You might wonder at the word ‘compile’ being used in this context. After all, it means ‘ to collect information in order to produce a list or a book‘ or, indeed, a crossword. However, I think that it’s quite appropriate as every book cover can be viewed as something of a puzzle.
Firstly, I’d like to demystify the art of producing book covers a little. Many writers think that this involves some dark technical arts and skill sets that they could never achieve. They are wrong on both counts. When I worked at the BBC, I was for the most part embedded in web design teams. These teams would be self-contained and have all the skills required to produce a state of the art website, in this case BBC Sounds. The team was comprised of coders and designers but also others who looked at the structure of the website and who were responsible for turning audience data into better websites.
The designers I worked with fascinated me. For all the high tech available, they most often selected the simplest techniques to get where they wanted to go. Pencil sketches and sticky notes for the most part and only towards the end, when the designs needed to be formalised, did they start using software. Even then, it would sometimes be relatively simple software. I learned that not all designers are experts at Photo Shop and the like.
So, like these designers, we need some software to produce our covers but let’s choose the simplest (and cheapest) one that will do the trick. All you need your software to do is to layer and group. If you can throw a few effects in too then you will have just about everything you need. Amongst others, I have tried Photo Shop and InDesign (too expensive and too complicated), Canva (never really stuck with me) and, of course, Amazon Cover Creator (far too limited and clunky). What did stick with me was Excel.
Okay, I’ll give you a moment. Yes, I said Excel, the spreadsheet software. If you look in the ‘Shape format’ and ‘Graphics format’ sections, you will find just about everything you need to produce a decent low-tech book cover. I’ve mentioned this on the KDP Community forums where I received some derisory comments but this just reflects the notion that book covers are hard and only someone with special skills should even think about doing one. However, like the top level designers I’ve worked with, my approach is to keep it as simple as possible.
For me layering, and your ingenuity, are the keys to producing an interesting book cover. You need to ensure that each element of your cover is a separate thing. It can then be moved around and placed above or below other elements to best effect. To explain this I’m going to use my latest cover. It’s for my, as yet unfinished, fourteenth Mac Maguire mystery, A Murdered Crow. I know that I said in the first post that you should finish your book first but, after thirteen books, you can give yourself a little leeway. You can see the cover below and all of the elements that go to make it up.
Layer 1 is just a rectangle of whatever colour you want. In this case, as there is a crow in the title, black seemed appropriate. As for size and dpi info etc. you can find all the information you need in the KDP Help Topics. I have to admit that, for me, getting the size right at first was a bit of trial and error but you only need to get it right once.
Layer 2 – The author name and series info can go in next because they are below the main images and don’t impinge on them. If these elements are going over a main image then they will need to be added later.
Layer 3 – This is simply another filled rectangle. It does have bevelled grey edges though (go to Shape format/Shape effects).
Layer 4 is the first vector graphic. A vector graphic, unlike other images, has no background and all you get is the image itself. These are great for mixing with other images to form composites. In this case the ornate frame is just the frame and doesn’t impinge on the fill colour of Layer 3. I think I wanted it to look like an old mirror.
Layer 5 is the title. Here I’m using 80+ point text in a text box. As you can see, you can use different colours to emphasise a word.
Layers 6 and 7 are the crow and the twig. Because of layering, I can place the crow in front of the frame and then place the twig in front of the crow so that its leaves are also in front of the ornate frame. This gives a sort of 3D effect which I quite liked.
Each element can be moved independently until you get it just right but, once its there, that’s where Grouping comes in.
Without grouping, coping with many layers of graphics can be exasperating in the extreme. In trying to move one element , it’s all to easy to click on the wrong one and move it out of position. The trick is to group the elements as you go along. Just click ‘Ctrl’ and then select all of the elements requiring grouping. Right click and select ‘Group’ and the separate images will, in effect, become one. For this cover I first grouped Layers 1, 2 and 3. I then placed Layer 4 where I wanted it and grouped that to the other three. I then grouped Layer 5 and finally Layers 6 and 7. At the end of all this you should be able to move the composite image around as though it was a single image. If you’re not happy, you can simply select ‘Ungroup’ and all of the elements will be separated out.
What to do next
There are two bits of software you will need; a Paint app and a photo/image app. I’d guess that just about every computer will be pre-loaded with such apps. All you do is copy the composite image into Paint and then save as a jpeg. This is a format that your imaging software will recognise. Open it in the imaging software and crop anything extraneous. My software also has various effects and filters that you can use to change colours and textures and they are worth investigating. Save the finished image as a jpeg and you’re there.
It sounds easy but, like anything in life, the more work you put into it, the better your cover will be.
In Part 3 of this post, I’ll be looking at Using Images.