7 Steps to DIY eBook Cover Design {The Art of First Impressions}

(My apologies if you’re getting a little tired of me posting nothing but ebook advice–I haven’t had a lot of time to blog much else this month! For those of you missing my traditional content, don’t miss my newsletter this month! I’m just wrapping it up and it’s gonna be delish. Sign up for the newsletter right in my sidebar. Don’t miss it, ’cause I have no idea how to make the archives accessible to late-comers! LOL)

No matter how good your content is, people still judge a book by it’s cover—especially in the online world. Your cover is your first–and often your only–chance to catch the eye of your audience and make a good impression.

The experts say, if you put money anywhere in your eBook, this is where you should hire an expert.

I’m not arguing with that. Yet if you…

  • have some degree of capability with a photo editing software, and
  • an eye for good design when you see it,

…there’s no reason you can’t try this on your own. Here’s how we did it…

Step #1 Analyze the Competition

I actually had no clue where to begin when up-grading my ebook cover, until a thoughtful friend sent me links to dozens of cookbooks she thought had great covers.

I totally recommend checking out the best seller list on Amazon in your book’s category to see see what’s new and popular.

When a cover caught my eye (or even convinced me to buy!) I asked myself why it worked. Was it the subtitle? The bright colors in the graphic? A clear but unique font?

Step #2 Make a List

After viewing dozens of cook book covers, I actually had a list of elements I’d seen that I liked and wanted to incorporate into my own cover:

  • White Space—I wanted the photo I used to have areas (background or foreground or both) that were out of focus so I’d be able to put my title right on top of my graphic.
  • Color—I was leaning toward a bold use of color, as bright colors were the most memorable to me in the books I was browsing.
  • Layers—I liked the covers that had several layers—words layered over pictures, subtitles layered over ‘skins’ and graphics that overlapped. I felt that layers really drew me in and gave a richer and more professional impression.

Your list of ‘must haves’ may be different, but I’ll venture to say this list is a great starting point.

Step #3 Go Shopping

Next we had to find an image or graphic for our cover. We spent a lot of time browsing stock photo sites, and actually did a mock up with a photo we bought (for $10), only to find out it had already been used as an ebook cover! We realized we wanted to go with a privately owned photo, and even considered a kitchen themed-photo shoot with a photographer friend. That’s when God stepped in and provided the perfect photo, despite my non-existent photography skills.

If you have trouble finding an image, scan the fb pages of friends who love to take photos, or do a contest on your blog, asking for submissions! Just keep in mind your list of what you’re looking for in a photo, so you’ll know it when you see it.

When I snapped the photo of the blueberry pancakes cooking on my griddle, I immediately recognized its potential to fulfill my wish-list. It had subtle colors that would compliment bold font shades and plenty of ‘white space’ for my text. The depth of the photo also drew me in and would support several layers of design.

Step #5 Choose Your Tools

My husband used Adobe Photoshop to create my ebook cover. If you want to try a free photo editing software that’s made for tech-dummies like me, do not underestimate the power of picmonkey. I created the graphic for this series all by myself on picmonkey.  I think it’s pretty cute, don’t you?

Step #6 Bring It All Together

Your cover is usually comprised of Title, Subtitle, Author Name (you!), and a Graphic that supports and enhances your subject matter. When we sat down to create our cover, we made decisions on how to bring these elements together based on:

  • Balance—there is actually weight in design, and you must aim for balance between the various elements on your cover.
    Weigh your cover from side to side and top to bottom. If your title font is heavy, and your first letter a bold and flourished capital, that weighs down the left side of your cover. Even things out by arranging your subtitle or the focal point of your graphic toward the right side of the cover. If you’re title’s up top, and your graphic down below, make sure they have equal weight. Even if you take the easy way out and center all your text, your graphic itself may throw you off balance.
    Things that add weight are bold color (especially darker tones), bold fonts, or big images. Lighter elements include subtle colors, fine-lined fonts, and small pictures.
  • Contrast—From my floral design days, I know that contrast is essential in a good arrangement. Pay attention to the texture of each element you add to your design. If your graphic has a busy texture or bright colors, choose a smooth, bold font in a neutral color. It’s fine to use several different fonts on your cover, as long as they don’t compete. These, too, should contrast. Is your title big and flourishy? let your subtitle contrast by being small and tidy. And let your name be an even quieter font.
  • Viewing it Small—with ebooks, your customer’s first impression is usually a small impression—in a sidebar ad or the shelf of an online-book store. Your cover must look good and be readable at 120 pixels wide. If your viewer can’t even see what your book is about ‘cause they can’t read your subtitle, they will often move on without a second glance. Think small!

Step #7 Take a Vote

I know, I know–I harp on this a lot! (Don’t DIY by Yourself!) But you really do need a few second opinions for this stage! Once you get a design that you think might float, send it to your mastermind group or a few close friends you trust for unbiased opinions. Ask for their impressions and input. Sometimes it’s tricky discerning between personal preference and good advice, but if two or three of your friends say the same thing (‘”you need a better subtitle” or “the color seems a bit off”) you should be willing to make changes.

You can also put a few different mock-ups on your blog or facebook page to ask for votes. Your readers will LOVE getting in on the project with you!

In the end, if you like it, and your friends don’t see any major flaws, go for it. Upload that baby and put a face on all your hard work!

Now it’s time to ship…Or is it? Next we’ll discuss the question, “How big must my platform be before I can successfully launch an eBook?”

What about you? Is this the one part of your book you’ll probably delegate, or have my tips given you courage that this could be in your strength zone after all? Oh, and how’s the writing going? I’ve been praying for each of you… 😉

26 responses to “7 Steps to DIY eBook Cover Design {The Art of First Impressions}”

  1. Missy Avatar

    Thanks for the info. I’m at the ‘creating a cover’ for my ebook stage.

    I will read the rest of your posts.

  2. Joanna Aislinn Avatar

    I’m glad I happened on your blog, Trina! Thank you for the great tips. I am a total newbie in the DIY cover dept, but feel very encouraged by your suggestion to use picmonkey. Going to check it out now. All the best to you!

  3. Heather Alexander Avatar
    Heather Alexander

    In doing a cover design, what about the back cover? How do you do the back cover with blurb?

    1. Trina Avatar

      Heather, the back cover of my books contains a little ‘about the author’ blurb, and a quote or two from friends, as well as a brief summation of the book. I chose two different fonts for nice contrast, and a professional photo of myself. My husband also created an ISBN number and a bar code.

  4. Felicia Holden Avatar

    I just wanted to say that I was searching on Google for ways to use picmonkey to create my own ebook cover and your title looked interesting, it wasn’t until halfway through the article that I realized, “Hey! She’s a Holden too!”. That tickled me to bits! You have a new subscriber just on the “cousin” factor. Howdy! Love your blog!

    1. Trina Avatar

      Hey, Cuz! I love your first name, too–always been a favorite of mine. So, tell me about your book!?

      1. Felicia Holden Avatar

        You can absolutely HAVE my first name if you want. It’s a bit “uber” Irish, if that makes sense? Anyway, I totally followed all your tips and came up with (what I think) is a cute cover. My book is called Get Real: 31 Days to Authenticity. It’s a how-to manual on how to live an honest, blame-free, accountable, and happy life. With a new topic each day and activities, journal topics, challenges and more to help build confidence, self-respect, radical honesty, and help any woman get her sexy back. I’m really excited that it’s almost ready for launch. I’m creating an interactive site as a bonus with videos, a community, and a lot more. Thanks so much for asking! My next step I think, is to get the book that you use as an example in this post and use it as a sort of rubric to make sure I’m on the right track. HuGz ~Fee

        1. Trina Avatar

          sounds great, Felicia! keep us updated!

  5. Marc Bell Avatar

    Hi Trina!

    This is great post about DIY covers! This was an great help as I’m about to create my eBook cover.

    I highly agree with you about getting ideas from Amazon. At one point I was going to use a eBook mock up in Photoshop. Then I thought about how people are buying today. Meaning, the look and design of kindle books are what book lovers are unconsciously trained to buy. I hope that makes sense lol


    Marc Bell – Marc Bell Marketing

  6. Isak Ranksouls Avatar

    I also ended up creating a black&white version of my map illustration so that I could fit it into the Kindle-required 127kb maximum size… I made another video of that process. YouTube -> Isak Ranksouls
    I hope someone gets inspiration from what I’ve done! Peace!

  7. Isak Ranksouls Avatar

    Excellent points: balance in design and viewing it small. Thumbnail size appearance means a lot! Check out my ebook cover design DIY process on YouTube. I proceeded from identifying my selling point to sketches and finally to creating a high-def 2500px cover image. Cool Pixelmator effects made a huge difference! Google for Elven Story by Isak Ranksouls

    1. Trina Avatar

      Isak, thanks for sharing your process!

  8. Bj Gold Avatar

    Hello Trina,
    This is awesome information. I just looked up pic monkey, but I don’t think I can use it to meet Smashwords requirements (pixel count) for e-book covers. Did your husband take the work you did on pic monkey and apply it to his use of Adobe Photoshop? I write children’s stories and am in the midst of publishing, which means quite a few e-book covers, which I would really like to try to do myself. Digital Donna provided me with an excellent first e-book cover, but with so many books to upload, I would really like to try making my own covers. Thanks for all your information. Bj

    1. Jeremy Avatar

      I have not used Picmonkey. Being familiar with Photoshop I can get the end product straight from that.

      Trina has used Picmonkey and saved files larger than the 1600 x 2400 pixels recommended by smashwords. You have the option when saving what file size you would like.

  9. Autumn Avatar

    Trina, I love your cover!

    Really useful information here. I hope to start self-publishing my romance stories next year, and am reading all I can find about it!

    Can I comment on the comments?

    Elizabeth, definitely put a subtitle that tells prospective readers more of what your book is about. I’ve read that non-fiction subtitles need to tell the reader the problem your book solves for them if it’s not obviuos from the title. I love your blog name, but it doesn’t tell me anything more of what the book is about.

    Sandra, maybe legal papers? The cemetery may just spook readers too much! And something like “making sure your money goes where you want after you’re gone” would make an informative sub-title.

    Tammy, I’m in the same situation. I found an almost perfect stock photo for one of my stories, but it’s landscape. I’m playing with it to see if I can crop it and still get the effect I want.

    1. Trina Avatar

      yes, yes, yes! conversation in the comments is TOTALLY allowed. 😉 Great insight–thanks for stopping by and sharing, Autumn!
      Be sure to keep us updated on your book?

  10. Tammy Perlmutter Avatar

    SO glad I found this page! This is all the information I’ve been looking for. I can’t wait to read some more. I read that landscape is a preferable photo format for a cover. I have a cover idea that I love, but the photo is in landscape format and I’m trying to find a way to make it portrait without ruining the subject. Any ideas?

    1. Trina Avatar

      Tammy, I’d be willing to give you my humble opinion on your photo if you want to shoot it to me in an email. 😉

  11. Sandra at Thistle Cove Farm Avatar

    Please, do NOT stop with the e-book advice; it’s relevant and much needed, welcomed and appreciated!
    You ask some really good questions and I haven’t a clue. I mean, what comes to your mind when you hear the words “Ready to Go: Putting Your Affairs in Order”?
    My first thought was a photo of Arlington Cemetery…evil smile…but that’s not so good.
    The information is for everyone…doesn’t matter single, married, divorced, gender, “rich”, “poor”…the bottom line is to keep more money, legally, in your pocket and not the government or corporations.
    This question has me stumped!

  12. Lisa Avatar

    LOL – I’m not tired of your ebook advice posts! I get excited whenever I see there is a new one. This one is very helpful – I even printed the post out for my ebook notes folder. 🙂 Thank you for mentioning picmonkey! I have a sister-in-law that does graphic design and webpages – I may ask her advice after I play around with the cover first. (I know basically what I want on it. She’s the one that designed Lilly’s blogspot background for me.) How’s the writing going? A couple pages a week … but I’ll get there! The ideas never stop popping in my head. 🙂

  13. Jess Avatar

    Loved this post Trina! May be because graphic design is one of the things I love doing. I think you covered it ALL in a very cohesive manner.

  14. Elizabeth @ DogFurandDandelions Avatar

    I am decent with paint.net – if I have a good idea.

    However, I am so stuck on figuring out a good image to use for my cover, that I think I’ll be delegating this to someone else. Everything similar on Amazon uses flowers – but my audience includes men, and I don’t think they’d be drawn to a floral theme! So I’m still trying to brainstorm, and asking loads of friends for ideas.

    But hey, maybe you could help! My working title is “Trust. Hope. Rejoice.” What pictures come to mind with that title?

    1. Trina Avatar

      Elizabeth–thanks for sharing another photo editing resource!
      With your working title, I immediately saw fortress-like rocks and banners flying–like a castle that’s decorated itself in celebration of the king’s arrival. I have no idea if that’s would go with your book, but that’s what came to mind!
      What’s your subtitle?

      1. Elizabeth @ DogFurandDandelions Avatar

        Right now it’s just “Excerpts from DogFur and Dandelions” – although I may also add “about dealing with life’s difficulties.”

        I like the castle idea. May play around with that one.

    2. Mandy Avatar

      This kinda goes with what Trina said…but steps or a staircase came to my mind.

    3. Emem Avatar

      I see flowers.

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