2020 Releases

The Rock Star's Familiar
The Vampire's Familiar
The Witch's Familiar
Phantasia: Bad Day On Olympus
Ice Cave
Destiny, Desire & Murder
Close to the Truth

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Magic Thursday: The Nuts & Bolts of Designing a Book Cover! (Part 1: Finding Images)

by Helzkat Designs (aka Eleni Konstantine)

In a previous post, I mentioned to familiarise oneself with what the market - aka your genre - is doing with covers. While you don’t want to mimic it exactly, it gives you a good idea of reader expectation.

Now I want to start taking you through the steps of designing a cover. Or at least my process as a cover designer.

From the author

I first and foremost have to remember that this is the client’s baby, their work, and my own personal tastes in artwork and design may not be in line with their tastes. That doesn’t matter. The client has to be happy with the end product and that is what I basically do - deliver what the client wants. But I do give them options, so they can see how things appear in different ways.

What I need from the author:
The cover that started it all.
The winning entry of the 2010 Little Gems Cover Contest
by Romance Writers of Australia. 
  • genre of the story,
  • whether the book is part of a series, 
  • the blurb,
  • a description of the characters, 
  • if there is anything particular they want to see on the cover, and 
  • is there anything particular they don’t want to see on the cover. 

Royalty-free stock images sites 

I then go hunting royalty-free stock image sites. Basically what this means is that the images are available for commercial use for a price. The standard licence usually allows up to 250,000 copies (some sites go up to 500,000 copies). If it is expected to go beyond this, I would buy the extended licence.

It means that the image itself is not exclusive as they are available to anyone who buys the licence - it’s why you may see covers that look similar or contain certain elements that are the same.

I’m sure there are certain models you have seen again and again.

By doing your research, you may avoid some of this duplication. But it’s how the image is used in the design that can make the difference.

To get exclusive images, you need to get your own images. That means your own (or commissioned) artwork or photos. Photo shoots can be expensive and even major publishing companies are using stock images these days. 

Some royalty-free stock image sites include:

For a free site, you can get images at Pixabay - images can be used for free for commercial use usually (always check the individual image’s details for this). Though if I use an image, I usually like to give a donation. Their sponsors are Adobe Stock and Shutterstock.

Current project

I’m currently working on compiling a short story collection under my Eleni persona. As it stands it’ll be mostly short stories and flash fiction that has been published previously with maybe a few new pieces. It will be only available as an e-book.

The collection are all speculative fiction stories. I do have a couple non-spec stories previously published but they wouldn’t fit with the rest of the stories. The title will be Enchanted Dreams. Yes, I have a thing about the word 'Enchanted' as I think it captures the awe of the fantastical - and doesn’t only refer to magic but to generally being enchanted with a story.

courtesy of Pixabay

At the moment I don’t have a blurb for the whole collection, but since I’m familiar with the stories, I can come up with keywords to suit: enchanted, fantasy, magic, magicians, wizards, werewolves, paranormal, fairy tale, horror, ghost, supernatural, other worlds, portals, space ship, mythology, horror, humour, quests, wonder, magical realism.

When searching, I:
  • keep my initial search broad - something like fantasy and enchanted or enchantment or just fantasy (though the later will get a lot of search hits). 
  • exclude editorial images (editorial is for use for accompanying articles, newspapers and blogs where it’s used to highlight the editorial content, and can’t be used for commercial and/or advertising purposes). 
  • don’t limit the search to a particular orientation as I may like an aspect of an image that can be used even though it’s not portrait (which is what book covers are). 
  • don’t limit to photos or illustration. Not unless I know the look will definitely be an illustration and/or vector, or a photo. 

I like to see if I can find comprehensive scenes in my images that I don’t have to manipulate too much, but there may be part of an image that I like, or I like the concept of an image but not necessarily that image itself. Basically this is a broad search.

Any images, I like even a little I put into a 'Favourites' folder (or collection, lightbox, whatever the particular site likes to call it).  I name the folder something related to the project so I can distinguish from others. In this case  Short Story Collection - Enchanted Dreams.

Example of a search

In this example, I went to Deposit Photos. The Search term: fantasy and enchanted.

The results are here.

The search result will vary from when I conducted the search to when you read this post as new items will go for sale and others will be deleted from files.

This particular search resulted in 4,813 images.

I usually don’t go through all of the images. It depends on time, and whether I'm finding anything. I usually go to the 10 pages mark. If I haven't got a lot of images, I may persist a bit more. Or think of new keywords.

Yes, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole and spend hours searching for image. The trick is not to search for the perfect image initially but to see what's out there. If one site doesn't have what you want, you can move to another. While there is definitely duplication, you may find something that's exactly or closest to what you want. 

The default search results on Deposit Photos come up with the Best Match - there are other tabs that Deposit Photos offers such as Best Sales, Newest, and Undiscovered. I sometimes flick through to these to see if there is something different resulting.

The first result that came up was: 

(The images in the rest of the post have all been purchased as they are being used in a blog post. Before you purchase an image, you can download a comp version, which is a watermarked low quality version of the image, you can use for mock up, comparison purposes.)

I like this image, so I’m going to put it into my Favourites.

You can usually see you like an image via the thumbnail, such as was the case with this image. At times, I look at the larger scale version when I'm not sure, or it's a little unclear.

When you click through to the image, you can click the 'Find Similar Images' (right below the image and again in the bottom of the pop-up screen). These images may not always be similar in the whole look as the search is looking for a particular keyword that’s prominent to the images. 

In this case, the first two images are as follows. 

They are not quite what I had in mind, though the second is more in line with the concept of the original image.

The first one image can be used as an overlay or background image if you find other images that go with it, but it’s not what I’m after.

Neither will go into my Favourites folder.

The tab 'Same Series' is more indicative of the same look of the original images chosen. 


These two will go into my Favourites since they have the same sort of look as the original image. It has that otherworldly enchanted fantasy look I'm after.

I continue going through the results and add which ones images I like to the Favourites. 

For images with people in it, there's usually a 'Same Model' option. 


I like this second image of the same model but while it may suit one of the stories in the collection, perhaps two it's not the overall look I want. I added to the Favourites because while on it's own it's not the image I want, it can possibly work with another image to create the look. Since I like it, in the Favourites folder it goes.

Limiting a search

If there’s a large number of hits, you can limit a search by:
  • category, e.g. Concepts. 
  • contributor. you can see the artist’s portfolio. 
  • excluding keywords, e.g. we can exclude elves, unicorns, mushrooms if we wanted from this search 
  • Orientation (though I don’t limit this usually) 
  • People 
  • Image size 
  • Colour 

You can also play around with the accuracy of your search using the relevance to quality scale.

I didn't use any of the above for this search except for the 'Exclude Editorial'. 

Categories & Contributors 

Deposit photos also makes search suggestions at the top of the page for different categories based on your own search. 

A let down of Deposit photos is that you can’t see the keywords assigned to the image, nor be able to click the keyword to get other images (you can see the category but not the keywords). On other sites you can see what keywords images have been assigned, click on them and get other images.

Another way you can search for the portfolio of an artist is by clicking the copyright link in the File Info section below the bigger version of the image.

For example, this image is in my favourites and I want to see what else this contributor has on the site.

Clicking the name of the Copyright owner links to the contributor's portfolio. And away you go, you can go through all the images they have on the site.

And the search continues 

I continue to play around with the keywords -
  • Fantasy and mystical 
  • fairy tales 
  • supernatural 
  • paranormal 
  • moon dreams 
  • magic realism 
  • magic chair 
  • magic door 
  • enchanted forest 
  • specific aspects of stories such as magic, wizards, werewolves, magicians, portals, doors, gates, windows, arches. 

Some searches I spend more time looking than with others.

Favourites Folder

After doing my searching, seeing similar images, seeing similar series, and different contributors, this is the Favourites folder for the short story collection.

I’ve included photos that may not be quite right for this project but as something I may use in future projects. I will move them into another folder, but sometimes it’s easier to just bookmark the image and move on rather than go between folders.

Next time...

In my next post, I will analyse the images and work out which ones I will shortlist for concepts. The great thing about having the Favourites folder, you can always go back.

Until then, enjoy the lovely images.



HelzKat Designs (Helen Katsinis) specialises in designing for writers at affordable prices.

She delivers the right look for each project from book covers, banners, business cards, to setting up and customising blogs and websites. She has also given talks to authors on the subject of blogging and navigating in the online world.

She began by designing author banners for her writing persona (Eleni Konstantinte) and her writing groups. After winning the 2010 Little Gems Cover Contest (Topaz), she started to specialise in designing for other writers thus combining her two worlds of design and writing.

In 2018, she's entered the world of pre-made covers. You can see available covers HERE.


  1. Awesome post, Helz! Having used your design services, I can highly recommend your work. Well done xx

    1. Thank you, Juanita. It was a lot of fun working with you on your projects.

  2. Wow! That is a lot of work Helen! Thanks for sharing!


  3. Wow. Wow. Wow! Fantastic post, Helen. So much detail shared showing all that's involved and, ooh, it's a lot, but you explain it so thoroughly. Thank you. Much appreciated.

    1. Thanks, Enisa. As a former librarian, I like to show step by step instructions :) I'm glad it was interesting for you.

  4. Great post Helen. Thanks for all the information.