Today I'm playing with images as I put together a cover for my NaNo novel. Making your own cover art is not a requirement of NaNoWriMo, but I think it's good exercise for your imagination. Your vision of your story probably includes what you think would make a suitable cover, and if it doesn't, figuring out what would work is fun.
It's also excellent practice for that day when someone else provides your cover art. While most pros have little to no control over what our publishers put on our books, occasionally we are consulted for input and ideas. Sending a mock-up of a cover is a great way to show your editor what you have in mind. Here are a couple that I put together and sent to my editor earlier this year to illustrate my ideas for the cover of After Midnight:
For the purposes of this post I'm going to discuss making cover art for a book that will not be for sale. In other words, this is cover art for a free/no-cost edition; when you get into cover art a for-sale edition we'd have to hammer out buying licenses and copyrighted images and what you can and cannot do for it. The cover I'm talking about today is just for you and whoever you give a copy of the book to for free.
The best images to use for this kind of cover art are those you take yourself, or those that are available online for non-profit use. I use images from Dreamstime.com's free image archives for PBW all the time, so there's one source for you (always be sure to read the terms and conditions of use at any free image site to make sure your work complies with them.)
Here's a shot I took of a lake at dusk that would suit my NaNonovel:
Now we need title and byline. I use a photoshop program that is no longer commercially sold, but most Windows computers come with a similar/simple program now, and simple is really all you need. To my image I add a top and bottom dark background bar, where I type in the text for the title and byline in an interesting but easy-to-read font (and no, this is not my novel's title; I'm keeping the real one under my hat until I decide what I'm going to do with it):
Of course if you're more talented at photoshop than me (which means you're probably at least a fifth grader) you can get much fancier and more complicated with your design. If you're an artist and can create your own artwork for your cover, that's even better. Personally I like simple cover art because I think it has more visual impact than designs that are crowded, ultra-detailed or have a lot of text on them, but if you want to do a Where's Waldo type cover, go for it. The whole idea is to give your novel a cover that expresses your vision, not mine.
Some other links that may be helpful:
If you're drawing a blank on ideas for your cover, go over and play with the fake French book cover art generator to get some inspiration (I don't recommend actually using the fake covers it produces as it borrows the images from Flickr, and making use of them for anything other than playing with the generator could involve obtaining permission from the original photographer, signed release of lien, etc.)
Dreamstime.com does have a pretty sizable, searchable archive of free photos donated by photographers for non-profit use. I think you do have to create an account in order to download them, but signing up is free (and the terms and conditions regarding their use can be found here.)
Except for those that belong to other artists and photographers, all of the images on my photoblog are free for anyone to use for non-profit purposes. A credit line with a link back to PBWindow would be appreciated. I'm just an average photographer, and I take pics mostly of ordinary things; if your book is about art, birds, bugs, dogs quilting or nature you might find something. Oh, and spiders -- lots of spiders.
Upload your cover art to The Feng-Gui attention analyzer and (for free) it will create a heatmap simulating where the human eye is most likely to linger.
The Tiltshift Generator takes a normal photograph of a location or object and manipulates it so it resembles the photograph of a miniature scale model.
If you find a particular image online that has interesting colors you'd like to use for your photoshopped art, try feeding the URL to DeGraeve.com's Color Palette Generator, which will give you the HTML palette.
Want to see some of the covers that other NaNo'ers have created for their novels? Check out the current cover art posting thread here in the NaNoWriMo forums.
Are you planning to make (or have you already made) cover art for your NaNo novel? Want to share any resources, tips or tricks? Let us know in comments.
Raven midnight image © Ales Nowak | Dreamstime.com; horse rider on the beach image © Maroš Markovič | Dreamstime.com