I make book covers now! This weekend I offered on Twitter to make a free commercial ebook cover to the first person who had an image available and told me they wanted it. My taker was @ChrisIfill.

Here’s what he sent me:


I love the model, but the photo is pretty low-resolution*. I scale it up to proper size and isolate the figure from the background, and resolve to deal with it later. For a thriller, I want dark colors and sans-serif type. This isn’t strictly the best plan, but it’s the one I start out with. After some playing around, I decide I like the figure off to the side, urban-fantasy style, and I find that Impact font is close to what I have in mind. I try various backgrounds, including solid white and dark gray, and go with a black-blue gradient as a placeholder. I isolate the pink parts of her dress and turn them blue to match–plus then I’ll be able to change it to something else if I want to. I fancy up the author’s name, even though it risks looking silly. I try out a few versions of the title. Given that the provided image is my limiting factor, I think my design should consider what she’s looking down at. I’m okay with her looking at the word “revenge”, but I’d kind of like her looking down at a city. I’ll have to find one later. I test out orange as a font because I hear it works well against blue. All of these versions look pretty amateur, but I feel like I’m iterating toward something better.

early tries

Then I spend a while on Amazon looking at the category. Amazon actually has a subcategory for Vigilante Justice, so I go there, as well as all over the Thrillers and Crime category, and learn something interesting: very, very few of the top sellers feature a distinct figure on the cover. Gone Girl has a dude, but it’s at a distance from behind, and besides, it’s got a movie now. Most of the rest of the people on thriller covers are tiny, stylized, in silhouette, or completely absent. Colors tend toward bright splashy warms over darkish cools. Landscapes underneath a large font are popular. My cityscape idea has legs. I hate to abandon the stock photo that was sent to me, but I’ll have to figure out how to incorporate her. So many of these books have custom fonts, or interesting things going on around and under the fonts. The ones that don’t tend to use really tall fonts. I like both approaches, but I’m not capable of custom fonts. (Gradients under fonts notwithstanding.) I google “James Patterson font” which leads me to Libel Suit, and call it a night.


The competition, who know what they’re doing.

The next morning I start incorporating what I learned last night. I try out Libel Suit, and I really like it. I find a few potential backgrounds on a Creative Commons Zero stock photo site. I try a few that don’t work, but find a shot of Alcatraz that seems like it’ll do. I increase the size. I don’t like the water, so I darken it. Then I darken the whole thing. I thought lowering contrast would be good, but it only washes everything out, so I throw the slider in the other direction and it makes a neat effect where the orange highlights pop.


I decide to try it without the figure, and do the designing via typography. Something I really liked on covers in the Thriller category was when the font style varied within the title. I can’t make Libel Suit bold for reasons unknown, so I go back to Impact for one of the words. I try making the two main words orange and the others grey, but I like it the other way around: The, Of, and Revenge in orange, with Sound set apart by font and color. I think incidental text makes a cover look classy, so I add A Thriller underneath. The horizontal lines are just a row of hyphens surrounding the text, because I’m such a pro. This is getting pretty good!

late tries

I want more incidental text, so I write a tagline for the top and add a placeholder blurb that ties into the way I emphasized “sound” in the title. I realize opacity might be my ticket to including the model. I try her along the side, at 25%, but it doesn’t work, so I move her down. I like that, but the photo looks even worse when overlaid a much higher-res one. I smudge her edges and turn opacity down to 20% to try to make up for it. Here’s my final version.


What do you think? Does it look like it fits the category? What would you tweak if you could? Are there any techniques I could have used to make it better?


  • Kirsty
  • Libel Suit
  • Kunstler Script
  • Impact



  • 4 hours in GIMP and 1 hour research

*Turns out the original photo is much higher-res than the one I got! Authors! Send the best you can!

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!