This is the first in what will (hopefully) be a series on basic book cover design. Nothing scary, nothing too complicated, just a guide for authors who want to design their own covers or graphic designers just starting out. More experienced designers will know all of this and will probably have their own shortcuts or ways of working, but this is how I work.
To start with, you’re going to need a graphics program, some stock images, and a few basic tools. I know there are template software programs out there that will help you design your cover, but this tutorial doesn’t cover that. We’re going to make the assumption that you want to do it properly, gain skills and build on them, and apply those same skills to other projects: swag, doing your own ads, graphics for your site, social media headers and so on.
This type of thing allows for a hell of a lot of fumbling along the way, but very little in the way of shortcuts. :)
First, software. Personally I have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription and for me it is invaluable. The basic Photography rate is under $10 a month, which is a huge bargain. You can also use Gimp, which is free. Anything that I post here will be using information and screenshots from Photoshop.
Next, you’re going to need a basic graphics tablet. You really, really can’t do this stuff with a mouse. It’s the type of thing they make bad designers do all day in hell, it’s that bad. I have a Wacom Intuos Pro tablet that I’m happy with, but in the past I have used one of the Huion tablets which was dead cheap and did a fine job.
You need something to work with, right? You’ll need stock…and by that I mean commercial stock from a reputable site, or good images that you have created yourself. Never, ever, ever risk using something that you don’t have the rights to as it isn’t worth it. Since I use so much stock I usually watch out for the yearly deals that Depositphotos runs on Appsumo, as you can pay $49 for 100 images. I’ve had subscriptions in the past to Shutterstock and so on, and for me it was a lot of pressure to download my quota of images every month when I may or may not have needed them at the time, or known what I did want. Having credits means that I can use them whenever I need to, to suit my current needs. For specific genres there are sites such as Period Images where you can find good images from various historical periods for romance covers.
Do you need all of that to start off with? No.
You’ll need some kind of graphics program, of course. And you’ll thank me once you get a graphics tablet. The key throughout all of this, however, is to just start playing with it. Play, as in have fun with it! Do images of the kids, photoshop wings and a halo on the dog, whatever. Everything you do is a learning experience. Keep doing this during the next step, which is looking at current trends in cover art and deciding what would suit your book best.