instance, for years after everyone was using Microsoft Word for writing, I continued using Corel Wordperfect.  It did what I wanted it to, it was intuitive to me, and I had no intention of changing, much to the despair of my computer-geek husband.

I finally switched to Word only because most conversion programs for ebooks gag at Word Perfect.  I’ve now been using Word for two years, and I’m used to it, and it doesn’t bother me anymore.  BUT the ramp up and changing of my brain’s default settings took me about six months where I couldn’t just concentrate on the writing, because the mechanics of the program kept obtruding.

For me, at least – if not for any sane human being – this is often a reason to stick with outmoded software.  I have very little time and don’t want to spend time retooling my workflow.

Most people doing their own covers use one of two programs: either Photoshop or the free alternative, GIMP.  Me?  Well….

I might be willing to give Photoshop a try, but I’ve seen people use it, and there would be significant retooling.  I’m not willing to invest the time into that retooling.  The fact that the company which makes Photoshop – Adobe – has gone subscription-only and that its website got hacked for subscriber data a few weeks back was just icing on the cake. I don’t see any reason to deal with that.

Run by Filter Forge Watercolor filter, a suitable image for "Cats I've known, a recollection of a life among felines."

Run by Filter Forge Watercolor filter, a suitable image for “Cats I’ve known, a recollection of a life among felines.”

GIMP seems to be a fine program, but again there’s a ramp up – I’ve been playing with it in my copious spare time, but at the rate I get spare time, it’s going to take me a year before I’m fluent with it.

I’ll start by saying that for years now I’ve been using JASC Paintshop Pro9.  Why that version?  Because it was the last one in which Paintshop was a “poor man’s photoshop.”  After that, it was bought by Corel which took it more in the direction of “program for scrapbookers.”  Most of the features added are useless to me, the program is buggy, and some of the things I used aren’t really that functional any more.  My husband – a computer geek’s hope springs eternal – keeps buying me the latest Paintshop, so we own it, but if I’m going to learn a completely different program, I’ll learn GIMP.

After taking the WGM Publishing covers workshop, I thought I’d have to learn Photoshop and InDesign, or at least GIMP.  But I know my way around JASC Paintshop pro REALLY well, and by poking and prodding I found I could do everything needed with it – except save as PDF which is necessary if you’re going to make a paper version of your book. That’s what Createspace takes.  So, now I process the image, save it as a photoshop file (which GIMP recognizes, and which saves all layers) and then take it over to GIMP, open it and export it as PDF.  Voila. The advantage of my method if you’re just starting out is that JASC while you might have to bootstrap it in places is very simple and WYSIWYG compared to Photoshop.  It is also, being over ten years old, ridiculously cheap, and GIMP is free.

Other things I use – I bought a package of 10000 fonts. These fonts are all free various places on the web, but I didn’t want to go looking for them one by one. This has them all in one neat, easily found place. (No, I didn’t install them all at the same time, but I can go digging through the folders when I need something special.) Not using photoshop handicaps you a little there, because photoshop comes with its proprietary fonts, which a lot of professional houses also use.

A word of caution here – fonts are copyrighteable and often copyrighted.  Make sure you’re using something that’s free for your use and free for commercial use.

The ghost cat and other mystery stories.  (Okay, I'd need to play with the background, but not that much.)

The ghost cat and other mystery stories. (Okay, I’d need to play with the background, but not that much.)

The Cat Wore Whiskers and other stories.

The Cat Wore Whiskers and other stories.

The other thing I use, which I found only recently, is Filter Forge. I got an advertisement from them back in December when they were having a firesale type of thing. At first I thought they were only a photoshop plug in, then I found they could actually be used as a stand alone program.

When my husband asked me why on Earth I’d spent money on this program, when surely GIMP filters did the same thing, I showed him.  Lets just say my son, the graphics geek, went “Whoa!  Can I play with it on your computer, now and then?”

Yeah, it’s that good.  It’s also addictive.  You’ll want to play with your photos and it and…  Control yourself.  This is work!  (Oh, okay, fine, you can play a little.)

So, these are the tools I use.

In the next – and last – post, I’ll put it all together and show you how to do a cover from beginning to end. I’ll do it using my tools.  You can feel free to use whatever you want.

I do recommend, however, that if you can, and if you have more than one cover to design (i.e. you’re a writer who has a lot of properties that have reverted or, alternately, you’ve got twenty short stories or novels under the bed which you’re not going to publish yourself by some means) you might do worse than to take the WGM Publishing cover workshop. Supposing you can afford it, it’s a tool that will last you forever, and better than spending the same amount each time for a cover design who might or might not know how to signal right for your subgenre.  I get no kickback from these, but I am a great advocate of learning to do things right if you possibly can.

I know some of you won’t be able to afford them, but for those who are, it will save years of stumbling around in the dark.

And, as my friend pointed out – what was a good cover for the early Amazon KDP program is screamingly bad now.  And your goal is to look professional. Yeah, I know, we all hear a lot about not judging a book by the cover, but the truth is everyone does. It might not be a matter of “is this a pretty cover” but “is this something that was professionally done enough that I want to bother downloading a sample” and “does this look like what I normally read?”

So, look at your resources and do the best you can with what you have.

At some point — three? — months ago I posted either here or on one of my other blogs about doing the cover for Death of A Musketeer. This was particularly difficult because for some reason you can’t find drawings of musketeers in the stock sites (not unless, you want girl musketeers, cat musketeers or anime musketeers. I just wanted a musketeer.) So I did the best I could and got the dead man from The End of The Game of Cards by Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier.  Since the painter died in 1891, his work is safely out of copyright. My problem is that I couldn’t use the whole painting, or it gave the impression I was reprinting one of the classical works out of Gutenberg and also that the work would be too dull for words, right?  (No, trust me on this.)

So I did the best I could by sticking the figure against a sketchy woodcut background, got from Fromoldbooks.com. It worked after a fashion (I’ve had worse covers.) But I wasn’t exactly transported by it, partly because though my idea was innovative, it also made the book stick out as odd, and therefore gave it a certain air of “literary.”  Okay, it’s a mystery with the musketeers as characters, but it is very much written for fun, not edification.

It looked like this:

This is an okay cover, but you can bet neither the figure nor the background were done on purpose for this book, right?

This is an okay cover, but you can bet neither the figure nor the background were done on purpose for this book, right?

So, I wasn’t happy about it, but within the resources I had, it was the best I could do.  It’s the cover that is up, still, as I’ve not had the time to upload the new one.  HOWEVER when I got filter forge I had an idea.  I got a photo from morgue file and I ran it through the aquarelle filter in Filter Forge, and then I ran the figure of the dead musketeer from Meissonier.  Then I did some color manipulation in Paintshop.  This is the result:

This, on the other hand, does look like a cover designed and painted for this book.

This, on the other hand, does look like a cover designed and painted for this book.

So, now I have to find the time to upload it, and do the other covers in the series to match.  Meanwhile, in the next (and final) post we’ll take one of my short story covers that was “good enough for old KDP” and bootstrap it from free or cheap sites, to looking good enough for the current KDP.

Now, are my current covers perfect? Heck no. Cover designer is a profession, and I’ve barely started. However, most beginner and mid-list writers get assigned to someone who either is a beginner cover designer, or is still learning. And that level I can get to. And so can you. There are tweaks I need to do (that series title should be white not yellow, because of where it is) but given that it’s a cover “from found objects” — it looks professional enough.