Thursday, June 4, 2015

DIY Book Covers Review

I am a diy’er:  auto maintenance, home repair, lawn care.  I even built my own desk and bookshelves for my office.  And when it came to my writing career, I planned to do as much of it as I could on my own.  Of course, the conventional wisdom is that you need an editor, and I lucked out early on with finding Victoria.  I did my own formatting and was happy enough with how that came out.  I then tried to make my own book cover.  It was bad.  I mean, it was embarrassing, so much so that I destroyed it without having shown it to anyone.  Thus, I resigned myself to finding a cover designer.  And after some trial and error and a lot of time looking at portfolios, I stumbled across Karri, and I’m very glad I did.  Here’s the cover she made for Repetition:

Suffice it to say, I’m quite happy with my editing and cover design team.

Recently, I’ve been dabbling in shorter works, too short in my opinion to charge for.  I’d originally planned to save them up for a collection, but thought it might be valuable to give them away by themselves, like free samples at the grocery store.  For such short works that I’m giving away, I couldn’t really justify the time or cost of passing these by my team.  With the help of my beta readers, I’ve worked through the editing as best I can.  But I still had to have a cover.  For my first piece of flash fiction, I ran Of Christmases Past by the good folks at Fiverr and got back this:

 

Not too shabby for $5.  It got me thinking, though, “I can draw, arguably so anyway.  Why can’t I design something fairly simple like this?”  So, I went on a search for templates, info, advice, whatever I could find.  Along the way, I stumbled upon DIY Book Covers.  I am so glad that I did.

I got access to DIY Book Covers last year when it was centered around Microsoft Word templates.  I wanted to get a couple of covers under my belt, see if I could do it, before writing this review.  Since then, Derek has expanded the offering to include an online designer and additional templates for it.  I’ve not had a chance to play with those, but I’m so pleased with just the original offerings, that I’d recommend it based solely on those.  Plus, if I wait to write this until I’ve tested the new features, I may never get this done.  So, let’s talk about the offerings sans the online designer.

At the time I got the Word templates package, the cost was $87.  Just for what it came with last Fall, it’s a steal.  And at the time of this writing, he’s still offering all that plus the new stuff for the same price.  For less than $100, I got:

  • 150 Word templates
  • full-print cover templates
  • templates for business cards, bookmarks, etc.
  • a handful of useful and informative books written by Derek
  • lists of genre-appropriate fonts
  • instructions
  • design guides
  • interior layout templates

This is more than just a collection of high-quality templates.  And they are high-quality:  Derek is a highly sought out cover designer; his stuff looks incredible.  The real value is in the knowledge that he imparts:  how to design a quality cover.  He talks about color theory and where to get stock photographs.  There’s even a sample cover that he walks you through on the creation process from start to finish, and you can see how he adjusts and tweaks the design as he goes along, all while using a tool that most of us have in our tool belt:  Microsoft Word.  With DIY Book Covers, you won’t have to delve into the complexity (or cost) of Photoshop to get a good-looking cover.

Examples

I set to work going through all the tutorials and reading the books he includes.  Using Word 2010, his templates, and the knowledge he imparts, I was able to create the covers shown below on my own at zero cost (I used public domain pictures and free fonts).  First, is the template I worked from through to the end product.

sleep

 

I kept it real simple on Sleep, same fonts and colors as the template.  I just swapped out the background image, played a little with visual effects, moved text around a bit, and did a color wash.  If I had it to do again, I’d play more with the font and positioning of the title, maybe put it on a little off kilter or at an angle to coincide with the fan blades.

pink

For Pink, I changed up quite a bit from the source.  I swapped out fonts, going for a more genre specific one for the title.  I again played with font positioning and added a color wash and a little bit of texture.  On retrospect, I should have made the title larger.  I also don’t love the font for this cover.  I wish I had the skills to make the title ripple with the water, but I’m not there (and rather doubt I could achieve that in Word, anyway).

boundless

For the third go around, I used a texture image from deviantART (not public domain but the artist allows free use of this texture) for the cover of Boundless.  I liked the texture so well, I decided to use it as is.  I really like the way this one came together and think it’s the strongest cover of the three.  Maybe I’m getting better.  I felt like the title font really lent itself well to all lower-case, so that’s the way this went, and it’s a nice contrast to the all caps of the author name.  The guy’s face actually blended really well into the image, and I almost kept it, but then it made the whole thing feel off a bit, with everything else nicely centered.  In the end, I dropped it.

It feels really well balanced.  At least I hope it is.  The only way I’ve found to center things in these templates is by eye.  Perhaps if I spent a bit more time with positioning of the text boxes and pulling them out to the edges, that might prove to more exact.

Update:  Since I published Boundless, it’s moved far faster than anything else I’ve put out there.  It took a couple of months to move as many copies of Pink as I did in just a few days with Boundless.  Since none of my descriptions for the flash fictions stories are particularly earth-shaking, I have to give credit to the cover.  It even got a review on the day of release, far sooner than with any other title.  Yay for good covers!

Summary

This is a fantastic package.  The templates themselves are great but the extras are what really make this valuable.  Instead of just giving you a bunch of templates you can modify, Derek teaches you how to design a quality cover and then provides a lot of great starting points with his templates.  I can see a progression of improvement in the covers I’ve created.  I think the DIY Book Covers would make a great starting off point for someone who wants to design their own covers with software they likely already own.  It might even be all you ever need, but I could see this serving as a launching point to teach someone the skills and give the experience to move onto more advanced tools, like Photoshop or Gimp, and really take it to a level beyond what Word can do.  However, even if someone doesn’t get that far, Derek has shown that with the right knowhow, someone can make a damn fine cover using nothing more than a tool like Word.

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