What I’m Learning about Cover Design (Part 3)

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This was another attempt at a book cover. You might not believe it, or you might think it is utter crap. Who knows. What I do know is that it is better than a lot of stuff I see out there. It took maybe an hour to do, but I did learn a few more tricks, which was well worth the time. There is no better way to do things than to simply teach yourself. For indie publishing, I don’t know why authors are afraid of taking up the mantle themselves and take control of the entire process.

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Step 1: I grabbed a free pic online of a castle to use as the foreground. I had no idea what I was making, but figured it would be cool to use it. What I did know was that I couldn’t use the full image as it would block everything, so I shorted the height using the scale tool and shrunk it to half its height.


Step 2:I found a cool picture of a castle/monastery of some sort. I thought this would look cool high above a city or fortress. So I copied it (another free pic).

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Step 3: I looked for a random landscape with a rocky formation on the crest of a hill. There was someone paragliding in the sky, which was going to be a problem. I adjusted the colors a few times using the layer options. At this point I was just seeing if I could do dark green.

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Step 5: If I was using a castle, a blue sky would not do. I needed something more epic, so I figured a sun would be cool, maybe I could shine it behind the castle.

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Step 6: So this is where I began incorporating the elements. I added the landscape using the lasso tool, and using the color adjustment to make it more red. This solved the paraglider problem and added a cool sun.

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Step 7: This step was more complicated than most. It is very hard to tell all the details, but I had to lasso that damn castle/monastery and then use the eraser brush to clean up the edges. This took like 10 damn minutes. Then I added it and it looked retarded as shit, so I had to adjust the colors and tone to make it more red to match the light and ground. In a step after this, I used the blur tool to make the castle and ground edges blend in.

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Step 8: Here I added the foreground castle,, to which I think was a shitty job at this point. If I was going to actually making this a book cover, I would spend an hour making sure it was copied correctly and the light was done right. Instead, it is out of place I think. It should be darker and I should have swiped in between the turrets.

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Step 9: I simply added some text (I made up a title) and added my name. I chose a font that I think looked more regal, then I added a slight 3D tint to everything. Overall, it was pretty darn easy considering I only learned photoshop this past week.



What I’m learning about Cover Design (Part 2)


On day two of photoshop, it was time to take my self taught skills to the test. My favorite show of all time is LOST (First Five Seasons) and figured I could recreate this in a relevant way.


Step 1: I needed to find a sky. I scoured the internet for 10 seconds and came up with this one. I imported it into photoshop and boom, I was ready to roll.


Step 2: I don’t know what I’m doing. I needed to find something rocky with a slight glow, so this would do. I imported this too.

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Step 3: I overlaid these two things and then added a reverse image of the rocks and … um, well, I don’t know, it worked. I guess it was time to lasso some rocks.

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Step 4: Presto, chango, here it is. I added some simple text for Lost and used some brushes to kind of add the texture. The Lost text also has an opacity that is around 70%. A light filter was added to make it a little darker.

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Step 5: Witness creative genius. Yeah, I know, you are all thought how would I get all he actors in the shot. Well, I figured I would test the concept and use some Lost politicians. Don’t worry, in order for art to imitate life, I had them all keep their distance.

If I can easily manipulate stuff, so can you for book covers. There is no need to pay people to make it when you can simply spend a few hours and make something that will please you and resonate with your readers.

Total time to make this: Around an hour. The pain is having to use the eraser tool to zoom in and edit what the lasso tool couldn’t do.


What I’m Learning about Cover Design


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Two months ago, I had nothing but a couple completed manuscripts. I didn’t know much about querying because up until January, I only focused on writing.

Then I found out about “platforms,” which I had none.

Then I found out about social media, which I had none.


Then I researched self publishing, which I knew very little about. I set out to teach myself anything I didn’t know about this new world through other blogs, podcasts, youtube videos, and conversations with other indie writers. I’ve learned a ton, which I’ll share in future blogs, but this one is squarely focused on cover design.

Since joining twitter, and filtering through the non-stop marketing spam and fake followers, I have watched the ways indie authors have marketed their books. I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night so I can firmly tell you that 75% of the book covers I see on indie books are total crap. It is almost like they didn’t care it was the first impression. Coming into this, my photoshop skills were zilch. I had never used photoshop before in my life (I was a MS Paint guy). With the Midnight Traveler Crowd Sourcing Project I learned to do four simple functions: filtering out color, cropping, adding text, and adjusting text color.

Last night, off a whim when I checked out Chuck Wendig’s recent post on writing tips for new authors, I saw his book cover and told myself, “Hey, now that is a pretty catchy book cover. The font is bright. The blurbs are there. I clearly can see his name is the biggest thing on the book cover. Can I do something like this?”

It took me honestly 90 minutes to click around photoshop to find everything I needed. It works through a concept of layering where take an image and make edits, then slowly add layers on top like a cake. I have zero art skill, but understand this concept.

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Step 1: I used a lasso tool and cropped out a couple raven images from real pictures and then pasted it to a new background.  I then copied it to make two, then rotated and stretched both to look slightly different. This was about 30 minutes of tinkering the first time. When you learn it it should take you 15 seconds to do.

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Step 2: I simply added text. I think anyone can do that. I scrolled through the fonts to find something close, then moved it around and adjusted it to match ok. It took 20 minutes to figure what the hell I was doing in font selection since photoshop offers a ton. Now it would take me 5 minutes to choose a font because no matter what, you are tinkering it to match an original image.

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Step 3: This was the pain in the ass. You have to add a bunch of new layers to match the original picture. This means a bunch of testing of fonts, colors, and rotating some of the images (like “Chuck”) to match. Since my bird wasn’t exactly a match, I made it as close as I could.

Step 4: If you were extra ambitious, there are tools to do little paint brush strokes to try and match the bird in the original. This was only a couple hours of me attempting photoshop, so I kept the black raven look. The practice sessions of me “painting” were pretty poor and might have undid this whole “you can do it too” blog post.

Overall, you can see at the two comparisons. I think mine looked pretty damn good for a simple effort. It was a couple hours of teaching myself what buttons to press, but now, I can recreate most of this in 15 minutes.

I will continue to press more buttons and learn more skills in photoshop. Given some practice, all of you should be able to successfully make a simple eye catching design that will pull your readers in.




Exploits of a Midnight Traveler (Part 35)

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It took 15 minutes to find a bar, but I was grateful to walk that instead of run or be led at gun point. As side streets led to more public sidewalks, I was aware of how much of the night I wore. Grime from the elevator shaft on my shirt. Bruises from two car wrecks on my cheeks. Burns from a blow torch fight on my hands.

“What can I get you, friend?” the bartender asked in perfect English. It was a lucky break with perfect timing.

“I don’t care as long as it’s strong,” I said on my way past.

I had the place to myself and shuffled to a booth in the back, dropping heavy onto the wooden bench. With my forehead on the cool table, I closed my eyes. I might have slept if the bartender didn’t bring my drink.

“Rough night?” he asked and set a glass of amber liquid in front of me, scotch by the smell of it.

“You have no idea,” I shook my head and drained it. Surprise hit his face before a sharp laugh.

“I’ll get you another,” he patted my shoulder and turned to go back to the bar. When he was gone, I closed my eyes again, keeping my head up this time as I rubbed my eyes. There was so much to process, I didn’t know where to start. So much to unpack from my brain, I’d be in nightmares for months. The most normal thing that happened in hours was finding my girlfriend murdered. Every layer underneath it got stranger. Forget the nanites still inside me, now enjoying their nice scotch bath. There were four sets of clones wreaking havoc in Zurich, some wearing my face. Whatever it took to deal with that, I was too tired and overwhelmed to start then. But what choice did I have?

“I’ve seen worse problems,” a familiar voice said across the booth, “but not many.”

It was hard to imagine more intimate things than a voice inside your head, but this buried it six feet deep. I recognized the voice because it was mine. Opening my eyes, I stared into my own smiling face.

“You didn’t think this would end so easy, did you?” he said.

“Please leave me alone,” I begged.

He squinted as if considering it but shook his head. “I think I’ll stay right here.”

“What do you want?”

“Me? Not a damn thing, but there are a lot of people who do. You know too much to just walk away.”

“I don’t know anything.”

The bartender came back and set down another glass of scotch.

“You know about underground labs and government puppet masters. You know about me, and that’s not good.”

“I’ve never seen him before in my life,” I told the bartender. “Even if he does look like me.”

The bartender gave me a strange look and stepped backward, never glancing to the other side of the booth. As strange as that seemed, stranger still was the breaking news on the television behind him. The sound was muted, but the pictures told enough. Someone blew up a hotel and wrecked a car a few blocks away. More recently, they’d burned a couple of warehouse workers to death. According to the passport photo on the screen, that someone was me. Luckily, I had a scapegoat nearby.

“It was him,” I jabbed a finger at my clone, eyes switching from the screen to the bartender.

“Who?” he asked and looked more than a little scared.

“You don’t get it yet, do you?” my clone asked.

“Shut up,” I told him.

“Get out,” the bartender said.

“I bet you didn’t know Swiss until a few minutes ago.”

“I don’t,” I shook my head. “He’s speaking English.”

“I’m calling the police,” the bartender ran behind the bar.

“I think those stray nanites are tinkering with your brain,” the clone smiled wide.

“You don’t exist,” I muttered and covered my face with my hands.

“Maybe not,” he said. “But the real question is ‘does the bar?’.”


Exploits of a Midnight Traveler (Part 34)

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 8.54.22 PM.png“You know they won’t let you leave Caleb, you know too much.” I looked down at the blow torch and the aerosol can and sighed softly. In what seemed like hours but really was only moments, my mind flashed back to my earliest memory. Me and my mom and dad sitting by the ocean making a sand castle. I was twelve maybe thirteen years old. It’s bloody amazing how life can change in so few years.

I went from dying to seeing the woman I love die; Being held at gunpoint to being blown up in an elevator to more guns, running from Senators and Doctors and clones. I was literally living in a bad sci-fi movie, without the happy ending.

“Give it up Caleb, we’ve won. You can’t leave, can’t stay, certainly can’t fight being a weakling such as you.” I stared at the two men and sat carefully on the lip of the trunk, my hands resting on either side as I slowly slid them behind my back, carefully and gently searching for the aerosol can and the blow torch I saw earlier.

“You know what kills me? My best memory is me dreaming about taking my girl to Tiffany’s to buy a ring. Next thing I know she’s dead and I’m in some creepy scary weird clone war. I’m dirty, I’m sweaty I haven’t had a proper meal all week and all I really truly want is a burger, some fries, and to mourn the girl I loved. Instead I get you two bozo’s. So what is it going to take for me to get some peace and quiet?”

“At this point?” The voice inside my head spoke softly. “A shotgun blast to the head probably, but chances are they’d just fill you with more bots and bring you back” I decided not to sigh and roll my eyes. “Not Funny. Not even a little” I said silently to myself.

As I directed them to my face, tilting my head to the left and right, and as I spoke my fingers worked at the blow torch. I felt the heat singe my fingers but I kept my face neutral as I grabbed for the can … as they came closer these two behemoth men, I stayed perfectly calm sitting on the lip of the trunk waiting until they were in arms length before lifting both my arms and simultaneously spraying the two in the face with flame and aerosol.

I didn’t let up.

It wasn’t until I could see as them turn away from the spray of flame that I saw the damage. Their arms burned trying to block my attack. I decided to have some fun with it and began to wave the can up and down trying to cover as much as their bodies as I could.

When they fell to the ground I moved quickly grabbing the hammer and began smashing into the gas task as hard as I could until the gas began to leak out. I stepped back and watched as it turned into a puddle and when I was a good ten feet away threw the torch into the puddle of gas, watching as the liquid lit up. The two gorilla’s were still on the ground crying out in pain trying hard to put out the flame only making it worse as their burned faces and arms rubbed against the gravel ground.

Then, I ran.

Hearing the car explode I didn’t look back to see if they were dead or if anyone was following, I couldn’t…there wasn’t time. (EDITORS NOTE: REAL MEN DON’T LOOK AT EXPLOSIONS)

I ran towards lights, the first lights I could see;  Each intake of air burning my lungs, more from exhaustion over the last week than lack of ability to run. I was tired dammit. I was tired and I was sore and I was sad and angry and I just wanted a break. Why wouldn’t, couldn’t the universe just give me a damn break?! Haven’t I earned that?

What were they thinking, clones!?! Hadn’t anyone ever seen the damn Matrix? Messing with computers never works out especially when you mix humans and computers. Idiots. I mentally swore if ever I got out of this I was going to live on a farm, far far away.

There would be no technology allowed. No phones, no t.v.’s. Not even a god damned microwave. Everything would be solar powered and not any of it would contain a single wire. I wouldn’t even have lights in my house. I’d use gas lamps. If I got sick I’d rough it out and if I died, at least I wouldn’t have to worry about having more robots eating away at my brain even if they did save my life.

And while I’m at it, no more women. Ever. Yeah that’s it. All these thoughts ran through my head as I ran, keeping to the shadows until I found myself on a road leading to a church. I sighed in relief, I mean it’s … no not going there.

Not even for one second going to think there isn’t something to worry about here. That would be too easy, too easy to think I’d be safe in a church, no one is ever safe in a church.

I went to the bar instead. That’s what I needed, a big stiff drink.