ebook cover images

Covers Revealed!

Here are cover images for three short fiction pieces related to the Herbert West Series. I designed these images myself, using Canva, which has been dubbed “The easiest to use design program in the world.” Not having used any other such programs (unless you count Microsoft Paint), I can’t verify that, but I was able to produce what I consider usable images with Canva, after a short and not too steep learning curve.

Each image is followed by its book description, and then my comments on how I put it together, for what they’re worth. Keep in mind that these are simple images to accompany brief, simple stories, and I’m a total amateur when it comes to design.

The Nexus corrected

Herbert West Series supplement 1

Supplement 1. The Nexus

Nearing the end of his long life, Miskatonic University professor Augustus Quarrington retraces the path to his entanglement with one of his most interesting – and dangerous – students: Herbert West.

The narrator is an alchemist as well as a professor, and Miskatonic U is famous for weird goings-on, so the alchemical symbol for sulfur is a good motif for this image. The moody blue background and twisty shape in purple say “supernatural,” and the intricate gold frame hints at complications. The line of green diamonds complements the other colours and finishes the image. The gold line with circle ends is an ornament I find visually pleasing. Rotating line elements to a vertical position makes them usable in ways other than the obvious.



Herbert West Series supplement 2

Supplement 2. From the Annexe

Miskatonic University librarian Charles Milburn was Herbert West’s assistant and closest friend. He has already revealed much about their association in The Friendship of Mortals. But not everything. This is the part he left out.

This is an addendum to The Friendship of Mortals, the first novel of the Herbert West Series. It explores an aspect of the relationship between the two main characters that was hinted at but not developed in that book. The relationship is, of course, a romantic one. Romantic but not terribly happy. Thus the same moody blue background and purple twisty shape, overlaid with a caduceus (to represent Herbert West as a physician) and a misty pink transparency of a rose (a photo of a rose in my garden). I added the drops of blood (free from Canva) to counteract the pink sweetness and hint at troubles. Another line, this time of pink triangles, provides the finishing touch.



Herbert West Series supplement 3

Supplement 3. A Visit to Luxor

Reformed necromancer Francis Dexter (formerly known as Herbert West) and his servant Andre Boudreau visit Luxor, Egypt in the year 1935. A climb up el-Qurn, the sacred mountain behind the Valley of the Kings, leads to an encounter with bandits, and with one who “was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh.”

In this case, the background is weathered stone (rather than blue-tinted concrete) to represent Egyptian antiquities, with an excerpt from the Papyrus of Ani (from Wikimedia Commons) and a cobra shape (from Pixabay), because the story contains references to cobras. The lines of blue squares and the gold and blue twisty shapes say “ancient Egypt.” The line of green triangles (pyramids) at the bottom is another gesture to “Egypt” (although there are no pyramids at Luxor). The reversed green triangles at the top fill up some empty space and enclose the whole thing.

This was the first story for which I did a Canva design, so I ended up with multiple versions as I learned how to put elements together, move them around, etc. Once I worked up images for the other two stories, I decided I wanted the three to have a “family resemblance,” created by the twisty background shapes, the fonts for title, author and subtitle/series and the use of horizontal lines of geometric shapes. Here are two of the early versions of the image for this story.


OK, the snake is a rattler, not a cobra, and the columns (hinting at Karnak) are actually a bar graph dressed up with different lines and fragments from the Papyrus of Ani. I added the pyramid shape as a unifying element that says “Egypt” if not “Luxor.”


This one features a photo (from Wikimedia Commons) of el-Qurn, the pyramid-shaped peak behind the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, with an image of a carved pharaoh (from Canva’s image database) embedded. Then there’s a transparent overlay of another photo, actually of a railway station interior (free from Canva), to add texture and that radiating effect, and a transparent pyramid shape as well. The “rising sun” thing at the bottom fills up space and adds yellow to balance the title colour. I was quite pleased with this assemblage, but abandoned it in favour of the one with the “series look.”


I regularly peruse the Monthly e-Book Cover Design Awards at the Book Designer website. From the comments on submitted cover images, I gather that fonts are a weak spot in DIY cover designs. So I’m a bit uneasy about my font choices for these images. I selected from the ones available on Canva, rather than looking more widely. I settled on a font called “Sunday” for the titles, “Sacramento” for the subtitles and series statements, and something called “IM Fell English Small Caps” for the author name. There are probably better choices (“Sacramento” isn’t the most legible, especially in smaller and thumbnail-sized images), but I found these visually pleasing.

Oh yes…

In case you’re wondering, all three stories are available as pre-orders on Amazon, for an October 1st release date.

Finding Your Inner Designer With Canva

Cover images are one of the weak spots of self-published ebooks. Indie authors are encouraged to obtain professionally designed covers to make their books look professionally published. The trouble is, good designs aren’t cheap. You can settle for cheaper images that may look cheap. Or you can buy graphic design software and learn how to use it. Or you can experiment with Canva.

I tried Canva when I decided to publish three short fiction pieces related to my main book series. I did not think they warranted the cost of professionally designed covers. Basic Canva is free, so I decided to see what I could do with it. Good, fast, cheap — pick two.

The basic tools are quite easy to use. There is a database of photos, images, shapes, lines and text aids, as well as a catalogue of pre-configured layouts you can modify. I didn’t bother with those; I had my own ideas about what elements I wanted in my images, so I stuck with assembling them myself.

So, keeping in mind that I am the rankest of amateurs, here is how you can design an ebook cover image with Canva.

  1. Think simple and abstract. Don’t try to reproduce a scene or paste together a whole lot of images representing your characters or plot elements. Boil it down to a single image, colour palette and layout.
  2. Select a background. Backgrounds provide colour and texture. Texture is a subtle but crucial element that makes the difference between amateurish and polished effects. Canva has a huge repertoire of background images, ranging from stormy skies to lemon slices or coffee beans to grungy paper, rusty metal or concrete wall closeups. The neat thing is you can change your background at any time, but the other elements and colours you use have to play well with the background, so it’s best to settle on one early in the process.
  3. Practice working with layered images. Learn which ones allow changes to colours and degree of transparency and apply them before or after the ones you can’t modify that way, depending on the effects you want to achieve. Using transparency and layering is another key factor in designing effective images. Be aware that the more interrelated layers you pile up, the messier things get if you want to make changes. On the other hand, it’s not nearly as messy as working with real paint, glue, etc.
  4. Don’t underestimate the Lines and Shapes (in the Elements section). They can be used to create quite complex, textured effects by rotating, layering and using transparency. And most of them are free.
  5. Text is best added after the pictorial elements are complete. It’s not usually a good idea to apply layers over text (unless you’re doing it to create an effect). If you decide to remove a layer or two from under text and replace them with something new, the something new will overlay your title.
  6. There is a wealth of free images (especially the Lines and Shapes), but the better backgrounds cost $1 for each use. Note: you pay for the non-free elements only when you are finished with an image and want to download it. The Canva watermark is removed at that point. You have 24 hours to make any changes to that image; if you make a change after that, you have to pay for the non-free elements again when you download the altered image.
  7. You can find images and effects by plugging words into a search box. Each element is tagged, some with dozens of terms, so you never know what a search will retrieve. Example: search on “blob” to find amorphous shapes that can be used for texturing and splatter/scribble effects. Each element has a little “i” you can click on to find out what it is and what keywords have been applied to it.
  8. You can upload your own photos or images you obtain elsewhere and use them in your designs. The usual copyright considerations apply, of course. The image elements you pay for are licensed to you by Canva.
  9. The Help function is pretty helpful.
  10. You can take mini-courses focussing on different aspects of designing with Canva. Have I done that? Only the first couple, but it’s good to know they’re there.

I designed the featured image for this post in a couple of hours, using a $1 background, a “line” which is actually a very useful twisty shape, a “blob,” a fancy circular shape, and two text fonts. Total cost: $1. (The Mercury symbol in the middle is a public domain image from Wikimedia Commons that I added to my uploads on Canva).

In the next few weeks, I’ll be doing a “cover reveal” of the images I designed for the three stories I plan to publish in October.

A final word of warning — learning how to use Canva and fiddling around with it can eat up hours. And not because it’s hard or frustrating, but just because there are so many things to fiddle with, and it’s fun.

Herbert West, Re-Launched

Goodbye, Trilogy in Four Volumes, hello Herbert West Series! The new look may be seen on my Smashwords page and at the Herbert West Series page on this blog.

The most visible difference is the new cover images. This is what they look like:

The Herbert West Series_final

In addition, I have rewritten the brief descriptions and added longer descriptions. Within the books themselves, I corrected typos and other errors and added afterwords and a preview of the next book (to Books 1-3).

Book 1, The Friendship of Mortals, was available as a free download from September 1, 2012 until February 6, 2014. Now it costs $0.99. Despite that trivial price, the change from free to not-free is huge. I feel that it’s an appropriate change, given the value-added features.

It will be interesting to see the effect of these changes.

Preparing To Re-Launch

It’s coming on to four years since I published the first book of the Herbert West Series. Two years after that, in 2012, I published the other three. Now I am planning to upload revised texts with added content and professionally designed cover images to replace my homemade and, to be truthful, rather lame creations. As I write, I am awaiting what I hope will be the final draft of the cover images. It’s been a thrill to see what a graphic designer has created from my descriptions of the works.

And the trilogy is now a series. I decided the whole “trilogy in four volumes” thing didn’t work. The middle two books of the series are still Islands of the Gulf Volume 1 and Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, but Volume 1 is now The Journey and Volume 2 is The Treasure. You wouldn’t believe the amount of brooding and fretting I did before deciding on those words, but I’m satisfied with them.

And only cataloguer-librarians would be able to appreciate my reservations about introducing all this complexity. Instead of simple titles and a series, those two books now have volume numbers, series numbers and part-titles. Once all this is done I will have to create catalogue records for them, coded in MARC format, just for fun. Then there’s the whole question of edition. If I were reissuing these books in print, they would be new editions. But ebooks are different. I think. Sort of. (Non-cataloguers may safely ignore this paragraph).

I have also rewritten the descriptions of the books — brief ones of fewer than 400 characters (60 words), and longer ones in the neighbourhood of 2,000 characters (about 400 words). The short descriptions are the sort of thing you see in a publisher’s catalogue; the longer ones are more like jacket blurbs (interesting word, “blurb;” check Wikipedia for its origin). For the blurbs, I started with texts of short synopses I’ve written over the years, but swiftly realized the fundamental difference between a synopsis, which is intended to encapsulate a novel for presentation to a publisher, and the tantalizing jacket blurb that tells the potential reader just enough to make them want to buy the book. You definitely don’t want to create “spoilers” for your own books!

Right now I am working with my Word documents, adding extras such as Afterwords and excerpts from the sequels to each book, as well as creating hyperlinked tables of contents. Once all that’s done and my new cover images are ready, I will re-launch all four books. That may happen as early as next weekend if all goes well.

What with work and all this activity, I have neither time nor mental capacity for other blog topics. The garden (which isn’t doing much) and further thoughts on hypocrisy (which is everywhere) will just have to wait.

Judging My Books By Their Covers

I admit it — the cover images for my ebooks are home-made and look it. Now that I’m approaching the end of a long process of working through my “trilogy in four volumes” with the help of my critique group, I’ve decided it’s time to plan an overhaul of the way I present my books to the world.

The first thing I will do is commission professionally designed cover images. Even if they don’t result in increased sales, they will honour my works with vivid, fully-realized visual representations. Because I’ve spent almost nothing on self-publishing so far, I am prepared to invest a non-trivial amount of money. I know I can write and even (gasp!) edit, but have neither the talent nor the tools for good cover design.

The next thing will be to completely rewrite my book descriptions. Smashwords allows for both brief (400 character) and long (4,000 character) descriptions. If long descriptions are present, they are what gets distributed to retailers such as Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc. Reasoning that short is better than long, I went with brief descriptions only, but really, it’s hard to do much with 400 characters. I don’t intend to use the full 4,000, however. I don’t like long book descriptions myself, and doubt that anyone else has time for them either. If covers get 2 seconds of a prospective reader’s attention, descriptions probably get no more than 5 seconds, so there’s no point in droning on and on.

Once all this is in place, I will add to the end of each book (except the final one, of course) the first few pages of the next book. I thought it was enough to include a link to the next book’s Smashwords page, but there’s nothing like keeping the reader’s attention when you already have it.

Then I will do a re-launch of the entire series, or trilogy if that’s what it will be after all the reworking. Maybe I’ll end up calling it a Quartet or Tetralogy (horrible, spiky word!). No doubt I’ll spend time agonizing over this issue for the next few months.

I’m getting excited about all this, and spent a long time yesterday looking at vast numbers of cover designs submitted to the Book Designer website for their Monthly e-Book Cover Design Awards. This is a great site for self-publishers, by the way — lots of useful information.

The sad part of all this is that the possibility of doing any new writing is becoming less likely by the minute. The Work has called the shots ever since I began writing, however. I just do what it tells me.