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Adventures in Indie #4: PreMade Covers

One way in which a writer can cut costs is to purchase a premade cover. These are bountiful on the internet–all you have to do is type ‘premade book cover’ into your search engine, and you’ll find dozens of sites offering these.

I had been in the habit of perusing these for some time, basically because I like to use the covers as references for what I DO like. If a designer asks me what I’m looking for, I can use those as examples, making it easier for the designer to know what I expect.

I’m sure you’ll hear this…that a large percentage of those online covers are terrible. I do think that’s true. But sometimes when you’re looking at the  dross, you’ll find a sparkly in there, too.

So here’s a few hints that might help:

  1. If you’re looking at a site that aggregates covers from many different artists and you find one you like, look to see whether you can search that artist’s covers separately. It makes sense that if you like one of their covers, you’ll like others.
  2. Remember that you cannot fine-tune these covers. That’s why they’re sold as premade and at a lower cost. So don’t purchase one thinking that you’ll get to change hair color or have the artist change the clothing.
  3. Look for a statement that says they won’t re-sell the cover to someone else. While there’s a good chance that you’ll see the basic cover IMAGE elsewhere, design should be unique.
  4. If you want to know whether a certain image has already appeared on book covers, try plugging the image into an image search engine, like TinEye. Simply right click on the image, copy the image address, and paste it in the search function. When I was looking at covers for Iron Shoes, I did this and found that some images of women with horses have appeared on a gazillion books already. (This won’t work if they’ve altered the image for the cover.)

And here’s what I did:

I published 2 books with premade covers this year (but purchased 3 covers).

I hadn’t planned on publishing this one. But in those random searches, I ran across a cover that caught my eye, and I thought, “Hey, that cover would go well with Whatever Else.”

The main thing I wanted was mood. The cover itself is a bit generic, doesn’t have any quotes from other authors, no tag line. It’s very basic, but it’s good enough.

“Whatever Else” is actually a short story, so I knew I would never price it higher than 99 cents. I couldn’t spend a lot of money on a cover for it.  But this one cost me $40…and that meant 120 sales at 33 cents (royalty) each. I figured that over its lifetime, the short story could sell that many copies….

I bought the cover. I purchased it from the online site,, and within a day the cover artist got back to me and made the changes to reflect the proper title and author name. In a case like this, there’s no room for big changes, so don’t expect them. If you want something more or something different, you’ll have to go with a custom design.


I also purchased this cover from This one cost twice as much as the one above ($80), but SPBC gives me a few more options.

Because I do the changes myself.

However, because I’m the one who puts in the title and author name, plus tagline, I can fiddle with it pretty endlessly. So this cover will be on my dashboard there forever.

If I decide to change the story’s name, I can. (Which I did, by the way…so it was a good thing that I opted for this rather than the maker above.) I can change the fonts and placement of the words. I can change their color and size.

For the most part, I’ve decided not to do so. I don’t trust that my eye for design is any better than this designer’s (FrinaArt), so I stuck with her decisions.

But here’s where it gets weird…

I also bought this cover. 

No, I don’t have a book to go with it. I have an idea, just one that I haven’t written yet.

But I watched this cover on SPBC for months before deciding the pull the trigger and purchase it. They won’t sell a cover twice, so if someone else bought it first, I would lose it.

And it goes too well with the one above to not take the chance.

Oddly enough, this is NOT by the same designer.

I’m considering this the companion novella to go with Sparrow, but instead of summer 1815 in St. Petersburg, I think this one will be winter 1815 outside Moscow. And the woman on the cover? I’m pretty sure that’s Natalya Vladimirova, one of a long line of powerful healers and protector of a dragon named Long who has slumbered for centuries…

I think it’s worth it, and having purchase this will give me extra impetus to get the story done!


All in all, I’m happy with the premade covers I’ve purchased and the balance of cost to use.



Google-Fu: Internet Research, Librarian-style

Okay, folks!  Buckle in and get a whopping serving of Research How-To from our guest ACADEMIC LIBRARIAN: Stewart C Baker!


Google-Fu: Internet Research, Librarian-style

As an academic librarian, research is something that’s near to my heart. One of my favorite things to do is dig up obscure articles and books on a topic and delve into them, compare them to one another, and arrive at a description that’s as close to accurate as I can make it.

So it may be a bit surprising to learn that the first place I often turn to when I’m starting my research is Google. As a librarian, I probably search a little differently than most people do, but all the same it’s true.

The Internet sources Google (and/or your search engine of choice) trawls contain a wealth of information. Unfortunately, they (and any other kind of source, to be honest) also contain the potential to supply a wealth of misinformation. Knowing how to find research materials are just part of the battle, in other words—you also have to learn how to read between the lines and determine what’s likely to be accurate and what’s likely to be questionable.

With that in mind, here are a few tips that can help you find and assess information on the World Wide Web (and beyond):

1. Learn to Search More Efficiently

In my experience, the way most people search the web is through “natural language” questions like “How can I feed my cat toast?”

A more efficient way to search is to just pull the keywords out and drop the rest. In this case: feed cat toast

Boolean searching (AND, OR, and NOT) can also make a big difference in results. In most search engines, “and” is implied, so you don’t need to add that. Other types of search operators, though, can be added to most search engines, although how you do it may vary. Google has a handy cheat sheet of search operators you can use, such as before a word for “not” or putting OR between two words to find one or the other.

So if I wanted to find out how to feed a cat toast or buns, but NOT hamburger buns, my search might look like this:

Feed cat (toast OR buns) -hamburger

Memorizing operators isn’t usually necessary, because Google has an advanced search option that will parse it for you (and presumably other search engines do, too).

Disturbingly, this search gets me 860,000 results, including one titled “Vegemite for cats.” The more you know, I guess. . .

2. Search by Domain

Another useful trick is to limit your search by top-level domain (e.g. .edu, .gov) or by website.

Searching just academic websites can often get you more reliable information when it comes to scientific or historical research, although there are of course reliable websites outside academia as well.

On Google, you can add a domain to your search by typing site: and the domain at the end, or you can use the advanced search to pre-filter.

If I take our feeding cats toast search and limit it to .edu domains (educational institutions in the USA), this narrows results to 34,600. (Why, people, why?!)

It’s worth noting that domains vary by country. Searching .edu websites will not get you UK university ( or Australian ones, etc.

Wikipedia has an exhaustive list of top-level domains, if you want to find a specific kind of website.

3. Search by Date

This is perhaps less useful for fantasy and historical fiction, but for science fiction in particular it can make a huge difference whether the source you’re citing is from 1995 or, say, last week.

How you will do this varies by search engine, but in Google it’s easiest to enter your search and then click Search Tools at the top:

Or, again, use the advanced search.


4. Assessing Results

Finding things, as I’ve mentioned above, is only half the battle. Once you have a page with information that looks good, you need to figure out whether it’s likely to be authoritative and accurate.

There’s no sure-fire way to do this, but here are things to look for:

  • Authorship – Is it easy to tell who the author is?
  • Reliability – How reliable is the author likely to be? (I.e. Are they an expert in their subject area? Do they have a history for being a pioneer in the field?)
  • Recency – As above: how recent is this information? (particularly important in the sciences, but also in other fields)
  • Relationship – Does the author have any conflicts of interest (relationships) that would lead them to misrepresent information? (e.g. A creationist providing a ‘non-biased’ summary of the theory of evolution; an Apple executive posting a review of an Android phone)

As a mnemonic, you can just remember: ARRR!

If you look at any source you find (Internet or print) with these in mind, you’ll be taking the next step that not many bother with: figuring out whether or not what you’ve just read is likely to be accurate.


5. Go Beyond the Googles

It’s worth realizing there are sources beyond Google. Here are some sites I like to use for more specialized research:

  • Google Scholar – Okay, this one’s still Google. But it only searches academic stuff! You can often find free copies of articles by looking for “PDF” links on the side. Note that a lot of the links will require you to have an account or pay (ridiculous) amounts of money to access the full text of articles.
  • org – A non-profit Internet library, with tons of Public Domain material including books, videos, and photos. Great for finding historic photos and primary source materials (i.e. those produced by people who actually experienced historical events).
  • Project Gutenberg – Free public-domain ebooks. Another good source for historic, primary source materials, as well as old and out-of-print books.
  • org – A database of Open Access (free to read) scientific papers on physics topics.
  • Wikipedia’s list of academic databases and search engines – Other databases to find scholarly articles and papers (sort by “Access Cost” to bump the free ones to the top).


As for learning how to avoid research rabbit holes?  I’ll let you know how to do that some other time. first, I just have to find this obscure middle-French manuscript that’s going to make the setting details in a short story I abandoned six years ago super accurate. . .



Stewart C Baker is an academic librarian, speculative fiction writer, and occasional haikuist. His fiction has appeared in Writers of the Future, Nature, Galaxy’s Edge, and Flash Fiction Online, among other places. Stewart was born in England, has lived in South Carolina, Japan, and California (in that order), and currently resides in Oregon with his family­­—although if anyone asks, he’ll usually say he’s from the Internet.

Follow him: Website / Facebook / Twitter


After the War now available for pre-order!

Now up for preorder on Amazon, this final installment in the Golden City saga follows a young man returning from the Great War with no memory of who he is, who his family is, or who is trying to hunt him down…or why.

The book will be available for Kindle on Tuesday, 8/16, and should also be available in paperback near that date.
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