Custom Book Covers for Free
What do the covers of Wolf Block, Take Five! for Better Photos, and Journey to Yandol, and other stories have in common? Despite looking very different and not all being in the same genre, they have one important design element in common. Like the fake Rudy's Revenge cover illustrating this blog post, all of them were created using 3D modeling software. This relates to the topic of this blog post, because 3D modeling software can give indie authors something that many want: A custom book cover, unlike any other, for free. Read on for more about this approach to making a cover, including details for how the Rudy's Revenge cover was created.
Many indie authors settle for book covers that use stock photos, which can result in multiple books sharing very similar covers, potentially causing confusion or looking cheap and unprofessional to readers who notice the same photo being used for multiple books. Another problem faced by indie authors is that many cover designers charge tens or hundreds of dollars but only license their work, rather than doing covers as works-for-hire (which would convey all copyright ownership to the author), so authors may not be free to use the cover image in whatever creative way they want. They may have to pay the designer extra to create bookmarks or other marketing materials.
The availability of no-cost 3D modeling software offers a way out of paying for something of limited value. There are a number of products available, such as Blender and DAZ Studio, that you can download right now at no cost. There are also other products that aren't free, in a wide range of prices, that might be worth looking at. I don't want to gloss over the learning curve, you will definitely need to invest some time working through tutorials to get a feel for the software, but once you have a basic understanding of it you can start creating book covers that won't look like any other book!
In addition to learning how to use the software, you still face the old "artistic talent" obstacle, and I will leave it to you to judge whether I have any when it comes to cover design. However, since computer-rendered artwork is all digital, there are ways to quickly and easily leverage the skills and talents of other people around the world. One way to do this is to include in your scene objects (or other assets) created by others, and many of those are available for free or very low cost from sites like TurboSquid, Renderosity, and DAZ Productions.
If you're not able to learn the software or just don't want to be bothered, you can also inexpensively outsource scene creation through sites like Fiverr and oDesk; just make sure there is no ambiguity that you own the created work, not the artist. This differs from having someone create an image for your book cover, because the 3D scene is more like a stage where you can move things around (including changing the "camera" angle), and the software can generate countless variations of the scene at many different resolutions. None of that is possible if you're just given a simple image for your cover.
So, let's talk some details about covers I have created this way. If I remember correctly, the cover for Journey to Yandol, and other stories was created in Bryce (which is not free), using a free spaceship model by user IgnusAeturnus on TurboSquid. The cover for Wolf Block was also created in Bryce, with an overlay (it's supposed to look like a tattoo) of a wolf that I created in GIMP using a photo from user sgarton on morgueFile.com as a guide. The cover of Take Five! for Better Photos was created in Bryce… yes, there's a theme here, but mainly because I'm more familiar with Bryce than others… using a free camera model by user Yeminius on TurboSquid. Other than paying for Bryce, everything else was free.
For this blog post, I decided to create a new cover image. It took me about 30 minutes to put together the Rudy's Revenge cover. I developed the scene using DAZ Studio, incorporating a number of objects created by other people, including Junk Alley and Real Tanks and Containers. If you look at those, by the way, you'll see that they are not free… but if you sign up for the DAZ newsletter, you'll find that they often give away content, and I've been able to accumulate a number of useful things that way. After rendering the scene (which means having the computer create an image using the current scene and camera settings), I loaded the image into GIMP to colorize it, add the top and bottom gradients, and add text. Is it great? Probably not. Is the design unique compared to all (real) books on the market? I think so!