Resources for Covers
Today we’re going to cover one of the topics that stop most people: where do I find the art?
I’ve seen covers made with pictures the author took or drew which are often stunningly inappropriate to the genre and book. And I’ve heard people say that they’d have to pay two thousand dollars for covers. This is ridiculous. There are many, many sources of free and cheap images on line.First thing, do not just grab random images from the internet. If you just google for an image, you’ll likely be stealing someone’s art and people tend to get upset about that. And by upset I mean they will sue you into next Monday.
So your best way of finding reputable covers is to hit a site that is “royalty free.” For the purposes of this demonstration I’ll mostly use Pixabay, but NASA also has free images, and for simpler purposes there are places like clker which has free clip art images. These are not your high art stuff, but who knows if we’ll need a silhouette or two. Another place you can go is renderosity. Make an account and look under free stuff for 2d images. Make sure the person giving them away has allowed them to be used for commercial purposes! There is a guy who did strange otherworldly cities and planets. I downloaded some of his stuff long ago and reserve the right to use it.
If you don’t find what you want free, you can also resort to paid, no royalty pictures. Before I started doing renders, I used Dreamstime and I think the most I ever spent on the elements needed to make a cover was $15. That was a few years ago, though. Friends use Adobe stock sites and others.
On top of that, unless you get really lucky and find a pre-assembled cover, you’re going to need a program that allows you to do rudimentary photoshop and I find it convenient and helpful to use filter forge, which is a filter program (or for some programs an attachment) which you can use to alter the appearance of your cover art and make it, say, look like a drawing or a painting when it’s a photograph.
At this point I use DAZ 3D to render custom covers, but those are a step above, and one that is probably not necessary for most of your basic covers. (I just went a little crazy; something I tend to do with everything. Compulsives got to Compulsive.) If you get it beware that there’s money involved in getting the figures you need and that it will take time to be able to render anything more than naked, hairless people. So, unless you write stories about naked, hairless people, you’re going a learning ramp.
The Hoyts have a sacred vow never to allow Adobe into our systems, if we can help it, so I use Paintshop. I also have GIMP installed, but only use it to save the image as PDF (which my old paintshop did a lousy job of) because I’ve never had the time or patience to fight through the ramp up in learning it (since I used Paintshop for YEARS before I started doing covers.)
I do, however, have friends who use gimp and whose covers look great. So, I don’t think it’s impossible. As with everything else, you just have to learn.
So, what are we going to cover?
Because this is the first time, I thought we’d go with the simplest thing: Space Opera.
And before you say “Space Opera is simple?” Yeah. It is. Mostly because space opera is the domain of mostly indies, and I’ve lately started to see trads do “indie like” covers for space opera, consisting of space with some spaceships thrown in.
Remember it’s almost midnight as I write this, so unless we all get REALLY lucky, this is not going to be the most amazing space opera cover in the universe. It’s just going to be a cover-shaped cover, more or less. I will try to do better next time.
However, today, let’s settle for “Space Opera cover that doesn’t scream “I’m an amateur” and — preferably — doesn’t costs us money.”
Because I’m sleepy and kind of out of it, I couldn’t come up with a title for a putative space opera, so I decided to use a title generator site.
The title of our imaginary space opera is The Heirs of Ragnarok.
Do not, under any circumstances make me give you the plot of this. But I’ll say it’s more of a space opera than Mil SF. The Raganorok, it refers to is both a person (who is dead and whose “heirs” are trying to forge on, in new worlds) and of course echoes of some big interplanetary war, now safely in the past.
Okay, ready, set go!
First thing we go to Amazon, we navigate to science fiction kindle books, and we look up science fiction best sellers. It will come up with a lot of old books and Star wars tie ins. You can’t do anything about Star wars tie ins (if you search -“star wars” it actually gives you ALL Star wars. (sigh.) You can solve the old books (except for re-issues) by selecting for date of publication.
If you go and do this, you’ll see there’s a lot of “Spaceships in space.” Now, that’s not the only sort of cover (as you’ll see) but it’s the easiest to do from free or cheap stuff.
We’ll do the more elaborate ones for our stretch goal next week. This week is basic, serviceable, “will do” space opera cover, okay?
Because I’m but an egg at things like topography, I usually choose a cover to “steal.” I don’t mean I take anything from it, but the general feel, but I do take that. And I usually choose a traditional cover. There are a few stunning ones there, but I don’t think I can achieve that effect at midnight, at the end of an exhausting day. So, I’m going for something I think I can “steal”.
And no, I’m not going to be that good. Probably. But I can try for something like.
To begin with, I open a blank “new file” on my paintshop. I set it to 6×9 inches which is acceptable to Amazon, even if not their requirements. Indie books tend to read as such by being too narrow.
The background of card’s book is some sort of futuristic city. This is difficult to get on Pixabay, but I’ll see what I can do.
Note that what makes the Card cover work is the monochromatic (just about) quality of the city, interspersed with pin points of light and the big light in the middle that the ship is “aiming” for.
The first “city” background I found is not incredibly promising. It’s really a fractal rendering of some sort, just vaguely suggestive of a city, it’s too small, and it’s rather meh colors.
Um… Let’s see what if anything we can make of this…
I put it on the cover blank, and resize it till I have something that covers top to bottom:
It’s not what I would want if I had it made to order, but it could be worse. Only I want it to be blue-grey like the Card cover, because it’s easier to … you’ll see. So, what I’m going to do is change color. Different programs do it different ways. In this case I’ll use the color replacer tool.
So, it’s better, but it’s MUCH too light. The points of light wouldn’t do anything. So I’m going to repeat that with darker shades. I did it twice and I got this:
Only instead of those things floating mid space we need a light with dark above. Which means… we’re going to Pixabay and poking around.
I did a search for space under illustrations, and what I found was this:
Which at this time of night is close enough for government work. So, I’m going to flip it upside down and past it as a layer atop the city, then arrange it “down” so all you see is the city. Then I take the eraser to that space in the city that seems logical:
It’s starting to look better, but of course, it’s still too distinct and also we still need space for the title above. At this point I’d probably play with fog filters, but it’s late and I want to go to bed, so…
I take the space picture, turn it 90 degrees and enlarge it to 225. Put the light part on the light part, and make the layer only 50% opaque.
MUCH improved, but we need more light. So I’m going to do that next, both increase the light in the center AND add the little pinpoints of light. Also I’m going to use the cloning tool to get rid of the little bit of bare background at the bottom.
So, I copied the bright part of the picture and layered it on, then copied one of the stars and used it for “lights.” And then, of course, upped the contrast on the whole thing.
Now we need a spaceship.
Ideally it would be triangular and yellow and…
Well, it’s hard to find a free space ship flying away at all. I know I could render one in seconds, or you can find one in one of the paid sites, but for now, I’ll make do. Let’s try this guy:
We’ll have to rotate it.
Too phallic and it doesn’t look …. very good.
So, let’s try this guy with a bit of color change, shall we?
Okay, better. Not wonderful, but not horrible for 1 in the morning with a half asleep Sarah.
I need to fix the upper edges, and put in the lettering now.
Okay, there it is, and for nothing. Is it wonderful? Not even. There were things I’d normally do along the way like feather the edges of the layers I merged to make the spot of light. Or at least taken the cloning tool to the edges to soften them. Also those fonts are wrong, because they’re not the same height, but I’m doing this on the old computer, which means I don’t have my growing collection of fonts aboard.
But I’m showing you the process, not actually doing a finished cover, which would require a little more fiddling.
This whole process took 3 hours, and I started at 11 pm. So, what would doing it RIGHT take? Probably another two hours of fiddling. However, I hope I’ve done enough to make it obvious it can be done and doesn’t need to cost a fortune. If I’ve got some time tomorrow morning I’ll fiddle again and give you a better version. But I might not have time.
For now, rest assured the cover is not an insurmountable problem.
Next week: Better covers through small expenditure.
UPDATE: I actually did a new cover this morning, but my internet has been up and down like the underthings of a very busy er… entertainer. Snow. Masses and masses of snow.
Anyway, completely different, by picking (from Pixabay) different images and doing it while awake. Faster too. If it were for real, I’d fuss with it some more like, not have the white in the font, which makes it look like tape, and hazing the image JUST a little. BUT as is, already spent too much time.
Anyway, so, further instruction: don’t do covers while asleep.