Writing Improvement Software

Hi writers. Today, we have Craig Saunders telling us a little about cover creation. Enjoy, and don’t forget to check out Craig’s work at the link at the bottom of the page.
Don’t get all defensive right from the get-go. I’m firmly in the 90% camp. I am not an independently wealthy indie writer. I vote Labour and everything.

We might not be exactly ‘tight’, but I think it’s true that all but the biggest of the indie writers are on a tight budget, at the very least, and for me, any writing expenses come out of profits from writing, and this is piecemeal at best.

I’ll fess up before we go any further – I’m rubbish at working out my income. If you’re looking to make money, Iain’s your Huckleberry. I can help you make a cover, though, which might help in that regard.

Face Value

People say a cover sells books. It’s true, to a certain extent. If you’ve got the greatest cover in the world, and the words are rubbish, people won’t come back for more. But if you’ve got the greatest book in the world and a terrible cover, no one is going to get past the ‘ug’ stage.

There is quite a bit more to selling a book (sacrificial goats and the like) but having a decent cover is a good idea because you’re a door-to-door salesperson in a street with thirty million other door-to-door salespeople. The ones in suits with shiny hair will do better than the ones with furry green teeth and hoodies.

I’m not a graphic designer. I’m not an artist. I learned how to do this through necessity. Now, I enjoy doing covers, but I used to hate cover design with a passion…because when you first start out it’s frustrating as hell. The first covers took hours and hours, and then I wasn’t happy with them, so I went back and did them again. And again. I probably spent twenty hours on the first ones. Now, maybe around two hours (maybe three, if I’m trying something new) but very rarely longer.

Why not spend longer, or spend the money on an artist? Honestly, I’d love to. But, it’s economics at its most basic. I’ve paid for covers before. £100 or more. Artists are great. Support your artists, for sure. But if it’s going to take you months to cover the cost of one cover from your meagre royalties…you’d better learn how to do it yourself.

Cost (inc. Licensing, Purchasing Images, and Image Manipulation Software)

1. Something to work on

It’s going to cost you something in initial outlay. I’m going to go ahead and assume you have a PC or a Mac. If you don’t, it’s going to cost you considerably more. Get a PC or a Mac. Amazon won’t take a pencil sketch on A4 paper.

A rubbish PC is going to be a pain. A good, fast PC is going to save you time and cut down your swearing by at least 50%…because you’re going to have ten or twenty things on the go at once and if you just spent two hours getting an image right you really don’t want your PC to fall over or start puffing and panting.

2. Royalty payments

If you want a free image (I’m solely talking about image manipulation, here. I pay for artwork for my fantasy work, because it’s kind of expected to have warriors and witches and the like on the cover. For most, an image which works for your novel and genre is fine) you can get one from free sites – Wikimedia Commons, for example. There are cheap and cheerful images available online, but you want to be sure as you can that you’re not going to get on anyone’s bad side (i.e. sued) for stealing images you don’t have the rights to use. Photos and artwork are, like your words, protected by copyright. They are someone’s intellectual property. I hate it when I get no royalties because some dodgy Russian site pirated my work, so I don’t do it to someone else.

So, stock images. You might think these are expensive, but they’re not. Sites like CanStock (which is my preference) or iStock, or Shutterstock sell most images (at a high resolution – we’ll cover this later) for a reasonable price. You can expect to pay around £10, or $15, at most and you’ll get a license to use it for commercial purposes (if you’re making money from using the image, it’s a commercial purpose…I am not a big city lawyer, but I can figure this bit out).

A licensed image will cover you for around 50,000 downloads of your book (and thus the image on the cover). This has yet to be anything like a problem for me…if you’re going to sell millions, perhaps the more expensive licensing option is for you. I won’t put the terms and conditions of the licensing options here, but you can read them when you visit any of the stock image sites.

A last note on licensing – this guest post is for a commercial site – the A-Z of Publishing. As a commercial site, I’m not using anyone else’s images because they’re…dum dum dum…covered by copyright!

So, as examples, you’re stuck with mine. But I’ll refer to those I can.

3. Image software

I’ve put this under ‘cost’, although GIMP (which I use) is freeware, and has more than enough bells and whistles for me. If you’re a pro, you’ll probably use Photoshop Elements, or Adobe, or some really, really expensive program (they’re out of my budget…and far more oomph that I need).

You can use Amazon’s cover creation tool. I did this in the early days (about two years ago…they grow up so fast, don’t they?) and they were terrible. You can use something like Paint which comes free with Windows, or, just ask your three year old to draw you a cover. I wouldn’t recommend any of these options. Learn how to do it, or pay someone who knows how to do it if you can afford it, or have absolutely zero interest in learning.

If you’ve zero interest in learning, you’re a fair few paragraphs down on your day…

4. A good, reliable Internet connection

Probably sounds silly to mention it, but if you live in the sticks (like me), this is one of those cut-down frustration things, because: Google. YouTube.

Google, YouTube are your friends each and every single time you want to find an image, find out about copyright, check if that image you love belongs to someone already, or learn how to do something, or what resolution an image needs to be…

Everything is Google. Everything is YouTube.

Image Dimensions

You’re going to be looking it up obsessively every time you create a cover, but here are the basics:

Amazon: 4500×2800 Min DPI 300.
Audible: 2400×2400 Min DPI 72.

‘DPI’ means ‘Dots per Inch’. People think this is interchangeable with ‘PPI’ which is ‘Pixels per Inch’. It’s not, but for us its close enough, isn’t it? It translates, for our purposes, how much detail is in an image (i.e. how clear it will be).

Here’s a really simple example:

A home by the sea - Craig Saunders

A home by the sea – Craig Saunders

This is the Kindle cover for one of mine. Kindle ‘resolution’ (the size) is 4500 high and 2800 wide. The DPI is 300, because that’s what it needs to be for Amazon Kindle. This is why pixels and dots aren’t the same – ‘pixels’ is actually the size. So this is 4500 pixels high, and 300 dots per inch. Whatever. Doesn’t really matter, does it?

This is the Audible version of the cover for the same book:

A home by the sea 2400x2400

A home by the sea 2400×2400

It’s 2400×2400, and not as high DPI (this is 72) because Audible doesn’t require it to be higher than that.

Image Dimensions for Paperbacks

For CreateSpace and Lightning Source (when you put out a paperback) things are a little more complicated, but really, while it looks terribly confusing when you first see what you’re expected to do…it’s not. It’s simple addition and subtraction, because the dimensions of the spine changes the size of the image you need…but the front and back covers will always be the same size (a trade paperback is 5 inches by 8 inches – so for the cover and back cover, you resize the Kindle cover, multiply by 2, and subtract from the total image size. What you’ve got left is the size the spine needs to be – and don’t panic!).

I would suggest you go to ‘https://www.createspace.com/Help/Book/Artwork.do’ and download a cover template (you are going to want to do this, because working it out on your own is mathsing, and mathsing is dangerous) and the template will figure out the spine width for you, based on the thickness of the paper you choose and the page numbers in your book, and it does this by magic so you don’t have to hurt yourself.

But…you’ll find that the height of a 5×8 (trade paperback) book is always going to be 2475 – and when you shrink your Kindle image from 4500 high to 2475 if you keep the resolution in scale (this is the ‘main aspect ratio’ option – it’s the default option for resizing) your Kindle image will become 2475×1540.

1540 is the width. That’s 1540 for the front, 1540 for the back. 1540 add 1540 is 3080.

This will always be 3080. Maths is immutable, and not (apparently) magic.

The spine measurement is what’s left. So, if your book template is 3180×2475, the spine is going to be 2475 high, and 100 wide…because 3180 subtract 3080.

You can figure this out. I’m allergic to numbers and I can figure this out. You only need the cover template to work out the spine width for you…but you can do that, too, if you want to (although why bother? It’s far simpler to just do this, rather than working out the width of each page multiplied by page number…technology’s great, isn’t it?)

There are ‘bleed’ areas and all sorts of complicated things you can worry about if you want to…just keep it simple and learn as you go. Most of the time, the complicated things are only complicated if you worry about them…they really aren’t that important.

Those unimportant bits I can’t be bothered to learn, I get around by designing my covers with the text a little further from the edges for paperbacks than for Kindles. A Kindle image can go right to the edges (though I still don’t, because it looks crowded). If you go right to the edge of the image with text for a paperback, it will either be rejected or you’ll lose some of the title, back cover copy, or your name when you see your proof copy. Save time, keep it simple. My Kindle, Audible and paperback covers are always slightly different. The image is the same, but different things work better for different sizes – like you wouldn’t try to fit a couch in a bathroom, and a bath wouldn’t look right in the kitchen.

Not exactly like that, though.

Hardbacks and Oversized/Undersized Books

I don’t do any of these. I have hardbacks out in normal hardback size, and novellas out in collectors’ edition sizes, but I didn’t do these. Lightning Source allows for more options on sizing, and hardback editions (which, at the time of writing, CreateSpace does not) but I honestly don’t sell enough paperbacks to warrant the effort involved in finding out. I’m sure it’s not that complicated, though, and like you can for paperbacks, I imagine you can download templates to help.

I noticed, too, that Amazon have a relatively new feature whereby you can issue paperbacks through the Author Central/KDP feature, rather than using CreateSpace (which Amazon own anyway). I intend to do this with some novellas for which rights reverted to me. I’ll update this guest post when I do, and if I discover anything of interest.

Outsized Images

You might want outsized images for promotional purposes. On Twitter, Facebook, a header for your website or your blog, or for business cards, or for bookmarks or something.

If you’re going with a print company for something on a business card, they’ll either tell you what size and resolution, or they’ll design it for you.

This is the header I use on my blog, because the white hart image and font go with my imprint and I could make it on my own, without having to steal and image or a font (a note on fonts later). I just made it the size it needed to be, and it’s not that difficult to do:

Craig Saunders banner

Craig Saunders banner

Twitter headers, Facebook headers – Google the size (go on, practise it – just to see how easy it is…) create a new image file in the size you want (1500×3000, for example) and open your new image in a layer, fiddle about…

High resolution images will always work best. Less pixels, or dots, and it’s going to look like a 1990’s Playstation game. Pixels, dots…potato potato. Doesn’t really matter. Also, potato potato thing doesn’t work written down, does it?

Fiddly Bits

I know that doesn’t sound very technical – it’s not. It’s the bits you fiddle with, and no, that’s not a euphemism.

I’m not going to tell you how to add text, or create layers, or change the opacity of an image, or to manipulate the colour of an image, or to use drop shadows, or unsharpen masks…because all of this is trial and error. To tell you all these things would take me hours and hours and you won’t take it all in. The only way to remember is trial and error, and repetition, and until something sinks in you’ll be referring to Google all the time. How do I make an image opaque?

Cold Fire Cover[/caption]

The fire image here was blue on black – I made it opaque, leaving only the fire, and then added it to a black image. Why? How? Don’t ask me because I don’t remember. Whenever I want to do it, I ask Google, or YouTube. Some twelve year old somewhere is always better at this stuff than I am…

If this all sounds a bit laid back, like it doesn’t really matter…that’s because it is. First rule is don’t panic. Second rule?

You will muck it up. You’ll muck it up more than once. But if you’re interested enough to start making covers, you’ll get better, and you’ll learn, and eventually…you’ll still muck it up.

And then you’ll get it right.

Enough pep talk, eh? I never wanted to be a cover designer. I wanted to be a lumberjack.

Which Image Should You Use?

I learned to cook by reading the ingredients on the food in the supermarkets. I learned to write by reading lots of books. I learned how I wanted my covers to look by looking at a ton of book covers. Things which work, and look right, in my genres. Certain images aren’t going to work in certain genres. Horror books, romance books, urban fantasy books…images have a certain vibe, and readers will expect to see that on their favourite genres, or their eyes will just slide on by because they don’t expect zombies drenched in viscera on their kissing books.


Sure. It’s great. I like it. I look for original, different…something I haven’t read, or seen, or heard before.

Most don’t. They like solid, dependable. They like to know what they’re getting. Your cover, with the confines, conventions, and expectations of your genre will telegraph to the reader what they’re getting. No one likes being sucker-punched.

A Note of Fonts

I’m calling this a note on fonts, and it’s short, but don’t dismiss fonts, or placement, or size.

Star Wars, or Aliens, for example – those fonts are immediately recognisable.

It is important. Just as an image will work for your genre, or your book, there are right fonts, and right vibes for fonts. They can instantly convey the tone of your book. Again, look at books in your genre to see how people do this, what they do. Look at other titles in your genre.

You can create your own font if you want – if you’re more savvy and far more interested than me – but there are plenty you can choose from. You can download the files – unzip them, they’ll go in your fonts file. Mostly, they’ll go in the right place and your image software will find them so you can add them to your file. If not, it’s not that difficult to figure out. Most will come with a ‘Read Me’ file in the zipped folder. Read it and it’ll tell you how to install and where to install. There are plenty of fonts you can pay for, and you might need to. Like an image, or a book, someone made these and they’re covered by copyright. If the font is marked ‘Free’ or ‘Shareware’ or ‘Public Domain’ it’s OK and have at it – otherwise, buy a commercial license.


What do you want for content? At the most basic, the front cover will have your name, the title of your book, the number in the series or the name of the series (if it’s a standalone, don’t call it a series, because that would be silly).

You can add a pitch (or ‘hook’), or an endorsement, perhaps, if you have one or want one on the cover.

Again, it’s about layout, and vibe. Mostly, people are going to be staring at thumbnails (larger than old style thumbnails on Amazon, but much of the detail will be lost on a first glance).

If you’re creating a paperback the cover is larger, and thus the layout can (and should) differ a little, even if your image is the same. I think I mentioned this before. Did I? Yes. Yes I did.

Don’t overcrowd any image. It is (almost) always better to keep a cover simple and crisp and clean, even if it’s for a coffee table book which is large enough to be an entire coffee table.


It’s probably a little late after all that to write about this, but I just thought of it, so in it goes.

I got to speak with Simon Coleby a while back. He’s an actual graphic designer, and a comic book artist. It takes him about an hour to create great art from scratch, but even he doesn’t do the colouring, or the lettering, or the writing. In graphic novels or comics there are people who do lots of different things. Sometimes, even for a book cover, one person will create the image, one person will create the lettering and layout – we’re all better suited to something. I write, I can’t edit for toffee (and I don’t like it) and I can make a reasonable cover if I manipulate an image someone else created. I can’t draw, though, just as I can’t play guitar.

If you’re not good at something, be honest with yourself and get someone else to do it.


I’m a kind of hybrid, with some self-published and some traditionally published (this, it seems, is a path many are taking, even long-established authors) so there is no coherence in cover design. This suits me fine, but branding is something well worth thinking about.

Many people ‘brand’ their book, and themselves, as products. Something about you which becomes instantly recognisable is a good thing.

I said earlier this is a commercial site, so using images is awkward. I’ll post pictures on my blog, because that’s not for profit and it’s a different set of rules. But if you want some ideas as to branding, and how to make your work stand out, check out Iain Banks/Iain M. Banks early covers. Instantly recognisable, with a uniform design. Or, take a look at Terry Pratchett’s original paperback covers (illustrated by Josh Kirby).

Paperback’s heyday is gone, perhaps, but you can still brand yourself, and have that look apply across the board on your covers, your website, your twitter and so on…forever…and ever…

Branding doesn’t just mean a logo, or a font, or a style – you’re selling you, too – not just a design. Until you’re huge and mega-famous and you don’t need to anymore, like Iain Rob Wright who had a little cross on the ‘O’ for his earlier books and doesn’t bother now…*

*Insert cheeky smiley face and drop the mic.

The Shed

Craig Saunders is the author of more than thirty novels and novellas, including ‘Masters of Blood and Bone‘, ‘RAIN‘ and ‘Deadlift‘. He writes across many genres, but horror, humour and fantasy are his favourites.

Craig lives in Norfolk, England, with his wife and children. He likes nice people and good coffee. Find out more on Amazon, or visit: