A Writer’s Life: Cover Me 4: Electric Thermador

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

Man, been awhile since I did one of these?  Yeah, I got all tied up in that Personal Agile stuff, and overdid it.  So back to a more diverse blogging diet.

I wanted to do a final roundup of my experiment to make 30 book covers to practice my skills.  Last time I noted I actually got a request to do a “pro” book cover and did so.

So first up, here’s where I am:

  1. I did do over 30 covers.  Not all of them were worth posting, others I’m saving as I may actually write these books.
  2. I did slip the last month or so as I had so much else to do.  I probably need to keep practicing.
  3. I did prepare some mockups for future covers.
  4. I did get another request, and plan to keep pursuing those.

So overall, goal reached.  I had over 30 covers done, learned a lot, and feel I’m a much better artist.  But I can’t let this slip – it’s clear I have to keep practicing, which means making covers for myself, making mockups, helping others, and of course doing my own practice covers.  I do plan to keep doing smaller books and other ones where I can do my own covers, so it’s a skill worth keeping up.

Am I a professional?  No.  I can make professional-level work with time, but it takes a lot of effort – that pro-level cover I did for a co-worker took a prototype, a draft, and a final edit for a simple cover.  All-in-all it was probably 6-8 hours work.

Was it worth it?  Oh heck yes.  If you plan to publish a lot, especially if you’re doing a lot of works or doing smaller works (like ebooks only) it’s probably worth trying.  It may work for you if you take the time and have the skills – otherwise, though, seriously, hand someone the money.

Now a few lessons on covers from this roundup:

  1. Fonts.  Seriously you want a range of fonts, and want to know the usage rights.  Yes, there’s google fonts and what’s on your computer, but if you’re real serious, you may need to purchase a few.
  2. Style.  It’s imperative to look at other books that fit the kind of cover you’re making to learn trends – current and past.  Some things change that you need to keep up on – and some are constants you can’t miss.
  3. There’s really few truly simple book covers.  When you look close at many simple covers, there’s tiny bits of precision, from a font choice to a mild outline to a subtle shading in a text divider.  These subtleties are invisible unless they’re missing – then you notice something is dull.
  4. Photo usage rights are a tad complicated, so you want to read up on them.  If you’re using a picture of a live model, the rights can get real complicated; the basic rule is you can’t make suggestions about that model in your cover.  Ever wonder why many books have someone from behind, or the side, or below the neck?  It’s easier.
  5. Practice is really necessary to get good book covers.  It’s it’s own skillset, and even if you are an artist or designer, you might not be as good as you think if you never did a cover before.
  6. An amazing amount of book covers kinda suck.  If you can make or get a good cover it’s worth it.
  7. Finally, this was a great project.  I recommend trying it yourself!

There you go.  Thanks for being with me during this journey – and I’m sure there’s more practice covers to come!

– Steve

A Writer’s Life: Cover Me III – Electric Fantasy

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

Remember how I was practicing making book covers? How I was posting them on tumblr and elsewhere?

I got my first “professional” assignment.

Now this isn’t professional in the paid way, but in the “on an actual book someone publishes” way. I’m helping out an ambitious co-worker with a love of pulp SF to put out his e-book. I of course volunteered to do the cover. He gets it for free, I get practice, and it probably won’t suck.

This turns out to have been a bit stressful. You never quite appreciate your talents, or question them, until you’re doing something for someone else.  Kinda in the “questioning” stage right now.

At the same time, this is also fantastic for learning.

I realized first and foremost that the book covers I was making were suffering a bit because I knew they were basically practice. I didn’t polish them, I didn’t tweak them, I didn’t revise them as much because it was “just practice.” There’s all sorts of things you don’t do in practice that you do when it’s real.

It’s real because I’m not gonna give this guy some crap. He’s my co-worker, he’s a fellow writer, he’s a good guy – I’m not going to let him down.

This means that now I’m pushing myself even farther. Exploring techniques. Considering layout precision. Learning all the things I wouldn’t learn when I just do a one-off bit of practice.

There’s a few takeaways from this that are good for you artists and writers.

  1. First, practice is good. Don’t get me wrong, it got me here. In fact practice is needed to get good enough.
  2. “Projects” work for learning skills. My practice projects gave me a hell of a lot of experience.
  3. Doing something “for real” exposes you to all sorts of things you may not get in practice – details, feedback, market issues, etc.
  4. Doing something for someone is a great motivator.

Let’s see how this book cover goes. I’ve got one mockup and a vision in my head that, hopefully, I can bring into reality. I’m sure I have plenty more to learn – but everything I learn here can help me and others later . . .

– Steve

A Writer’s Life: Cover Me II: Electric Boogaloo

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

Sorry for all the delays in actually posting on writing.  been a weird few weeks.  So I want to talk about Book Covers again – with an interesting exercise.

I was thinking about my future writing plans.

First, the covers for the new Way With Worlds books were OK, but I realized I didn’t have the skills/intuition to have made them jazzier.  In fact, I wasn’t sure they needed to be jazzier, and realized I lacked artistic insights.

Secondly, I’ve considered revising and updating some past books, and that would mean covers.  For some I didn’t want to go purchase new art, especially for more niche works.

Third, my “Big Books” usually have paid art.  But what of smaller books, or less “eventful” books?  Sure I could buy a cover, but I had some skills, so why couldn’t I make better covers?

Thus, I set myself a project – to build 30 covers in gimp (because I am cheap) before the end of the year if not earlier.  This way I’d at least have the skills to make a decent book cover, and more than enough skills for books that might not need something jazzier.

I did this by:

  1. Using the free photos at pixabay.com when I need them.
  2. Looking at various book covers and seeing what I could learn from them about what made them “work” – from classic sci-fi to cheese romance.
  3. Finding new gimp techniques and trying them out.
  4. Trying to duplicate different genres and feels.

You can see the results at my tumblr, and I think I’ve definitely gotten better.  In fact, the improvement rate has been pretty remarkable.

This is a great technique to improve anything – build a project with no “critical deliverable” but a goal and try it out.  It could be used for more than just covers – it could be for writing, cooking, and so on.  Take what you want to learn and make a fun project out of it.

However for you indie artists, this may be worth trying yourself.  All you need is the gimp and some photos.  If you build enough skills, then you’re just some time and maybe a royalty-free (or self-taken) photo away from a book cover.


– Steve