story, science, technology and creativity

Self publishing: How to design a cover in 5 easy steps

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Tamatori being pursued bya dragon by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Tamatori being pursued bya dragon by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

If you’re self-publishing, you’re going to need a cover. And let’s face it, people judge a book by its cover.

When I decided to self-publish Takeshita Demons 4, I looked into asking Siku, the awesome artist behind the brilliant covers of the first three Takeshita Demons books, to do the fourth.

This would have been the best, but more expensive path. However, I knew I wasn’t going to make loads of cash from this project, so I needed to keep costs down. This meant making my own cover, which has actually been REALLY FUN!.

Lower costs means I can afford to give the book away, which means more people can read it.

And let’s face it. That’s the best I can hope for after the journey MerMonster has been on.

So, in four easy steps, this is how I recommend you design a fast-and-freaky cover for your project:

1) Start with artwork that’s in the public domain.

For me, this was easy. Since I write about Japanese mythology, there’s a lot of incredible artwork from 100+ years ago that I could adopt.

Even better, since MerMonster draws on ocean mythology from the Dragon King, Ryūjin, and his underwater kingdom, Utagawa Kuniyoshi‘s image of brave Princess Tamatori escaping from the dragon was perfect.

2) Download the awesome-and-free Paint.NET

I used to play with Photoshop, but then I found Paint.NET. Download it, do stuff with it. It’s the best. For me, it’s everything Photoshop can do but free. And free is nice.

3) Clean your image 

Your book cover is going to be shrunk to the size of a wizened plum when people see it on-screen. Take your magic wand and eraser and strip back your image. Take away anything that doesn’t scream at you: THIS BOOK ROCKS. 

For me, this mean several thousand iterations of the same thing, getting simpler and simpler each time. First I removed text. Then I removed some waves. Then I removed the princess (sorry princess). Then fish started to go. Octopus disappeared. I cleaned and cleaned.

4) Work out where your words will go (or not)

Somewhere on your cover, you’re going to need to put your name and your book’s name. Or not. In fact, if you’re only publishing as an e-book, you don’t even need this info. Think about it: most times people see your book, there’s going to be descriptive text next to it, and if there’s not, it’s only a click away. So, rather than cram words onto your thumbnail image, maybe go for something so intriguing that people can’t help but engage.

I didn’t do this. I had a great font from the first three books, so I just recycled this.

Takeshita Demons 4


5) Mess around.

Play around with effects, change colours, brighten teeth, enhance eyes, move text, change backgrounds…Just play. I spent a few hours messing about and was happy I did.

And that’s it. Hit SAVE. And smile.

For me, this whole exercise is a game.

I have nothing to lose, and readers to gain, so all I’m aiming for is to encourage you to open my book and have a look. I’m confident that once that happens, you’ll be hooked.  Or that’s the plan 🙂


Like this post? You might also like:

How to write a synopsis: Four big secrets and an example

Self publishing: How to design a cover in 5 easy steps

How to keep your New Year Resolution: Papier mache daruma dolls

Takeshita Demons: help us choose the cover art

8 cool myths about dogs, and why the inugami dog-god didn’t make it

Do you love monsters? Searching for games, activities or cool Japan-related teaching resourcesgames, activities or cool Japan-related teaching resources? If your answer is YES, you should check out the resources section of my website. Have fun!




I finished a second edit of The Filth Licker!

Woo hoo….   I’ve just send the latest version of Takeshita Demons II to my editor at Frances Lincoln Childrens Books, and I think it’s terrific! It was a rocking story even before Janetta gave me her feedback and ideas, and now, after a good going over complete with new exciting ideas, it’s even better than before.

What do you think? The Filth Licker
One major change, suggested by the sales team and prompted by Janetta, is the title. The working title was FORESTS AND FILTH LICKERS, but for reasons that will be apparent when you read it, we changed the title to THE FILTH LICKER. And I love it. Sometimes simple (if a little gross) is best.

And more great Takeshita Demons news:
, the artist behind the awesome cover for Takeshita Demons (and the manga-style art scattered throughout its pages) is working on more amazing art for The Filth Licker.  I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

And in techno-toy-joy news: We have an iPad!
And it’s soooooooooooooo cool. Fergus is already playing piano and flicking through photo albums. And his parents are pretty hooked too.

This, my friends, is more of the future than I ever thought I’d see. I had no idea things this cool already existed.

And guess what? I’d happily read a book or manuscript on this baby. They’re coming, people. The e-book, with all its  incredible potential (for rubbish as well as brilliance, just like the internet) is on its way. As writers and readers, we are so lucky to be around for this.

So what’s next?
Well, I have an itching. The first scene of Takeshita Demons III is an exciting one, and I can already see it unfolding. But first, some changes to the  plot outline are required, since some pesky characters (and yes, Alex and Cait: that means both of you!!) acted completely out of turn and didn’t stick to the script in The Filth Licker. Don’t you just love fiction!!



Part of the e-bookery future? Step into “The Winter House”

Check it out! I know this is just the tip of the  iceberg, but it’s still very cool. It’s interactive fiction: “a story you can talk to.”

Have a go and let me know what you think.

I think: exciting, engaging, interactive… You can read it with a friend and not feel like you’re waiting for them to finish. There’s spooky music and sound effects. There’s mystery clues. And you have to follow your nose for the story to continue. I love it.

I love Ye Olde Fashioned books, don’t get me wrong. But, having moved house about a billion times in the last ten years, proper-paper-woah-that’s-heavy-oh-no-get-me-to-a-chiropractor books do have their limitations.

Are things more fun when you can get your hands dirty?

That said, a recent post by Angela Meyer (Show Me Your Spines) showcased the pile of books beside her bed, and looking at the pile made me realise: lugging paper books around does have a bonus.

Paper books must be shelved, stacked, put. They can’t hide away in your hard drive. They are in your face, screaming “Read me” or “Remember me” or just “Whee, aren’t books great.”

Fergus already has a stack of books he likes to “read”, and because we don’t have a shelf for them yet they generally flop around on the couch/floor/rug/table, spread out to take up maximum surface area, and thus to demand maximum attention. We’ve just ordered an iPad from the US, more as a plaything than a serious investment in e-bookery, but it will be interesting to see which of the two he prefers.