Make your own novel cover

I've been having a lot of fun lately creating mock novel covers, and sharing them with my writing group. I received such a positive response, and so many questions about how I created them, that I decided to create a tutorial. First of all, let me preface this tutorial by saying that I am certainly no expert, and that I am sharing this for my fellow future novelists that want to take a stab at making their own cover art. After all, who knows the material better? Besides, we all know that struggling writers are broke and can't afford to hire a cover designer.

The first thing you are going to need in order to make your cover is some sort of illustration or image editing software. A program like Photoshop would be ideal, however, since we are struggling writers, we probably don't have the budget for that kind of horsepower. Besides, in my opinion, Photoshop is overkill for a project like this, especially for a beginner. For this demonstration I'm going to be using my favorite lightweight but powerful image editing program, Pixelmator. You could just as easily use GIMP or even on Windows. I'm using Pixelmator because it runs on my Macbook and it only set me back about thirty dollars. Keep in mind that all of the techniques and effects that I'll be using are available in one form or another in most graphics programs.

One more thing you're going to need before we can get started is some photography. Of course you can also use your own artwork, but my intention here is to help people out that can't really afford to pay an artist, and don't have the level of skill themselves. You can make some pretty impressive stuff with a little bit of creativity and some free stock photography. There are numerous sites where you can acquire free photos of people and places for your cover. The ones I'm using happen to be not only free (both in regards to cost and royalty free), but in the public domain. In other words, I didn't have to pay for them and I didn't need a model release. If all of this sounds overwhelming, or you don't want to browse the internet for hours looking for free photos, why not dress up some friends or relatives and take some of your own snaps?

So once you decide on your weapon of choice and you have your photos, you'll need to open up your graphics software and select an image size. Again, I'm no expert, but I've read that for eBooks a good size to go with is 600 pixels wide by 800 pixels high. Also, you want to choose 300 dpi (dots per inch) in order to get the best quality without creating an astronomical file size. There are many great resources on the internet about the correct layouts and resolution, such as Amazon's own Kindle Direct Publishing site, so I won't go into it any further here.

Pixelmator with a new project started

For this demo I'm going to be mocking up a cover for a thriller. Basically I'm going to have a woman in the foreground with a shadowy figure behind her. I've already downloaded my photos and opened up the first one.

Stock Photo

We don't need the entire picture of her, so we're going to first crop it, and then resize it after we've pasted it into our project.

Crop it down to size

Now that the picture is in our project, we can scale it and move it around by selecting it and manipulating the grips (this is common practice in most graphics programs). I want to keep this image centered vertically because the top and bottom are going to be reserved for the title and the author's name respectively.

Image pasted
Once we have her right where we want (sorry, I didn't mean for that to sound so creepy), we can start to get rid of the parts of the image we don't want, namely the background. We're going to be utilizing the power of layers to make our cover look professional. So we want to use the eraser tools to get rid of the background in order to see our own background that we'll be creating. Notice that we zoom in really tight to erase around the edges of the area that we want to keep. This is where the undo command will become your best friend. Some graphics programs have pretty good selection tools that allow you to select larger areas to cut out, so just play around with your software until you find the method that works best. Pixelmator has an eraser option that allows you to click on an area and drag outward thereby removing pixels that match the area selected. This takes a little practice, but can save you a lot of time in the long run.

Erasing the background
Zooming in for the detail work

Now we're going to add a new layer for our background. Most programs have a layer tool box that allows you to add and rearrange layers. The one shown here in Pixelmator is very similar to Photoshop, GIMP and Notice also that they have check boxes next to them. This will come in handy when we have several layers in our project. That way we can turn off everything except what we are working on. One more thing about layers, make sure that you have the layer that you want to work on selected. Otherwise you may perform an action on a layer that you didn't intend to. Again, the undo command is your friend.

Now that we have the image cleaned up, we're going to apply an effect. This is where the fun comes in, and I would encourage you to play around and see which one looks best for your desired result. Also, your software may not have the particular effects that I'm using. Just know that the process is still very similar in any case. I'm going to use a stylize filter called "gloom" to give the photo a graphic novel kind of look.

Applying an effect


Now let's add some color to our background. I'm going to be using tangerine, but you can use whatever you like. Keep in mind that we will be applying a gradient effect later so that the background will have a deeper look. Just select the color swatch and choose a color. Next select the paint bucket tool and click on the background. Remember that we need to have the background layer selected.

Add some color

Next select a foreground and background color using the color swatches on your toolbar. We need two colors to create a gradient. Now we select the gradient tool and select our desired options in the "Tool Options" box that appears. I'm using "Linear Burn" for the blending option, but I encourage you to try them all out. Once you have the one you want, just click and drag from somewhere near the upper right-hand corner to the middle of the screen. Now you should have a deep, rich background.

Now we're going to add another layer that will be used for a couple of "bands." These are the areas that we will use to place our title and our author name.

Make this newly created layer active, then click on the rectangular selection tool. We will left click and drag a rectangle across the top as shown. Next we'll choose black for our foreground color then we'll select the paint bucket tool again and fill the selected area by clicking inside the rectangle. Notice how the color stays inside the area we've defined. Once that is done, repeat the process to create the bottom area. I've also added a couple of thinner rectangles between the black areas and the photo to give it some contrast. Again, just choose the colors that work best for your project.

Adding some "bands"
Top and bottom filled in

Now we need to add that shadowy figure that we discussed earlier. This is where it gets really fun. We are going to use a stock photo of a man stepping forward. You'll notice that he is smiling which is not the tone we're going for, but don't worry because we're going to turn him into a menacing shadow. First we'll need to crop out the portion of this photo and paste it into our project just like we did with the first photo. Notice when you do that, the photo is on top of everything else. Don't worry, we'll just click on the layer in the layer dialog box and drag it beneath the layer of our woman. Also note that you may need to resize the image of the man as we did with the woman.

Our soon to be shadowy figure

Once you've placed the man where you want him, you'll need to erase everything around him just as we did earlier. This is when it might be a good idea to turn off all of the other layers except the background. That way you can see any areas that still need to be erased as you go, but you won't be bothered by everything else. Keep in mind that it doesn't have to be 100 percent perfect since we are going to be turning him into a shadow anyway.

All ready for an effect

Now I'm going to apply a false color effect using black as the background color and gray for the foreground color. You should end up with something that looks like an X-ray. Now to finalize the shadow effect, I'm going to apply another "Gloom" filter. Just play around with the settings until it looks the way you want it to. Don't be afraid, you can always undo.

Shadowy figure

Now that our shadowy figure is finished, we can turn all of our layers back on and think about adding some text. Again, we will create a new layer and select the text tool. Note that some programs automatically create a new layer when you select this tool and click on the image. We have to be careful in Pixelmator because once we create text it can't be edited. Of course we can always undo, but as soon as we place it, it becomes an image and is no longer editable text. You can move it around, you just can't fix typos without deleting the layer and starting again.

I would suggest you use a clean and simple font with a nice contrasting color. This sample uses Trebuchet MS, but there are plenty of good ones to choose from. I would also make the title slightly larger than the author name, at least until you hit the big time. Remember, the cleaner the text is, the better it will show up in a thumbnail or preview on Amazon (or any other bookseller of your choice).

Completed cover ready for export

The only thing left to do now is export your work to a jpeg. I say export because we want to keep the original in the native format of your graphics program so that we can edit it later. When we export to a format like jpeg, all of the layers are merged and won't be individually editable. This is great for uploading, but not so great if you want to make changes. So always save the original.

One last step, and this is very important…sit back and bask in the glory of your handiwork :)

Congratulations! You just made your very own novel cover. I hope that you found this tutorial informative and that it inspired you to try out some ideas of your own. Best of luck!


  1. Nice work! Much easier using your tutorial! Love it!


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