How to create a terrible cover for your novel

In general, I’m in favour of the self-publishing movement. It lets people publish their work without having to be “found”; this can be empowering for the dedicated author. Self-publishing and traditional publishing can co-exist, I think; traditional publishers offer great services like editing, promotion, critique, distribution, and more. Some authors opt for something in between, like hiring an editor for a flat fee or paying a company to prepare an ebook for them.

However, a distressing number of [possibly excellent] authors have chosen to design their own covers for their great [insert nationality here] novel, and it causes me to not buy it.

It’s the first thing I see

Even before the title, usually. Cover, title, author, page count (I try to read new folks at under 200 pages, in case it’s awful). You need to get it right, or I’ll scroll past.

It shows how serious you are

If you spend 500 hours writing your story, shouldn’t you spend more than an hour making it look presentable? Or, since you’re better with the keyboard than you are with the camera, perhaps you should consider hiring this out?

You’re not going to make any money if your cover is bad

I think a lot of authors are hoping to make money selling their books. If I won’t buy your $0.99 ebook because of the poor font choice, you can bet a lot of other people won’t either.

Here’s a thought

Instead of having a terrible cover, contact a local high school (or not-local; the Internet is pretty large, I hear). Speak to the teacher who’s responsible for graphic design, photography, or visual arts. See if they have a student who would like to read your book (yes! make them read it!) and design your cover for $200. Better yet, make it a contest: anyone in the class can submit a design, and the winning designer is awarded the $200 and is credited in the book. 

But if you’re going to do it yourself…

…please don’t do the following. Many, many ebook covers look too much like this one.

A bad cover image.

Here’s what I did to build this monstrosity.

Step 1: Find a scary background image

Okay, I couldn’t find a scary forest in less than 60 seconds, so I grabbed this one (I took care to get something with a licence I could use; I worry that many authors would not):

A picture of a path in a forest.

Then, since it was too daytime-ish, I took a moment to make it scary:

A picture of a path through a forest with a poorly-darkened sky.

Step 2: Find an image of a scary object to put in the scary background

No problem. Skulls are scary, right?

A picture of a skull, cutlass and gold coins on a red velvet background.

Now, to get rid of all that extra, non-woodsy stuff:

A picture of a skull in an image editor.

Step 3: Add some text using multiple, tired fonts in difficult-to-read, flat colours

A bad cover image.

That took about 5 minutes, including the time to load Photoshop Elements. Unfortunately my title seems to be related to the cover image, which (judging by the covers I’ve seen) is not a requirement. I’m sure you can do better, and I’m really sure an aspiring high school student can do much, much better. Pay them something so you can get back to writing.

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3 thoughts on “How to create a terrible cover for your novel

  1. hahah! Nicely done. :) I especially like the use of Papyrus. This is one of the problems I encounter with empowering teachers to change their themes in D2L. I suspect I’m often empowering them to make their courses look painfully, painfully awful, making the whole experience worse for the students! eek!

    • I considered using one of those practically illegible “gothic” script fonts, but I thought that was too ridiculous.

      One of those times that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”?

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