A common piece of advice for indie authors that I hear repeated strenuously is this:
“DON’T make your own book cover in Microsoft Word!”
Why? Because it’s almost certain to be ugly.
But the reason that authors even attempt it, is because Word is probably a program they already know how to use and have installed. A serious graphics software like Adobe Photoshop is expensive and really complicated.
And authors like having control over everything, and tweaking the cover themselves is gratifying. What if using Microsoft Word to create a book cover were really a possibility? Wouldn’t that be awesome?
With all this in mind, I’ve taken the prohibition as a challenge and discovered that, contrary to popular belief, you can make a pretty kickass book cover yourself with MS word (2010 version). That is, if you know the tricks.
Don’t believe me? What do you think about the covers at the top of this post, all made 100% in MS Word. Each took me about an hour.
Did you know you can make layers in MS Word, and even get Transparency? Did you know there’s an amazingly quick tool to strip out background? Did you know you can crop, edit, and enhance the images in MS Word as you design, and use a ton of easy automatic text effects? Super cool!
A successful cover design begins and ends with the images you use, so choose wisely. Later we’ll figure out how to blend them together. For now, search stock image sites until you find some good ones and download a low-res sample (after you’re sure which images you want to use, you can go back and get the high-resolution versions.
Here are some of the stock photography sites I use the most:
- Big Stock Photo
- Period Images (small company, good prices, with some great shots)
- Flickr Creative Commons (can use with attribution)
- I-stock photo (average price around $50)
- Getty Images (most expensive, but nice stuff).
If you’re looking for really amazing graphic art, check out deviantart.com. If you find something you like, you can contact the artist and make an offer; I think $250 for non-exclusive use of art on a book cover is a fair offer, that many artists would accept – although some may demand much more. (I strongly advise getting the best cover you can afford to start out with, rather than making the cover a much investment)…
You’ll want to pick an image size that’s around 1800px wide.
One problem with stock images is that – especially if you’re using a model – it’s likely the same model will end up in several other cover designs. While this is frustrating and can seem embarrassing, it is becoming more and more frequent, so don’t sweat it too much. On the other hand, while it may be tempting to choose an amazing photo and just add the text, this could mean having a nearly identical cover as someone else.
It’s safer to choose your own models, background image, and merge them together.
If you pick out the photos you want to use, but they need adjustments (change of clothes, eye color, enhancement – especially for fantasy/paranormal covers that need a lot of “kick”) here are a few artists who do photo-manipulation and photoshop work:
Open a new document. Under Page Layout, click on “size” and set it to either 6×9 or 5×8 inches (I prefer 6×9, but 5×8 is a little taller/narrower and may fit better depending on the project).
Then drag and drop your first photo (the background) into the file. Double click on the image, then go up to “Wrap Text” and choose “Through.” This allows you to stretch the image to fill the whole document.
Then do the same with the 2nd picture that you will use for the foreground, which hopefully has a simple/flat background.
Here are my two pictures:
Double click the second image and go up to the top left, where it says “Remove Background.”
You may need to drag the frame so it selects all of the picture that you want to keep. If it’s still missing some, you can click ‘Mark Areas to Keep’ in the top left menu, and then manually select the missing pieces. When you’re done, click “Keep Changes.”
If the pictures don’t blend well, you can play with the Corrections, Color and Artistic Effects until they do. If you want your cover to “Pop” (many author use this one adjective to describe their ideal cover), make sure to turn up the contrast – “Popping” is usually a matter of having strong, but contrasting colors (my sample cover uses teal and orange, which are usually pretty successful together).
Now it’s time to add the text. Go up to “Insert” and click on “Text Box”. A text box will automatically pop up which you can edit.
The default box will be filled in – click on the box, go up to “Shape Fill” and choose “No Fill.” You’ll also need to go to “Shape Outline” and choose “No Outline.”
You could also go down the options until you find “Draw Text Box” and then use your mouse to drag out a square.
Type out your title, and change the size of the font so it’s roughly as big as you want it.
The trick of getting the title text right is to pick the effects that will help it stand out the best, while still complimenting the colors and style of the images.
This is not always a simple choice – for example in my own, I could go with black text with a white glow, white text with a drop shadow, or a colored gradient. Choosing the right fonts is also very important.
For this to work, you need a large section of homogenous color to add the text – so look for images with a lot of sky, or a lot of ground.
Putting the text over a field of ranging colors and sharp contrasts will probably fail.
If you’re stuck and can’t find a good place to put the text, go back to your text box and add a shape fill. You can choose a texture, gradient and other effects for the background of the text box and the text will stand out much better.
Another trick is to search online for a texture file (search for “texture background”) and pick something as a text background. Drop it into your cover file like the o ther pictures. You’ll probably need to crop it (top right, “Crop”) so it’s the right size.
If you have “The” or “Of” or “And” in your title, consider making them smaller than the main words. You may need to get creative to fit all the text onto the cover.
Some people say you need a large title to stand out as a thumbnail – I disagree. It’s a good idea for many genres, but it can seem loud and obnoxious in others. Be interesting, stylish and good looking. Have the text layout and styles look professional. If it looks professionally designed as a thumbnail, readers will click to see the full cover (and you don’t want the text to seem too large or “yelling” when they do.)
If you want your letters to ‘stretch’ and have more space between them, go to The stretched “A” symbol on the top that stands for “Asian Layout” and then click “Fit Text” and change the numbers (bigger numbers=more space between characters).
If you want your text centered, make sure the text box edges go right to the edges of your document, then center the text.
TIP: if you want to move the text around just a tiny bit, click on the text box, then use the arrows of your keyboard to ‘nudge’ it in the right direction.
Don’t get frustrated by having so many choices of text effects and layout options.
The best way is to just keep saving options you like as variations (this is a little tricky; if you are trying lots of different fonts, you should write them down to remember them, or else whenever you try a new font, do it in a new text box and hide the others for now. (Go up to “Arrange: Selection Pane” and you will get a new window on the right hand side showing all the layers. If you click on the “eyeball” image, you can make the layers visible/invisible.
To copy a text layer, click on it and then click “Ctrl+C” and then “Ctrl+V” (copy + paste).
Having lots of layers for the different texts and styles you are trying will save you a lot of time, so you can go back later.
I highly recommend using “Snagit” or another program that lets you save screenshots, so you have a quick way to save snapshots of your choice samples as jpgs or image files. Make around 10 versions, then show them around for feedback or print them out; it’s tough to make decisions unless you can see them altogether.
Rather than ask your friends and family, try to find a sample of neutral viewers in your target readership. If it’s a YA book, give a talk about publishing to a local middle school. If it’s a business book, set up a table at a business convention and offer a free prize if they help choose a book cover. Never rely on your own judgment, unless you’re happy calling this a vanity publishing project.
A final tip: Add a powerful blurb, which lets readers know a little more about what to expect. (Setting, characters, main plot points). Also try to get a review that you can boil down to one or two nice adjectives – it doesn’t matter if the reviewer is famous or well known.
Little text can make the cover design look more ‘finished’, and also help reel in the right kind of reader. If you can’t think of a subtitle or teaser line,
think of the keywords that your readers may be interested in, and try to tie them together. Subtitle are more for non-fiction, teasers are for fiction – but they do the same thing: provide information to readers and hook them with the “Key Selling Points” of the book: what is different/new/interesting about your story. Why should people read your book. Boil it down to one sentence, then find a way to feed it to readers FROM THE COVER ALONE – you may never get another chance.
Attract them with visual stimuli, hook them with intellectual bait.
I mentioned using “Snagit” earlier to take pictures of your work and save them as JPG files, but for your final, finished product, you’re going to need to save your cover at a large size. Here’s one way to do it: Save your work as a PDF, then use http://www.zamzar.com/to convert that PDF into a JPG.
A 6×9″ image saved and converted this way will turn out at 1800×2700 – a very good size for uploading to Kindle and other ebook publishers.
Transparency and soft edges
Sometimes, however, you might want to add an image to the foreground that doesn’t have a simple background and a clean outline. What if you want to ‘fade’ an image into the background and make it semi-transparent?
Luckily, we can do that too!
After you insert the background image, go to “Insert” then “Shape”. Draw a rectangle about the size you want your image.
Then go to “Shape Fill” and “Picture” to select and import your picture. The reason we do it this way, is because now you can right click on the shape and choose “Format Shape”, which brings up a new menu. At the top you’ll see “Fill” which gives you a transparency option.
In the “Format Shape” menu, besides changing transparency, we can also increase the contrast or darkness so the image stays clear and crisp and also blends into the background well (Picture Corrections/Picture Color).
Then we can go to Glow and Soft Edges – here I’ve set the soft edges to 100pt. This gives you a nice subtle blending effect.
More Text Effects
Besides blending images together and choosing fonts, you can use text effect in MS word to give your text a special look, such as outline, shadow, reflection, glow, transparency, or overlap.
Spacing can be tricky, so it works best to have one word per layer (copy/paste the first and create a second layer, then change the text). You can use Word’s built in styles, or customize the text on your own.
In this cover I gave the text a 3D looking, by using two layers for each word, in different colors, and then moving the one in back down a little.