Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book Covers are Like Onions

When I'm not working on my the draft of my novel, I'm often looking at different options for the cover. Just like I have a working title, I have a working cover. It isn't much. Just something that I can attach to the manuscript when I convert it to a mobi document to read on my Kindle.

Over the weekend I decided to try my hand at creating my own book cover. The first thing to consider when I mention creating a book cover is that I have virtually no skill as an artist. My talents seem to be limited to a small range of cartoon-like characters. This meant my efforts would need to involve using simple tools or simple techniques.

I decided to go with GIMP. GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulating Program, and it is a freely distributed drawing tool. Basically it lets you create an new image or edit an existing one. I've used GIMP for years on Linux systems for simple projects like resizing screen shots for a technical document, but I've never tried creating anything original with it.

It was time for that to change.

I've been told GIMP has a steep learning curve. Considering I'm relatively clueless about image software, I expect everything more involved than MS Paint to have a steep learning curve. The one thing that I like about GIMP is that I can search the internet any find an example for almost anything I want to do. This was really good, because at first I couldn't even draw a circle.

Here is the one thing I learned that I didn't find written down anywhere. It is probably obvious to all of the folks who normally create images, but to someone like me, I almost completely missed it.

GIMP supports layers. Actually most image programs do, I've just never had a use for them before. What is a layer? I think of it a transparent sheet of paper that I can draw on. Then the sheets can be stacked in whatever order I want to produce the desired final image. I place each element on its own layer. That makes it really easy to pull it our, or manipulate it without wrecking the entire image.

A very, very, very basic cover might consist of three layers. A background layer, an author layer and a title layer. What are these layers? The background layer is the stage that everything else is stacked upon. It is usually not transparent. Instead it will be a solid color or it might be a image like a photo that you scanned into the computer. The author layer is where the name of the author goes. In a similar fashion, the title layer is where the title goes.

Now, when I work on the image I can pick which layer I want to work on or even show. If I want to try a different background, I can create a new background layer. Then it is a simple matter to flip back and forth between the two backgrounds to see which looks better.

Is there a typo in the title? Then just change the title layer. There is no need to go back to a saved version before the title was added to make the change.

An actual cover will probably have many more layers than three. Embrace them. They make editing the image easier and reduce the risk of making a change you can't easily reverse.

I documented the steps I took to create a sample cover in case it is useful to anyone else. Click HERE for the Tutorial. And for those who are interested, no, the cover isn’t my cover. It just a sample I threw together pretty quickly.

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