I don’t know how many times I’ve come across a writer who is going through a smal press and — let’s face it — often getting shafted and when I tell them they should go ahead and go indie he or she answers with “But I can’t draw. They’re paying five thousand for my cover and–”
First of all, they’re not paying five thousand for your cover. a)they’re not deluded. b) I’ve seen a lot of small press covers.
Second “but I can’t draw” — good. Very few people can draw at a level required for covers. I can’t. Unless you want something like the cover of F. Paul Wilson’s Virgin, you’re not going to draw your own cover.
I mean, I can do this:
Even if I could figure out how to rotate it (sniffle, I is inept) do you really see that as a book cover. It’s cute, but will it cover? Uh… no.
So, faced with covers, I was at first as confused as any other newbie looking for a cover and did some truly inept photoshops. For ex, this was my first ever cover:
If you’re going to say you’ve seen worse, so have I but not many. To begin with, the font is wrong, I think it’s Times New Roman. To continue with, it’s not even an adequate photoshop. And to end with, covers for the subgenre (science fiction) are never pictures. They’re drawn or painted.
Anyway, this was Sarah, pre-getting a clue. I’m not going to say I’m the best cover designer ever, but I do. And as for art, I can take free pictures and run them through filters (yes, I will explain) and make the whole thing look custom. And yes, you can too.
Let’s start with “free pictures”. Where can you get free pictures? Well, you can take them yourself, but most of the time it’s not worth the effort. No, you can’t just lift any picture from the internet. But there are several free picture sites. The one I use most often is Pixabay.com I do try to verify the picture wasn’t stolen, but most of the time it’s obvious it wasn’t and it’s someone’s render or photo.
Here I should explain the following covers, done almost exclusively from Pixabay (I’ll note which elements aren’t) are for books that are planned for this year or next, but not written yet. Last week I forgot to take my morning thyroid tablet (yesterday too) and the symptoms are oddly like the flu, leaving me unable to do much in words. But I can play with pics and filters. So I did “covers for books I haven’t written yet”. These will probably be tweaked before time, and my particular bete noir is knowing what the font says, but as an example of what you can do with free art (and filters) it will do. The spaceship wasn’t free on the first one, and I also need to futz with the layers more, because they’re too stratified on the person. (Part of giving her a race change operation.)
Again the spaceship isn’t free. There are few decent spaceships free.
And then there’s this. The dragon and girl were rendered by Jame Schardt who is good at this stuff, the train was free, and the filters were… fun.
Most of these covers cost me $1 thought that’s changing since dollar photo club ill go out of business in two days. So it might in the future cost me $5 to $10. At any rate eminently bearable.
So, how do you find pictures? There’s an art to this. Even at Pixabay you have more chances if you search for illustration and not photography. (Unless you’re writing cooking or travel, which require photography, as do others, though not that come to mind at the moment. Sorry, first cup of coffee.
Are there other things than Pixabay? Sure. I recommend you poke around the web, but always remember that unless it’s explicitly licensed with creative commons or has other notes that the author is fine with you taking this (like some artists and photographers on deviant art, though there isn’t a way to check for them specifically) you shouldn’t use it.
Oh, and before I forget, a note on winter prince and changeling’s covers: when you download pictures of people even if the photographer doesn’t mind, make sure the face isn’t showing. Unless you have a model release, you shouldn’t take a photo that recognizable or traceable to the person. (Unless the person is or was a public figure, say President Kennedy in which case if the photographer says you can have it, you’re fine.) This is why you see tons of covers from the big houses showing a body with a gorgeous dress, but no head. Bet you they got it from a free stock site.
Some other sites with free pics:
You can also use any painting done before — I think, please verify — 1924.
Just be aware of what your choice says and how it integrates with the genre/subgenre.
Now, if you poke around enough (and find this fun, which I do. I realize other people don’t) you can find stuff and run it through filters and make it look like a professional cover.
A warning here that there is a learning curve. I’m somewhere above beginning on it, but you don’t start there, you start at beginner. And I’m sure in 5 years I’ll cringe at my current covers. Which is part of the reason I play with it when I’m not feeling well. As with stories, it’s mostly practice.
So, I keep talking about filters, and they are crucial. For instance the picture for Changeling was three photos. Filters help make it look like purposeful art.
I know there are filters in photoshop, but I don’t know what they are. My program for covers is paintshop pro 9 (it got worse with updates) because I’m a dinosaur.
The filters in GIMP are atrocious.
Two years ago, around xmas, I was cleaning out my mailbox, and I found an advertisement for a program (it works as an add on if you have photoshop) called filter forge. I thought it would be terrible like the others, but I was sickly and out of it, so I downloaded the free version and tried it. Then I downloaded the $38 version which is fine, provided you don’t PRINT your books (it does smaller pics) and then I upgraded to pro, and I’m now waiting for a sale on lifetime upgrades.
Look under “creative” filters.
The caveats are: you need to learn it and you need to have an idea what each filter will do. Sometimes for the ideal cover, you combine filters. To The Dragons is a fruit of five filters.
And while talking about To The Dragons: we have Daz 3D. It or its cousin, Poser, can be pricey (in DAZ case through downloading models) but they’re also really useful if you can’t draw worth beans. Filter forge can then help you make it look non-rendered.
Here’s the thing, though: as with GIMP there’s a substantial time investment into the rendering programs, one I haven’t been able to make. So I will say I prefer to have James Schardt do it for me. In exchange I filter-forge whatever he asks me to. And if you can arrange that, that’s fine. If you can’t, I’d ask him how much he charges to render ;).
After you do all that, then come fonts, and thinking about what they convey, which I’m very bad at. BUT as you see, you don’t have to know how to draw and you can get art pretty much for free.
“But Sarah, it’s learning curve this and learn filters that” you say. “What if I just want to pay? I still don’t have 5k per cover. I don’t know the book will make that.”
Yeah, no one does. Which is why if you go the paying route, I have some tips and tricks.
Next week: You lays down your money.