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  • Writer's pictureStefanie Barnfather

My Favourite Book Covers

Just as our eyes are gateways to the soul, book covers are gateways to your story. The image, font and style that represent your work absolutely convinces readers to choose your novel out of millions, or take a hard pass and move on to the shinier, glossier, more distinctive frontrunners.

However, there is debate about how to best showcase your books, and what kinds of images, fonts and styles will grab audiences' attention -- and not disappoint once the cover is opened and your writing is read.

This week my blog explores how to work with visual artists or craft the covers yourself, which methods are effective and what kinds of tools can serve every element of your book's design. Also -- for a fun bonus -- three independent writers have generously shared their covers to act as examples and help "illustrate" my points.

If you can tolerate my visual art wordplay, keep reading.


YOU KNOW WHAT I THINK? by Stefanie Barnfather (moi)

Step 1. Get an art degree (ha ha). But seriously, it's smart to learn about visual design. Understanding colour palettes, placement, flow, movement, contrast, shading, scale and scope will allow you to make bold and effective design choices. Even if you hire a cover artist, knowing a bit about visual art can help you better communicate what you'd like. There's a psychology behind colour theory and knowing how human's interpret design on a visceral level (with our reptile brains) is important.

Step 2. Test and play with art apps. Practice with smaller media to learn the ropes of visual creation. Practice sharing different types of image files (online, in print, in various sizes). Practice modifying images to create the look you're going for. Click here for links to my favourite software. Again, even if you are outsourcing your book cover, having a working knowledge of media creation helps you collaborate with your visual artist.

Step 3. Think about your story and what you want your cover to say to readers. What's the vibe you're going for? Who are the characters? What's the urgency? Is there a moment in your book that best encapsulates your vision? How can you translate that into an image? Think about tone, think about representation, think about the heightened moments of tension.


(as an example)

The theme of my book is blurred lines between our reality and a dystopian one. I used a bold, primary colour palette to catch readers' eyes, an eyeless, androgynous model to represent universal gender neutrality (striving for 'every-person') and a brush stroke edge to mimic the rough lines between what we know and what we think we know. Vibe vibe vibe.

Step 4. Hire professionals -- or get artistically inclined friends to help. I recommend using a model or photographer to create your base images so you don't get slammed with stock media copyright infringement. Here are some different ways you can communicate what you'd like to your people.

  • Draw sketches (they can be crappy, its okay)

  • Make a mood board

  • Share buzz words

  • Give a chapter of your book to your designers

If you are working with others, provide them with a contract to protect their rights (and yours) -- here's a template you can use:

Artist Image Use Contract TEMPLATE
Download PDF • 66KB

On the day of your photoshoot, make sure you:

  • provide water

  • provide private accommodations in case your model(s) need to change/fix their hair/makeup, or the photographer needs to go through their designs

  • provide costume/hair/makeup tools for the model(s) if you want something highly specialized (otherwise they can provide it themselves)

  • GIVE THEM BREAKS -- don't be a duechebag, they are humans

  • Be nice to them -- even if your people aren't perfect, or can't give you the flawless look you've envisioned, a lot can be fixed by your visual artist in editing


(as an example)

My model -- Marisa Roggeveen @maristar -- is a pro actor and lovely lady. I've worked with her several times so I knew we would collaborate effectively.

Step 5. Choose your photo (photos) and upload them into your design app or send them to your visual artist. If your visual artist is your photographer, have them send you their top ten pics, then you choose your favourite. If you're creating your own cover, play with the colour of your image, size your file appropriately (confirm the different requirements for each publishing platform), then add text.


(as an example)

This is the raw pic before it went through my digital artistry processes. There were literally thousands of pictures taken at our shoot. I'll use them for the next two book covers -- and fun BTS content -- but this was my favourite. Cool, huh?

Step 6. Text placement and requirements -- title (duh), you (double duh) and some kind of "hook" line. You can also throw a review on there (if it makes sense) or any awards you may have. ie. BESTSELLING AUTHOR Blankity BlankBlank (love her work). Add shading to your text, or deep shadows, so it lifts away from your image, and MAKE SURE IT'S READABLE. Some artists will create original font for your covers. That's pretty cool, so embrace it if they offer. They may not be able to do it (it's time consuming) so don't be mean if they resort to one of the thousands of pre-made fonts available with most digital art programs.

DON'T overlay your selling platform logos, like AppleBooks' or KDP's. The big corporations don't like it and there may be a clause in your publishing contract that says, "Uh Uh, no no no, we don't want to officially associate with whatever scary, opinionated, polarizing crap you write". True story.


(as an example)

I kept the text simple. I don't have any awards, I'm not a bestseller, and all my reviews are things like, "Put pants on today -- a huge accomplishment!" and "Actually ate food -- well done!" and that verbiage doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in audiences, so...

Step 7. Size your cover for ePubs (front only, but a separate back photo is good, too, just make sure it's hi res) and one for print. If you're doing this yourself, Amazon Cover Creator is free. I've seen some lovely indie covers that are created with ACC.


(as an example)

To create the back cover, I trimmed and duplicated the edge of the door, then layered it to create a siding-like effect. Then I added the mauve text blocks with white, shadowed words overtop (my bio and the book's description), then my mastered headshot. FYI, I took that headshot on a whim in my living room, which saved me $1500 -- which is what my pro charges. I don't have that kind of money right now (hello? first book just released?) so saving over a grand and using a perfectly fine picture in the short term was an easy cost-saver.

Step 8. Pay your artists, upload your images to your various publishing platforms and live your best life. PAY YOUR ARTISTS. I know, I just said saving money is important, but if you hire people to work with you, PAY THEM. ON TIME. WHEN IT'S STIPULATED IN THEIR CONTRACT.


FAIRFAX & GLEW Volume 1 by Parker McCoy

Parker McCoy's book cover is one of my favourites. Created by it's a perfect example of flawless simplicity done right. By using one colour (the teal) in two shades (the background and Parker's name), along with black-and-white imagery and text, the tone of the book is clearly established -- and it's bold, clean, decisive storytelling. I love the movement of the stick figure and the explicit violence of his stance. I prefer active physicality in pics over passive -- the character mid-kick versus standing still. As a reader, I want to know more about why Mr. Sticky is breaking down the door. This cover makes me believe FAIRFAX & GLEW will be a well-crafted tale -- with lots of action.

Check it out


This is another one of my favourite book covers by indie author (and actor), C.E. Groom. Designed by Jack-of-all-Trades artist, Frank Fradella, this artwork draws you into C.E.'s world with its majestic purples and dominating black-clad character. When speaking with C.E. about how she made her artistic choices, she said, "I always wanted... the MC blooming large (on the cover), the bloodied sword prominent - but dark and subtly bloody - and the pinky of the sword hand ending just below the first knuckle. Then we had fun with the other two characters... and how they would appear on the back cover of the print edition with a constellation of stars behind them... to show the key opposing forces in the novel".

I love C.E.'s statement for a variety of reasons.

A) She knows the drama in her story [blood, sword, stars, opposing forces] and was able to describe her vision to Frank Fradella and receive an exemplary interpretation in return.

B) She uses specific wording about placement [finger pinky] and tone [dark and subtle] to communicate her needs.

C) She knows her characters, knows what she wants her audience to understand before they read her story and trusts that the cover will draw readers in.

D) She had fun. Yes! Thank you! Creating your cover should be fun! You should play, test, try and be messy before landing on your desired image. Enjoy the visual ride -- it makes the technical process of publishing more bearable.

Check it out for yourself


This cover is OUT. OF. CON. TROL. It's amazing. When J.E. told his designer, Kristina from TruBorn Design, that he "wanted something that wasn't the typical black/red/saturated blue and greens of typical horror books" and "thought warmer tones would be creepier", wow! -- was he ever right!

The detail! The movement! The delicate flowers that contrast the witchy woman! The luminous orb of power and darkness around her head! The warm hues that scream LIFE juxtaposed with the haughty arrogance of the nude, cracking, steely-eyed gaze of the cover character! The text that leaps out at you while simultaneously welcoming you in! Oof. This is a gooooooooood cover, friends.

Check out the book


As always, here are some resources if you want to be your own artist or learn ways to communicate with the pros.

Design software:

Canva Adobe Sketch Lunacy

Visual art software:

ArtRage ArtWeaver TwistedBrush

Fun art apps to train your brain:

ProcreatePocket JustALine HappyColour

Colour theory article (in art creation and in psychology):

Basic Colour Theory

Info about using Amazon Cover Creator:


Advocacy for pro covers:

Draft2Digital by Kevin Tumlinson

Advocacy against pro covers:

Why Covers Don't Matter

BE CAREFUL -- your cover is important, but not the most important. A clean, well-executed cover for an indie book can be just as striking as a complex one. You don't have to break the bank to represent your story well, but if you have the funds -- and the connections -- I recommend you support the artistic community by hiring others to do the job for you.

Hope this helps! Thanks for reading this week. Be sure to check out Parker McCoy, C.E. Groom and J.E. Erickson's books to support indie!

I am not paid to promote or advertise any of the software, apps, tools and artists mentioned in this blog.

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