After finding the public domain artwork, I made this cover in fifteen minutes using a donationware application called PhotoScape.
As an indie writer who has not yet made his fortune it does not pay me to have ebook covers made by professionals. This is especially true for short stories. That being the case, I learned – like most indies – to make my own covers. I manage my ebook collection with Calibre and since that stellar application allows me to add covers to public domain ebooks, or even replace covers on DRM-protected works, I set aside a little time each day to create covers for the assorted ebooks that most needed them. It does not take long to get reasonably good at this.
The biggest headache for the ebook cover maker is the infamous copyright issue. Luckily, as long as you are only making the cover for personal use this is not a problem. That happy situation means just about everything on the Google image search is up for grabs. Once you have decided on the subject matter for your ebook cover it does not take too long to scare up a suitable candidate or two.
Things are very different when you plan to publish. Only those images in the public domain may be legally used and that radically reduces the number of possible choices. If you get desperate, there are always the licensed image websites such as Shutterstock and Dreamstime where you can buy, for a few dollars, the non-exclusive right to use a suitable item. Since I am just starting up, I try to avoid even this. However, I may go there later on.
The simplest covers to make are those with an image large enough to fill the entire cover. If the image is too small to stay sharp when blown up, or simply the wrong shape, surround it with a coloured background. Either way, the title, author’s name, and a tagline can be added wherever seems best. Simple trial and error is the best way to get a feel for this. Think about covers you have seen online or in the bookshops.
To do this work I use PhotoScape, an extremely good (free with a donation option) photo handler that is object oriented. That is, it does not use the layering system favoured by Photoshop. Personally, those layers drive me mad. I can never remember to create a new layer at the appropriate stage in the cover’s development and soon get everything messed up. With PhotoScape, each item, whether it is a photo, clipart, or text, is a separate object with attached handles for resizing and moving it around. Putting everything in the right place is child’s play. Rearranging things is just as easy. Simply watch out for those occasional situations where one object overlays another. You may have to click more than once to reach the object you want. It does not take long to learn how to use PhotoScape, but you probably already have a photo handler. If it can get the job done, just go with that.
Once I had located the artwork, I made the (example) Scat cover at the top of this article in just fifteen minutes. The full-cover image is from NASA and in the public domain. The font work is standard Microsoft Windows. The trickiest part of the job was choosing the right font. So much more depends on fonts than most people realize. I recommend reading a few web articles on the proper use of them.
The cover for my own story, “Einstein’s Folly,” was much more difficult. The story cried out for a composite cover (one with a number of images), but my artistic skills are non-existent and I am not an imaginative user of the fancier features in PhotoScape. I settled for assembling photos and clipart for a number of the story’s key elements, got them all on screen, and then played around with them until I came up with a concept. Even then, a lot of fiddling was required. I had to remove the colour from the donut (it had purple icing!), colourize the Einstein photo, make the Big Ben background image into a negative, and re-size literally everything.
The result may not please everyone, but at least it gives the story an eye-catching cover and cost me nothing but some time. Most important, I really enjoyed the whole process. Making ebook covers stretches my creative impulse in new directions. Being an indie author can be a whole lot of fun.