Soul Food: Cover design process

Soul Food is out in a few days. In a shameless reminder of its existence to anyone who stumbles across this blog, here’s the process I went through in designing the cover.

The first stage in cover design is coming up with an idea that’ll be within my limited artistic ability to realise. I’m inclined towards simple designs, which tend to be better for covers that have to work at the smaller size displayed in online bookshops. Of course they also need to not be too obviously dodgy when seen at a larger size, and in print – if it’s going to be.

[The work below was all done in GIMP, a free graphics program]

For Soul Food, since angels and demons have an important role, I decided on a central bar, with an angel rising out of it, and a demon descending below it. Silhouettes, of course. Since you’re more likely to find license free images of them, and they’re easier to customise (also, less fiddly detail to be lost at a smaller size).

The two also need to kind of match up (not necessarily in size, which is easily scaled). In this case I found some wing silhouettes that offered the right approximate shapes.

So I resized them and put them in the approximate locations I wanted them.

[I use the page dimensions suggested by KDP and Smashwords, 1600px by 2400px, to work in, and save my working files as .tif. They take up a lot more space, but they don’t lose as much detail as saving them as .jpgs do from constant revisions. Once I have the final version, I save a .jpg version to upload as the cover, and a smaller 200px by 300px version for the website.]



Next up I looked for a body silhouette I could adapt to fit both sets of wings.








I didn’t really need the detail on the arms and legs, so filed it away into just the general shape.







Then it was relatively simple, only resizing a few times, to get the body to fit the wings.







Next step was colouring them. Red for the demon, white for the angel. The exact shade of colour can take time to settle on, and often may change when all the elements of the cover are set in place, and the contrasts can be properly judged. As with the font used for the title, it mainly comes down to what feels right for the impression of the story you’re trying to convey.

The first step was to delete a section in the middle, so I could use the filler tool to make the bottom demon half red.







Then I changed the background colour, so I could change the angel half white.








I also extended the middle section so the title had more room to fit.







Then I used the gradient tool to make the central bar transition in colour from white to red.







For the background, I looked for a granite effect. Something dark that the angel would stand out against, but giving a sense of the city in which the story occurs.






Then I copied the image onto the background, using transparency to make the blue background invisible. [It doesn’t go completely invisible, and against a lighter background I’d probably have changed the darkish blue to something lighter, or it may have discoloured the background]

I also raised the position of the image, since I wasn’t thinking of where I’d want it on the page when I started fiddling.




Then it’s a matter of looking through the fonts to find something that matches the style I have in mind. In this case, Bookman old style semi-bold.

For my name, I usually go with Arial. Unless it clashes with the rest of the cover.





I did experiment with fancy stuff for the title, but it just doesn’t show up too well. And it’d look even worse at a smaller size.

[In case your interested, this was done in a separate file by doing a gradient block the inverse of the bar. I then typed the text block elsewhere; copied the text block and background over the gradient block, making the text colour transparent. You then have a block with the text in the gradient colouring, which can be copied over while making the background transparent]



Then I adapted the cover for the print version, rotating the banner image for the rear cover (just so it’s not boringly blank).







Print covers can take time, and a few iterations, since you’re guessing at where the spine is going to be until you can look in the proof review after the books been reviewed by them. If Createspace made the spine markings viewable before review, they’d save themselves work, and authors time.


When the proof arrived, the granite background really wasn’t working for me. It was far more subdued than it appears in the images above, but even they started to look less than appealing. While the banner image is fine to my eyes, I needed to work on the background.

This was a working version to test out more of a picture in the background. The cityscape part is only a free license for personal use though, so I’d need to hunt something else down for a proper cover.






It doesn’t really work at a smaller size though, and can make the angel shape hard to distinguish.






So I went back to the simple background idea, and started looking around for another image. Granite initially, then I browsed the dark metal images.

This is the one I settled on. Large enough to also be used on the print cover.

The streaky metallic look also gives the impression of rain, which matches the mood of parts of the story.

And here’s the final version of the cover.