How Design a Book Cover: Copying a Best-Seller in Inkscape (video)

Name of the wind

The finished image from the video

Every wonder what goes into a modern book cover? In the video below you can watch me go through every step, from blank document to finished product, to create a modern book cover using only stock photography, Inkscape (a free vector and object program), and a little know-how. I demonstrate this by copying the design of the cover for Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, a best-selling fantasy epic that uses a standard photographic book cover.

In essence, most modern book covers are composed of several photographs that are blended together to create the image of a scene or location, and usually mixed with a human face or figure to round out the package and create the illusion of a real photo session or piece of art. Then the title and author name are placed on top using whatever design approach fits the image. In the case of Name of the Wind,  the designer uses asymmetry to compliment an asymmetrical image and disguise some of the flaws in the image design.

The basic steps for executing this type of design would be:

  1. Decide on what elements you want in your book cover. These should work to communicate your genre. Is it urban fantasy? You might want a cityscape and a wizard figure. Is it romance? A pretty  woman and a guy with abs would be best, with a photo that represents the setting as a background.
  2. Go find really good photos that match the ideas and genre. Generally, it is probably better to have really good images that don’t quite match your story than to have bad images that do. The point of a cover is to get somebody to pick up the book and read it. Name of the Wind‘s cover communicates nothing about its story, merely that it is in the fantasy genre.
  3. Assemble the photos so that they construct more or less a fluid setting. Techniques for blending photos are mentioned in the video. In this case, the cover consists of four separate photos, with one of those photos being used twice (the near grass).
  4. Use typefaces and fonts that are indicative of the genre you are in. Name of the Wind uses a variation of Garamond, a classic serif font with some whimsical  touches seen in the “W” and “P.” It was also the font family used in Harry Potter for the body text. A scifi cover would probably make use of a more “plain” font, likely without serifs (those little tags on the characters). A romance novel would use a script font. Most covers use different typefaces and colors for the author name and title. This example uses Garamond for both the title and the author name. Try to pick colors that are in high contrast to the image you are using. Dark images with bright colored or white fonts are the norm in the fantasy, horror, and scifi genres. If you have a light image, dark fonts look best.
  5. Arrange the words so that they are, above all else, easily legible and match the aesthetic of the cover image. Try not to stretch typefaces as that can make them look odd and unappealing. Using different sizes and arrangements of the words will often help them catch the eye. Spend some time browsing on Amazon and you will see what I mean. You can then add effects to the fonts (like drop shadows, outlines, blurs, textures, or gradients) to make them stand out from the image prominently.
  6. Some covers make use of extra touches, like vignettes, scrollwork, lens flares, etc. that are added to fill in negative space or otherwise heighten contrast, darken the image, or obscure the edge of the image. This example does not use that, but others often do.

There you have it – a best-seller’s book cover made (more or less) in an hour. Like anything, there is always more tweaking to be done (for instance, I would likely hieghten the contrast of the entire background some more), but the techniques and aesthetics are represented.

If you are looking for additional resources, I highly recommend checking out Derek Murphy, a book cover designer and writer at http://www.creativindiecovers.com/ or his youtube channel. He’s got a ton of good information on design and marketing. I’m just some guy getting some practice in.

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