The cover of your book is more than just a way to protect the pages inside. Your cover is your handshake with new readers. It is how you tell them what your book is about or how they will probably feel when they read your book. Think about how you react to books. There are editions of Frankenstein that are nothing more than the title of the book embossed on a leather binding. It looks all right. It’s elegant and classic for an old book. Then there are copies that show the monster surrounded by townsfolk brandishing torches.

Honestly, which one would you pick up. Remember, most people already know what Frankenstein is about. If you had the choice between picking up a book entitled Nemesis and it just had the word on a red background, how would you feel? If you saw that same title with a red background that looked as though shots were fired through the cover, would you have a better idea of how you will feel reading the book? Is the cover telling you that this is a fast-paced book with real danger? Yup.

So how do you design a cover that will reach out and grab readers?

Define Your Genre

What are you writing about? Is it a nonfiction book about the benefits of organic fruit? Is it the kind of mystery you want to curl up with on a cold winter’s day? Is it a romance aimed at teenage girls? Each of these books has its own name: Nonfiction diet, Cozy Mystery and Young Adult Romance, respectively. If you aren’t sure, start out with your audience. Decide whether you are writing for adults or children. Then decide if its fiction or nonfiction. Once you have decided those basic elements, go to your local bookstore and browse that section. Look at other books that might be similar and decide where your book would be shelved in that store.

Explore other Books in the Genre

Once you know what genre your book fits into, look at other recent titles in that genre. Different genres have different looks at different times. For example, in the early 2000’s most children’s fantasy novels had covers with soft earth tones. They often featured the main character in dire straits. Why? Because they were building on the look that made the Harry Potter series so popular. The hope was that readers who enjoyed that series might turn to a book that echoed the palette and tone. In a similar way, you can look through the grocery store and see which books are clearly romances. They almost always have a character swooning in the arms of a strong lover. Move beyond your locale and search for your genre online using such resources as Amazon, Goodreads and Pinterest. As you explore, make note of some of the patterns you see.

Find Your Ratio

This is the ratio between width and height of the cover. For digital books, your final cover ratio is determined by the platform you have chosen. Amazon has a wide range to work with, but other platforms such as Kobo and Smashwords limit your ratio to 1600 x 2400 pixels.

Choose Your Design Tool

There are lots of different tools you can use to build your cover design. One of the most popular is Adobe. This program lets you pick up elements form pictures and use a wide range of tools to tint and change the look. If you can’t afford the program, consider free programs such as PicMonkey or Gimp. Word also has a tool that lets you build images with a few modifications.

Choose Your Images

You can take pictures yourself, especially if you are a professional photographer. But there are lots of images online that you can use. Services such as Fotolia, Shutterstock and even Getty Images have millions of pictures for you to choose from. Many have photos and digital artwork. Most charge by the image, keeping costs relatively low. There are also free sites such as Wikimedia Commons and Unsplash offer free pictures. Before you make a final selection, check the licenses of any image you want to use. Some require that you note the photographer while others don’t. Some pictures can’t be used for commercial ventures while others offer that option. It all depends on the photographer.

Build your cover

This is where photo editing software comes in so handy. You may have just written a beautiful romance about a farmer finding his soul mate in a city girl. So maybe you want to find a way to blend an image of New York with a cornfield and a couple. You can cut and blend each of the images to make a lovely composite that will bring real interest to your book.

Add Your Text

In addition to the image, you will need to make sure that you have your title. It should be prominent. That may mean that it is the largest words on the cover. That’s a good start, but you also need to consider placement. Most titles begin in the top third of the cover. Be sure to choose a font that goes with the feeling of your book. For example, you would not want a dripping ghoulish font for a contemporary romance. You will also want to add your name as the author. If your book has an illustrator, add that name as well. As with the title, choose placement and size carefully. In most cases the authors name is much smaller than the title. In a few cases, such as with very famous authors such as Rowling, Patterson or Sparks, the name of the author is as big, or even bigger than the title. That’s because when you have sold ten or twelve New York Times Bestsellers, many readers will be looking for your name even more than the title of the book.

Format and Save Your Cover

Finally, format your cover to fit the publishing program you are using. Make sure that you save the design in RGB color mode and with whatever extension your platform requires. Usually, that means saving your work as a JPEG. But check with your platform.

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