Being an author involves a ton of decision making.
Self-published or traditional? If you’re self-published, you have to pick an editor. You’ll also have to decide on what company you use to print your book, when you’ll launch your book, and how your book will be distributed.
You’ll also have to decide on your own cover. Will you make it yourself, or will you hire a cover artist?
Getting to choose your own cover is one of the perks of self-publishing. You have creative control over the final product, and this means you get to create the cover of your dreams (or have an artist create the cover of your dreams for you). This is a fantastic opportunity, but it’s not easy.
Ready to delve deeper? We’ll discuss whether making your own book cover is the right choice for you, how to go about making your own book cover, and we’ll review a few paid and free software options.
Your best book cover design software options:
Should you make your own book cover?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about whether designing your cover is an option that works for you.
Do you have experience in graphic design?
Book cover design is a skill, and there’s a ton that goes into it. It’s especially important to factor in the creation of a cute thumbnail, since so much shopping is done online these days.
If you’ve never worked in graphic design before, there’s a bit of a learning curve. Some of the software we’ll talk about in a minute can help you out, but you’ll want to avoid leaning too hard on generic templates and ending up with a generic cover.
What does your budget look like for a cover artist?
You’ll also need to take a look at your budget.
Premade covers or cheap cover art options like Fiverr can get you a reasonably decent book cover for cheap, but these covers are often not very high-quality or unique. A decent cover artist can often run relatively expensive, especially for a new self-published author who isn’t ready to sink a bunch of money into publishing yet.
If you can’t afford a high-quality cover artist, this does not mean you can’t self-publish. It just means you need to evaluate your other options. Maybe a cheaper cover art option is perfect for getting your first few projects off the ground, and maybe taking a little time to learn how to make a book cover will help you save money and turn out a great product.
Do you have the time/resources to learn how to design a cover?
That being said, being able to take the time to learn how to design a cover is a privilege in and of itself. You might be working a few jobs, or raising a family, or both—you might be busy, and you might not have the time to fiddle with creating a book cover.
In this instance, it might be better to hire a cover artist or look into a premade cover. These options free up some of your time. And again, you might have to dig for some quality budget-friendly options, but they are out there.
How important is your book cover?
Okay, so this is kind of a trick question. Your book cover is very important—it’s your greatest marketing tool, and it’s the first impression most readers have of your book.
But at the same time, it might not be all that important.
If you turn out books super quickly, you might not need to worry so much about one individual cover. Having them look presentable, clear, and reasonably put-together might do the job just fine. If you’re the type of author who puts out dozens of books on KDP every year, you can probably get by just fine on Canva with a little research and elbow grease.
How to make your own book cover
If you’ve evaluated your options and decided that making your own book cover is the best possible route for you, here are a few steps to help you get started!
Consider your budget
Once again, it’s time to look at our budget. When you self-publish a book, you should make a budget including all of the production costs associated with making a book—editors, formatters, distributors, cover artists, etc. If you’re designing your own cover, this doesn’t mean you’re getting your cover for free (probably).
More likely, you’re going to pay for book cover design software. Even if you use software with a free option, like Canva, you’ll find that the free options can be a bit limited. It’s still possible to use these free options, but springing for a premium subscription will hugely increase your options as far as photos you can use, templates available to you, and so on.
Having a little extra to spend on quality software also means you’re more likely to end up with a more high-quality product. Again, it isn’t a guarantee—if you don’t take the time to learn how to use these tools, you can end up spending a bunch of money and still end up with a bad cover.
Take the time to learn about book design
Designing a book cover works the same way any other skill does: you need to learn how to use whatever software you select.
If you went to the hardware store and spent a ton of money on equipment to DIY your kitchen’s remodeling, but you didn’t do any research on how to do that, you’re not necessarily getting more bang for your buck. You might just have a ton of plywood laying around.
You can find lessons on book design on places like YouTube or Skillshare, and taking the extra time to invest in this skill will make a world of difference in your final product. It’ll also save you a ton of frustration when you’re trying to navigate this new software, especially if you aren't beginning with a lot of experience in graphic design.
Look at different contemporary book covers within your genre
One easy way to get a sense of how book covers are supposed to look? Look at published book covers.
The next time you’re at your local bookstore, have a look at the books in your genre. See if you can spot trends in contemporary book covers—are you seeing a lot of hooded figures with crossed swords for contemporary fantasy? Are you seeing a lot of blocky graphic designs for sci-fi and fantasy novels? What about the fonts?
If you’re not able to visit a bookstore, you can do the same research by scrolling through Amazon’s book pages.
Check out the trends in modern covers and list the different elements you notice coming up again and again. This will help you avoid creating a book cover that’s too similar to everything else (you want it to stand out), but it’ll also help you intentionally make your cover fit right alongside others like it on the shelves.
Free book cover design software
Let’s look at a few free book cover design software options.
A lot of the tools in this guide can absolutely be used to create a book cover, but they aren't solely intended for that purpose. Here's the exception – a specialist tool designed just for your needs as a self-published author. It's called Cover Creator and it's totally free!
Those of you who've been around the indie author world for some time will almost certainly know the name Derek Murphy with no further explanation required. But for the uninitiated, he's one of the biggest names in independent book cover design. This is his hand tailored book cover design solution. Why not check it out?
Bookbrush offers a free version of their software which gives you access to different templates. Not only do you have some cover art options, but you’ll also have access to templates for promotional images, which can be a huge life-saver.
Bookbrush also offers paid subscriptions with additional templates and features, which can be a great upgrade if you’re looking for more variety and more unique options.
Good ol’ Canva! They’ve got templates for just about every single thing under the sun, and they offer a huge variety of free stuff.
If you’re looking into book covers, Canva has templates for different genres, ready for you to customize. You’ll have to do some tinkering to make the cover unique, and you’ll also want to make sure you have rights to whatever image you decide to put on that cover, but it’s very user-friendly and quick.
Like Bookbrush, Canva also offers a premium version. I personally find that the premium version of Canva is much easier to use—you have a wider variety of images, the site itself is easier to sort through, and you’ll have more flexibility when it comes to customizing.
But the paid version isn’t necessary, and if you need a free, quick cover, this is a great place to start!
GIMP doesn’t have any hidden costs attached to it—with sites like Canva, you’ll often have to sift through tons of paid images before you can find free ones. On GIMP, it’s all free, plain and simple.
It’s also less user-friendly than some alternatives. You’ll need to put in a little more time figuring out how to use this software if you want to get a high-quality cover out of it.
Paid book cover design software
If you’ve got a little extra cash to invest in cover design software, here are a few options you might be interested in:
A quick note here: Adobe Indesign is intended for professionals. InDesign offers a ton of features and can enable its users to create stunning covers, but if you’re brand new to graphic design (or even just to this software), you’ll want to take the time to learn a little about how to use it for creating book covers.
Looking for a more beginner-friendly option? Adobe Spark might be more your speed! It’s a little cheaper than InDesign, but you won’t be able to remove the Adobe Spark logo from your finished product.
This software is a great option for authors who want to format their book as well as design a cover. They have a ton of different templates and resources to help authors pick the best possible fit for their book, and their formatting resources mean that authors can format their book to match the cover, which gives your book a great polish.
And there you have it! A run-down of what you sign up for when you decide to make your own book cover, a few pros and cons, and a few places to get started—you’re ready to start designing the book cover of your dreams.
Have you ever used any of the software options listed here? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments!