What Gets Measured Gets Managed. Testing The Key Elements Of Your Book Before Launch

One of the best things about being an indie author is creative control.

round the bendYou get to decide what to write, your cover, your book design, your pricing, your promotional strategy. But it’s also one of the most difficult things, especially when first starting out, as often, what we like may not resonate with the audience.

NY Times bestselling author, Tim Ferriss, famously tests everything about his books, starting with the title ‘Four Hour Work Week’ and look where that took him! A few years back, I did a survey on this blog for the cover of my first book, Pentecost. The cover I liked didn’t win and I went with the crowd-pleaser. In today’s post, Alistair McGuinness, author of Round The Bend, goes through his experience of using surveys to improve his book.

thecreativenomadWhat gets measured, gets managed.

As a Business Improvement Coach, I often cite this quote when faced with a problem that my client feels is difficult to quantify.

I have learned that when confronted with something intangible, the secret is to turn emotion into logic, and by generating a metric you gain clarity.

Writers are often described as emotional people, which is wonderful for creativity, but how much logic are you putting into the key elements that will attract people to your book?

Big5Like many indie writers I have considered the key elements seriously, so that my adventure travel book, Round the Bend, has every chance of success. After months of effort I feel confident that these are appealing, but what would potential customers think? It was time to find out, by completing a survey in my hometown.

The ranking was written in a fun, easy to read manner that would allow participants to make a quick but tangible assessment. I’ve included the survey questions at the end of the post if you’re interested in the detail.

Audit sheet for big 5To help with data collection I created a sheet to capture the information. I then printed out The Big 5 elements and worked out a way for them to be easily viewed. My book cover was glued to a large piece of cardboard, with a random page stuck to the other side.

My random page was one of the hand drawn travel maps that are scattered throughout the story. I then did the same thing with the blurb and the 1st paragraphs.

Now it was time for the survey.

Busselton foreshoreAfter moving from the UK, I now live in Australia and headed to my local beach in search of a diverse mix of locals and overseas visitors and although it was winter, the weather was kind with many people relaxing by the water. The more chilled they were, the greater the likelihood they would be willing to answer a few questions.

My wife and her friend carried out the survey and as soon as our children realised that free chocolate went to every participant, they came along too. You can watch the short video below or here on YouTube to see the survey in action.

I stood in the background, taking photos of them in action and watched sail boats glide across the bay, as complete strangers voted on my work.

ResultsongrassTwo hours later, it was all over. The winter sun was low on the horizon and the visitors were heading back to their hotels and motels, in preparation for dinner.

I scattered a few of the results on the grass and took a picture to capture the moment.

We then searched for a coffee shop and reviewed the results.

The most popular element was my blurb, with a score of 4.4, which you can read here to see if you agree.

Score of 4 = Well written and informative

My original book cover was the least popular, gaining an average score of 3 and I checked the ranking system to confirm what this meant:

Score of 3 = Looks like a run of the mill front cover. Not unsightly, but lacks bite

Overall, I wasn’t too disappointed as there was not a large difference in votes, but the front cover was a possible element to reconsider. During coffee I gained a valuable piece of information about my 1st paragraph. Although most reviewers liked it, there was some mis-perception on my choice of words during a particular scene.

This was important news and that evening I viewed the 1st page with fresh eyes. During a thirty minute blitz I transformed the first few paragraphs and instantly knew that it was right.

I was just in time, as the publishers requested the final manuscript for proofreading days later.

So although I felt that my top 5 elements were professional, I needed tangible proof.

The survey results and the feedback gave me enough evidence to change some critical parts.

If you feel that your book is ready to launch, remember that you only get one go at making a first impression. Taking out a survey can be a fun way to gain valuable information on your Top 5 elements and also a subtle introduction to get the public thinking about your book.

Have you tried an audience survey for your book? Do you have any tips or questions? Please leave them in the comments below the survey points. 

Alistair McGuinnessAlistair McGuinness is the author of ‘Round The Bend: From Luton to Peru to Ningaloo, a Search for Life After Redundancy,’ an adventure travel book. Inspired by Mr Benn and Michael Palin, he left the UK to go traveling and now lives in Western Australia.

Here’s the detailed options in the survey:

Book Cover

1               Poor design. Looks like something created by a 1st grade art student

2               Picture or font are lacking substance

3               Looks like a run of the mill front cover. Not unsightly, but lacks bite

4               Crisp picture, good style and looks better than many others on the shelf

5               Eye catching, stylish and has me reaching for the book

 Book title

1               Too long, too obscure or too weird

2               OK, but hasn’t that been used before heaps of times?

3               Matches the cover, but not compelling

4               Nice and punchy or quirky enough to remember

5               Why didn’t I think of that one?

Back page blurb

1               An irrelevant ramble that did nothing for me

2               Too short, too long or too boring

3               Just about kept me interested

4               Well written and informative

5               Sucked me in and I want more

1st Paragraph

1               I switched off after the first line

2               Read the paragraph but felt nothing

3               I can see there may be something, but my interest is waning

4               Enjoyed the paragraphs and hungry for more

5               You nailed it. Hooked

Random page

1               Found a grammatical error

2               Why didn’t I give up after the first paragraph?

3               Could be worth purchasing. Might try another page.

4               Well-paced and I’m eager for more

5               Cracking stuff. Who is this writer?

Breaking Up With Your Literary Agent

Since I live my writing journey in public these days, I need to share that my agent and I have gone our separate ways.

opportunityIn this post, I explain why this isn’t unusual or a bad thing.

Like any relationship, there are beginnings and endings.

I signed with Rachel Ekstrom at the Irene Goodman Agency in July 2012. I outline the reasons in detail here, but basically I was keen to try my hand at a traditional deal.

Rachel has tried very hard to sell several of my books, targeting specific editors at large publishers. She’s stayed in touch by email and skype, and been positive, proactive and a cheerleader for my work. I’m grateful for her time and help with my books, and she is credited in the Acknowledgements for Desecration.

But agents get paid on selling rights and in the time we’ve been together, there hasn’t been enough interest in my work from traditional publishers.

During that same period, I’ve signed my own audio rights deal with a small press, as well as two joint venture translation deals. I’m also desecrationin preliminary discussions with several contacts over foreign rights and film/TV rights. I already do so much myself and want to move fast, and alas, speed is not a word associated with traditional publishing.

Rachel and I set a deadline for Desecration, my crime novel, and agreed that once that passed, I would move on and self-publish. There was a flurry of interest towards the end but nothing came through in time, so we agreed that I would get on with my own indie life. The parting of the ways was an amicable, agreed decision between Rachel and I, and I couldn’t be happier with her professionalism.

Desecration Michael ConnellyI published Desecration last week and it debuted in the US Crime Bestseller list by Michael Connelly and John Sandford, which I’m really pleased about!

I consider myself fortunate in such an amicable split, as there are stories of acrimonious break-ups that still involve money many years later. Earlier this year, Harper Lee sued her agent for depriving her of royalties. Kristine Rusch talks about auditing agents and her own experience in this article.

It’s not unusual for authors to have several different agents in their career

Here’s a few articles on breaking up with agents. Although it’s not talked about so much, it’s important to know it’s a possibility if you want to sign with an agent.

If you’re going to go the traditional route, please make sure you read this little book on Dealbreakers in contracts by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. It may save you thousands of dollars and a lot of heartache.

Do you even need an agent anyway?

These days, many authors are un-agented by choice. You certainly don’t need an agent to publish, sell and distribute your book online in ebook, print or audiobook format.

In this article, author and industry veteran Dean Wesley Smith outlines why you don’t need an agent anyway.

His conclusion is that it’s better to indie publish and keep writing, as well as pitching editors directly if you’re interested in getting a traditional deal.

What do I want in an agent?

Despite what Dean says, I’m still interested in an agent, especially for rights that are harder to exploit myself. I see the relationship as a business partnership, in the same way I am working with my joint venture translation partners.

There are agents who are specifically looking for these types of relationships with savvy indies. Kristin Nelson has done a great job for Hugh Howey, and hopefully, this type of relationship will become more mainstream in the coming years.

My experience has been a good one, and I’m certainly open to future collaboration. But for now, I’m a (very) happy indie!

Do you have any comments on splitting up with agents or any recommendations for others? Please do leave a comment below.

[The spirit of this blog is positive and forward-looking, focusing on lessons learned, rather than dwelling on negativity, so please comment with this in mind.]

Self-Publishing Checklist For New Authors. A Case Study For Nada, A Historical Thriller.

It’s been nearly six years since I wrote my first book, How To Enjoy Your Job, now rewritten and republished as Career Change.

NadaI’ve spent the time since then embedding myself within this market. Learning about writing, publishing and book marketing is more than my career, it’s also my hobby and my passion (and my fun, judge me how you will!)

But being so deeply involved for so long means that it’s now hard to remember what was difficult at the beginning!

But in the last month, I have helped my Dad, Arthur J. Penn, publish his first book, Nada, a historical thriller with a romantic edge. Think Captain Corelli’s Mandolin set in Sardinia.

** If you’d like to try it, it’s FREE on Amazon Kindle Nov 3-7, 2013. Click here to try. **

It helped me to revisit the process of publishing from scratch, so here’s the checklist I worked through that might be helpful if you’re just starting out.

I’m assuming you have finished the first draft and then gone through the major editing and beta-reader process, so you have a finished manuscript ready to go.

(1) Finalize the manuscript

Once the final draft is finished, you need to add the extra material like the copyright page, the dedication and anything else, like the Author’s Note and acknowledgements. Remember to include a call to action at the end of the book for people to sign up for your email newsletter, as well as including your social media links, or at least your website.

Don’t forget your back blurb/sales description which also needs to be done before you publish.

My recommendation is to also use a proof-reader for the manuscript, so someone new who reads the book just before you publish and notices the last typos and punctuation issues. This is the final cleanup of the manuscript. For Nada, Wendy Janes did a fantastic job!

Nada Champagne(2) Organize cover design for ebook and print

This needs to be done in advance as many designers are booked up, so email early and book your slot. Jane Dixon Smith was amazing for Nada, producing an ebook and print book cover. Arthur had his own ideas about the cover, wanting to emphasize the sinister mask of the Marmuthones, which feature in the opening murder. Jane took that and added depth, the heroine Eleanor in the background walking to her future. Click here for more book cover designers.

(3) Get URL and website sorted

As Arthur is a new author, I decided to go with a basic, free WordPress.com site that is easy to build, set up and maintain. I did buy ArthurJPenn.com as a domain and redirect it to the wordpress site, which gives it a more professional look and is easier to include on business cards and the back of the book. Dad is getting used to wordpress, checking out the different themes right now, so the site may be in-flux if you visit :)

I advise people who want to write as a career to host their own website, but you can move the content later, so after we see how the first book goes, we may look at moving to a hosted site. I use Hostgator (affiliate) which is very affordable.

Another reason to use self-hosting is to be able to embed a signup form to an external list service like Aweber (affiliate). But you can get around this by hosting the form on the service itself and providing a re-direct. Not perfect, but functional for a new author just starting out.

(4) Publish on Amazon for Kindle

Now this is a marketing decision, but because Arthur doesn’t have an existing platform, I decided that it was worth going with KDP Select for the initial 90 days to get some traction with giveaways.

After the 90 days is up, we will likely publish on Kobo and Smashwords for the other platforms. I’m generally not a fan of exclusivity but for the short-term initial period, it’s worth it for traction.

Arthur J Penn and Joanna Penn

Arthur J Penn with Joanna Penn, celebrating!

When you first set up your profile, you have to fill in the tax information. Non-US citizens will have 30% with-holding tax applied unless you sort out your tax numbers. It’s not too hard, check out this great post from Karen Inglis.

You should also fill out your Amazon Author Central profiles – for the .com and then the other stores as well. You can claim your books and get them linked together.

(5) Publish on Createspace for print

There are many reasons to print your book, but when it’s your first book, the main reason is to hold it in your hand and say ‘I made this!‘. It’s a time to celebrate! Again, Jane Dixon Smith did the book design, and we used Createspace for the publishing, using print on demand.

Here’s a short video of the unboxing (with some squealing from my behind the camera!)

(6) Decide on marketing options

We all know that writing and publishing are only part of the journey, but getting the book to readers is a whole other story. I gave Dad a copy of ‘How To Market A Book‘ but I realize it is quite a learning curve for new authors.

Arthur J Penn

Happy new author!

My initial suggestions are:

a) Use some kind of promo pricing, or KDP Select free period in order to get some kind of data into the algorithms

b) Set up your author profile and then add your book in multiple formats onto Goodreads. Once that’s all done, you can set up a print giveaway. This is at least a way to get some profile on the site and hopefully some reviews.

c) Get business cards with the book cover on one side and your details on the other. Give these out to all and sundry, using the old physical word of mouth technique. I use Moo.com but there are lots of options.

d) Pick something you like doing, e.g. photos on Pinterest and just do one thing a week or even a day.

(7) Start writing the next book

… Arthur has already started the sequel, so watch this space for a Penn dynasty!

Do you have anything to add to a new author checklist? Or any suggestions for marketing ideas that don’t involve too much internet time?  Please do add your comments below.

If you like historical fiction, you might like to check out Nada.

A young woman’s struggle to free herself from the manacles of fascism and the bigotry of faith.

Nada CoverSardinia, 1934. On her eighteenth birthday Eleanor Cardinale is relishing the warm embrace of local festivals, red wine, and her first lover. Her passion is set against the backdrop of the island’s crystal seas, mountain crags and ancient magical legends.

But her joy is fleeting, for dark forces gather as she openly challenges her suffocating religion and Mussolini’s twisted vision of a new fascist Italy. The Duce is at the height of his popularity and Eleanor finds herself dangerously alone in her dissent.

Eleanor’s simple Sardinian life is shattered by a series of hideous crimes against her loved ones; savage rape, atrocity and finally murder by masked dancers in the fire and shadows of a demonic festival.

Is Eleanor willing to pay the ultimate price for freedom and independence?

NADA is a story of love, murder and revenge set in a time of Italian fascist expansion and ending in the early days of the Spanish Civil war. A historical novel, for fans of Robert Harris and Louis de Bernieres Corelli’s Mandolin.

Nada on Amazon.com – Kindle 

Nada on Amazon.co.uk – Kindle

Nada on Amazon.com – print

Nada on Amazon.co.uk – print

How To Self-Publish In Germany With Matthias Matting

I’m VERY excited about the global market for ebooks, which is just beginning to explode!

The US, UK and Canada can be considered ‘mature’ ebook markets, but the rest of the world is just beginning the exponential growth that characterized these early adopters. Germany is currently the 3rd largest ebook sales market, so it is already worth trying to break into.

In the intro I update you on my own writing progress, and my project for NaNoWriMo, Delirium, which you can see a little about on my Pinterest boards. I also have a print giveaway for ‘One Day In Budapest’ on Goodreads – click here to enter before Nov 14th.

kobo writing lifeThe podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. Today I explain why I think authors should be using Kobo to reach readers they wouldn’t otherwise.

matthias mattingMatthias Matting is a journalist and author of more than 30 books in 6 languages that have sold over 100,000 copies. He runs selfpublisherbibel.de, the #1 site for self-publishing in Germany and he’s just published the English version of his ebook ‘How to publish in Germany‘, available now.

We discuss:

  • How Matthias got started with self-publishing, experimenting with different books on the Kindle and other devices.
  • Why the German market is worth pursuing. There’s a population of 80 million (bigger than the UK) but the book sales volume is 40% of the USA (with a population of 300m). There are also German speakers in Austria, Switzerland and of course, the rest of the world. Ebook adoption is increasing and Germany is the 3rd largest ebook market after US and UK right now.
  • Books that sell well are similar to the US – romance, fantasy, thrillers & crime. 50% of the top 100 bestsellers are self-published.
  • Some books in English sell well, but generally you want to publish in German. You can look at translation opportunities at Proz.com or TranslatorsCafe.com. Translators will apply for projects and you can see their experience. You should ask for a test chapter and find a native speaker to read it in order to check quality. Pricing varies by the word, but a 70,000 word book would be between US$3000-$5000. Joint venture partnerships are starting to happen [as I am doing with my translator].
  • In terms of ebook readers, Amazon and Kindle have 60% of the market. The Tolino has ~30% and was started by German publishers. It is also sold in physical bookstores so will always have a good % of the market.
  • To publish on the Tolino, you have to use an aggregator as right now they don’t have a direct publishing platform. You can use Xinxii.com or ePubli.co.uk (currently exclusive).
  • On pricing. The German fixed book price law which means all prices have to be the same on all platforms. Using free and 99c for promotion with 2.99 EUR being the most common price for indies.
  • Matthias mentions using Apple iBooksAuthor for his physics book, The new biography of the Universe. But in general, the iBookstore doesn’t have great penetration. He also recommends Createspace.com for print-on-demand as the only service that offers competitive pricing in Germany.
  • Marketing. When you announce your sales, Matthias recommends using XTME.de which is similar to BookBub in functionality, with free and paid advertising opportunities. KDP Select is still worthwhile for the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (KOLL) which gives you a higher profile and visibility in the store, although not so much for the free days. There are fewer traditional publishers in the KOLL so it is a good option, and perhaps worth more than being on the Tolino. Book bloggers still favor print books from traditional publishing. You can also use social reading site LovelyBooks which is similar to Goodreads.

how to publish in germanyYou can find out all the detail in Matthias’ book, How to publish in Germany, available in English and German.

You can also find the results of an author survey and more information at his site Selfpublishingbibel.de/English

You can find Matthias on twitter @mmatting


How To Make Your Own Free Book Cover In MS Word

Caring about fantastic book cover design is one of those non-negotiables for all authors.

derek murphy coversDerek Murphy of Creativindie Covers is a brilliant designer and has designed a number of my own book covers. But although I personally believe in paying professionals, I’m also aware that some people want to have a go themselves, or need to because of budget restraints. This post is for the avid DIY-ers!

Most indie publishing experts will warn you against making your own book cover, with good reason: the cover design is too crucial an element to self-publishing success to take lightly.

Making your book a bestseller is hard enough without an ugly cover sabotaging your efforts.

However there are many reasons why you may be tempted to give it a shot anyway:

  • You want to play with cover ideas so you know what you want before hiring a designer
  • You want more control over your cover design
  • You’re launching a small project, a short ebook or guide, and you don’t want to invest too much
  • You’re writing a series and don’t want to pay full price for each cover design

So I’d like to share with you something I’ve been working on for a few months: the secrets of designing a bestselling book cover in Microsoft Word, and then I’ll give you some easy-to-use Word templates so you can get started quickly.

This will be a ‘crash course’ in the minimal skills you need to create a winning cover in MS Word

You’ll learn how to use Word to blend images, add layers and transparency, use font effects and space letters (kerning), strip background, and the general principles of cover design.

These instructions are for MS Word 2010, so they won’t work for everyone, but if you have an older or newer version of Word, the process will be similar. This is a long post, so you should bookmark it. You can also download a PDF version of these instructions and the source files of the cover we’re building so you can follow along; click here to get those.
Ready? Let’s begin.

Finding and choosing the right pictures

The quality of your book cover will mostly depend on what pictures or art you use, and how well they fit together, so in this section I’m going to teach you what kind of art works the best, where you can find royalty free images, and where you can get cheap Photoshop work done (if you need it).

The RULES for picking photos:
1) Simple is better
2) Needs to cause immediate emotional reaction
3) Not too busy or too many colors
4) Don’t use a GREAT picture: use the overlooked one
5) Blend and match colors

You can use a color wheel to find complimentary colors (opposites/across from each other). Blockbuster movie posters usually use orange and teal (a lot of my book covers do also).

Free Book Cover Templates


Green and purple can work also.
Unfortunately, Christmas ruined red and green, but red still goes well with black or white.

Too many colors can be distracting, so try to go for one or two main colors (if the whole background is blue, you could use yellow text to stand out…)

What kind of images should you choose?

First find a dramatic background or scene; it can be a building, landscape… think “place.” Where does your novel happen? What’s the setting? See if you can find something that refers to this. That will be your background.

Then find something for the foreground – faces or bodies can work well here.

Models from stock photography sites are good, but the better the model, the more chance someone else will use them for their covers. You can avoid showing their face by just showing some of their body or posture.

You could also post something on Craigslist and see if you can hire someone local to pose for an hour or two. I’m sure you have a friend with a camera… describe what type of model you’re looking for and have them send samples. I would pay $50~$100 for a couple hours photoshoot, with the rights to use a picture on the cover.

Take the pictures against a white, or black background (depending on whether your cover’s background will be mostly light or dark.)

If that sounds like too much work, find a model on a stock photography site, but keep in mind: the better the photo, the more likely other people are already using it on their book covers. That’s why you don’t want to find a beautiful, breathtaking photo that’s just perfect. You can… but there may be another book with a cover that looks almost exactly the same.

Instead, try to find something a little plainer, mix the model and background together yourself, or choose to focus on a unique angle (I often cut off the top half of a model’s face and show just the mouth and chin). You could also put some unique objects, symbols or elements in the foreground. Something that also works well is to place the models large on top, and add a scene/landscape on the bottom half of the cover.

Make a list of your character’s physical descriptions, and any other relevant places, scenes, rooms, objects or symbols, and start searching.

Where to find stock photography

“Stock photography” means images you can buy the rights to and use in your book cover. More expensive sites will ask you for more details like how many copies you plan to print, but there are a lot of cheap options.

I use these sites, where photos usually cost less than $10 to download (although you should buy the more expensive “Extended License” if you are using it for your book cover). Each site has different rules and fees. For now, just download samples of everything you like so you can play around with them. Once you’re sure what you want, you can go back and buy them.

What size do I need?

I make book covers at 6”X9”, which is 1800×2700 pixels. That’s already a good size for print, and for Kindle and other ebook sites. If you want a taller, narrower book cover, use 5”x8” – that will produce the 1.6 ratio recommended by Amazon (which most publishers ignore, because the covers are too tall and look strange on most devices).

On most stock photography sites, a medium or large size will work, just check the pixel ratio. Keep in mind, if you choose two horizontal photos, they don’t need to be as long as the full cover.

Here are the sites I use most often:

There are others though – even some free options, like Stock Exchange photos.
They reel you in, showing you nice photos from iStock, which usually cost between $20 and $80.

Other options

The disadvantage to stock photography, as I’ve mentioned, is you’ll see it on other covers, so here are some ways to find something unique.

1) Find a professional photo from a photographer’s website.
Photographers often charge at least $1500 to use a photo as a book cover; however, many are open to a special deal or agreement. Something I’ve negotiated in the past, is paying around $250 now, but an additional $1000 or so if the book sells more than 10,000 copies. This is pretty fair to you both – if you do sell so well, the photographer deserves to get paid his normal wage.

2) Find something on Etsy.com
Etsy is a site for craftspeople and artists, but they often have some very pleasing photography of their wares. There’s also some unique paintings and art. Most artists won’t mind if you use their photos, especially if you buy the relevant product they’re selling. Just make sure to ask.

3) Find something on Flickr.com
A lot of Flickr users post photos in the Creative Commons area, which means you can use their photo as long as you put attribution (on the back cover, and on the title page). No harm searching this area. The photos may not look great at first, but you can adjust them in Word.

4) Look on DeviantArt for photography
DeviantArt is a community for artists and graphic designers. They have a resources section of stock photography, that you can use as long as you attribute the source (different artists have different rules of use, and can be quite cautious how their work is used, so you should read their rules and maybe send them a message).
The stock photography on Deviant is usually very raw – it’s for graphic designers to use in their designs.
If you see a photo that could work, maybe see about finding someone to make it awesome for you (read 5 and 6).

5) Hire an artist from DeviantArt
Browse DeviantArt for the subjects on your list and you may find some beautiful art and photography. Especially for a children’s book or fantasy novel, if you need a really specific scene, you may need to hire an artist. A lot of artists on DeviantArt are young or just starting out (or in other countries where the minimum wage is much lower). I would offer $100 to use some art on a book cover, or $250 for them to draw something custom for you. Some artists will work for less, some will demand more – but I think those are good starting offers.

6) Pay someone on Fivver.som to make it awesome
I’m going to teach you how to style and blend photos in MS Word, but if you need something prettier, or are getting frustrated trying to do it yourself, search on Fivver.com for a Photoshop expert. Many providers will strip out background, combine images, or add a dramatic style for $5. It’ll save some time and probably look better. Especially for YA, fantasy, science fiction, thriller… anything that needs to be “edgy” or a little more exciting, could probably use a touch-up.

7) Find an old painting
Thinking of using a historical painting? Almost all old paintings should be free to use if they’re older than 70 years. Check out this site, it has tons of high resolution painting and art pictures:

Got your pictures? Let’s start!

I’m going to walk you through making a book cover in MS Word from scratch.

Step One
Open up MS Word.
Go to “File>>New>>” and then hit “Create” on the right side.

You should have a blank document.
You’ll want to adjust the size to 6”x9”, so go to “Page Layout” and hit “Size.” Scroll down to “More Paper Sizes” and type in 6” and then 9” in the relevant input boxes.

Free Book Cover Templates

We also don’t need the margins so big, so click again on “Page Layout”, select “Margins” and then set them to “Narrow” or .5” all around.

Step Two
Now we’re going to add our pictures.
I’ll take my scenery or background picture and drag/drop it into my template. I could also use “insert>>picture” and then select the image I want to use.

When the picture gets dropped in, it will automatically stretch to the margins, but you can’t move it where you want. Double click on the picture, go up to “Wrap Text” and choose “Behind Text.”

This will let you scale, resize and move the picture around. I’m going to move it down to fill up the bottom of my book cover.

Quick Tip: if you need to get a better handle on things, you can either zoom in or zoom out under “View” and then “Zoom.”

Now I’m going to take another picture, drag and drop it in, select “Behind Text,” and put it in the top half. The picture is too big, so I lose half of it under the other one (we’ll fix that later).

Now that I have two layers, I’ll want to click on “Page Layout” and open up the “Selection Pane.”
This will show all my layers, and make it easier to keep track of them. If I want to hide one for a while, I can click on that “eye” button, and show it again when I’m ready. Sometimes it can get tricky to select the right layer when I have a bunch of them. If it’s hard to select the image you want, try double-clicking right on the border of the picture, rather than the middle.

Free Book Cover Templates

Just for fun, double click on the picture of the couple again, and hit the “Remove Background” button on the top left. It doesn’t work so well with this picture, because the background is too similar to the portraits in color, so we’d have to use “Mark areas to keep” and “Mark areas to remove” until we got it right. Then we could add something else behind it, like a nice starry night sky…

Free Book Cover Templates


But we won’t do that right now.
The simplest way to finish up this cover would be to add a flat banner across the middle.

Quick Tip: if you need to go back and remove some changes, hit the backwards curving blue area on the very top left, next to the save disk icon.

Free Book Cover Templates

Step Three
To insert a banner, go up to “insert,” click on “shapes,” and then select the rectangle.

Now we can drag out a rectangle. It’s OK if it’s not perfect, you can resize it and move it around. I’m going to double click on the rectangle to select it, go up to “Shape Outline” and hit “No Outline.”

I’ll do that again, go up to “Shape Fill” this time, and select the color black.

Free Book Cover Templates
Free Book Cover Templates

Step Four
Now I can add some text.
I go back to “Insert” and hit “Text Box,” and choose “Draw Text Box” from near the bottom of the choices.

Free Book Cover Templates

At first my text box has a solid white background. So I’ll double click on it, go up to “Shape Fill” and choose “No Fill.” The box also has a border I want to get rid of, so I double click on it again, go up to “Shape Outline” and pick “No Outline.”

But now if I type my title, I can’t see the black text… so I’ll highlight the text and go up to the “A” symbol to change the color. For now I’ll just pick white, then make the text a little bigger.

Free Book Cover Templates


Rules for using fonts:
Using the right font for your book’s genre is important.

You can’t go wrong with some fonts. Here are some of my favorites:
Lato, open sans, liberation sans, English gothic, bebas neue, Optimus princeps, trajan pro, garamond, pandama, Shonar Bangla… here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t use anything that comes with Windows – your basic fonts like Comic Sans, Times New Roman, or Mistral.
  2. Try to use two fonts, something “cool” for the title, and something clean and simple for the author name (although if you want to create an author brand, you could reverse this, and make something memorable for the author name.)
  3. Three fonts is OK if two are pretty simple (for example, to use in the tagline or review)
  4. Don’t use more than one super creative, unusual font.
  5. Search around. There are thousands of fonts. Find a great one. Understand that you may have to pay for it.

MS Word’s maximum font size is 72pt, but you can just type in a new number.

I’ve set mine to 120pt. I’m going to use a font called “Accidental Presidency.” It’s a narrow, bold, sans-serif font, similar to English Gothic or Bebas Neue.

But I want to space out the letters a bit, so we need to learn the very important skill of spacing letters.

I need to go up to the Home tab, and underneath the “Font” section I click on that tiny little diagonal arrow.

Free Book Cover Templates

That’ll bring up a new “Font” window. Click on the “Advanced” tab to see the “Spacing” option.

You can set the text at “Expanded, Normal or Condensed.”

I choose Expanded, and set it at 1pt. That’s not as spaced as I want, so I do it again and choose “by: 3.5pt.”

Free Book Cover Templates

I want to center my text, so I drag the walls of my text box to the edges of my cover, then click the center text icon. If it seems like the text isn’t lining up right, go up to the Paragraph section, hit the tiny diagonal arrow, and make sure the Indentation is set at zero.

Now I want to add an author name under the title.

But if I hit Enter/Return, the next line is too far down. I could try to fix the line height, by hitting the Paragraph options and setting the line-height to 0.8”, but too much and it will start cutting the top off the text. So the better option is to select my title text box, by clicking once on the border of the box, right click and choose “Copy Here” (or use the ctrl+”C” shortcut).

Now you have a duplicate text layer. Make the font size smaller, and increase the spacing. I set the size at 36pts, and the spacing to Expanded by 10pts. Accidental Presidency looks a little too bold, so I changed the font to Vodafone Rg.

Finally, I want my title text to “Pop” a bit more. If I click the little “A” symbol with the blue glow, I’ll get some special text features. If one of these styles doesn’t work, I can customize the Outline, Shadow, Reflection or Glow.

Free Book Cover Templates

The “Reflections” is interesting, but only if I go to “More Reflection Options” and change the transparency a little.

Free Book Cover Templates

But it’s not quite what I want. So instead, I’ll highlight the text and go up to the “A” with the white bar underneath to select the Font Color options.

Besides changing the color, I can also select a Gradient option. With a light border and subtle reflection, the cover looks pretty good.

Free Book Cover Templates

Free Book Cover Templates

Step Five
But I think I can make it better. Try selecting that black rectangle shape behind the text.
First I’m going to search online for a “black, textured background”. I want something “grungy” so I picked this brick wall.

Free Book Cover Templates

If I click on the border of my black rectangle, I can go up to Shape Fill, choose “Picture” and upload my brick wall background.

Quick Tip: if you’re having trouble selecting the black rectangle from behind the two text layers, use the “Selection Pane” which should still be on the right hand side of your workspace. You can select the layer there, or hide the two text layers for now.

Free Book Cover Templates

That looks OK. But now the straight lines of the rectangle box are starting to bother me.

Let’s get rid of them.
Select the background rectangle again by clicking once on the border, but this time right click and choose the last option, “Format Shape.”

This opens a new window, and we can now access the “Glow and Soft Edges tab.”
You want to make the soft edges big enough so the image transitions smoothly into the other pictures.

Free Book Cover Templates

Free Book Cover Templates

It still doesn’t look smooth, so I’ll try adjusting the colors.

I selected the background Paris shot, and used the “Corrections” and “Colors” tabs on top to change the picture to a dark brown that matches the bricks better.

Free Book Cover Templates

Step Six
That doesn’t look bad at all.
But let’s see if we can add an element of danger by blending in another picture of this bad guy.

Free Book Cover Templates

First we need to make some space, so we’ve got to select the picture of the couple, grab one of the corners, and pull it down to scale the size.

You may need to move it over first so the corners are visible.
Then, since this is a dark cover, let’s get rid of that white background.

Go up to “Page Layout” and click on “Page Color.”

Free Book Cover Templates

Quick Tip: If you wanted to fill the page with a gradient, you would hit “Page Color” and then “Fill Effects.” Gradients are handy for non-fiction.

I click on “More Colors” and try to match that dark brown of the Paris sky as closely as possible.

Free Book Cover Templates

Now I can drag in the bad guy picture, “Wrap Text”/”Behind Text” to move him around, and “right click/format picture” to soften the edges.

I also used “Corrections” and “Color” to make him fit in with the background color better.

I added soft edges to the couple picture as well, but unfortunately these two images don’t fit so well together. I may be over-reaching.

I changed the color of the couple picture, to blend them together better, but now the cover is monochrome and a little boring. I could add red text…

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But I think the colors were stronger before.

So I hit the “revert” back arrow about 200 times…

Quick Tip: Save frequently! And if you like something, save it, and then save again as a new file before making big changes or trying something else.

Free Book Cover Templates

This time I use the “Remove Background” button (once you click on the picture, it will be on the top left, under “File”). It does a good job of stripping everything out.

I want to put him really small, on the bottom half of the cover.
And this is where I hit one of the big limitations in MS Word.

For some reason, “Shapes” have to be in front of “Picture Layers.” What this means is I can’t bring my bad guy in front of that brick layer.

Free Book Cover Templates

Luckily, there’s a work-around this time.

I started that layer as a shape, and I used “Fill” with the brick picture.

The cool thing about shapes is I can change the Transparency. You can use Transparency to put an image right over another one.

Free Book Cover Templates

Normal pictures though, don’t have that transparency option, only shapes do. And shapes have to be in front of pictures.

But, since I don’t need transparency right now on the brick layer, I can just delete it, insert the brick picture directly, by itself, and set the edges to soft.

Now that it’s a picture, I can put it behind the bad guy.
I like him so much, I’m going to make the author name a little more condensed so that I can fit him in better.

And…. Tadaa! For a cover made in MS Word in under an hour… it’s pretty good.

Free Book Cover Templates

The fonts aren’t ideal… I’d try to find something a little edgier/rougher for the title and cleaner for the author name.

Quick Tip: A white outline on text with a gradient will make a ‘gleaming edges’ look, like in this sample. It’s good for strong, clean fonts, but not good for rough or messy fonts with uneven edges. An outline will also make the text a little bit fatter and not quite as clean and sharp, so it should be used carefully.

If you didn’t get it earlier, link to the source files and template used in this tutorial.

DIY Book Cover Templates

With the methods you’ve just learned, you can make a pretty great cover by yourself in MS Word. But there’s also a lot of potential to fail. When you’re starting out learning a new skill, it’s good to have limitations, structure, guidelines, a roadmap. That’s why I’ve been working on over 100 DI Y book cover templates based on best-selling book covers, which are a lot faster and easier than making your own cover from scratch. You can just about point and click your way through customizing one of my templates in 5 minutes.

Free Book Cover Templates

If you’d like to find out more about that and download some free templates to play with, check out DIYbookcovers.com.

Derek Murphy, Creativindie Covers

Please leave any questions or comments below!