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Seekerville: The Journey Continues

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Avoiding Sticky Book Cover Situations

 Avoiding Sticky Book Cover Situations

As queen bees of the JustRead hive (aka owners of JustRead Publicity Tours) and avid readers, we’ve learned a thing or two about sweet reads and sticky situations. We want to help you avoid common book cover blunders and ensure your readers aren’t confused or even deterred by a sticky situation. 

Generally, authors will either have DIY, outsourced, or a publisher-directed cover design process. While this article is written primarily with independently publishing (or hybrid) authors in mind, the concepts are important for all authors to consider. Whether you are creating your own cover or conveying your vision to others, the goal is for the heart of your story (or nonfiction content) to shine through the cover.

 Avoiding Sticky Book Cover Situations
Visual Vibes

Research book covers that are selling or trending in your book’s genre and subgenre, making note of images, design styles, fonts, and colors. Once you’ve identified design elements that work well for your genre, focus on reflecting the heart of your story within your author branding and genre trends. 

Stock Images

Even the pros utilize stock illustrations and images but check to see if your selections are already being used on another book cover. Layering multiple images is one way to create a more unique cover but make sure proportions and blending are natural.

Fonts

We love fonts but readability is key. Two different typefaces on a cover (sometimes three) are acceptable as long as the placement is mindful. Whimsical and script fonts are especially tricky but they pack a visual punch when used in moderation and/or paired with a simple clean font. 

 Avoiding Sticky Book Cover Situations
Good Sticky

Stick to your budget and timeline. Don’t wait too long to finalize your cover or make last-minute changes, delays could end up costing you more. Compromise is common during the cover design process but be willing to stick to it and keep the lines of communication open rather than settling for a cover that doesn’t fit.

Encouragement for DIYers

You can successfully create your own book cover with thorough research, more research, and the popper tools! Creating an appealing cover on Canva, Picmonkey, or other free or low-cost design platforms is possible. Many of these tools even provide book cover templates and it’s a great way to get the ball rolling for cover mock-ups and even final cover designs. Be sure to ask a few trusted and experienced confidantes for their opinion on your work but don’t stress over trying to please everyone.

Cover Design Pros

If your budget allows, we definitely recommend working with a cover designer. Choose a professional who has created covers you love. We love so many covers including those designed by Roseanna White, Teresa Tysinger, Hillary Lodge, Sarah Monzon, Emilie Hendryx, and more! Please feel free to give a shoutout to your favorite cover designers in the comments. Keep an eye out for a more in-depth post on working with a cover designer in the future.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” 

It’s a nice sentiment but the truth is that the cover is the first glimpse a reader has of the content within. Book covers set the stage just as words pull back the curtains on the wonderful experience we share through stories, devotionals, and nonfiction accounts. Readers are going to judge book covers so let’s embrace that and maximize their impact positively. 


Can you name some genre-specific design features? Does a certain cover style grab your attention? Carrie, Beth, and Rachel would love to chat about your favorite cover trends in the comments! 


 Avoiding Sticky Book Cover Situations
JustRead Publicity Tours, LLC is a full-service publicity tour company for published works in the Christian genre or books considered within the wholesome or clean reads genres. 

Check out their About page to meet the queen bees or jump right into the Authors & Publishers or Readers sections to learn more about JustRead campaigns.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)


By request, today's post focuses on how to use the programs and resources covered in Parts I, II, and III to create DIY book covers by merging two or more photos to create attractive covers.

First, it takes a professional graphics artist with high grade software to mash, smash, mix, and combine multiple photos of landscapes and people and make it all look as if it was all taken together. I'm not a professional. I'm a rank amateur and a DIY guru. The covers I've created aren't meant to look as if they were photos taken that way. But there are techniques to get around that obstacle.

So, let's get started...

The untouched photos of the woman and the landscape below were chosen to compliment each other. Ideally the photo of the woman would have had a bluer sky to make it easier to "merge" the two photos, but I decided to work with this one as is. I actually made this "mockup" cover a couple of months ago in preparation for this blog post, but realized I didn't have enough screenshots of the process to show you much of what I'd done. So I created another one yesterday, and decided to show both as they each employ some different techniques.

And, as I was going to "press", a friend shared a great FREE resource that you're going to love! I'll share it at the end.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
horsewoman-4001_1920.jpg


DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
utah-1802033_1920.jpg

As you can see from the photos above, neither look like they'd lend themselves to a book cover as in being the appropriate size, although the landscape would make a great wraparound cover for a print book. You'd just have to add more blue sky and clouds to the image.

But never fear. All I did was crop both photos until I got the look I wanted. I added a blue sky background behind the woman and then used a blue sky/cloud-looking swath across the middle to blend the two images. This created the perfect spot to add a title.

Now... you can still see a bit of white around the woman, but I liked the way it lended an airbrushed look, so, all in all, for a sample book cover, I was pleased with it.

I used Picmonkey to create this covers, and the Basic Graphics tool to create the faded edges and cloud effect on the cover below. I'm sorry that I didn't save more steps to show you how I did this. (That's why I created two covers for this project, so I could show you some of the specific steps.)

And... I notice I use the words "layers" and "flattened" a lot in this post. This might not be necessary to explain, but each piece (every photo, every grouping of words, every graphic) of a graphics arts piece is a different "layer", that is, until you "flatten" the pieces. Flattening in digital design software is kind of like ... covering something with scraps of cloth, paint, newsprint, letters, words, stamps, (whatever), then painting over everything with Mod Podge. lol You're welcome for the analogy!

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)

Now on to a cover I created for today's blog post called One Summer in Tuscany. When I realized I didn't have very much step-by-step screenshots to show how to create the above cover, I went to Unsplash and started looking for a landscape that I liked. Any landscape would do, since I didn't have a story idea slot to fill. My "mock" cover could be anything I wanted. If that seems backwards, it is. So, if you're thinking you need something VERY specific for the story you've already written, then read Part I of this blog series. In Part I, I cover how important it is to search for and save photo ideas for future projects. 

So, let's pretend I'm writing a book set in Tuscany. :)

First, I found the beautiful Tuscany landscape below and could just picture it was working for a book cover. Then I searched for couples, but didn't find anything that jumped out at me. Ideally, I was looking for a couple or a woman outdoors and with a muted background that would work well with the landscape. I found the blonde woman wearing the hat, but she didn't really work for the look I wanted, even though the muted background would make working with her image fairly easy. I kept looking and found the beautiful woman with dark hair. The background was going to be a bit harder to work with, but the look of the woman fit the Tuscany landscape SO much better, and I was excited to work on the project.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Unedited Photos Downloaded from Unsplash

Originally, I planned to create a cover on the same lines as the Western-style cover above (titled When Comes the Spring for lack of a more appropriate title): a landscape on the bottom with the woman on the top half, separated by a banner of some sort. But as soon as I uploaded the Tuscany landscape to PicMonkey, my plans changed. I could see that this cover idea could be so much more...
DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Screenshot #1

Screenshot #1, above, shows the landscape image uploaded to my book cover template (templates are covered in Part II of this blog series), cropped to the size I wanted for the cover, then FLATTENED. Flattened anchors or "glues" (like that mod podge we talked about) that image as the background. It's your first layer. You don't have to do this step, but it helps if you're pretty sure you've got that layer just as you want it.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Screenshot #2
Screenshot #2 shows where I uploaded the dark-haired woman before I had edited it at all. It's a new layer on top of the landscape layer. It's obviously way too big, but I wanted to leave it that way so that I could see enough to erase the parts I didn't want. The old eyes aren't what they used to be!

Also, I'm explaining ALL about erasing, but wait until the end when I share the cool new website I just learned after I did all this work. :)

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Screenshot #3

When you click on any layer/image in Picmonkey, a toolbox called IMAGE appears on the screen. To erase parts of the image, choose erase and adjust the parameters to fit your needs. I wanted to erase all the hard edges around the photo, as well as ALL of the background around her.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Screenshot #4

As a matter of fact, when I started, I planned to just keep her face, but she looked really funny with that hand on her chin. lol (And I liked her longer hair). Also, the "dangling" hand as well as her left arm with the wet shirt-sleeve looked totally out of place. Erase. Erase. I just slowly edited out until I hit just the right balance.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Screenshot #5

With a few more tweaks, I knew I was really close to a decent mix of these two photos that (to me) would make a gorgeous cover. Screenshot #5, above, is the landscape background and the cover model with NO filters applied to either.
DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Screenshot #6, "Tuscany Screen"

Now, let's play with filters. Sometimes, an author (or her editorial team), will decide to fade the model (or some other portion of a cover) for whatever reason. It might be a play on something in the novel... say, the heroine has amnesia and her memory is foggy. Or the title was something like "When Love Fades" or "Memories of You". You get the drift. To achieve these effects, use the Image Tool and play with the BLEND MODES. Screenshot #6 shows the results of using the SCREEN mode. Screen mode achieves a slightly different effect than just FADING, which is also an option on the Image tool. The more you play with Blend Modes, the more uses you'll find for each and learn the best times to employ them on different projects.


DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Screenshot #5 again. NO filters applied. I called this "Tuscany Normal"

At this point, I was very happy with Screenshot #5, aka "Tuscany Normal", and after I let the images settle, if I was truly ready to publish this book, with this title, I'd probably go with that nice, sharp image above. 

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
"Tuscany Faded"

But sometimes you have to play with the options to see what works and what doesn't. The photo of the girl above is faded just a tiny bit from Tuscany Normal. Just enough to let a tiny bit of the background to show through. If you look closely, you can see it in the duller look of her lips, and the way the horizon cuts through her hair toward her eyes. Using fade works in some situations and not in others. It's just a matter of preference.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Tuscany Screen

Here's Tuscany Screen again with the actual filter applied, which shows a LOT of blending of the model into the background. It's not a technique I'd use on a cover unless I had a really good reason. 

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Tuscany Smudge

To achieve Tuscany Smudge I used the Textures filter, which shows up on left of the screen. There are tons of options under this from Wood, Water, Marble, Papyrus, Ice, and on and on. Again, Tuscany Smudge is a bit over the top, not an option I'd chose, but it might work if the filter wasn't applied with such a heavy hand. Maybe just a tiny bit might be okay.

Oh, and BIG TIP. For Tuscany Smudge above, I FLATTENED both the landscape background and the cover model before I applied the Smudge filter. Otherwise, the filter would have only been applied to whichever image (layer) I'd selected. And, it's possible to apply different filters to different layers if you find you need to do that. Just know as you're working which layer you're working on and/or if the layers have been flattened first. (Sorry, that's getting a bit complicated, and I promised to keep it simple. :)

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
One Summer in Tuscany MOCK Cover


Tada! We have a cover. I used Tuscany Faded to create this cover, but again, if I really had a novel set in Tuscany, I'd probably go with the original no-filtered photo of the model.

Now, for the cool new software that I just found out about. And, it's FREE! While babysitting two of my grands just today (well, yesterday by the time you read this), my daughter-in-law's mom came by and we started talking about fun projects. She enjoys creating all the stuff you can do with a Cricut: mugs, t-shirts, etc. She told me about this cool site that removes the background of a photo and you can save your photo with a transparent background. While I manually edited out the backgrounds of both of my models for today's projects, there are lots of times I could have used this site. So I definitely plan to add it to my toolbox for later. Pretty cool, huh?

>>>>> www.remove.bg <<<<<

"Download" is free. "Download HD" will accrue a charge. I used Download for the following image.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Tuscany model with background removed using remove.bg


Okay, I think I've covered everything, and since it's nearly midnight and I'm out of time, we're going LIVE! Hope y'all enjoyed today's post and learned more tricks and techniques to create amazing graphics, whether for book covers, memes, or even t-shirts for your next family reunion.


DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of. www.pamhillman.com

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Fonts, Titles, Series Logos (Part Three)


In Part I of this series of DIY graphics design tutorials, we reviewed the need to find photos that will work for your projects as well as saving the links to those photos somewhere that you can find them later. Click here to review Part I, In Part II, we went over the basics of planning a series and choosing photos, cropping, the use of filters and planning for a series of covers, so click here to review Part II.

Today we’re going to concentrate on creating titles, series “logos”, taglines, etc. In other words, all the WORDS you see on the book cover.

First, a few simple rules to follow. Sure, you can break them, but if you do, make sure you know you’re breaking them for the better good.

A goofy example highlighting contrast

1) Contrast. Fonts need to STAND out and the best way for that to happen is to have sharp, clear fonts that contrast with the background. This doesn't mean that you have to ALWAYS use white against a black background, or black font against a light background, but if you narrow the gap between dark/light too much, it might make your title hard to read. Make sure you view thumbnails of your project before you get too far along in the process.

Another goofy example. But it is pretty cool. lol

2) Generally, don’t "fade out" or make cover fonts transparent. While It looks really cool while you’re working on it, when your readers view the thumbnail cover, it might be hard to read the words. Again, there are exceptions. A BIG, BOLD title with HIGH CONTRAST can work well with a bit of transparency. Again, just be aware of what it looks like on a thumbnail, which is what the bulk of our readers see these days. In the example above, the fading works and makes this fake title pop. I used two fonts and two colors, but both stand out great against the black background.

3) Don’t use too many fonts on your cover. TWO styles are fine. In some cases, you might use one font for your title (or a combination of fonts that create the look you want like the Black is the Night above), a different font for a series logo, and a different font for your author name.

4) Titles can work well as ALL UPPER CASE or lower case, depending on the font you choose. My examples above are all upper case. There's no hard and fast rule here. Readability is job #1, followed quickly by catching the reader's eye.

5) Generally, the author’s name on the cover will be ALL UPPER CASE. This isn’t a RULE, but it truly does help your name stand out better. Well known authors tend to have their last name really BIG, bold, and uppercase (KOONTZ). And some authors have a “trademark” style for their name that’s printed on the cover of all their books. Again, there’s not a rule of thumb on this, but just be aware that sometimes lowercase names are harder to see on thumbnails, and depending on the font you choose, you might even opt to make your name bold.

Now, let’s move on to the actual programs I use to create the words that go on my covers.

I use Picmonkey (I talked about this program more in Part II of this series), to design my book covers, but if I can’t quite find the right font, I’ll open Word Swag on my phone and play around. Picmonkey has added more bells and whistles over the years where you can curve fonts, but it still takes a bit of time, and each step is a conscious effort to click and decide how to turn this, how to adjust that. I just haven’t felt the love for design for TITLES and SERIES TITLES in Picmonkey yet. 

Enter Word Swag.

Word Swag is an app. Word Swag is available for IOS and Android (I think), but if it’s available for desktop/laptop, I haven’t found it, but since I don’t really need it on my desktop, I haven’t searched hard for it. I’ve had the app for a while, but I think it costs $4.99. That’s a one time fee, and I seriously love it. I’ve definitely got my money’s worth.

WordSwag is a simple, on the go type app. It’s not something you have a lot of control over as in being able to go back to it and keep working later. But it’s so easy and quick that you can recreate a title or meme if you didn’t quite like what you’ve previously created. Quick redo, then AirDrop it to your laptop.

Oh, AirDrop. STOP THE PRESSES: I just realized that I use an Apple iPhone and an Apple MacBook Air, so I can easily share between both using AirDrop (love it!). I'm not sure if Android users and Windows users have things this easy between platforms. I searched and there is such a thing as “Nearby Share” for Android users, but that's as far as I delved into that realm.

Okay, back to Word Swag. In a nutshell, Word Swag is just what it says … WORD SWAG. Perfect name for this little app. You can start with a photo or background and add a quote to make a meme, or just use the transparent background if you’re creating titles, series logos, etc. So, for titles, the transparent background is your go-to, because when you create your lovely title, you’ll want a transparent background so you can add it to your gorgeous cover in Picmonkey (or Publisher, Canvas, or BookBrush, etc.) I suppose someone could create an entire cover in Word Swag. I haven't tried that yet. Hmmm... :)

When you open Word Swag, it looks like screen #1 above. It’s pretty intuitive, but LIBRARY goes to the photos on your device, FREE PHOTOS takes you to a world of free photos from Unsplash and Pixabay. Use the search feature and have some fun making memes and all kinds of PR. HOWEVER, for today’s tutorial, we want to make a cool title for our book. As you can see on screen #2 above, you need to choose TRANSPARENT BACKGROUND. And of course, #3 shows what a transparent background looks like. The light/darker gray checkerboard lets you know that this is a transparent background.

HOT TIP: Many times, you will need to create WHITE TEXT on a transparent background. You’ll be able to see your white text when you save it to your photos, but if you crop this image, it goes wonky. I just always save this on my computer so that I know exactly what it is, and that it’s white text on a transparent background. ie GYPSY_WHITE FONT TRANSPARENT

Deciding on Colors for your Title

What makes Word Swag so cool is that it offers some unusual fonts. When you type in your title, you can quickly play with the styles by rolling the dice (yes, literally… well, not LITERALLY, but by clicking a button) and trying various color options. When I was playing with The Gypsy Bride title, I thought a blue title would look good (bringing out the blue in the sky and the blue on the sleeves of the red dress), but turns out I needed white for contrast, so I had to go back and redo it. I tried white by itself and it looked washed out. Then I add a black shadow and ended up with just what I wanted.

I’m sure Picmonkey (or Canvas, Publisher, Book Brush, etc.) can and does create lovely titles, but if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for, try Word Swag. I just like the idea of a REALLY COOL title treatment for a book. Maybe that’s just me. lol

Here's a short video of how I made the Seekerville heading at the very top of this blog. Fingers crossed that the video plays correctly. There is no sound, except some clicking when I'm typing, I think. It's a Screen recording on my phone.