You’ve Got To Give A Little

So I can imagine you guys looking at last week’s post and going “okay, so the second one when you were awake is sort of acceptable, but it’s still a lot of work, and what if we don’t have your familiarity with a graphics program?”

Well, fear not.  Or at least don’t fear a lot.  There’s still options for free or for money (for money if you want something more specific.)  And we’re not talking hundreds of dollars.  More like $15.  Yeah, I know that’s sometimes too much. Which is why I started out doing this, for friends who wanted to try indie but hadn’t even that.First, there are certain things that are really hard to get in free stock or indeed in any stock.  One of them is people, particularly people who don’t look truly weird.

Um… let me explain.  If you’re using stock and there’s a person in it, you must make sure that somewhere on the page there’s a note saying the model signed a release.  If you don’t have that (and sometimes if you have that, particularly in free sites) you can end up having legal issues when the model complains.

So I recommend taking only pictures with people found under “illustrations” and particularly drawn or rendered people (you learn to recognize rendered) PARTICULARLY from the free sites. (The paid sites have a little better legal-control.)  Or, of course, people seen from the back or with the face obscured.

The problem with this is that drawn and rendered people, again particularly in the free sites, are often peculiar or peculiarly attired.  For instance, apparently you need vast amounts of skin exposed to go to space (yes, Athena, but that’s symbolic.  These are obviously not. Spacesuits must expose vast amounts of skin in stockland.  Why? I’m not sure.)  This is the problem that led me to rendering, and at the end of all this we’ll return to it.

So what I’m going to do is give you a cover made from a free site (in this case pixabay because I’m lazy) and links to similar images in dreamstime and adobe.

To begin with, what is your most basic sf cover?  Right. Spaceships, in space.  Only I had a heck of a time finding that in pixabay (there’s also a great shortage of spaceships) with the right orientation for a cover, and I’m trying to limit the amount of cut and paste you’ll have to do.

I’ll note there are free spaceships, and that you can pick a space background and copy-paste, but as we saw in my adventures last week, even that is not that easy.

So I had to play with this image because it had the completely wrong orientation and wasn’t TALL enough.  I added black top and bottom and finished rounding the world.


Because I didn’t want to do covers from dreamstime or adobe even with the swosh (their theft prevention thing) as I’m not sure how they’d take it, I did the above cover with an image by TPHeinz from Pixabay .
However you might have an easier time if you pay a little.  Not an EASY time mind. It’s still hard to find space ships and planets with either the right orientation (i.e. the size/shape of the cover) or that look like they can make a cover.  But it’s not impossible.

I did a search for spaceships and found this which could be made to work judiciously cut. Or this or even this.

Then there’s adobe stock.  I find Adobe stock a pain in the behind because you can’t search “illustrations” and you, therefore, get a ton of pictures. Which are not what you want.  (I mean, like parts of the shuttle and stuff.) However you could probably make this work. And a portion of this. And perhaps even this.

Most of these immediately identify you as indie but in space opera and mil sf that might, frankly, attract some readers.  They are cheap.  And covers are (relatively) easy to make, once you resize and crop.  Just slap a title and name on it and you’re good to go.

Three points on the lettering:

After you put your name in, double the size.  Provided you’re still within the cover, you’re good to go.  Look, I don’t know WHY and I’m a little worried about the psychological mechanism involved, but it seems as though all writers try to minimize the size of their name on the cover.  Takes a while to get over it.  Your name will seem freakishly large to you.  Ignore the feeling.

DO NOT use text fonts. By that I mean don’t use a font like Arial or Times New Roman or even Georgia, which are used for the INSIDE of the book. There are tons of free fonts out there (make sure they’re free for commercial use.)  I’m not sure what I used for these covers, because it’s in the other computer and I’m too lazy to go upstairs. It’s a free font and it’s meaty and square. It would be startlingly out of place for fantasy, but it works for science fiction (or thriller.)  Just go browse covers in the genre, then browse free fonts till something clicks.  As I found, even Baen uses free fonts. As, weirdly, do a lot of other houses.  Oh, yeah you can do reverse font searches, if you really want to go down that rabbit whole.

NORMALLY I’d put at least three text elements on the cover, having a “Author of” or “a novel of” because it seems to balance it. I didn’t in this case, because of course the novel and author don’t exist.

Okay, Right, back to cover art: if you buy it from dreamstime or adobe I THINK your price will be under $20 (depends on the plans, and I’ve not used them in a long time, so I can’t be sure.)

Now, the covers that will result from “spaceship with lettering” wont’ be very specific, and frankly if you don’t have spaceships in your book they could be a problem. But providing it’s a space-travel novel, they will do very adequately.  They might not make anyone look at your book just to check out the cover (I’m not sure how much that happens online anyway) but no one will cringe and decide you’re amateurish because the cover sucks or is out of genre.

While looking for Spaceship and Space, I came across this image from Pixabay (Image by Reimund Bertrams) which was even the right orientation.
To me, though, it conveys “hard science fiction.”  So, if you’re doing the next Martian, something like this might not be a bad idea:


The closest I found on Dreamstime was this and it was hard to find. Adobe has this, but it might be a bit too cartoony.

Now if your novels is space opera but space ships aren’t prominent in it (say Heinlein’s Friday.  I know there is an interstellar trip, but much of the novel is on Earth) I searched “science fiction” on Pixabay and found this image, which transmits “science fiction” without saying “this is all about space battles.



The image is from alan9187 from Pixabay and frankly there are others like it. You’ll just have to poke around a lot, under illustrations.

Again, not attention getting or amazing, but it will get you a cover.

I suspect you can find stuff like this in dreamstime, but for some reason I can’t find it.  (On the other hand, by searching “science fiction covers” I found where they keep the spaceships 😀 Tons of them. Very usable.)
I did find it in Adobe, though: this, this and this, for instance.

Of course they say covers sell better with people.  And frankly this next one is a bit of a silliness.  For some reason the woman came up while searching pixabay under science fiction, and being me I thought she’d look great on the deck of a space ship.



Image by Parker_West from Pixabay SPACESHIP
Image by 700622 from Pixabay – WOMAN

Yes, of course, it took photoshopping them together.  But I kind of like the result. It’s like something from the age of pulp.  Of course, if you don’t have a space swords-woman your readers might get upset AFTER reading the book, of course.  Hey, maybe there’s still time to give your female character a sword?

And then there is what I do when I lose patience and “just render something already.”
This one is not detailed and has no background, just a sort of pattern, because I didn’t have enough time to spend on it (reasons of computer use and also of my time, personally.)

Look, I’m not going to say that rendering is easy. I’m still struggling with the lighting.  Some of my people look amazing… others not so much.

And it’s not cheap, precisely. Sure DAZ is free and you get a lot of models with it right off the bat, but you’ll want genesis 8 if you can or at least genesis 3.

With one thing and another, over the last 3 years we’ve probably spent $1500.  On the other than that’s 3 covers by people at about my level.  And you can learn DAZ. There’s all sorts of tutorials, free and not.  In fact, your biggest challenge will be time.  Of course, if you find you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. Find a friend who’ll do it, in exchange for other services or merely because they like you.

Anyway, this is a quicky rendered cover:

heirs of ragnarok

Any and all of these covers would do, if not exquisitely at least more than adequately.  and none of them cost anything. Better images can probably be acquired form dreamstime and adobe, and if you feel completely lost on lettering, there are people on fiver who will do it relatively cheap.

So — that’s it for science fiction.
Next week: let’s cover cozy mysteries.  Or in other words “now, for something completely different.”



  1. woman with sword neeeds a shadow. I’ll play with it a second to see if i can come up with a simple tutorial on doing that.

    1. Yes, she does. I do know how to do it, and almost mentioned when putting it up that it needed a shadow, only I was doing this at 10 pm and didn’t feel like futzing.
      Weirdly, though it’s a “found cover” I think it’s the most successful of this batch. I am thinking of taking it home to be the cover of upcoming Winter Prince.

      1. I like it. If you send me the source image i can make a short tutorial on how to do the shadow.

            1. I’m slower than usual today as we started it with a visit to the imaging office to get records of my past MRIs (I have a new one next Monday) and it took FOREVER, which interfered with morning caffeine consumption. So I think there’s way too much blood in my caffeine steam.

              What I meant to say is “thank you. I’d love that.

  2. Sarah, I love this series. You’re saving my butt here. You should charge money for this. [I’m glad you’re not, but you should.]

  3. Most of your sales will be to folks already familiar with your work, so emphasizing your name just makes sense. Still that should be taken care of in the Amazon page matter.
    So the cover needs to accomplish two things, correctly convey the genre and hopefully tease the casual browser to investigate further. You’re looking for the cover to get enough attention so that someone wants to read the blurb or better yet look inside.
    Personal side note, please do avoid either black on red or red on black lettering as those combinations are illegible to the about 10% of men who suffer from male pattern partial color blindness.

    1. All sorts of font/picture color combinations are bad because unreadable.

      Save it as a jpg, and look at it in Windows Explorer as a Large Icon. (Extra-Large, too, to see what it looks like, but Large for readability.)

  4. <i<For instance, apparently you need vast amounts of skin exposed to go to space (yes, Athena, but that’s symbolic. These are obviously not. Spacesuits must expose vast amounts of skin in stockland. Why? I’m not sure.)

    Playing Skyrim and similar games I’ve noticed the same sort of thing: Apparently tin pasties and a chain mail g-string constitute heavy armor. I’ve yet to figure out why.

      1. Watching broadcasts of a swimsuit competition, the three alien spies speculated that the parts covered by the swimsuit were the only parts of the human female that were vulnerable.

    1. At least one of the games I play has the sexy armor for the MAGE side protections. The ‘heavy armor’ looks like it was stolen from a mech.

    2. The inverse rule of cover armor protection – the smaller the proportion of body that the armor covers, the more effective said armor is. So a chain mail bikini is +50 and a full suit of plate armor is +6 (depending on your system) Larry Correia had a long post and comments section about it re. a Monster Hunter cover.

    3. See GURPS (Generic Universal Roleplaying System), Advantages: Protective Nudity. The less you wear, the less you get hit. 😎

  5. Just as a random thought, if you need a spaceship of a particular design, grab a block building game (I use one called Space Engineers), build your ship in Creative mode, zoom the camera viewpoint to the appropriate spot and take a screenshot.
    Look, I didn’t say it;s a GOOD idea… but it’s one someone might be interested enough to experiment with. 🙂

    1. I’m not visual. Weirdly one of Holly Lisle’s series came about this way, but I (art not withstanding. I swear I just channel that) I’m not visual.

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