I’ll start with a fact: I’m a cover junkie. Whenever I’m browsing Amazon, and my eyes fall on a great-looking cover, I find my forefinger’s pad tingling to tap the “Buy with 1-click” button. And then I have to force myself to consider my monthly book budget; if it’s the beginning of the month, I’m toast!
When I decided to go down the self-publishing route, I knew that one of the perks was that I got to decide what my cover would look like. No generic stockphoto images that screamed “hot romance” would do for me—an established practice for the majority of romance imprints. I needed the characters I created, nourished and came to love to find the perfect casting, and the Casting Director job would be mine and mine alone. Plus, having no big publisher promoting me, I needed the resulting cover to stand out even in thumbnail size. The fact that ebook covers are seen by the majority of readers in a very small size, obscuring details should be seriously factored in when designing your cover.
Now, what makes a cover truly stand out? In my opinion, it’s a mix of originality and branding, or rather originality in branding.
When branding a product, marketers say, the first thing you do is write down its keywords. Now, when we’re dealing with a genre-specific book, these keywords have to resonate the genre not the plot—think “small size”. For example, a major key concept of my novel is its location: Fate Accompli’s story has a Greek island backdrop so my keywords were “seascape”, “sunset”, “beach” and the general quality I went for was “stunning”—bold, striking colors.
Next step was to start browsing stockphoto sites, and, boy, there are a lot out there! You could try finding free images, and this is the best list of free image sources I’ve found, but I wanted a professional-looking cover, so I headed over to the pros. Here’s a list of the 18 top stock photo libraries which, however, does not include Depositphotos which, in the end, became my go-to site. (It offers a free photo or sometimes a free video to its subscribers every week!)
Tip Time: To save time, you can use Everystockphoto. It’s a search engine that will turn out both free and licensed images.
Stockphoto sites offer you different pricing plans: from daily or monthly subscriptions with varying downloading limits to pay-as-you-go credits or images on demand. Prices differ too. What’s common to all is the two types of licenses: standard and extended (or enhanced).
Tip Time: Any image used for a book cover requires a Standard License (the cheaper kind). Trust me, I got the info straight from the horse’s mouth.
So, coming back to my cover, my heroine’s red hair pointed me to a dawn or sunset color palette. It didn’t take me really long to locate this image, and it took my breath away.
Searching for characters
Monica is 24, holds an MBA, but she suffers from a type of emotional growth stunting. How else would you call the fact that the motive behind her determination to get an early degree with Honors stemmed from this crippling need to gain validation from a guy she barely knows? Her stepbrother’s (former) best friend? She hasn’t laid eyes on Alex in nine years, but he made such an impact on her in her teens, he became an omnipresent force in her life. And he doesn’t have a clue!
Monica is a redhead. Pleasant to look at but not a stunner. Young, fresh, likable, a young girl trying to find her identity while fighting traumas in a childhood that deprived her of her father and turned her mother into a trophy wife of a despot. The victim of incessant denigration, she’s naturally insecure but inherently optimistic. And strong.
It took me hours upon hours of browsing to locate the right Monica. What I got when entering the basic keywords (young woman, redhead, portrait) were heavily made up women with a sultry look. I did locate her, however, on Shutterstock. And bought her in Large (sorry about the object reference, but I am referring to the image right now). Wrong move. The exact same image was available on Depositphotos for a cheaper price (or rather a cheaper plan). But, although I had searched there for hours, the same keywords hadn’t turned up that image.
Super Tip Time: If you find an image on a stockphoto site, and you want to check if the same image is available on other sites, possibly cheaper, you can right-click on the image, choose ‘Search Google for this image’ and bingo! You get all available locations of the same image.
On the outside, Alex Argiros is king. He runs a successful natural stone giant, he’s good looking, fit, healthy, a player … and miserable. Alex wanted to become a doctor. He never cared for corner offices with a view. But his father’s dying wish was to turn the company around after his business partner’s betrayal. And Greeks don’t take their father’s dying wish lightly. Alex dropped out of a promising residency in a New York hospital and became a success in an area that left him cold. Needless to say that the driving force behind his success was to see Stavros Chrissos, his father’s nemesis, ruined. If he knew that the girl he hired as his PA was that man’s stepdaughter, he would have thrown her out on the curb, no questions asked. He ends up loving her. Until he finds out…
Alex gave me an even harder time to locate. My keywords were “handsome”, “male model”, “dark hair”, but “handsome” is, well, a very subjective notion. I found a lot of passable guys, so I made good use of the Lightbox solution offered by most stock photo sites.
Tip Time: If you’re registered on a stockphoto site, hovering over an image will give you the option of storing it in a ‘Lightbox’. Lightboxes are essentially folders you create to store your potential downloads. Very useful!
This guy was my favorite. I find him objectively handsome plus his thick brows and hair are just as I had described Alex—the blue eyes could easily darken to suit my stereotypically Greek male—so I went for him … so to speak. My initial idea was to have only his portrait in the Spicy version, with Monica on the Clean, but when I tried this model on that backdrop, the result screamed “gay romance”. So I opted for Monica on both covers (stronger branding) and Alex accompanying Monica on the Spicy.
Tip Time: Tin Eye is a ‘reverse’ images search engine. You upload an image or add its URL, and it tells you where it came from plus if other resolutions exist! Plus it has a browser plug-in. How awesome is that?
My Casting Director job was now done! I sent the three photos to, George Saliaris a graphic artist I had connected with on Facebook and whose portfolio I had liked, gave him my concept and asked how much he would charge to put the whole thing together. His price was 25 Euros ($31.5) for each cover when a professional cover designer would charge even ten times as much. Of course, the images’ rights had already been purchased by me, so the overall cost for one cover would amount to $40.00. The two covers I did cost cheaper as I used the same images on both.
The Clean and Spicy stamps used to further separate the two versions (Clean & Spicy) was an awesome suggestion by Nicholas Rossis, author of the epic fantasy series, Pearseus. They are barely discernible in the thumbnail size, but I have used the terms on the Amazon book title as well, so I think the distinction is clearly displayed on each book’s Amazon page.
And … voilà!
And today those covers are out for the world to see, and have on their tablet, phone or Kindle! Along with the book, of course!
If this article enhanced your knowledge on cover creation or working with stockphoto sites, I’d appreciate something in return:
- Add my Amazon’s Author Page to your Favorites (there’s no Like button any more!) and/or
- a Wish to Read on Goodreads
Thanks for reading, and any ideas, questions or pointers you have feel free to share in the comments’ section.
Fate Accompli is now out on Amazon in two heat versions. The links below will take you directly to your Amazon store.
Fate Accompli Spicy: getBook.at/FateSpicy
Fate Accompli Clean: getBook.at/FateClean
If you’d like to read the first chapters of Fate Accompli, they’re available on Wattpad.