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!



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Takeshita Demons 4: draft zero!


A fisherman farewells the Dragon King and his castle; by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, 1886


For the last few months I’ve been beavering away at Takeshita Demons 4, tentatively titled Mer-monster. It’s mostly set underwater, in the palace of the Dragon King.

This is the book I worked on at the SCWBI Rottnest Retreat, huddled in my cabin with the heater raging after dark.

This is also the book I have been working on during Art Dates with the fabulous Shirley Marr, raging YA writer and author of Fury. Shirley and I have been meeting at TxtSHOTS, which comes totally recommended to anyone wanting great food, great coffee, great chilli hot chocolate,  and a great space in which to work all day (powerpoints included!).

I’ve also been working on this book after gym sessions, while Fergus is still in creche. And at lunchtimes, when Fergus is napping. And at home, on the days when my fab hubby has Fergus at the zoo or in the garden or deeply into Duplo (thank you!!).

And the prognosis?

I”m please to say that draft zero is nearly FINISHED!!!


The Dragon King, by DR Studios

I love the manuscript! There’s a couple of chapters to go and I can see the end in sight. And it’s all on track 🙂 HOORAY!

Hooray (and thank goodness) for the good times!

The times when the writing won’t flow and the plot won’t work and I bite my nails and haunt the fridge and generally mope…

are nothing compared to

…the times when my fingers fly across the keyboard and the right words spring into my head and the hours pass without me noticing (I even laugh at my own jokes). These happy times are the drug of being a writer.

But what to do AFTER Mer-monster is finished?

How to begin again? There’s a long editorial process about to start on Mer-Monster, but already, I’m worried about what to do next.  If I leave it too long to start a new project, I’ll end up too scared to even begin.

Being a writer is very strange.