Designing graphics is part of my job as a digital marketer. Still, design is not my specialty. I never had any formal training and I feel like I have much to learn. Despite my insecurities, I decided to design the covers for my self-published books.
I had four main reasons for designing my own book covers: first, because I love my stories and want to craft every part of them; second, because it was fun; third, because I felt uncomfortable trusting another person with my vision; and fourth, because designing my own book covers saved me a nice chunk of money. Hiring a professional book cover designer for three ebook covers and three paperback covers would’ve cost hundreds, if not thousands.
The first step for me when I design a new cover is deciding on an overall concept. I usually start by brainstorming some keywords from the theme of the story. Then I go to Dreamstime to find a picture that conveys the statement I want to make. I buy the image with the appropriate rights, download it, and use it as the foundation of the cover design. From there, I put on some music, experiment, and let whim take over.
Here’s a look at my before and afters!
Sick Part I
This book starts in a hospital as Susan Branch watches her husband throw a tantrum in the surgical recovery room. I wanted something that captured the smell of antiseptic and skin and blood. I looked up “stitches” or “sutures” and found this photo.
I confess, I think it’s a picture of a woman’s C-section, but it was so perfect with the staples pulling at the skin, the redness around the punctures, and the seam of the wound cascading into focus.
All I had to do was crop it and add some effects and filters to bring out the details and give it a sickening hue. And Viola! Thanks to this woman who was willing to photograph her scar and let it be sold on the internet.
Sick Part II
Just like the C-section wound – another mystery, why and how does a picture of a bruised man end up being sold on Dreamstime? Does the hospital or do the police sell pictures like these? I don’t know, but I’m glad I found him, and I hope whoever he is, that he is okay now and doesn’t mind that his torso is plastered all over the internet.
I don’t remember how I came across this image. I think I searched up “bruises.” Because my character John Branch shares his gruesome story in a very intimate way, I thought it would be good to be up close and personal with his body for this cover. The nipple hair, the moles, and the bare skin – it’s almost too close for comfort, just like John’s story. Perfect!
As you can see, I chose the color of this book cover based on the background of the original photo. I wouldn’t have normally thought of turquoise in a million years, but in this case, it worked since it invoked that institutional vibe of hospitals.
This man in the photo looked older than my character. He is in decent shape, but a little too flabby and he has lots of skin imperfections. John is supposed to be slightly repulsive, yet strangely alluring. I had to give my cover man the slightest bit of liposuction in the love-handle area and I removed some of his moles (ick, just that word) and blemishes. I also added more bruises and boosted the color to make it more garish.
Sick Part III
For the crowning jewel, I chose this image of a couple entwined in a yin and yang formation. Our first impression in the book series is that John is bad and Susan is good, but later we realize there is a spot of bad and good in each of them.
John and Susan are like Adam and Eve, who by discovering the truth about themselves, must live a new world of darkness and uncertainty. They’ve lost their innocence, and in this cover, they appear to be curling up and hiding their faces in shame.
I added a peeling texture to the skin to signify the disease of pain and denial that had been eating away at them. John’s plague seems to be spreading onto Susan. I used a dark pink hue instead of what would’ve been a more womb-like red so that it didn’t look gory. This is not your typical horror or suspense story, and I didn’t want readers to have the wrong expectation. John and Susan are the doomed lovers inextricably intertwined, floating and lost, gestating until they are either transformed or destroyed.
This book was laborious and frustrating because real life had interrupted its development repeatedly. During the stretches of weeks and months I couldn’t work on it, I used this image as my screensaver to keep the story in my unconscious. My characters looked like they were in utero, and I told myself they were incubating in the womb of my mind. When I did have time to get back to my writing, they’d be ready to be born.
Thanks to these two beautiful people with the perfect skin that I ruined. It took a long time to get this cover right, but now it’s my favorite.
So, there you have my three self-published book cover victims – a woman who’d just given birth by C-section, a poor man who had been assaulted or in a car accident, and two nude, nubile models in a spotless studio. These strangers are now part of SICK. I hope they don’t mind.
Did you design your own covers?
If not, what was your experience like working with a professional cover designer?
If so, what’s the story behind your covers?