Christina Im's 6 Step Process to Cover Designs

Quick reminder before we dive into this post: my birthday giveaway and blog party is ending in two days, so check it out if you haven't already.

I'm thrilled today to present Christina, teen author extraordinaire, on the blog today! I'm over at Fairy Skeletons on quote posters, but first, here's what Christina has to say on book covers for authors:

Hey everyone! This is Christina from over at Fairy Skeletons, reporting for duty—and here today to talk to you all about designing book covers as a writer.
Some examples of my work.
I've loved graphic design since I first started making covers around three (!!!) years ago, and since then, I've made nearly two hundred covers. But I'm still pretty much an amateur, and my process isn't quite set in stone yet. The steps I share today will be very bare-bones, and it's important to know that you aren't confined to them.

But why should I make a book cover?

It's not strictly necessary, of course, and some writers might get along better without them. But personally, I've always loved having a central image that I can focus my story on, and what better central image than a cover? This way you can capture the mood and aesthetic of the story in a single design, helping keep the feel of your work cohesive.

Additionally, if you're planning to post your work on an online writing community like Figment or Wattpad, a stunning cover is essential to getting an audience. To pull out a cliché (come on, you all knew it was coming), people do judge books by their covers.

Basic Cover Design in a Few Simple Steps

Much of design comes only with practice. So no matter how terrible you think you are now, once you get into the swing of things, you'll surprise yourself. Case in point—one of my first book covers (it took a lot of courage to even pull this up to show you all):

Yeah, I can't stomach it any more than you can. Anyone can improve, regardless of whether you think you have 'natural talent'. So here is the skeleton of a cover design process:

1. Obtain necessary specifications

This seems obvious but is still worth mentioning. What "specifications" entails is really going to be different for every designer—some like maximum creative liberty, while others want ALL THE THINGS, down to layout/color/font ideas. Here's a basic form of sorts to keep track of the facts you need:
Author Name:
Book Blurb (think book jacket style):
Cover Dimensions (this is incredibly important depending on the platform for this cover):
Some things you can add to this form include "Mood of Story", "Image Ideas", "Desired Colors", "Desired Fonts", "Character Descriptions", etc. Obviously if you're only designing for yourself, all of this information is going to come to mind immediately; no one knows your story better than you do.

If you're designing for someone else, be sure to get all of these facts from them! This helps you have a better handle on what they want. For the purpose of this tutorial, I'll be making a sample cover of my gracious host's WIP novel, Winner Takes All, which many of you dutiful followers (minions?) will have heard about already.

2. Brainstorm (Optional)

Now, I say this is optional because some of us don't like drawing up plans. Even for me, this varies from cover to cover. Sometimes I'll do a pencil sketch of what the cover looks like in my mind. So whatever works for you brainstorming-wise, do it here. And if nothing works, forge on, my friends. (Obviously I skipped brainstorming for Alyssa's cover.)

3. Get your base images

This is a really vital step that can make or break your cover, and it's crucial to consider what elements of a story you want to bring out. We all have different tastes and styles, and no matter who you're designing for, that's going to show in your design. So first you have to get images to work with that reflect both your tastes and the work you're designing for. Some suggestions that I generally employ:
  • Put characters on the cover.
  • Put relevant symbols or items on the cover.
  • For a minimalist effect, look for icons and/or that relate to the story.
  • Silhouettes in general are really cool.
  • Get textures that evoke the feel of the worldbuilding. 
Some places you can look: - Really nice website full of public domain images. Not great for pictures of people, but lovely for general things like high-quality nature pictures. DeviantART Stock Section - While this resource is absolutely pure gold, I'd like to warn everyone to use it with caution. Each stock artist is going to have specific rules for usage of their art, and it's our responsibility as designers to read and adhere to these rules. If a stock artist doesn't want you to use a piece outside of DeviantART, don't do it.

I knew that Alyssa's Winner Takes All is a really darn good novel with gorgeous writing and cutthroat politics (sometimes literally!). There were pretty heavy elements of Chinese culture and a really stark but beautiful atmosphere. So I wanted to emphasize that element—without putting any characters on the cover, because I felt that Alyssa's book wouldn't carry a character-centric cover well.

After browsing around DeviantART for a while using search terms like 'chinese fabric' and 'ink texture' (you can tell I'm just fabulous at searching), I found stock packs one and two and downloaded them to inspect the contents. Eventually, I decided I wanted to use these two images for the cover:

4. Set up the canvas + position images

First, pick what kind of software you'll use. My go-to is PicMonkey, which is great because it's simple, online, free, easy to use, and surprisingly powerful. Sometimes, however, I turn to Pixlr Editor for more advanced fixes. I went right ahead and opened PicMonkey for this one. Others might use GIMP or Photoshop or even Pixlr Express. Then, pick which base image found in the previous step you want to use as your 'canvas'. Alternatively, you could also use a solid background as a 'canvas' if you're merely adding smaller elements. (A blank white background can work wonders.)

In my case, I'm choosing the ink texture, because I want this to be more prominent than the fabric. It's important to crop your cover so the dimensions are correct. If you're not looking to post the cover on a particular platform and are just making one for yourself, 5 x 7 proportions generally look pretty nice, as shown here:
Then, if you've got more than one base image, you'll want to position the images in a way that's cohesive and not too busy. For my fabric image, I inserted it into PicMonkey as a texture and then played around with blend modes until—surprise! I got this lovely combination. Pro(ish) tip: Blend modes are one of the little known 'secret weapons' that PicMonkey has. They can drastically change the look of a design, for both text and textures, and they're incredibly powerful.

5. Add text (required) + decorations (optional)

Once my image setup is complete, I start with title treatment. This varies widely depending on what fonts are available and how we can adjust them. It's hard to get a feel for typography, but some tips: emphasize central words with really deep connotations. Utilize the power of caps vs. lowercase. Always be conscious of color and alignment.

 In the case of WTA, I wanted to have a sweeping, dramatic serif font somewhere on the cover with a more bleed-like font for the word 'takes'. Eventually, I settled on Trajan Pro 3 (amazing font, and really versatile) combined with Trattatello (which is really only good in small amounts, IMO). I placed the title nice and large in the center of the cover, since the title is absolutely golden and should be the main focus here. I again employed my wonderful blend modes in adjusting the coloring of 'takes'.
Then, author name and decorations! Sometimes this also includes a 'subtitle' of sorts (I added in Alyssa's subtitle of "the winner who lost" in Perpetua, because holy crap that's an awesome phrase). I made sure to add Alyssa's name in next, prominent and in a color the suited the rest of the cover. In most cases, only two main fonts and two or three text colors are necessary—any more is probably it.

 My decorations—I wanted to emphasize that feeling of the 'political web', with tons of intrigue and deception, so I decided to criss-cross some lines across the ink. A great deal of this process dealt with fiddling with angles and such (fiddling is a vital part of design; don't underestimate it!), but voila, after all of these arduous edits:

6. Finish it off (optional)

After some final readjustments, like slightly changing alignments, fiddling with text size, applying any last filters, etc., your cover is now ready to show itself in public! I had to do some last-minute cropping because I realized that the cover wasn't Figment-sized (4 x 5 proportions), and that might be important, since WTA is on Figment. I also added one more filter or so to really bring out the bold colors. 

And there you have it! A basic six-step design process. Happy art-ing (not a verb, okay), everyone, and even happier writing to you all!

Christina Im is a teenage wordsmith and ardent believer in ghosts, mildly (ha) obsessed with mythology, history (politics and revolution and war!), and powerful women. She talks writing, reading, and all the detours in between on her blog, Fairy Skeletons, and humbly thanks Alyssa for enduring her overuse of semicolons and extremely long, rambling guest post. Also, she'd love to chat on Twitter @clocksandcages if you have any questions, and she laments her inability to write effective third-person bios. 


  1. Oh goodness, this is super useful! I'm just about to need a cover for my Camp NaNo novel, so I'll definitely be coming back to this...awesome post! And that's a pretty stunning cover. :D

    1. I'm glad you found this helpful, Aimee! Ooh, I hadn't noticed the timing but yes, this should be useful for Camp NaNo ... so long as you don't get distracted halfway and lose sight of your writing goal.

      I KNOW RIGHT. Christina is such a talented and lovely person!

  2. This is such a great post! :) I'm quite interested in graphic design, even though I don't have very much skill in it, but I love to look at book covers. All of yours are beautiful!

    1. Thanks, Taile! I started out only interested but not very skilful at graphic design as well, but practise makes perfect. Keep at it! And thank you so much :)

  3. Argh, these are so beautiful! I've wanted to learn how to make book covers for awhile now, so this is pretty helpful. Lovely post!

    1. I KNOW. I KNOW. Christina is frighteningly talented. I'm glad you found this useful -- I couldn't be more excited when Christina sent it over!

  4. This is a great post, and I love that cover! I don't really make book covers, but I'll be looking forward to trying it out. :)

    1. Thank you! That cover really is gorgeous. Covers are more for your own inspiration than anything, so that it feels less like a word document and more of a novel XD

  5. Wow! With Camp NaNo coming up, I have to try this:)

    1. That seems to be the consensus, ahaha. May the words be with you!

  6. A) I don't know how I didn't see this post.

    B) That is probably as gorgeous and perfect a cover as I could think of.

    C) This post was incredibly useful and even though I am not that good with visual things I feel like I can use this again.

    (Sorry, I'm tired. And I liked the post, quite a bit, and the cover was awesome, and that is all for now, folks.)

    1. Haha, that's okay, Heather. *whispers* I always overlook blog posts too. And I KNOW. Christina's just an amazing person to whip that up somehow. And who knows, maybe a cover is what you need to get that muse up again. And one sort of graphic design can easily translate into designing something else, like blogs. All skills are transferrable, so even as writers, we should be on the lookout to learn something new!

  7. I always love getting to read other designers' processes, and this is no exception - this is such an absolutely incredible guide, especially for newbies who don't know where to start. And of course, a gorgeous cover, to boot! Christina, you've done it again. *slow clap*

    1. Mmm, yes, other people's processes are *such* fun to read about. And I have this feeling I'll refer back to this post constantly as I kamikaze through mss and need covers for self-inspiration. ALL THE SLOW CLAPS AND TAKEOUT FOR CHRISTINA. Honestly, I was so excited when I prepped this guest post.

  8. That is such a gorgeous cover! You're so lucky, Alyssa! (If I had a book then I would have to make a cover, but I don't, so I haven't) Anyway, this is a very educational post and I now an expert if I ever have to make a cover. I like to imagine myself in drastic situations like 'I have to do my maths homework because what if a rich lazy kid kidnaps me and makes me do his, under penalty of death' or 'If I'm ever being chased and happen to have the keys to a scooter then I can escape on that' (but scooters aren't that fast) and now 'if a desperate authour needs a cover desperately then I can desperately make a awesome cover and not get murdered or otherwise discarded by said desperate authour'

    1. I KNOW. With friends like these, who needs luck? :P

      Haha, I'm sure we authors aren't that evil to real life people. We're only murderous in face of our characters. And who knows, all skills are transferrable! Maybe someday cover design will come in useful :D

  9. Wow, this was SUCH a good post. I can really use this info for designing covers in the future!

    ~Cindy @ Open Your Eyes And See

    1. I'm glad it's useful, Cindy! Hope to see your lovely covers + writing around sometime :D

  10. This is sooo GOOD. I love covers and I suck at making even mildly socially acceptable ones for my NaNo novels. XD I love the tips and I love that you used picmonkey! YAY. *goes to practise all of these*

    1. Seriously, Cait, the covers on your blog are GORGEOUS. (But you know, everyone can borrow a little talent sometimes. XD) I normally use GIMP, because I learned a few tricks at school, but PicMonkey is a wonderful alternative and I might mess with it sometime as well. Have fun!

    I love making covers so much. SO much, I tell you. I haven't heard of the Pixlr editor program, so I'll definitely have to check that out.
    But this was just a really interesting post. And the finished result was AMAZING. It's so gorgeous. :D

    1. I'm glad you managed to learn something from this post -- I'm not the best at cover designs, but I do it sometimes when I'm procrastinating the actual writing XD I KNOW. CHRISTINA IS FABULOUS AT DESIGN.


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