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DIYDay Lesson 21: Graphics Editing – The Evolution Of A Book Cover

There are gifted individuals out there who can sit down at a brand new task and instantly excel at it. The rest of us learn by trial and error. And if we (yes, I’m mostly speaking about myself here) insist on going it alone, there is a lot of trial and error. What I’m sharing today is the evolution one of my self-made covers has gone through. It wasn’t the only one, by any means, but it was the one with the most revision. I do this to show you that sometimes stubbornness, perseverance, and versatility pay off. Most of the time, actually. Sit back, relax, and watch me screw up.

A lot. And then finally get it right. I give you…


The Evolution Of The Beast


In the beginning, there was nothing. The Beast was never meant to be a full-blown bona fide publication. I started posting the story on my (old) blog(spot) by chapters out of boredom, just to get the story out of my head. As such, it wasn’t edited, it wasn’t formatted, and it sure as heck didn’t have a cover page. By the time I got to chapter 18, however, I figured some visual decoration might be nice to have. I created the barest minimum, a thumbnail-sized cover using the cheapest rose stock image I could find and a yellow eye in a black space. It didn’t even have my author name on it, just the title written in a generic pre-installed font.

But then I discovered Smashwords, and this wonderful ability it had to make publishing easy for authors. I figured, I’ve gotten this far, might as well put the whole thing out there… Of course, Smashwords is no joke. The process of getting something approved for publication is a serious matter and involves a lot of serious requirements, a proper cover image among them. Thus, this came about:

The Beast

This is the actual full-sized image, which passed muster with Smashwords because it was uploaded before they updated their size requirements of at least 1000px width (this is 500px). As you can see, it’s not good. The rose is blurred, the eye is cartoonish and lame, floating disembodied in the darkness of the background. I actually used the photo of my cousin’s cat to do this–badly. But on the bright side, the title at least is eye-catching and unique, something a beast might scrawl trying to write as he used to when he was still human. Also, my author name is on it. Handy thing, that. People actually see who wrote it.

Tools: GIMP
Ingredients: 2 very bad stock images and 2 decent free fonts
– enlarge photos
– alter the brightness and contrast to make the red rose look crimson and the eye look gold
– alter the brightness and contrast more to make a silvery gray cat look black (went way overboard)
– add and size text as needed
Time to completion: since this was essentially a remake of the original tiny thumbnail, I spent maybe 2 hours trying to make it look good in a bigger format.

It wasn’t pretty, but as my very first attempt at making an actual cover, it was all I had to work with, so I accepted it and moved on.

Bastien (The Beast, book 1)

And then came Bastien. Yet another unplanned book child which made The Beast a series. Bastien’s cover went through a revision as well, but for now, let’s leave that on the back burner. For Bastien, I pulled out the stops and actually invested in a proper stock image and cursive font to mimic his arrogant signature. It still needed adjustments, but the final result of the first version (on the left) was pretty damn good.

But now I had a problem. This cover was so much better than The Beast, I couldn’t let the travesty stand. I needed them to match in terms of color scheme at the very least. This was also right about the time Smashwords updated their sizing requirements for cover art, so a revamp of The Beast became not only practical, but necessary.

Thus, this came about:

The Beast (The Beast, book 2)

As you can see, the theme of a glaring eye is still the same, but I’d improved in my GIMPing skills by leaps and bounds, and was able to alter the cat picture to at least show a hint of fur to match Bastien’s hair.

Tools: GIMP
Ingredients: 2 still very bad stock images and 2 decent free fonts
– enlarge photos (again)
– alter the brightness and contrast to make a silvery gray cat look less like a cat
– play with the colors to match fur to human hair
– size text as needed
Time to completion: another remake, I spent maybe 3 hours fixing the fur issue to make it look animal, plus, let’s say another hour to make sure the larger format worked.

Such was the cover, and it was good.

BastienBut not good enough. I still got a very cartoony vibe from it, and it only became more pronounced when I remade the Bastien cover to show his full face for the combined Beast Series print cover. (New rose, did ya notice?) My skills had improved even more, as evidenced by the fact that the face to the right is actually an amalgamation of two different faces, since Bastien’s stock image sported a mask over his lower face. I know, I’m good, right? 😉

But no matter how good I got, I still couldn’t make that damn cat picture any better. You are only as good as the limitations of the tools you work with.

And then something else happened to spur me forward. I got a new program for making/editing videos and, as the only books still without a trailer, I decided to make one for the series as a whole.

It turned out fantastic. My best to date, in fact, because I’d splurged some and invested in more stock images and video animations to really make the story come alive in the short trailer. Which actually turned out to be a very handy thing, because one of those images was perfect for remaking the cartoony Beast cover. And so, years after its birth, with just a bit more blood, sweat, and tears, the final incarnation of this cover came to be:

The Beast

Tools: GIMP
Ingredients: 2 new, much better stock images and 2 decent free fonts
– Rose: adjust brightness and contrast to make it crimson, and add overlay of a pattern to give it an aged texture and fancy light-and-shadow effect
– Lion: adjust brightness and contrast to match color to Bastien’s hair, use “quick sketch” script to bring up the texture of the fur in overlay
– Background: gray stone bricks to give that fairy tale castley feel
– Text remained the same
Time to completion: A complete remake, with much better images and ready-made text layout took me about an hour. Done and done.

Now here’s why this cover is actually the only one of its versions worthy of the title:

It is a high quality, high definition image composition. No blurring, no weird mistakes, no eye sores. The text is easily readable against the dark background (very important). The images themselves convey the look and feel of the title character and his story–the lion’s head is bent, eyes closed as if in sorrow. The rose at the bottom provides a hint of the Beauty and the Beast theme, without beating readers over the head with it. It is dark, somber, and dramatic, without crossing into caricature territory. And it matches the companion novel’s cover to make a cohesive series.


Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!


Moral of the story: DYI isn’t always a straight road ahead. It will throw you for a loop, chuck you back to the beginning a few times, and frustrate the hell out of you. But it is one that ultimately keeps you moving forward, makes you grow and get better, always strive to one-up yourself, because you can. You don’t need permission from anyone to do it, and you don’t need to wait on anyone else to do their part before you can do yours.

I am not always a fan of changing things once they’re “official.” I always get annoyed when authors release new editions of the same book in different wrapping–it feels like they’re just trying to get more money out of their faithful readers, so doing this was not an easy thing for me to do. But there are times when such changes are necessary and provide a significant improvement on the original. In such a case, ya just gotta do what ya gotta do. At least with eBooks you always have the option of downloading the updated version. With print books, not so much. Which is why I make damn sure my print versions are 100% as good as I can make them before I put them out there.

Until next time!

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