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Posts tagged ‘cover layout’

Comprehensive Cover Art and Design

Cover Art & Design: Again

We keep coming back to this, I know. But simply put, it’s one of the most-asked questions I get, and I find myself repeating the same advice roughly once a week. So this time I’m going to compile all the links, and have one link to rule them all…

dragon thief

Here’s an example of a good cover, using elements that break some rules: letterboxing, and the color palette is not what you would usually see on a science fiction cover. What do these colors make you think of?

This is a good cover, beautiful art, but it does something most author's can't get away with - makes the title unreadable at the thumbnail size

This is a good cover, beautiful art, but it does something most author’s can’t get away with – makes the title unreadable at the thumbnail size

First and most important: before you start designing a cover, creating art intended for book covers, or even thinking about a book cover, you need to look at book covers. A lot of them. Specific book covers to your genre is even better, as there are subtle cues you need to know and recognize, even if you aren’t doing your own covers. So first, before anything else, go to Amazon and search for your sub-genre (space opera, paranormal romance, werewolf stories, historical military fiction, whatever it is) and look at the top 100 selling books. Not the freebies (unless you are looking at what not to do). Make notes of elements you like, things you hate, and the consistent notes that many of the covers have in common. When you’re done with this, you are ready to begin.

Sarah Hoyt in A Cover Story points out two important things: “Your cover needn’t beand in most cases shouldn’t bea scene from the book. Yes, it might be highly

Here's another cover that improbably sells well, even though you can't read - can barely see - the author's name. But this cover has become iconic - not something a beginning writer can use.

Here’s another cover that improbably sells well, even though you can’t read – can barely see – the author’s name. But this cover has become iconic – not something a beginning writer can use.

significant to you, but it is not significant to the reader. Say you have a photo of some trees, because your story takes place in a forest-world. What will this say to the reader? Travel book. Maybe inspirational. Why? Because that’s what travel books look like.”

We’re serious. Sarah goes on in a different post, Of Covers and Sales, “Forget what IS in your book.  Consider instead how to sell the book.  No, seriously.  Take the cover to Darkship Thieves.  There is no scene in the entire book in which Athena walks out naked amid the powertrees, because vacuum.  Space.”

Dave Freer (in a very old post! Flash back to 2009) talks about covers, “I’m sure we’ve all seen books where the art director put in a redhaired freckleface instead of a dark-skinned dark-haired hero, put a romance cover on horror, or a horror cover on fantasy — didn’t read the book, and didn’t care. Of course, cover art doesn’t HAVE to be accurate. Really. It’s going to irritate the author, the hardcore fans — but if the arwork was good enough to get you to pick up the book and read the blurb… it was great artwork. Well, unless the artwork suggested horror, and the blurb is slushy romance.”

Here, the art has possibilities. But the type falls down on the job - you can't read it in thumbnail, and there's plenty of room to make it bigger. Much bigger.

Here, the art has possibilities. But the type falls down on the job – you can’t read it in thumbnail, and there’s plenty of room to make it bigger. Much bigger.

Before Dorothy Grant consented to come write for us here at MGC, she put a short series up on her blog I highly recommend (links can be found here.) and among a lot of other points, “Make your name bigger because trad pub has trained readers that big names are important, awesome authors that should be bestsellers, while small names are forgettable midlist. You want to be a bestseller someday – start faking it til you make it, because the reader won’t believe it if you don’t design your cover like it.” Yep, MAKE  YOUR NAME BIGGER is usually the first thing I say to an Indie Author.”

What about art? In But I’m not an Artist! Dorothy explains “You don’t have to be a good artist to get great covers. Go back and read up on design, typography, layout, and art not with the despairing expectation that you’ll be called upon to create your own cover, but with the confidence that you’ll now know just enough to be able to tell the cover artist / designer you hire why you like their design, or why not, and what you want changed. If you can speak the same technical language as them, or even get fairly close pidgin, you’ll be able to collaborate for a far better cover than “Um, I don’t like it because it doesn’t feel right. I dunno, the thingie is just not good, so change it.”

Dorothy Grant makes a vital point later about hiring an artist to create for you in a different post, and you should read the whole post on How to Work with Artists, “So, what terms should you offer the artist? Do NOT start with Work For Hire What is work for hire? It is, very simply, where you offer to pay the artist for the art, and then expect to keep the artwork and have all rights and usage, leaving the artist with nothing but money. You’ve seen this from sidewalk artists and beginning artists; they create something, you hand them cash and walk off with it.”

The art here is ok, it's boring and safe but with the right typography could be adequate. This is not the right typography. Also, the title is huge, and badly laid out.

The art here is ok, it’s boring and safe but with the right typography could be adequate. This is not the right typography. Also, the title is huge, and badly laid out.

In a very long post about cover art that goes into great detail (you should add it to your reading list) I’ve talked about this before as well: If you find an artist who promises you cheap art, you need to get references – are they reliable? Will they deliver, or vanish with your cash? Are they capable of creating professional level art? – and you need to have a clear understanding of what’s being delivered. If you’re paying someone $50 to do a cover, you will get what you paid for.

This popped - pooped? - up in my search for science fiction. Um - it's great for a children's book. Very Mo Willems (go look for him, this is a straight derivative) but completely wrong for science fiction. Your readers would not be happy.

This popped – pooped? – up in my search for science fiction. Um – it’s great for a children’s book. Very Mo Willems (go look for him, this is a straight derivative) but completely wrong for science fiction. Your readers would not be happy.

So, stock art. You know what you are getting, with a minimum of skill in a graphics program you can tweak it to make it uniquely yours if you are worried about someone else having the same cover, and it’s very inexpensive. I recommend GIMP to most people for tweaking, and the text design a bit later, as it is freeware, there are a ton of tutorials available, and it’s not that difficult to learn. (Shh, all you out there. I’m teaching myself Adobe Illustrator, I don’t want to HEAR how hard you think Gimp is)

And last, but certainly not least, we’re going to do the most important part of the cover. “But wait,” you say,” a book cover is all about the art!”

Nope, wrong. A book cover is all about the text. Without the text, your reader is lost. Who wrote this? How will I find it? What’s it about? The title and author name are absolutely vital. Let’s put it this way. You could have a solid color (well, okay, maybe a little grunge or somethin’ going on!) cover, and if the text is right, that’s all you need to attract the eye. The typography in a perfect situation is part of the art of the cover, and it wouldn’t look right without it. Read the rest about typography here.

This is just bad. There are too many elements, there's no clear heirarchy (what's the title?) there are elements that don't belong (free preview) and it's just plain bad.

This is just bad. There are too many elements, there’s no clear heirarchy (what’s the title?) there are elements that don’t belong (free preview) and it’s just plain bad.

Now, finally, I’m getting to what started me on this road again. Doug Irvin asked in Sarah’s Diner I want to learn how to draw and make cover art. I don’t expect I would ever go into business; but it would help if I could better express my concepts to a real concept artist.”

And this is where we see why you have to learn photoshop if you are going to bled disparate elements on a cover. It should never look like they were cut out and pasted on top of one another. And is that the prow of the Enterprise? Never ever use famous iconographic images in your designs.

And this is where we see why you have to learn photoshop if you are going to bled disparate elements on a cover. It should never look like they were cut out and pasted on top of one another. And is that the prow of the Enterprise? Never ever use famous iconographic images in your designs.

I promptly started firing off questions at him. This is, after all, what I do. I’m a professional artist, book cover designer, and sometimes even unpaid consultant (ok, usually unpaid all of the above) for people who are really trying and can’t afford me.

Well, I guess the first question is: what medium would you like to work in? Digital, acrylics, oils? Learning to draw is the foundation, but being able to paint is (as I’m learning) a whole ‘nother level and deeply complex. You don’t have to own a scanner if you choose a traditional medium, you can get away with photographs if you are only planning to show them to another artist who will execute your idea. Photographing for actual use is tricky, though, and a good flatbed scanner is a must then.

This is a photo, which is a no-no on a science fiction cover. It's a bad photograph, and the text is something you would find inside the cover, the third strike against it. Rule of thumb, you don't put fonts on the cover you would use for the inner text.

This is a photo, which is a no-no on a science fiction cover. It’s a bad photograph, and the text is something you would find inside the cover, the third strike against it. Rule of thumb, you don’t put fonts on the cover you would use for the inner text.

If you are truly trying to learn digital art, I recommend searching for tutorials even before you download software – DeviantArt is a great place to find a ton of them. This is a link to my collection of tuts. Youtube is another source. Using DA, or Pinterest, you can easily mark them to be able to come back to them later. This is my Pinterest board on digital art.

Second, I would start with one of the free software programs. My go-to is GIMP. While it’s not always a favorite because of an unfriendly GUI in the past, the new one is slick and intuitive for me. I actually like it better than Photoshop most of the time. I’ve just picked up Krita, another drawing program, and it’s got great potential.

I don't even know what's going on here. The orange part isn't part of the cover. The art is badly placed - you don't put text or elements on a human's head, and the author's name is too small.

I don’t even know what’s going on here. The orange part isn’t part of the cover. The art is badly placed – you don’t put text or elements on a human’s head, and the author’s name is too small.

Third, and perhaps the most sticky for you, is how you are going to draw on the computer. Drawing with a mouse is, trust me, a complete PITA. I’ve done it. The original art on Vulcan’s Kittens was done with a mouse. I now own a pentablet and love it to pieces. I have an off-brand tablet, an UGEE pentablet, which cost me about $60 and gives me an 6 x 10″ workspace.

If actually doing the art from scratch won’t work – I don’t use my own art for covers, it’s the wrong style most of the time – then there’s also the road I go most of the time when I’m creating cover art – transforming elements into art through the creative use of Photoshop (or gimp) and filters or overpainting. Photomanipulation takes some of the challenges of creating art from scratch and reduces them. You want to be careful with it, though, as it can lead to some truly dreadful effects if done badly. It’s worth learning how to do well.

There is a lot of material here. I’m going to ask you, dear readers, to tell me what I’ve left out. I realize this isn’t a hands-on tutorial type post (sorry, Doug) but it’s intended to be a huge info-dump that will allow us all to get on the same page, and then I can start breaking it down into chunks of ‘how-to’ in a reasonable frame. I will likely do some of those posts on my blog, so we aren’t waiting a week at a time for a lesson. We’ll see. For now, I’ll leave you with this: art and design are two hands of the same body, but they are different. If you want to learn how to tell a book cover design is good, or create one yourself, that’s one skill set. If you want to learn how to create art, that’s another skill set and the very first step to that is learning how to draw. I can help point people at resources for both, but I need to know where you want to start.

Before anything else. You must learn how to see.

 

 

Getting Graphic with your Work

And I’m not talking about describing the gory bits in gruesome detail. No, I had planned to do a walk-through tutorial today about creating a logo for your writing business. I hadn’t anticipated two things. One, to do a proper logo you need to create a vector file rather than image or illustration. I’ll get into what that means when I do the post – for today it matters because a week ago I ended my subscription to the full Adobe Creative Cloud, dropping back to Photoshop and Lightroom, and that means I don’t have Adobe Illustrator for showing how to do a logo. Which isn’t a bad thing, because most of you don’t have that, either, or you wouldn’t be asking me to show you how to do this. I did a little research, and downloaded Inkscape, the cousin of my favorite freeware graphic program, Gimp. Then I ran into the second thing I hadn’t planned on. You see, I’m getting married next week. I’m also traveling for several days attendant to that. I am afraid I ran out of time this week to teach myself Inkscape and create a tutorial. So! I put together some odds and ends of graphic design projects that can be useful to you all, and one that I was specifically asked for. I will be around to chat in comments, so feel free to ask questions. Oh, and Amanda wanted me to point out that things I discuss in this post, like guides and flattening layers, are pertinent to those of you working on print covers. So pay attention!

Postcards and Bookmarks

Having something to hand to someone who is interested in your book is a great thing. You can, of course, default to a standard business card, nothing wrong with that. You can do a lot with those. But today I’m going to talk specifically about the layout and requirements of the bigger, more art-heavy promo material. I take them with me to conventions to sign for people who own my ebooks but want a signature. I hand them out to… anyone who remotely looks interested when I say that I am an author. I give my local libraries packets of 50 bookmarks to keep with all the others on their counter. I can mail the postcards to libraries, schools, and other venues and promote myself and my books (I rarely actually do that, but it’s a possibility).

While you are shopping for a printer, you will discover that there are a lot of variations in size available. I’m using a 4×6 inch postcard, the standard size, for this batch. I may switch it up with the next one. Book marks can be laid out in the same way, so I won’t cover them individually now.

In Gimp, open a new file. Set the size to 4 inches by 6 inches (or what your printer requires), and then drop the Advanced Menu down, and set the dpi to 300 or 400. Do not leave it at 72 dpi, the default, as this will be rejected by any reputable printer and will look terrible if printed. Now that you have your new file open, pay attention to the print requirements for bleed. You will want there to be no live elements (important text or graphics) within 0.25 inches of the edges. You can click on the rulers at the left side and top and drag what is called a ‘guide’ to mark  your bleed area so you don’t put something there by accident.

I chose to lay out this postcard with three covers and represent my Pixie trilogy. I would not put more than four covers on a card, you don’t want it to appear cluttered. postcard layout

Open as Layers (found in the File menu dropdown) the covers or art you want to use. I generally use a jpg or png version of the covers so I don’t have to manage umpteen zillion layers in GIMP. Scale the covers to the desired size, you can do this easily with a right-click on the image and selecting Scale Layer. Using the move tool, place the art where you think you want it. Keep in mind you may have to move it again. This card was designed to have text on the front and a blank back, but you will note there is not a lot of text. This is a tool to interest them in what you have to offer, enough that they will take the next step. In the highlighted box, I have my website address. In the other corner, I have a QR code. These are scannable with a smartphone or tablet: this particular code will take them to Pixie Noir’s Amazon sales page, where they can look inside and read the sample. I want them there so they can buy as soon as I hook them.

When you’re ready to print, you will save this file as a pdf, just as you did for the cover for print. Make sure when you do so that you first merge all the layers, but save your work before you start this process. If you look closely at the screenshot above, you will see several layers of images, text, and other elements. All of those need to be flattened, or bad things can happen in the printing process. Right click on each layer thumbnail and select ‘merge down’ from the menu. DO NOT SAVE your xcf file at this point! You want to preserve all your xcf (Gimp) files for later. I’ll show you why in a minute. Now that you have everything smooshed, drop down the File Menu and select Export. Export your file as a pdf. Close your file and click discard changes.

Batch-Editing Art and Covers

This last week I had a chance to help out a friend who was in a bind. He had commissioned art for the covers of several stories, but they lacked a unifying element to tie the series together, and he wasn’t sure what to do to further signal his specific genre with the typography. This is not something many of you will ever have to do, most of us deal with one book at a time, but there are occasions when it’s a useful task, such as aligning covers for a series. And I told Dave I’d show how I did it, so he can tackle it himself if it happens again.

What I did was to open the first layer of artwork and lay the text out on it, along with the graphic unifying element (tentacles, to signal Lovecraftian cthuloid elements in the stories).

I’ll explain how I added the tentacles. After poring through the Dollar Photo Club for something suitable, I came up with the illustration below.

 

This is an illustration rather than a vector, which is better, but it will work.

This is an illustration rather than a vector, which is better, but it will work.

The first thing you need to do is right-click the layer thumbnail in the righthand window, and look at the bottom of the menu, where you will choose ‘add alpha channel’ which allows you to have a transparency rather than white (default) background. Then I chose the ‘select’ menu, and then ‘select by color’ and clicked on the black around the octopus. Then I clicked on delete and eliminated all the black, leaving a suitable graphic.

The graphic element, I can now manpulate it without overlying it's background on the art.

The graphic element, I can now manipulate it without overlying it’s background on the art.

Finally, I had one cover laid out with title, author name, and graphic unifying element (hereafter GUE).

Note all the layers in the righthand window.

Note all the layers in the righthand window.

Choose ‘Save as” from the file menu and name the file appropriately. Save it as an XCF file for now, you may need to manipulate it again. You will note the GUE is seen in the upper left and lower right corners. I had put just a little bit showing, and changed the mode (see top of righthand window, above opacity) of the layer to make it look like I wanted. Experiment with this, dodge, burn, lighten… powerful effects here.

Now that I’m happy with the fonts, layout, and this cover, I can move onto the next one. I simply click the little eye next to the layer thumbnail and make the art disappear. Eventually I will delete the unused layers, but I want all of them right now in case I need to make changes.

Layers

Layers

The art isn’t gone, it’s just not showing on the work area any longer.

I've already altered the title, and the GUE, the author's name I don't touch.

I’ve already altered the title, and the GUE, the author’s name I don’t touch.

Now I go up and open the art for this cover from the File>Open as Layers menu. You may need to drag the art layer thumbnail in the righthand window down, until it is under the other elements. You may also need to scale it so it is the same size as the background you see above. Play around with your GUE layer some more, until it looks right on the art.

What the final product of another cover in the same series looks like

What the final product of another cover in the same series looks like

Using Save As, name and save this file, then repeat with changing the title and the art for each cover you are doing. Dave had six, but it took very little time once I had every thing set up to manipulate the art and GUE under the layers of the text and modifying elements (drop shadows and that sort of thing).

I’m probably missing something, but ask in the comments and I’ll explain.

Reading Out Loud

What follows is the text of a speech I wrote and delivered as the final assignment in my Public Expression class. It’s written to a specific and highly formalized structure called Monroe’s motivated sequence, and was intended to be a call-to-action speech. I don’t know how it worked on that audience, but it amuses me to share the text with you all. Reading aloud offers special benefits to writers. By reading a story you can develop a much smoother rhythm to the dialogue, the flow of the story, and I highly recommend it if you can. 

 

The Art and Gift of Reading Aloud

A simple way to deepen your relationships and help your children succeed in life. Can you imagine one thing with the power to enhance mental capacity, boost your offspring to better lives, and keep your loved ones close? Reading aloud will do all those things, and it takes no more than a little time and trust.

In our modern culture, families are scattered and even when together, the TV, phones, or computers consume all their attention, even weakening their mind, according to Psychology Today.  According to the Department of Justice, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” Amanda Craig, in the Times, writes that until recently, with the advent of the television, reading aloud was a common family practice.

Marriages and relationships also suffer from lack of intimacy – not sex, but close contact in loving and playful fashion. As many in my audience are young, I will say this: begin as you mean to go on as parents, and as spouses.

Reading aloud to one another can deepen or mend relationships and enhance a child’s ability to learn, in addition to fostering a stronger mind in the reader. In the Handbook of Structured Techniques in Marriage and Family Therapy, it is pointed out that by agreeing on when and what to read, positive cooperation between partners is fostered, and trustful communication is facilitated. When you read to a child, MIT says in their Textual Tinkerability book, you promote critical thinking, questioning through dialog, and thoughtful conversation. Shared reading is “one of the most important activities parents can do to prepare their children for school.” When I was growing up, my mother read aloud to us every day. I learned how to read very early, and as I got older, my sisters and I would read aloud as well to the family. We were very successful in school and have precious memories of this family time.

You may have concerns. You might feel self-conscious about reading aloud: bestselling children’s author Francesca Simon says “A lot of people are very self-conscious about how to read. My husband had dyslexia, and it was always a source of anxiety, but doing it year after year he became fluent.” You might not think you have time in your busy schedule for reading. According to statista.com, the average American spent 734 minutes per day in media consumption. Television, internet, and others. Surely you can find 30 minutes to give as a gift to your loved ones?

With reading aloud, you could have a family with deeper bonds, a couple with shared interests, engagement, and quality time spent building intimacy. You can have children doing better in school and ultimately in life.  With a modern rushed life that impacts family ties, this is a way to bind those loose ties, and enhance your children’s education. Did I also mention that according to the Journal of Gerontology, reading aloud improves your own cognitive abilities and can ward off dementia? Start reading aloud now, and set a habit that can last you a lifetime.

Take time today to read out loud. Even a few minutes at first will help. Go home and talk to your partner, even read to your pets, and then trust them when you feel self-conscious not to laugh. Read often, and make it habit by doing it for 27 days in a row.

Step out of your comfort zone, take a risk, read out loud and proud!

You can if you want see this speech here, although I will warn you it’s a poor quality recording. 

On another topic entirely, I’m on Summer Vacation. This means that I am preparing for the wedding, trying to write (my brain is slooowly thawing out after the end of school), and that I am back in business for cover design and layout. If you are looking for a new book cover, or a re-working of one, send me an email. For the commentators, if you want a critique or hands-on help with DIY covers, ask and we can either do it in comments or if you’re not that brave (and I don’t blame you) via emails.

Here’s the latest cover I created for a friend and talented writer David Burkhead.

trevas children

Covering Your Book: Part 1

The art of covering a book, as part of the MGC practical series we’re running for a week or three.

We’ve talked about this many times, here and elsewhere. I think last time there may have been an epic troll war in the comments section, which I’m hoping to avoid this time. I’m going to do this in two parts, this one being the preliminaries, and next week, a hands-on tutorial style how-to create a cover. Something I’ve come close to doing before, but in a little more depth this time.

There are multiple things going on with a book cover. I’m going to focus on front covers for now, and if enough people want it, come back to spines and back covers later. Let me know in the comments.

First, you have to understand what a cover does. It does not convey a real scene from your book. Now, I’m not saying that if your heroine is a blonde, it’s ok to have a brunette on the cover, but I am going to say that the cover does not need – and indeed, SHOULD NOT be a faithful representation of something from inside the book. Instead, your cover art needs to convey a sense of what’s inside the book, as a whole. Your cover sends subliminal cues to your reader, whether they ever stop to think about it, or not. Is your cover very pink (or purple)? Probably a romance. Barechested male on the front? Probably a romance. Exploding spaceships? Whoops… probably not a romance.

But then you get down to even more subtle signs than that. There’s a spaceship, and a star scene, and a abstract representation of a face in genetic code… probably hard SF. One thing you will never, ever see on the cover of a legitimate SF or fantasy book is a photograph. It’s always an illustration. Only with Romance can you get away with a photo.

How can you tell what your cover art should look like? Well, the first thing I tell anyone I’m consulting with on cover art is to go to Amazon and search for your subgenre. Not the entire genre: all of SF is too broad. On the other hand, western space opera cowboy… that might come up with something more usable. Or simply dystopian SF, or… you get the idea. Now, look at the top 100 paid titles in that subgenre. You will see a certain pattern appear as you do so. We aren’t saying you should copy anything faithfully. But you ought to find the overall pattern, and make your art fit into it, because this is the unseen cue that tells your reader what they can expect when they start reading.

Yes, it’s difficult when your book doesn’t fit neatly into a genre. I know this… my Children of Myth series is both fantasy, and SF. I have opted to go with something that looks more fantasy, as it’s closest to the core of the stories. wolfling

Now that you have a mental idea of what works – and not before this! Trust me, you will fall in love with an unsuitable piece of art, and that will only end in tears – you can go to a reliable site and look for stock art. Yeah, yeah, I know. You want an artist who will faithfully and lovingly render the perfect scene for you, with the biometrics of your main character perfectly aligned with your mental picture of them, and… you can’t afford it. Original art justly costs an arm and a leg, and until you are a blockbuster in the sales department (and then you can come back and write a guest post for us telling us how you did it!) you can’t justify laying out thousands of dollars on an artist.

If you find an artist who promises you cheap art, you need to get references – are they reliable? Will they deliver, or vanish with your cash? Are they capable of creating professional level art? – and you need to have a clear understanding of what’s being delivered. If you’re paying someone $50 to do a cover, you will get what you paid for.

So, stock art. You know what you are getting, with a minimum of skill in a graphics program you can tweak it to make it uniquely yours if you are worried about someone else having the same cover, and it’s very inexpensive. I recommend GIMP to most people for tweaking, and the text design a bit later, as it is freeware, there are a ton of tutorials available, and it’s not that difficult to learn. (Shh, all you out there. I’m teaching myself Adobe Illustrator, I don’t want to HEAR how hard you think Gimp is)

Those of us at MGC who do covers highly recommend that you don’t just grab a random piece of art you found on the internet. For one thing, you don’t know where that came from. It may be under copyright – most likely is – and you can’t just slap it on your cover and go. Whatever you pick must be licensed for commercial use. Make sure to attribute the art inside your book. Artists, like authors, have to eat and pay bills, and they can’t do that with stolen art.

For me, I can take bits and pieces of stock art and fuse them into an original creation. This is, I know, not that easy for most folks. And done badly, it’s almost worse than that teenage artist you found. I’ve seen some pretty bad cover art that was created from poorly joined stock pieces. However, there is hope.

Dollarphotoclub is just what it sounds like. A huge collection of stock, both illustrations and photos, which you can search for the right piece. Dreamstime is another good site, although pricier. For free stuff that will take a little more work on your part, try Morgue File. For small elements, I use Open Clipart. You need to keep a couple of things in mind as you are looking.

One, sometimes a photo can be modified to be used as an illustration. We who do this a lot and buy pro-tools like Filter Forge for this. But if you aren’t ready to lay out over a hundred dollars on a program, there are other options. I’ve seen some interesting results with Pencil Sketch, which is freeware. Gimp has manual filters you can layer on (just one won’t do, in this case) until it no longer looks like a photo. So keep that in mind as you browse.

Second, you need to make sure there is enough room for text without interfering with important art elements. The layout of the art, portrait or landscape, isn’t terribly important right now, because you will likely be blowing it up and shifting it around until it looks good, anyway (Oh, yeah, you need to be looking at high-resolution art. Minimum 300 dpi, to be able to use on print covers. Unless this is a short, and will never be in print. But KDP still has quality requirements). But there has to be room for text, which is arguably more important than the art itself. You also don’t want an overly-detailed piece of art. Most readers get their first impression of your book from a thumbnail sized image on the computer screen. Too much detail gets lost, interferes with the text, and looks muddy.

Next week, we have the art, now what? Or: the most important thing on the cover of a book is your name. Make it bigger, I said!