24 January 2016

DIY Erotica E-Book Cover Basics

I get a lot of compliments on my book covers. I will humbly say they're not too shabby. I have something many writers don't: a background and experience in design and in using photo and image-editing software. However, I also have a background in teaching and in writing instructional material, so hopefully I can help you make better covers for your books. Please note this is for ebooks which do not require a spine or a back cover.

One thing you need to understand is what's acceptable by Amazon for erotica and romance covers. Check out this post by Alana Melos on what's allowed.

You see great book covers all the time as you browse books on Amazon or whatever. You see their pristine, flawless examples staring you in the face every day. And then you go to make your own cover and it looks like a toddler ate crayons and then shat on your screen. Or, worse, you think it looks great but in fact it looks like a toddler ate crayons and then shat on your screen.

So here are the broad brushstroke basics you need to know in order to make your own covers that look good.

Pixel Dimensions

Amazon wants your cover to be 1200 pixels wide and 1800 pixels tall. Pixels are the teeny-tiny dots of light on your screen. When it comes to screen resolution, the more pixels you can jam into the same amount of physical screen space, the higher quality your screen is. When it comes to works of digital art, pixels are of finite measurement like centimeters or inches.

Digital media can be created at a larger pixel size and scaled down (downsampled) to a smaller pixel size just fine. Pixels are discarded when this happens.  However, if you try to make a small digital image larger (upsampled), it looks terrible. This is because your software has to add pixels where none existed before and despite all our amazing technology, it's not that good at it. Your image suffers quality loss as if you made a xerox copy of a xerox copy of a xerox copy.


  • 1200px wide by 1800px tall
  • Downsampling is cool, upsampling is usually Satan with a cat dick and should be avoided.

Image Sourcing

Alice K. Wayne's excellent book covers
Many erotica writers get their photos from Deposit Photos because of their sensible usage guidelines. For any service, make sure you check their guidelines. Some are okay with it as long as the pictures you use are tagged as erotic or sexy. In some cases, you can't show anything identifiable about the model.

There are models you can hire yourself if you have the money. What's weird about erotica is that you don't hire a photographer, who then finds you a model and performs a shoot. You hire the model, who then uses his or her own photographer to conduct the shoot.

But if you're new and/or cheap, you need to get creative. I had a friend who was a photographer kindly offer to shoot her own daughter for the cover of Enthralled. For my forthcoming book, Revenant, I put out the call to my readers to see if anyone fit the bill as a model. I was very lucky to have someone who was not only the perfect Musette, but she had a friend who was a photographer and who could produce quality images. I got the idea for this after hearing that my writer friend Alice K. Wayne used her own friends as models for her book covers.

What Should the Picture be of?

The image should cover several criteria:
  • It should of course comply with Amazon's guidelines (see above).
  • The cover image should be of a sexy person that appeals to the gender/orientation for whom you're writing, or a couple. In other words, if you write mainly for heterosexual women, then your cover should feature a sexy man.
  • People like to imagine themselves as the main character and they have their own ideas about what's attractive. This is why you often don't see all of the model's face on erotica covers. Mystery breeds arousal. This is not of course a requirement, it's merely a reasonable suggestion.
  • The image should not have anything too detailed or important where you'll want to put the text. Generally this would be the top and bottom thirds of the cover area.
  • The picture does NOT have to match anything exactly about your story. Also, the weirder the stuff you write, the harder this is to accomplish. You have any idea what most stock photos look like when I try to search for "sexy demon?" Like a chick in a fucking halloween costume.
  • If you're writing a series, all the cover images should have enough similarity or continuity between them so that all the books look like they belong together in a series. 
  • The image should be discernable as a small thumbnail, because that's exactly how most people are going to first see it. This is why a simple closeup of some sweaty pecs & and abs is better than seeing an entire man standing against a fence in front of a landscape.

Good Cover Text 

Good cover text is where most DIYers sin most egregiously. Cover text must be easy to read on a small thumbnail. Secondary to that is the style of the lettering. Most people fuck up both of these. Here are some tips:
  • Use Pixlr to create your covers. Even the "express" version can make nice covers, and because you have to pick from their fonts, you're less likely to pick a bad one.
  • Pixlr also has a more robust web application ("Editor" vs. "Express") that lets you use your own fonts, as do many image editing programs like Photoshop or GIMP.
  • The fonts that come with your computer are shit. Get new ones. 1001 Free Fonts is a good resource to get new fonts. Learn how to install fonts, it's not hard at all.
  • Two fonts you should never use are Comic Sans MS and Papyrus. Those horses died a long time ago, for fuck's sake, stop beating them. 
  • Avoid Arial/Helvetica and Times New Roman as well, as they're so common and plain they have no life or soul to offer your title.
  • Good cover text should be readable at thumbnail size. This means it needs to be big enough and stand out enough against the background.


I'll use my own covers as examples to illustrate my points.


The cover for Enthralled follows everything I said above. You don't see the model's entire face, and the text is large, stylish, and high-contrast. The image was photographed by a friend of mine. Using both the Editor and Express versions of Pixlr, I was able to create this cover. The one thing that would have improved it would be to make the title text white instead of red so that it stood out more.

A couple other elements worth noting are that I try to have the same formats and fonts for the author name on all my covers. This is so that they are more easily recognizable once you've seen one. I also try to put a quote at the very top above my name. The quote comes from a reviewer and is legit (why you want people reviewing your ARCs before you publish).

Futanari Loves Octogirl

For this series, I was able to follow my normal ideals for the first book's cover. For the second one, the character's eyes got in the way of placing the text where I wanted it. I couldn't do anything about the picture, so I moved the quote to above the title.

Creating these covers involved some advanced compositing where I combined several images together to get what I wanted. Although, the first book's cover wasn't that big of a deal: I combined a picture of a girl with a picture of octopus tentacles to imply an octogirl without showing such an impossible creature outright.

But notice how both covers have a similar look to them: both feature black and white photographs (for the most part) and the same fonts. The third book in this series will look similar to the first two.

If You Can't Be Bothered

I've been thinking about this a lot and I've decided to go ahead and do it. If you want me to design your covers for you, I will. The best way to contact me is to message me on Facebook. If we work together, you can pay me via Amazon gift card and each cover is $30 U.S. Get in touch with me and we'll discuss. 


  1. Hey Bryce,

    Don't mean to be pushy but when is your next book out?? I'm a big fan (obviously) and just can't get enough of your writing. Sure it's erotica like other authors but you have a great way writing your scenes and carrying the story from one place to another. Not many people your eye to detail so I'm really itching to see your next book. Thanks.

    1. Soon! I know it's taking a while but the next Futanari Vampires book will be out next month. It's called Revenant (no relation to the film, heh). If you want to stay in touch you can follow/friend me on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/brycecalderwood and you can always email me at my name (all one word) at Gmail.

      I know people are waiting, I only hope you will find it worth the wait. :)

  2. Well, January came and went and so did February.

    1. Yep, shit happens. I am back on track though, having just published two shorter works, finishing a third, and I've rescheduled Revenant for this fall.