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Week 4: Productive Procrastination with Cover Art

It’s week four of writing your novel, and if you’re anything like me, you may be starting to lose steam. Maybe you can’t figure out what happens next in your story, or maybe you just want to take a little break before you dive into Act II. And that’s okay. Don’t feel guilty! After all, there are many more things left to do before your book is ready to publish.

One of those things is creating a cover!

For some indie authors, hiring a cover artist is the only way to go. But depending on your income, that may not be an option. If that’s the case, and you’re planning to create your own cover, it’s better to start sooner rather than later. And just to give you a little insight, here’s a look at my own journey toward the cover for my first novel, Pieces of Pink.

Mock-Up #1: Just Mess Around

From the beginning, I knew my color scheme would be black and pink. I also knew that because I have limited graphic design skills, it was important to play off my strengths and take a minimalistic approach.

We’ve all seen the Great British Bakeoff, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Paul Hollywood, it’s that sometimes, it’s better to do something simple and execute it well, than to do something extravagant and have it collapse.

Of course, my initial mock-up looked more like a music album than a novel, so I ditched it. However, I did use it as the basis for the “cover coming soon” placeholder in the books section on my blog.

Mock-Up #2: Do Your Research

After ditching the smoky cover, I decided to work on finding a background image. A basic hunt through Canva led me to my next idea: a partial portrait.

As much as I felt this photo fit the story, in doing my research, I found that partial faces are quickly becoming outdated. Additionally, while I liked the way the image fit with the story after reading it, I was afraid that it would be a bit of a misrepresentation for potential buyers.

To certain viewers, this cover could be seen as erotic, and while Pieces of Pink does have sex scenes, they aren’t meant to be a pleasurable experience for the reader.

Ultimately, because I didn’t want potential readers to misunderstand the content of the novel, I decided to ditch the photo.

Mock-Up #3 through #5: Finding Your Fonts

After Mock-Up #2, I regressed. I don’t have much to say about these experiments other than pointing out that I was pretty much sold on the white, blocky font. The main reason for this is e-reader visibility. Because many people purchase novels on nooks, tablets, and kindles, it’s important to choose fonts that are legible, even in a thumbnail format. One excellent way to accomplish visibility is by using high contrast backgrounds and large, blocky letters.

Of course, by the time you publish your novel, there may be a new trend, so just google “recent books” and see what types of covers pop up!

Mock-Up #6

In the end, the abstract, smokey backgrounds felt a little bit too basic. So, I started searching for stock images that could be purchased and manipulated to form a more unique and symbolic cover. I didn’t have a specific object in mind, but after some time searching through all things pink on iStock, I stumbled across this image:

One of the things I really love about this photo is that by pure coincidence, there is a pink matchstick for every single named Pinkcap in the book (and, of course, a burnt match to represent Grey).

Then again, as much as I loved the matches, I wasn’t a huge fan of the pink flame, but I decided to purchased it anyway, and I set to work. At the time, I wasn’t quite ready to buy Photoshop yet, so I continued playing with my cover in Canva and ended up with this design:

I lived with that cover for a few months, but the pink flame still felt way too fantastical for a dystopian novel, so when I finally purchased Photoshop, I decided to go out in search of smoke. I tried smoke pens and smoke cropped from other photos, and eventually, I ended up with a few mock-ups that came very close to my final draft.

The Almost-Final Mock-Ups

At first glance, all of the covers look the same, but details are changed in each version. For example, two have different fonts, one has my name at the top instead of the bottom, some use only white text, others incorporate pink. And probably the most obviously impactful decision happened when I finally let go of my obsession with wrapping the matches all the way around the cover. Given the dimensions of my smoke (and its placement behind the title) using smaller matches — contained to the front cover — gave it a crisp and clean look.

The Final Cover Layout

And when I finally had no choice but to stop tweaking and commit to a final decision. I ended up with this:

So, if you’re starting to feel the Act II slump, step back, take a breath, and spend some time on your cover. You’ll be glad you didn’t save it until the last minute!

Did you design your own book cover? I’d love to see it! Feel free to share a link in the comments below!

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