While everybody agrees that creating a beautiful book cover should be the work of an artist, hiring book designers could be very expensive for most self-published authors. What happens if you can’t afford a designer and sell your book on Amazon or upload it to Wattpad?
Yes! It's totally possible to create great covers for free: you just need to learn a few tricks to make one that looks professional.
This article explores what the main steps of creating an eye-catching book cover are. Self-publishing a book isn't always easy, but an amazing book cover can help you get it right.
To read more about ebook covers, check out our other articles on this topic:
- Book cover requirements
- Create an ebook cover with Canva or Spark for free
- Complete guide for book cover sizes
- Complete guide to choosing your book cover font
- 3D covers and bundle covers
(Article was updated with more information on April 07, 2020.)
Checklist on creating a book cover for free
Here are the items you’ll need to take care of when creating your own book cover:
- Your title and your author name. There is no need to put anything on the cover other than the author’s name, the title, and the subtitle.
- A suitable image or images. These will be used as the main part of your cover. It is uncommon to create completely typographic covers unless the book is literary fiction.
- A genre-specific font. Serif or sans-serif?
- You can use an editing app, online service, or get a professional photo editing software.
- A feedback group. Just as you wouldn’t publish a book without getting somebody to read it first, you can’t publish a book without getting feedback on your cover either.
Let’s dive deeper!
1. Your title and author name
If you need help with selecting a good pen name or giving a title that really sells, check out this article. Before you start designing, let’s see what to include and what to leave out on a book cover.
Do put on the cover your name, your title, and your subtitle. You might also put the series name or volume on the cover, but if your covers look visually similar, it is not necessary.
If you won a prize and reached #1 on Amazon in a category or sold over a million copies, you can also put that on the cover. Subtle, short quotes from your reviews are also allowed.
Please don’t put on your cover any price references (neither ebook nor paperback) or keywords. Prices simply change too fast! And definitely don’t overstuff your cover: less is often better.
2. A suitable image: find a royalty-free photo for your book cover
There are only a few genres where a text-heavy cover works well. These genres include literary fiction and university textbooks. Readers of literary fiction usually don’t pick their next read by the cover but by recommendations of critics and prize-givers).
And readers of university textbooks usually read what they have to. It’s not like text-heavy, typographic covers cannot be fascinating. Here are two examples (the 1984 one is not real though, it is only a plan):
Most other genres, however, require a photo in the background - below we go over how to find one.
Find a free stock photo (or a very cheap one)
If you can’t afford to pay an artist or a photographer, you’ll have to use a free stock photo. There are many collections of free or cheap stock photos online. (P.S. Browse our list of self-publishing resources here for low-priced stock photos and design assets).
A stock photo is a photo that can be licensed by many different companies and used for many different purposes. And it is used for all kinds of things! For some insight on how wide the usability of stock photos is, check this article.
If you decide to use or buy a stock photo, it is likely that other covers in your genre will have the same photo, or even: you can see your beloved main character on a billboard, advertising a toothpaste – or something much worse. See the following stock photo on four covers and two ads.
If you decide to use a stock photo, you can easily find a free or very cheap one even under 10 USD. Never use a stock photo without purchasing its commercial rights. You’ll need to make sure that the image is free to use and modifiable for commercial purposes. If your photo has watermarks, or if it is not available in a format large enough, you are likely not using it legally.
Another option is to look for a photo that is licensed in the Creative Commons system. Creative Commons provides an easy way to manage copyright online. If you get your picture from a website that supports creative commons, you don’t have to do heavy research to learn what you can do with the picture.
The little pictograms clearly tell you your rights. For a book cover, you’d need something with commercial rights (without the crossed-out dollar sign) and with the right to make modifications (without the equation mark).
Remember to credit the author of the photo on your copyright page or in your colophon.
Get free stock photos or creative commons photos
Joanna Penn has an amazing collection of free or cheap stock websites. Here are some other ones:
Don’t forget to credit the photographer if it is required. You can give credits on the copyright page.
3. A genre-specific font
We already covered a lot about book cover fonts so we’ll make this brief. If you’re using an online app to edit your book cover, you most likely won’t be able to upload your own font, but you can still use these guidelines to choose the best from the ones at your disposal.
4. Edit your book cover
Once you have your title, suitable cover art and font ready, it is time to put everything together!
On your computer
Paint comes pre-installed on all Windows computers. It is definitely not a professional photo editor, but it can be used to create a simple cover photo. Its greatest disadvantage is that you can’t easily change things: it can’t handle separate layers. We don’t recommend it, but it’s there as a resource.
Gimp is an open-source image editor. It is a lot like PhotoShop, but free. It can be installed on Windows, OS X, and Linux based computers.
While the design software takes some getting used to, it is perfect for all your image manipulation, editing and creating needs. If you have a stock photo and a suitable font, you can use Gimp to combine them.
In the cloud
If you are working from a smartphone or a tablet and downloading a desktop software is not something you can afford to do, try a free online app to generate a professional book cover design.
Have you heard of Spark or Canva? We have compared their features in length in another article. They are both free, have an amazing collection of stock photos, and let you upload your own picture as well. You can use Canva as your ebook cover maker or Wattpad cover maker.
5. A feedback group
Before you put your cover out there, you have to get some honest feedback on it. Not from your best friend, but somebody who is in your target group: somebody who could potentially spot your book in a book store, pick it up, buy it and read it.
But where to find the right people to give feedback on your book cover? Check feedback groups like the Indie Cover Project. It is full with amazing people who check your cover, read your blurb and tell you what to change. The advice they give is usually very thorough and professional: they tell you whether your cover is in line with genre standards, whether you’re targeting the right age group, whether your title is readable enough etc.
There are also a ton of Facebook groups for indie authors where you can get feedback, and other author forums, like Kboards' Writers' Cafe.
We hope that by now you know how to design a book cover for free. Did we miss something important? Let us know.
After Designing Your Cover, What's Next?
If your goal is to self-publish your ebook, PublishDrive can help! Once you've designed your cover, you can head over to PublishDrive's FREE ebook converter to convert your manuscript and jumpstart your publishing.
Sign up for a PublishDrive account to publish your book on hundreds of online stores, including Amazon, Google Play, and even Chinese retailers. The best part? You keep 100% of your earnings! Get started today.