DIY Cover Design

Okay so not much to announce this week. Things are going well with the super secret pen name. I wanted to try writing in a really popular genre to see how much that would affect sales. I have released a short and it is already selling better than my regular stuff with no platform. I’ll report in on longer-term sales and progress at some point, but suffice to say it’s interesting. And sorry, my third Derivatives of Displacement novel is being a tiny bit delayed by this detour. But it's about 8000 words from being finished and I’ll be back on track with that in two weeks. Unfortunately the last 8000 words are always the hardest to write!

Also an exciting bit of news: Tales of Tinfoil: Stories of Paranoia and Conspiracy was free and had a Bookbub deal last week and it went to number one (like really, number one) in the Kindle Store for free books and stayed in the top 20 for the duration of the promotion. Also, if you are an Apocalypse Weird fan, the long awaited Apocalypse Weird Cookbook is out. In addition to recipes, it has lots of bonus material, so check it out!

I guess that was actually a fair bit of news, which just shows how much I’m generally running around like a lunatic, trying to get all my writing done. Actually I’m not running around at all, I’m sitting at my desk getting the words out, but I digress. No need to talk about my head being about to explode from having so much going on (not to mention two identities to manage) here.

Why I Tried DIY Cover Design

Last week I covered Joel Friedlander’s Book Design Templates, a great DIY tool for indie authors and this week I’m talking about Derek Murphy’s DIY Book Covers.

Now, unlike formatting, doing your book covers in-house is not for the faint-of-heart or completely graphically-challenged, and for the work that I put out under my own name I definitely go with a professional designer. Nevertheless I’ve always wanted to try cover design, even just so I can be better at designing graphics for promotions, and I also didn’t want to spring for $400 a cover for an experimental pen name (when the pen name becomes more famous than me, maybe I will). When I stumbled across the DIY Book Cover site (ironically on Joel Friedlander’s Cover Awards page), I thought I would give it a try.

What You Get With DIY Cover Design

The basic gist of the DIY cover design site is that you can make a pretty darn decent cover in either MS Word or on their free Cover Design Tool, which is web-based, but you save your files to your own computer. The site offers a huge number of things for free including:

  • a whole bunch of cover design tutorials that are absolutely awesome. Watch them, you will learn a ton.
  • a written quick start guide explaining how to make your own covers in MS Word.
  • tutorials on how to use the Cover Design Tool.
  • access to the Cover Design Tool.
  • templates of pre-made covers that you can add pictures and text to make your own cover.

That is a lot of great free stuff. Not realizing all of this stuff was free, I signed up for the $97 membership, for which I got access to more templates. It also suggests that I will get access to more tutorials and info in the future, but I have not yet as they are not yet available (when they will be and what will be included was a little unclear).

The tutorials and guide walk you through how to build a cover from setting your page size, finding appropriate pictures, getting the appropriate license, layering your pictures, making your text look good, and adding effects, filters and vignettes. Then you are on your own to start building. You can start with a blank page, or one of the templates. I chose to start with a template and work in the Cover Design Tool. I’ve worked with graphics before in MS Word and found it really frustrating because sometimes pictures don’t go where you want them on the page.

After a day and a half of swearing, fiddling with the tool, turning out terrible products, and being convinced that I would never be able to do this on my own, I finally had a pretty decent cover. With a few little tweaks, I was pretty happy with it, and my second cover (for my second story under the pen name) turned out even better (and required a lot less swearing and banging my head against my desk).

Positives of going with DIY Cover Design

  • The tutorials and guide are invaluable. They break it down in a way that is understandable. There is no way I even would have known where to start without them.
  • The templates are pretty useful. There are all sorts of things on the templates, like banners or glowy sections (don’t ask) that I would not know how to build myself. So I can just start with that template and add my own pictures. Things will get more difficult when I want elements that appear on two templates as I don’t know if you can cut and paste, but I might be able to save them as jpegs and import them.
  • The Cover Design Tool gets around all of those problems with pictures jumping around in MS Word (am I the only person who has this problem?).
  • I got two covers designed specifically to match my book and preferences at a cost of $80 each (the cost of two stock photos) and I will be able to easily do matching covers for other books in the series.
  • I learned so much and will now be much more able to do other basic graphic design on my own as needed.

Challenges of going with DIY Cover Design

  • The Cover Design Tool can be a big glitchy (Murphy is upfront with this and indicates that some of these glitches are being worked out). Sometimes (I suspect when too many people are using it), you can’t even open your project for hours, which is frustrating (don’t ever count on making last minute changes to your cover). I might try a Word design in the future as a result. The effects tool (which adds things like glow and feathering) doesn’t always work quite right, or at least I have not figured it out.
  • The Cover Design Tool has a bunch of great fonts built in but unfortunately does not indicate whether they are free or not. Most of them are not free, so if you want to use it on your cover you have to pay for the appropriate license. This is not explained very well and since I did not want to pay for a font, I had to go through and look up all the fonts and figure out to the best of my ability which ones were free (I looked them up on fontsquirrel and fontsgeek) but even this took some figuring out.
  • I doubt my covers look totally professional, because, well, they’re not. There are definitely limitations to what you can do yourself. Unless you are a talented artist, you are pretty much limited to using stock photography and doing a layered look. The DIY cover design tools are not going to suddenly make you able to do amazing illustrations or other funky designs on your own. So you’re not likely going to win any cover design awards. But that was not my goal.

Bottom Line

I’m really happy with DIY Cover Design. I got two pretty solid covers and learned so much. I’m not totally sure going all in and buying the templates was necessary, but I have used them and would have been pretty lost without them (but if you are more resourceful than I am you might not need them).

I also learned that part of good design is patience. I was convinced that my cover was terrible and unfixable and that I had just wasted $80 on stock photography, but all I had to do was rearrange the photos and other elements a few more times to make it work. It really showed me that patience and playing around is critical (and that good designers earn their pay—not that I ever doubted that).

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