You CAN design your own book cover (well, maybe): Here’s how

This is a guest post by Novel Publicity PR Campaign Manager, Pavarti K Tyler

I'm pretty proud of myself. I tend to be cheap and only pay for something I can't do myself, so when I do I expect quality. I mean, I wax my own eyebrows because I'm too cheap to pay anyone else to do it, so why not create my book cover? Well, I've learned that there are some things I can do, and some things I just can't.

For my upcoming serial novel Two Moons of Sera (coming November 1!) I wanted to try my hand at designing the cover. At first I thought, who cares? There are so many terrible covers out there. Even in the bookstores, some of them look like they just used clip art and fancy font. I can do that. Turns out I can, but not until after a lot of hard work and a lot of mistakes.

In order to make your own cover there are a few things you must have:

  1. A photo editing program that can utilize layers (if you don't know what layers are, skip ahead to the “find a designer” section).
  2. Legal rights to ALL of the images you intend to use.
  3. A tech-savvy self-taught attitude. If you can't figure out styles in Word, this probably isn't for you.
  4. A whole lot of time.
[jbox color=”gray”]Added Insights from Novel Publicity's Resident Graphic Designer:

  • Having a computer and design software doesn't necessarily qualify you to design your own cover.
  • You will definitely need an artist's eye and basic knowledge of design rules before getting started.
  • Like any profession, graphic design takes skill, training, and experience to produce quality.
  • It's not just about the big picture. Typography is an art–and a difficult one at that.
  • Research the design trends in your genre. Look at colors, styles, types of images, typography, and mood before starting your own cover. Make it special, but also be sure a potential reader understands where your book fits on her shelf.
  • Before publishing with a self-produced cover, get feedback from impartial judges who aren't afraid to be honest with you!

Learn more about Novel Publicity's design services at


Let's go through these a little slower.

A photo editing program that can utilize layers

This is an important point. You need the right tools for the job. Everyone knows about Photoshop, but it's expensive and it's bulky. However, PAINT is not an acceptable alternative. The cover is the first thing people see when they are deciding what to buy, don't let trying to use a screwdriver to cut down a tree be the reason they don't buy it. Instead check out GIMP. It's a free Google product that works much like Photoshop and is pretty easy to learn.

Legal rights to ALL of the images you intend to use

You may not – I repeat – you MAY NOT use any picture you find on the internet for your book cover. The people who shot those photos or manipulated that image own them; you do not. There are a number of places you can go to purchase the rights to use images on book covers. Some charge by image, others by subscription. I use and have been happy, but also know there's dreamstime, Acclaim Images and many more. Do right by other artists. You wouldn't want them stealing your writing so don't steal their images.

A tech-savvy self-taught attitude

As you can see above, before you've even thought about a design I'm asking you to learn a photo editing program and invest in images. Now's the time you decide – is this for me? Are you willing to invest the time and energy this requires, and do you have a vision of what you want your book to look like? If so, awesome, let's get to it! If not, I hear Novel Publicity designs book coversโ€ฆ

A whole lot of time

Designing a book cover is an investment. I'm always astounded by the professionals I know who can come up with something brilliant in 2 hours. That's unimaginable to me. It took me 10 hours to come up with my first draft – and it was terrible. It took me well over 20 hours to go from the first draft to the final. That's at least 30 hours of investment in the art.

First Draft

Final Cover


I'll talk about the considerations that took me from the draft to the final cover in the next post, but for now, let me leave you with this question. Are you all excited now?

If you answered yes then you are ready to go. Download GIMP, start looking for images and next time I'll talk design. If you answered no, consider hiring a pro. In the scheme of things it's an inexpensive tool which is going to help you market, promote, and sell. You can't go wrong with a good cover. But a bad cover can ruin your chances at success before you even have a chance to try.
About this postโ€™s author:

Pavarti K Tyler, Marketing Department DirectorPavarti K Tyler is an artist, wife, mother and number-cruncher and has been committed to causing trouble since her first moment on this Earth. Her eclectic career has flirted with Broadway, Teaching, Law Firms and the IRS. She is currently consulting with Novel Publicity while hard at work establishing her Indie Publishing Company Fighting Monkey Press. Pavarti's debut novel, Two Moons of Sera is a Fantasy/Romance and will be released in serial format beginning November 2011. Her next novel, Shadow on the Wall, is a work of literary fiction and is scheduled for release in Early 2012. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter or her website.


Ruth Madison

Thanks for this! I look forward to more details. I have Gimp and I’ve done some work with it, but I find it very difficult to work with. It is far from intuitive and the layers often don’t behave how I want or expect!


    Hey Ruth,

    If you don’t like Gimp, you can use the Clone feature on to copy items from one picture to another. There a few other steps and flattening needed but it’s much simplier than using Gimp from the start.

    The draw backs are that picnik considers Cloning to be an advanced feature and it’s not free. But it’s only 45 bucks for a year or 7 bucks for one month.

    You will still have to do some resizing and flattening in Gimp but I have step by step instructions that will take that to a two minute exercise.

    But in the end you’ll end up with a 300 DPI 6×9 cover with half the aggravation.


      Ruth Madison

      I didn’t know about that feature! I have used free picnik for a lot of stuff and I like them. Thanks!

      You have advice about it on your blog? I’ll check it out.


    GIMP takes a while to get used to but I find it to be the best free tool out there and actually like it better than a lot of the free ones. I did a few online tutorials and now can figure out most anything I want to do. Good luck!

      Ruth Madison

      Yeah, I think me and some YouTube tutorials need to spend some time together! ๐Ÿ™‚


If Gimp gives you a headache, there are a couple other things you can do with other programs to give you a similiar effect.

If you want to know how to use those other programs–just email me or hit me up on my blog.


I think I could help you save yourself some time.

I love draft 2 more than one. Lovely use of color and contrast.

Oh I also do book cover giveaways for those not wanting to design their own.


Stuart Whitmore

In addition to paying for the rights to stock photos and illustrations, you can also use free pre-licensed images, such as the many Creative Commons images on Flickr (be sure to only use the Attribution license, as the others are more restrictive), or the smaller collection on Also, just wanted to point out that GIMP is not a Google product. ๐Ÿ™‚


    Stuart, yeah, I was totally wrong about the GIMP/Google connection. Don’t know where my little brain got that from. There are definitely a ton of free CC images out there, but I find them to need a lot more massaging than the paid ones. Also the sizes are often not large enough to use for printing paperback covers. It’s worth looking though!


Nice cover design! Hats off to you for grokking GIMP. As a long time Photoshop user GIMP’s interface gives me a massive headache, but it is a powerful editor (used in some big name movies) and Open Source, which I support. If your readers can spend about $90 USD, there is another alternative called Xara. I’m not affiliated with them, but I used the product when Corel owned it. It supports layers, transparency, vector, and bitmap image creation/manipulation. I don’t believe it’s a Corel product anymore, but I am pleased to see it is still available and has been updated. It was my first real vector software before I could afford Adobe.


    Eric – first of all you get 100 bonus points for using the term grok correctly in context. I’m totally in love with you. Second of all, GIMP is definitely not intuitive. If you’ve never used PS it’s pretty easy to learn, but I had to do a number of tutorials online before I felt comfortable with it. I’ve never used Xara but I love the name, which goes a long way with me ๐Ÿ™‚

carol Marlene Smith

This is valuable information for me. Someday I want to make awesome book covers, so at least I’m committed lol.

Thanks for this and for the other posts here listed that I plan to devour.
P.S. I tweeted your post, because it’s that good.


Carol, good for you! Making my own cover was hard but a lot of fun. I’m really happy with the end result and the freedom I had to make it just what I wanted. I can’t wait to see what you come up with ๐Ÿ™‚


I can share my experience with book covers. They are expensive if you want to hire someone to do it for you. I tried to see if I can create my own cover, but it’s not easy for me. However, I was able to find a company that does book cover designs at extremely low prices :).. I paid $69.98 for my cover and they completed my work in two days. I’ve never heard of them before, but then again, it was my first book :). Their website is Good luck!

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