Getting that great cover pic

We talked a bit about covers last time, the things you need to consider – colours, themes, title. But where do you get that great picture that says it all just for your book? Take care – you can’t just pop on the internet and pinch a picture. There are such things as copyright, royalties (where you pay a fee every time a picture is used), acknowledgements, use of commercial logos or famous monuments… So what are these things and how do you get around them?

Your own picture

The obvious one is… obvious. A photograph you have taken yourself. But before you go ahead, look at your masterpiece critically. Is your own shadow on show (and does that help?) Is the lighting right? Have you shown something distracting in the background? In short, is your masterpiece any good and does it work from a distance?

If it doesn’t quite cut the mustard, all is not lost. You’d be amazed what you can do even with Microsoft Office Picture Manager.

Take this shot.

Now, I’m not suggesting this could be a cover, I’m using it as an example. But just using MOPM I can crop out a bit I want and come up with this.

And there are options to automatically fix the shading, change grey tones and fix up that crooked horizon. Have a play. You might surprise yourself.

Other sources

The internet is a great source of potential covers – photographs and illustrations, too. Always look for royalty free resources. You may have to pay to download the picture, but then you can use it for your cover without having to pay any more. You’ll find lots of sites. iStockphoto is one, Dreamstime is another. The latter offers free photos, too. Just think of a keyword for the type of image you’re looking for (eg space, spaceship). If you’re doing this from Google, add ‘royalty free’.

The alien warships featured on the front of both the Ptorix Wars books were purchased from Dreamstime for a small, once-only fee. This is a cover I did for ‘Showdown’ (who would have guessed?). It won’t be the cover on the book – it will match the ‘Standoff’ cover – but it illustrates what I’ve done

If you want background pictures of space, nebulae, earth from space, the planets etc, don’t go past NASA’s sites. Their pictures are free. The ringed planet picture in the background here came from NASA.

I used Photoshop’s layers facility to put the various elements of the cover together. If you have Photoshop or some equivalent, have a play. Photoshop comes with an easy-to-follow tutorial. I enjoyed myself.


The National Library of Australia had this to say about maps . ‘Maps published in or before 1954 are free of copyright. For maps published in 1955 or later by a government publisher, copyright lasts for 50 years after the end of the year the map was published. For maps published in 1955 or later by a non government publisher, copyright lasts for 70 years after the end of the year the map was published.’

This doesn’t mean you don’t need permission, though. For instance, the 1626 map used for the end papers of ‘Die a Dry Death’ was used courtesy of the National Library of Australia for the cost of sending it to Diiarts after we’d explained the intended usage. It was found in an internet catalogue.


Old art tends to belong to people or museums. So while you can use these things on your cover, you have to get permission and you may well have to pay a fee. Accordingly, the painting ‘Storm at Sea’ by van der Velde was used with permission of the owners for the cover of ‘Die a Dry Death’. But that came out of a catalogue us self-publishers may find harder to obtain. The point is, don’t think you can pop off to the Louvre’s site and use a picture of the Mona Lisa on your cover just like that, just because it’s old.

Commercial images

Stay clear of commercial brands like Coca-cola, Nike, Adidas etc – especially if you’re in some way being critical. A couple of coke cans might LOOK nice but the Coca-Cola company has a raft of corporate lawyers. That includes their logos. And it seems some iconic buildings like the Sydney Opera House are a little sensitive about unlicensed images. If you find such things on iStockPhoto, they would have obtained permission so you should be okay. But don’t take my word for it – check.


Even if you are only producing a cover for an eBook, don’t make the mistake (like I did) of thinking you can produce a small image. Amazon prefers an image of at least 1200 pixels on the longest side. That’s because they want the best resolution they can get as they translate your pic into their format. They only accept jpeg and tiff formats, by the way. This is another advantage of using Mobipocket Creator for setting out your eBook before you load it – the software warns you if the cover image is too small.

Get someone else to do it

It may not cost you much to get a graphic artist to help you – especially if you have the picture elements already. A few fellow writers have proved generous with their time and talents in that respect.

Whatever you do – remember your cover is your shop window. Make sure it’s the very best it can be.


About Greta van der Rol

I'm an author of fast-paced, action-adventure novels, mainly space opera - although I've been known to write in other genres. I live not far from the coast in Queensland, Australia and enjoy photography and cooking when I'm not bent over the computer. I have a degree in history and a background in building information systems, both of which go a long way toward helping me in my writing endeavours.

Posted on 1 June 2010, in On writing. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Another great place to look is at Flickr’s collection of Creative Commons images. You can search for images that can be modified, and that can be used commercially. All you have to do is credit the image (generally done in the front matter). This is where I’ve found a lot of the images I’ve used for my covers. I even got a friend request on Facebook from a photographer after he found my cover on Authonomy (I’d included the image credit in the book’s description, so it showed up in a Google search).

  2. Thanks, Cameron. I didn’t know about Flickr.

  3. I found this extremely helpful. I’m always worrying about copyrights and such. Very interesting about the maps. Thank you Greta. I’m bookmarking this!

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