Indie on a Budget: Cover Design

Indie On A Budget Header Photo

Being an indie author — if you want to do it right — is not cheap. For one thing, your work will need editing, formatting, and a cover. And don’t forget to consider a marketing budget, too! For a complete breakdown of potential costs, I highly recommend Lit Chic’s post, “You’ve Got to Spend Money to Make Money.” She goes into the nitty-gritty details using her own indie experience. And she also stresses budgets and realistic expectations for return on investment.

I’m not rich. Usually, when I start to do financially well (just well, never even approaching wealthy), I either lose an organ (down two so far!), my car acts up, or my house requires repairs. It’s like clockwork. While self-publishing Acceptance,  I was suffering gallbladder attacks, which led to the organ’s eventual removal and a pile of medical bills. Now as I’m self-publishing Long Way Down, that medical bill pile is still there, so both releases have had a shoestring budget at best. Since both are short stories, I had to have very small expectations for my ROI.

Covers, on average, can cost in the hundreds. No short story (at least not by an unestablished writer) is ever going to earn that expense back. Thankfully, I have a bit of artistic capability and opted to design and create my own e-book covers.

Progression of Acceptance cover from sketch to finished product.

At the end of the process, the digital painting had 33 visible layers in Adobe Photoshop CS4.

For Acceptance, I opted to digitally paint the cover, which would feature Svein’s pet crow, Vidar. I knew I enjoyed painting in Photoshop (I actually find it relaxing), and that I could decently draw most animals, including birds.  I started with several concept sketches on physical paper and also looked at a variety of hooded crow photos. After the groundwork was laid, I completed the line art in Photoshop and then started painting. The process spanned several months since I failed to set a strict work schedule on the project. Working with numerous layers, I eventually had the entire project done and was able to add in the text after trying a variety of font combinations.

Pros: I was able to cut a huge expense from the project; in fact, the only thing lost was time. For the most part, the cover did come out looking professional, though I figure someone more talented could have done better. I also rather enjoyed the painting process, minus some major frustrations.

An outtake from the cover where I just squiggled it all out in frustration.

There were a lot of frustrations when I got to the grass, and I took it out on the painting.

Cons: It ate up a lot of time that could have been spent writing or editing. There were major frustrations where I was pulling out my hair. You would not expect grass to be challenging to paint, but it was!

Summarized Thoughts: All the other covers in The Augur’s Rose Series will be digitally painted by me. I have many mockups sketched for subsequent entries in the series, but I hope to set up an actual schedule for future covers to streamline the process.

Minimalistic Cover
Pictured is the progression of the Long Way Down cover.

Pictured is the progression of the Long Way Down cover.

I really enjoy minimalistic book covers. There is just something pleasing about them to me. And after struggling to decide what to use for Long Way Down, I finally decided to pursue a minimalistic cover. I also set my mind on completing the cover in Adobe Illustrator. The catch is I have very little experience working with this program. My co-worker Mary, a graphic designer, was willing to give me a tutorial in Illustrator, and I went from there. Much like Acceptance‘s cover, I started with pencil sketches before translating them into the design program. Using shapes and paint brushes, I gradually worked the cover until it resembled the sketches. It still did not look very good, but when it struck me to include a city-scape along the bottom, the cover came together. I also met my one-true-love: the gradient tool. This handy-dandy tool really helped add depth and interest to the cover.

Pros: It was a good crash course in Illustrator, and I learned a lot. Overall, it also took a lot less time to complete, especially when compared to the digital painting process.

Cons: Since I’m unfamiliar with Illustrator, I feel like there are tools and tricks that I missed out on when creating this cover.

Summarized Thoughts: I will probably use Illustrator again to create more minimalistic covers. I actually have one in mind for a potential November release.

Future Indie Covers

I plan to create my own covers for future short stories. I need to get some ROI on them, and that will not happen if I outsource their covers. If I self-publish my sci-fi novel, however, I plan to hire a designer for its cover. With a novel, there is a greater chance of making that money back. Another major deciding factor is the fact –that beyond a project in one of my professional writing courses — I have never designed a wraparound book cover, which includes the front cover, the spine, and back cover.

Still, it is possible to cut down on costs as an indie author,  especially if you are just starting out. However, if you do proceed with your own covers, always seek out feedback and look at other covers in the market. Also, research common cover mistakes.

Long Way Down: A Sci-fi Short Story coverLong Way Down: A Sci-fi Short Story is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, It will automatically deliver to your Kindle or free Kindle app on Saturday, July 7.

A war orphan and survivor of genocide, twelve-year-old Yuu has learned what it takes to survive over the course of twenty raids. When her latest sanctuary comes under assault, she ignores her better instincts and rescues two siblings. However, as the city topples around them, Yuu wars with herself: abandon the younger children and increase her own chance of survival or go together to whatever end. She knows all too well what hunts them . . . and she refuses to face the monsters with red eyes again.


Don’t Ditch Emotion in Pursuit Of ‘Strength’

The saying goes that boys don’t cry, and a lot can be said about toxic masculinity and its impact on boys as they grown up, especially if they don’t fit the mold of what it “means” to be a “proper” man — showing too much emotion or pursuing certain interests, for instance. This is crops up in fiction with male characters, some of whom seem almost divorced of certain emotions. It can lead to some very uncomfortable situations frankly as characters fail to, well, be human. Continue reading

Reflecting A Real World

I’d briefly mentioned the importance of offering a diverse cast of women in the post about “agency,” and now, we are going to explore that thought in depth. Diversity is an important component to include in any story — and not just with female characters, of course — because it is good for the reader and it is good for the writer.

For readers, diversity offers a greater possibility that they will develop a personal connection with at least one character — and through that connection, the story becomes more personal. It is also a way to introduce readers to walks of life they might not be familiar with. As for writers, it stretches the creative writing muscles and allows us to step into an infinite supply of new shoes, as it were. I also believe a diverse cast opens the way to a more interesting story that sometimes takes writers down paths we might not have considered for the plot beforehand. It also opens the opportunity to shine the light on women who aren’t always portrayed in fiction — or positively portrayed.

Often times, women in fiction get pigeon-holed into set molds, particularly as damsels, femme fatales, or the unfleshed out “strong” woman (just check out for the basic feminity tropes).  Women in real-life are a full spectrum with different interests, goals, physiques, strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, and personalities. By showcasing those differences in fiction, a layer of realism is added.

A multitude of different women can also reduce the “wedge” effect discussed in Monday’s blog post. By having women that a FMC can relate to, get along with, or simply work with, it lessens the starkness of the only other woman within the covers of the book being viewed so poorly by the FMC as she has other women in her life that she likes and/or values. Of course, there is no excuse for not fleshing out that antagonistic character or villanizing them without supporting actions within the narrative’s framing.

Diverse female casts allow for the exploration of various relationships and how people from varying walks of life might interact with each other. There is also the opportunity to further explore different choices and how characters have a right to their choices even if others wouldn’t necessarily arrive at the same choice or even agree with them. It can make for interesting drama (not the junior high type of drama) and a chance to really push readers’ (or even the writer’s) own understandings.

For some reason, women characters have picked up a reputation for being hard to write — not everyone is of this opinion, of course. Really all it takes is pausing, looking at all the women in your life, or going to a coffee shop or some other public space, and actually watching and listening. Or as Campbell Soup would say, reflect the “real, real life” happening in front of your eyes on the page.

Agency, Why It Matters

Agency header

No matter if they’re slaying goblins, concocting the medicines of the future, or staying at home with the kids while also exploring their passions, I prefer my FMCs to have agency over their own stories. (Background image

A lot has been made of strong women lately in literature. It’s a trend I like, but sometimes, I think it pigeonholes female characters into one mold — we will get into that during a future post this week where we dive into diverse fictional women.  Rather than using the term strong women in my wish list, all I really want are women who have agency.

Among the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definitions for “agency,” No. 3 fits what I’m looking for: a person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved. The female main character needs to have some exertion of power over her story, whether through strength, wits, dogged determination, etc. Often times this agency is lost to the male characters within the story, and everything the FMC does is based on what the male characters want or are doing. Continue reading

Women Don’t Need To Be Wedges To Each Other’s Happiness

Header photo of a wedge being driven in

This rant is a long time in coming. You’ve probably seen the trope yourself: Two women — sometimes the only two in the entire book — one is our heroine, the other, well, she’s mostly a four- or five-letter word . . . you know the words I’m talking about. The latter usually earns this title for flimsy reasons and because of her proximity to the female lead’s love interest. The narrative itself often offers very little reason for why readers should hate this other female character.

Continue reading

What Writers Can Learn From The KonMari Method

Letting go good characters and clutter words header

When I’m sleep deprived, I spew out random things, and sometimes, just sometimes, they stick. In this case, a friend, while talking about reaching the end of her series, noted how sad she’d be to let go of those characters and their world. My response (knowing she’d also read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up) was to say that she needed to KonMari her characters.  Namely, thank them for the time they’d spent together and the joy they’d sparked inside of her, and then let them go, making room for new stories and characters that will bring her just as much joy. Continue reading

Scene Building: Setting The Pieces Into Motion

Header for scene building series

We are continuing our scene building series, which started at

We’ve discussed the pieces that are needed to build a good scene, but now we are going to dive into the actual process so we can see them in action. I will be using the very first scene in chapter one from a book I wrote in junior high — let it never be said that I’m not a good sport! At the time, I was hopped up on Tolkien and it really shows; however, it is perfect for this exercise because young Sarah was just beginning to learn the ropes. So let’s break it down. Continue reading