Fair warning, you are about to get advice on creating your cover from a man with all the artistic talent of a slug. Indeed, so small are my gifts in this area that several slugs have written in to complain that my statement is demeaning to their creative abilities. It also has to be said you’re going to be taking PowerPoint advice from a man who is not particularly adept with PowerPoint, especially its Windows variant.
So why am I doing this exactly? Because I can, of course, and because I want to make a point; that even a man with my stunning lack of skill can create an acceptable ebook cover in a few minutes with a minimum of fuss. And if I can, then you can too. I am going to use the cover I create here for the ebook version of my sword and sorcery short story Henchmen so I’ll be putting my money where my mouth is too.
Why PowerPoint — why not Photoshop or the GIMP or any one of a dozen much more powerful programs designed to manipulate images? Because the last time I seriously used Photoshop was over 15 years ago and I can’t be bothered learning how to use it again. Also it costs hundreds of quid. At some point I do intend to learn to use the GIMP but I have not done so yet. So the chances of me being able to write a sensible post showing you how to use such an image editor are precisely nil. On the other hand, I do know how to make PowerPoint do this thing and PowerPoint is something that most of us are able to get our hands on relatively cheaply. It is a basic part of Microsoft’s Office Suite. That being the case, much more powerful programs are overkill.
If you already know how to use an image editor, go do so with my blessing. If you know how to use Photoshop or The Gimp you probably don’t need me to tell you how to create your own cover. This post is for the benefit of those who have absolutely no familiarity with the process.
Before we proceed, we’ll need to talk about the image you are going to use. Obviously, this should be relevant to your book, and hopefully striking and attractive to the reader’s eye. The rights to images are a bit of a legal minefield. If you use your own images and people appear in them, you are supposed to have the permission of those people to use the image. The same is true of certain buildings and works of art. There are images out there in the public domain and there are also image libraries where you can search through and buy pictures which all the legal paperwork has already been done for. Or if it hasn’t the problem is the library’s and not yours! (Again, full disclosure; one of the many talents and skills I lack is being a lawyer. This is one man’s understanding of a complex subject in which he is not in the slightest an expert.) The image libraries I use are Dreamstime and iStockphoto. A quick Google search will reveal more.
You can find acceptable cover images in the paid libraries for only a few dollars. You may even recognise them from some of the books you own from big publishing houses. I certainly did, which rather surprised me. The image I use here was 13 credits on Dreamstime. (Most libraries use a system where you purchase credits in much the same way as systems like Xbox Live do. The credit is a sort of borderless currency usable within the Image Library.) 13 credits costs about $17/£10.50. In any case, go get an image that reflects your book and we’ll be ready to make a start.
I will be using the OSX version of PowerPoint because that’s what I have screen capture utilities for. There are differences in the Windows version of PowerPoint. I will mention these in the text and hopefully add some more pictures when I get screen capture software for Windows. I use PowerPoint 2010 for Windows, the only version I have any (very limited) experience of. I don’t claim that any of the techniques I use here are optimal and I would be only too happy to hear of a better method of doing things.
I will be following standard menu conventions shamelessly lifted from most of the technical books I have read. I will place the names of the main menu first and separate them with a greater than sign that tells you to go to a sub-menu and all of this will be in italics. So Insert > Photo > Picture From File means click on the insert menu, go down to Photo and click on the Picture from File sub-menu.
Anyway, without further ado, let’s get started.
Open PowerPoint. Pick a theme that suits what you want to do. In this case I am going to pick a doomy white on black theme that will go with my sword and sorcery story.
Now you need to change Page Setup. You can use any unit of measurement you like and, within the restrictions I am about to mention, any size. The main thing is that your proportions should be 6 to 8 (or 3 to 4 if you like). By this I mean your page should be 6 units wide by 8 units high. You will eventually be exporting a 600 by 800 pixel cover and this will save you having to clip it to shape in an image manipulation program. Let’s make this slide 6 inches by 8 inches to give ourselves some room to work with. (Windows version: the controls for this are on the Design Tab of the Ribbon. There is a page setup button there.)
Now insert your cover image using Insert> Photo> Picture From File. (Windows version: the controls for this are on the Insert Tab of the Ribbon. There is a Picture button.) As I said, I am going to use a stock fantasy image I downloaded from Dreamstime. I ran it through a couple of filters in FX Photo Studio to make it different from anybody else’s use of the image. One of the problems with using stock images is that anyone can use them and unless you make some changes your cover may end up looking exactly like somebody else’s. Since the story is a dark comedy about a pair of adventurers who are the henchmen of an evil wizard and in it they encounters some orcish creatures, this image does well enough. It immediately tells the viewer something about genre and content.
I have made the image bleed over the side of the slide a little which is OK. This leaves a black bar at the top and bottom of the slide which is fine for my purposes. You might want to make the image fit the whole slide. You can alter the size of the picture with the little handles on the side.
Now it’s time to add my name. Let’s insert a text box using (you guessed it!) Insert >Text Box. It is a good idea to stick with the same font for all your covers in order to create a consistent image with readers. In my case, all of my previous e-books have used Caslon Antique so that’s what we will be using here. (Windows version: the controls for this are on the Insert Tab of the Ribbon. There is a Text Box button.)
Move the text box around and experiment with the font size until you get something you like. Make it as big as you can. Remember you need it to be legible as a small thumbnail. The little thumbnails on the left side of the screen will give you a good idea of how successful you are being. It’s a good idea to centre the text unless you are going for a special effect of some sort. I mostly just stretch the text box right across the screen and then use the biggest font size that will fit onto one line. Or if you prefer to have your name on two lines let it bleed over or use two or more separate text boxes for each word in your name.
The white text in the hook of the g looks a bit washed out against the pallid background of the image so let’s surround it with a black glow. Select all the text in the text box and then hit the glow button. (Windows version: You need to select the text box you are working. Click on the Drawing Tools Tab when it appears then click on the Text Effects dropdown when it appears. Choose Glow then go to glow options. Click on the color dropdown. Select Black. There is also a Shadow button just beneath the Fonts dropdown which simplifies things a lot at the cost of a loss of fine control.)
A sub-menu will come up. Go to Glow and select Glow Options. When you first see this there will be a bar that says No Glow.
Click on this and you will see a selection of colours under a heading Theme Colours. Choose black. You will then see something like this. Hit OK to apply this to the text.
This gives a nice semi-3D effect that makes it seem to float above the image. If you need to use this effect, you can play with the settings until you get something you like.
OK– let’s add the title of the book. Add another text box. Play with the font size until you are happy and then give it a bit of a glow if needed. It’s basically just a repeat of the last step.
It looks a little bare so I am going to add a quote at the top and a tag-line at the bottom that tells the reader that this is a story of Goran and Malik. They will be able to see that this is one of a putative series of stories.
OK– that’s all the elements in place. All that’s needed now is to play around with the basic sizes and proportions and positions until you get something you are happy with.
Anyway, that’s us done. It’s time to export the cover. Go to File>Save As Pictures and click on Options. Set width to 600 and height to 800. (Windows Version: Go to the File Tab and choose Save and Send. Select Change File Type. Choose JPEG File Interchange Format. Push Save. Choose Save Current Slide. As far as I can tell Powerpoint 2010 does not give you a choice of sizes when you export so you will need to open the JPG in an image editor and adjust the file size. You can do this very easily in Paint, the free image editing and drawing program that comes with Windows 7.)
Give your cover a title for when it’s saved. Hit OK. That’s it. We’re done here. And there you have it; a colour e-book cover for under $20 and a small investment in time. Once you’ve had a bit of practise the whole process should not take more than 10 minutes.
I don’t recommend you copy my layout here. (For one thing, I am sure you can do much better!) Instead take a glance at books in your own genre and see what they look like. Note how they use font sizes and various layouts. Find one that you like and try and duplicate the effects. (I am not saying copy the cover, just the style in which it is done!) Play around with things until you are happy. For example, with The Inquiry Agent (see picture on the right sidebar) we used two text boxes for the title with the words The Inquiry in a smaller font than the word Agent.
As a last word, one of the great advantages of this system is that you now have a template you can use for any future releases in this series. For example, when I release future Goran and Malik stories all I need do is load a new cover image, change the text in the title textbox and I am done. This may seem like my usual laziness to some but I like to think of it as efficiency.