For this week’s weekend book cover, Rhonda Parrish asked me for a cover for a collection of her late mother’s poetry.


I liked the idea of snowy owl imagery. Unexpected difficulty: owl faces are hilarious. I couldn’t build a contemplative poetry cover out of this guy. To get around that, I went looking for an image of a snowy owl flying away. I thought that included some relevant symbolism as well.

Then: background. Turns out Rhonda (editor, author, doer of all the things) is also a great photographer. Her Flickr account gave me plenty to work with. I really liked this lonely mailbox, and I like the imagery, that this book would be stuffed with messages the author left behind for her loved ones.

snowy-owl-12893020 mailbox_sm

For the font, I wanted a script that was neither too flowery nor too grungy. One called “Chemist” seemed to fill the bill. I put a shadow behind it to help bring out the words. For the subtitle and author name, I’m just a perpetual sucker for Century Gothic and its variants.

I colorized the owl and mailbox, then eventually the post, then put a gradient behind the author name, then desaturated things a bit.


I like it! The author and her daughter didn’t love the owl element, so I made two variations: no owl, and extra owl.

lovesandra4 lovesandra5

They preferred the one with no owl, so that’s the final. Huzzah!


This one came together so smoothly, it was awesome. If I could change one thing, I’d put something across the top or in the top right corner. Maybe part of a representative poem?

What do you think? How’s the composition? Does the cover seem to match the contents of the book? What tweaks would you make?


  • Chemist
  • Century Gothic
  • Century Gothic Bold



  • All of two and a half hours including image searches and final tweaks.

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!

This week’s entry in my weekend book cover experiment is a fantasy novel by Denice J.D. The book is still in concept form. She sent me a synopsis and several photographs.

beachpics info2

These are good vacation pics, but not useful cover images, especially for the story described. They may not scream “Atlantic City” but they don’t look much like the Mediterranean, either, which is largely surrounded by cliffs and richly blue-green. They don’t contain any information except “on the beach”. Alas, I can’t use them for this cover.

This is a problem, because: what CAN I use?

I ask about the “twin beasts of night and day”, which is the most intriguing part of the synopsis to me. I work up several concepts based on this. Since I cannot art, they are terrible.


I set it aside for weeks. Eventually I decide to make a very general “royalty-themed fantasy” cover. It’s better than nothing!

I use a parchment-ish background texture and find a free image of an amulet, because nothing says “royalty” like big crazy jewelry and a parchment will tilt the feel toward a medieval setting. (Thank goodness for that texture pack; it’s much better than the two attempts above.) I’ve been wanting to use this font for a while, so I grab the chance.


That’s not terrible. I start tweaking the font colors and sizes. I match the title to different colors within the amulet.

There’s not enough going on, so I decide to add two overlays: a seal, hopefully invoking things like trade, wealth, and official deals, and a seagull shadow, which I hope brings in something of the sea. Also free images of dragons are hard to find.



The bottom one wins out, but I still have to make a final version because I’ve been spelling her name wrong this entire time, because I am the absolute worst.


Man oh man this was difficult. The ability to create (or commission) original art would have come in extremely handy. But this synopsis was also difficult to pull specific imagery from. I’m guessing that a synopsis written after the book was done would have a lot more hooks for a designer to start with.

What do you think? Can you guess something of the book’s contents by the cover? Does it look professional? What tweaks would you make?


  • Colonna MT



  • Ugh, like eight hours fiddling with my original concept and maybe two to create and complete the final one

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!

This week my weekend book cover experiment is a personal one: I made an alternate book cover for my collection of funny horror, Suddenly, Zombies. Below are the original cover and the jacket copy.

SuddenlyZombies300 Zombies in space! Giant zombie gorillas! When life gets weird, all you can do is stick by your friends and hang on to your brains. Amanda C. Davis dishes out two short stories (and a bonus drabble) from the lighter side of the zombocalypse.

Stories first appeared in Zombonauts (Library of the Living Dead Press), Zombie Kong (Books of the Dead Press), and Necrotic Tissue (Stygian Publications).


This is one of the first covers I made, and I wanted it to be clear that this was lighthearted horror. I also had far fewer tools and way less experience back then, so I drew the elements myself from the two main stories in the collection. Here’s my rough iterative process on this one.


I like it, but I wanted to try a cover that would look more at home in the horror section while still conveying that lighthearted element. I decide the image of a zombie hand poking out of the ground making a thumbs-up symbol covers a lot of the imagery I want, so I go ahead and mock up something.


This is terrible.

There’s a lot of value in making terrible things, though, because it prepares you for the trouble you’ll run across in making decent things. I scrap every element in this version and start looking for better ways to do what I have in mind.

I need a decent thumbs-up. This is surprisingly hard to find for free, especially held aloft like I want. I decide I’ll settle for an OK symbol. Wikimedia commons has one. The arm’s not long enough, so I extend it a bit. (Amanda C. Davis: Arm Extender.)

It’s also surprisingly hard to find a free image of the kind of graveyard I want. I’d go out and take my own photo if they all weren’t covered in snow at the moment. This one is nice and crowded. All the tombstones are in Hebrew, which I enjoy because some of the earliest recorded walking dead are Jewish.

I use a green grunge texture to zombie up the hand, put shadows around the graveyard, hide the wrist stub behind some moss, and use a stains brush to discolor the “Suddenly”. This is exciting. I use very few brushes normally.


I check up on alternate meanings for the OK symbol, and swap out the cemetery to avoid Unfortunate Implications. This changes my color palette to include orange, which is fine with me. My sister encourages me to make the word “Zombies” less stark white, which I do. And that’s my final version.


I’m not sure whether it meets its goal and I don’t have sales numbers yet to show how it’s doing, but the new cover is up on Smashwords and Amazon now–and it’s discounted at the moment.

Do you think this is a better cover than the previous? In what way? What would you change if you could?


  • Dosis Bold
  • Scratched Letters
  • Dosis Medium
  • Dosis Bold



  • 5 hours, give or take.

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!

For this week’s weekend book cover experiment, I got a fantasy novella from Laura Christensen. She commissioned an original piece of cover art from Natasha Alterici.


THIS ART IS AWESOME. My primary job here is to not ruin it with a bad design.

This requires absolutely no additional images, so my whole job is choosing the fonts. For a fantasy, especially historical fantasy, I like serifs. To my surprise, the major factor seems to be finding a font with a decent Q. I scan through my fonts and decide High Tower Text looks appropriately epic-fantasy. I just learned how to do a decent metallic font, so I want to flex that new muscle.

On the way I find Onyx which looks like it’ll be great for the author name. (It looks familiar, in a mass-market paperback kind of way. I can’t place it. Anyone?) I want to use that blue accent on her gloves and shoes in the author name. I apply an outline around the author name and a texture over it.

There’s space for a blurb over to the left, so I put some smoke behind it to make it easier to read, and use the same font as the title. Seriously, this art is composed so perfectly for this purpose.


I like this a whole lot. Some things I don’t love: the white behind the title is too obviously shaped like the letters. The title doesn’t stand out as well as I’d like in thumbnail size. The blue text is too hard to read against the brown background. (I weep to lose it.) The title is a little lopsided for my taste. I look up a few authors and find it’s more common not to put a space between initials. (Who knew?)

This leads to my usual disastrous session of Trying Things.


I pull these together into an iteration that uses what I think are the best versions of each element. I contact the author about the blurb; she doesn’t have one, so I write a tagline based on the description.


This was a different challenge than the usual one of making stock art look halfway decent. I think original art is a great strategy for fantasy covers, but only if you can get something as high-quality as this piece. She’s open to commissions, I understand.

The story that goes with this cover is available to read on Wattpad!

What do you think? Does the text work with the image, or get in the way? What tweaks would you make?


  • High Tower Text
  • Onyx



  • About 2 hours for the first draft, then another 2 hours of fiddling

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!

My fifth weekend book cover, and my second steampunk, is a novella from Sonya M. Shannon. She sent me a cover model and description, and I worked with the watermarked stock photo until we liked the results, in case it didn’t turn out to be worth the purchase.


The steampunk section of Amazon shows a lot of variety, but it’s very popular to have a figure on the cover (more full-length than busts, but I’ll take it) and it’s just about gospel to have foggy old London in the background, so I find a photo on Unsplash (where else?) that could probably pass. I do not know where this is actually a picture of, for the record.*

*SRRSkelley ID’d this as Charles Bridge in Prague!


I took quite a few wrong turns designing this, largely because I decided early it needed old-fashioned gold lettering, which is not at all where we ended up. Rather than waste a lot of time explaining all my wrong moves, let me just line ’em up.


The last one is what I passed to the author, who requested a few specific things.


Since this is a learning process, I tried nearly all of them to see if they worked, and they totally did. WELP.


One last pass used the high-quality unwatermarked cover, enlarged the first letter of the title, and corrected my embarrassing error in the subtitle. I like it!


For the purposes of this blog post, let me break down the layers and steps that went into this thing.

The figure was removed from its background and duplicated. The top layer was desaturated and set to low opacity, with the glasses erased. In a third, middle layer, I isolated the lenses and turned the hue to green. There’s a little black smoke over the bottom left of him.

The background was duplicated and pasted so I had more room to work, and turned green. There’s a fog overlay.

The title font is in white with a green grunge texture overlaid with low opacity; the first letter is enlarged. The author font is in dark green with the same grunge texture overlay. There’s a black gradient stripe behind the author name to help bring it out.

And a green grunge texture over everything except the subtitle, to help bring it out.


  • Kleymissky Medium Italic
  • Baskerville Old Face
  • Bentham



  • About twelve hours start to finish (lots of fiddling, and a lot of touchy work–special shout-out to those flowing locks)

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!

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!