book cover

The next entry in my weekend book cover experiment is a YA fantasy romance from Rebecca Simkin.


Phew! A lot more photo-manipulation went into this one than usual. Fantasy so often has illustrated or custom-shot cover images (here are some beautiful examples), neither of which I can do, so I’ll have to work with what I have.

The photo is fantastic, but as the author noted, “the image lends one to think of religious experiences or self help books, so beware!” She’s absolutely right. The title makes that correlation even worse. I ask her to think of another, and go ahead with a version of the title as a placeholder. I’m going to have to work hard to make sure the cover screams “YA fantasy romance” as loudly as possible.

The other difficulty is–as it so often happens!–the photo’s very short and wide for a book cover, and worse, the top is truncated in a way I can’t easily extend. It’ll be tough to position this element.

I start off with the given image. To me, nothing says “YA fantasy” like purple, so I isolate the hands and change the background color. There’s just not enough photo to fill up the cover, so I hunt down something (from Unsplash, which is becoming my go-to-slash-crutch) and color it to match.

healinghands1smThat looks amateur, but at least it gets me working with the image and testing what it can do.

I realize the glow in the hands doesn’t say very much, visually. (This is actually the second hands-cupping-magical-glow request I’ve gotten; the other is still pending.) Can I add anything that drives home anything in the book description? I browse Unsplash again. A flower = romance. I isolate it, and use three layers (hands, flower, fingers) to place it. The glow remains almost everywhere, which is fantastic, since it keeps that “magic” element, but now it’s “magical romance”. Getting there! I turn the top nighttime image into a background image and leave the too-short arms floating in space. That leaves me room for a tagline, which I use to emphasize both that it’s fantasy (main character’s name), and that it has themes of love and war. Oh, and can you tell there used to be four figures standing between the trees, not two? Romance!

bluesYou know what, though, I really liked that purple. I change the background color and the tagline color, and in messing around with the background discover I like it in a different place. These are getting really close to decent. (I also try making the flower more purple. Every attempt ends in disaster. It’s fine the way it is.)

purplesBreakthrough: the author has come up with a title that’s much more in the YA vein (the original is practically genre-neutral). I rework the title. I’m not proud of using Harrington, but in lieu of a custom font it gets the job done. I also decide to shore up the magic and romance with some kind of ornamentation. Poking around a vector site nets me one that works, which I use at low opacity as a garnish. I find a better font for the tagline and we’re off.

ungloved1_smDang, y’all. This is a good cover! The author, however, has several tweaks in mind. She doesn’t like the floating arms, thinks the kerning is weird in the C’s of the first name, and sees a street lamp on the bottom left where I saw a debranched tree. Well, fair enough. I manually re-kern the end of the author’s name, turn the lamp into a tree, and–through applied miracle-working–lengthen the model’s arms. This is the exact limit of my art skills. I also tweak the title and add a little transparency to it, which I think is classy. I do like the second version better.


What do you think? Can you tell the genre just by looking at the cover? What tweaks would you make?


  • Century Gothic
  • Harrington
  • Sylfaen



  • About 9 hours plus another hour after the “last” draft to make the “last last” draft

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!

Continuing my book cover project, I got a request this weekend for a book cover featuring this very famous historical photo.


This is the perfect kind of photo for a book cover. It demonstrates its time, place, subject matter, characters, and tone all in the same image. And it’s in portrait orientation! Blessed day! My first job is to find a source that proves it’s public domain. Then I start making it fit.

There are two issues with the photo as-is. First, Tesla is creeping in the background like a creeper. I need to move him closer in: it makes a nice parallel design if he’s the same distance from Twain as the cabinet thing. I also want the ability to adjust the focal point of the book cover–I think I want Twain at a third of the way up, not halfway–and there’s not that much neutral space above him.

Moving Tesla takes three layers, all duplicates of the same photo. In one, I delete everything but Tesla and small a halo of green around him. In the second, I use a layer of transparency and the eraser to blot Tesla from existence. Then I use a third layer underneath that to fill in the blank space where Tesla was, by shifting it around and deleting leftover Tesla until it looks more or less seamless. Once that’s merged together, I move the isolated Tesla inward until he’s better aligned. I am really enjoying saying the name “Tesla”.

To gain more positioning leeway, I use the old copy-and-flip trick. I duplicate the photo, flip it upside-down, and carefully match ends with the original. It’s easy to notice, but elegant and quick. (I did the same thing on the final blue cover, here.) I repeat that process, flipping them backwards and matching them up. Now I have more space to the top and right, so I can position Twain and his electro-magical sphere where I want them.

Mark_Twain_in_the_lab_of_Nikola_Tesla;_1894 vs photo_rearranged

I’ve been wanting to try a watermark-type of look on a book cover, and it’s the perfect way to add a special touch to a well-known photo. I type out the alphabet in a mathy font and fiddle the letters around until there aren’t too many similar symbols side-by-side. I overlay it on the picture. It doesn’t look quite right, so I use the eraser to remove the letters from over Twain and Tesla. That helps define them, especially Tesla, who’s still creeping, the creeper.

I want a handwriting font for the title, and this one looks just like chalkboard scribbles: perfect. I decide on serif fonts for the rest of the text. In the title, I add a gradient to “The” and “Age” so it looks a bit like the word “Glowing” is letting off light. I put a glow behind the author’s name as well. Et voila.


The book doesn’t exist yet (sorry!) so I made this a quick job. If it was going to press, I would take more time with choosing the title and author fonts. I don’t think the cover needs any supplemental text, but a row of “By the author of” probably couldn’t hurt. Another thing to consider when using this photo on a book cover is that it’s famous and free. A cursory search didn’t turn up any other books using this on the cover, but they have to be out there.

Does this book cover look professional or homemade? Is there anything missing from the cover you wish it included? What would you change?


  • Andalus
  • Homemade Apple
  • Traditional Arabic Bold



  • 1.5 hours plus about fifteen minutes of Googling

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!

Reprising my offer from last week to design a book cover for the first person who had an image available, I got a medical thriller from @eigenseide. Here’s what she sent:


There are two complications here. First is that the title is still up in the air. We toss around some options and decide to go forward with “A Rash of Violence” to start.

The other complication is that the image, while beautiful, doesn’t say “medical” or “thriller” and only says “set in Mongolia” very, very subtly. And also it’s in landscape orientation. Books are in portrait and tend to need some neutral stuff at the top or bottom. Just, you know, in case you’re thinking of taking photos for use on a book cover. Word to the wise. I mock up something, but it’s not the direction I want to go, at all.


Here’s the medical thriller category on Amazon. Lots of red-and-white, and also a lot of bright light blue, interestingly. It probably calls on scrubs and antiseptic walls and that kind of thing.


Don’t be fooled by the patches of green; there are a couple Irish country doctor memoirs in there for some reason.

So I go looking for another image on my new favorite site. I see this one and get the idea immediately. It implies modern Asia, and crowds, and it’s hospital-white, and I think I can set apart one of the figures in a striking way, to represent disease in the middle of society.


I duplicate that layer, turn it super-red, and erase the shape of the dude from an overlay of the original. I also retitle the book because neither of us are happy with the title yet and I’m arrogant that way.


These are…okay? I feel like the concept is good but the execution is lacking. I become paranoid that I saw the idea somewhere else and stole it by mistake. I start fiddling.


I’m making things worse. Time to break for dinner.

When I get back I decide to redo the concept. I use three layers (white figures in front, red figure in the middle, white figures in the back) and it makes the colorizing look a little more natural. I also don’t massively oversaturate the red layer. I’m not entirely happy with the pinkish tone, but I’m not able to make it darker red without making it look out of place. I assume a pro could do it.


We’re also talking about titles again, so I experiment.


Switching the author name to the top is making things worse again. I backtrack. The good news is, we’ve settled on a title.

rashI vastly prefer the lowercase, because I think it looks more modern and stylish, even though I don’t know whether that works for a medical thriller. I want the central figure smaller, because I feel like at this size we’re losing that element of “infected figure in unsuspecting crowd” I was so proud of coming up with. Shrinking the image adds a dark space at the top, but luckily we’ve added a tagline to fill it up with.

rash2There’s a lot about this I’m not sure about. I add a fancy flair to the title, to reinforce the theme, though I’m not sure it works. Ultimately I send out two potential covers, and a bonus cover as an apology: the kind of book cover I’d use the original photo on.



This was super tough and I’m still not satisfied that I nailed it. What do you think? Which cover do you prefer? What kind of book would you assume this was, from the cover? What changes would you make to fit it more firmly in its category?


  • DilleniaUPC Bold
  • GulimChe (left)
  • Gungsuh (right)
  • Century Gothic


  • Century Gothic
  • Arial
  • Kokila Italic
  • Centaur



  • 5 hours in GIMP plus 1 hour for bonus cover, 1 hour researching and 1 hour fretting

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!

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!

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