Creating Keyflame’s cover was a journey almost as long as writing Keyflame itself. When I decided to publish Keyflame via Amazon back in 2010, it was more whim than business decision. I didn’t want to spend any money on it, it was no more than a fun project that I thought I could do all by myself. I didn’t do any research into what the cover should look like. I made the mistake a lot of new authors do and decided to put as many elements from the plot on the cover as possible. What others would have called “poorly thought out”, I called “stylised”.
Then, when I first thought about re-publishing it in 2016, I considered simply redoing the cover and putting the file up on Amazon as it was with maybe a few grammatical corrections. This time I asked some friends what they thought of the cover. They all said they loved it.
I don’t hate this version but it doesn’t look professional. You can tell I knew nothing about fonts or font styling, and the face is far too zoomed in compared to other books in the same genre. It’s also far too much like a photograph. This will come up later.
Then I actually read Keyflame again. When I realised that I could do so much better with the story and the writing, I realised I couldn’t let myself put it out there as it was. So, it went back on the shelf for another two years until I tackled the full rewrite.
Since 2016 I had started self-studying cover design and had a much better idea of what a cover needed. Keyflame was still the most challenging cover I had tackled as it involved strange lighting, photo compositing and magical elements. Here are all the steps it went through:
At this point I had a crisis of faith in the whole concept. I couldn’t get it to look how I wanted it to, and all the modern covers coming out of the publishing houses were text only. I went to the mall and looked at the shelves in the book stores and none of the books had people on. I ran a survey on Instagram and most people said they didn’t like covers with photos of people on them. So I started working on a completely different concept.
I really loved this design, but research showed a really big problem – it gave no indication of the genre or what the story was about. This is fine in book stores where your goal is to get people to pick up the book and have a look at the back cover, but not so great online where you’re trying desperately to catch people’s attention in half a second.
However, all was not lost. Since I much preferred this text styling, I took it and applied it to the initial concept. And I used the rest of this concept as the spine design.
I’m very happy with how the final cover came out. I think that all the tiny tweaks I made along the way were worthwhile, even if they helped me learn what doesn’t work. The things that made the biggest difference to this cover were:
- Getting a computer with a decent screen so that I could see the colours properly. A few of the bleached out versions were simply the result of me trying to design on a poorly calibrated laptop screen.
- Doing research into what sort of covers were selling in my genre.
- Reading criticism of covers on the Indie Cover Project.
- Purchasing design resources like the font and magical overlays. I think together they came to about $30. The overlays were in a pack.
- Editing the font to make it my own. This is actually the same font as in the majority of the initial concept pictures, but I took it into illustrator and made adjustments so that it was properly balanced for this title. This is something that most covers require and why “Can we please see this design with another font” is often not that easy 🙂
- Taking an advanced Photoshop course on Udemy. (This is not an affiliate link, I just loved this course.)
- The friends who were willing to look at a million versions of the covers and help me see it with fresh eyes! Designing my own cover was far more challenging than designing covers for other people because I was far too close to the project emotionally. It took asking a bunch of people for their impressions in order for me to actually see what was in front of me.