Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Cover Design | Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

This post is part of my series on “Publishing a Cozy Mystery.” This series isn’t meant to tell you how you have to go about it and dictate what’s right or wrong. Instead, I’m sharing my personal journey from writing Draft #743 to seeing my first book be released, including the good, bad, and the ugly. And trust me, there was plenty of ugly along the way.

Today, we’re talking about cover design. Here’s what the cover of my cozy mystery, Murder at the Marina, looks like. Seems like a fun read, doesn’t it?

Murder at the Marina Banner

So, how did I get from a blank sheet of paper to the design you see? The first thing I did was look at lots and lots of cozy mystery covers so that I could develop a design brief.

Step 1 – The Design Brief

Checking out best-selling books is a great way to get a sense of the look and feel that screams out “cozy mystery,” design trends, and what you personally like. Although, keep in mind that what you like may not be what sells. And you do want to sell books, don’t you? Trust me, although your mom says she loves your cover, she’s only going to buy so many of your books.

So, I had a look at cozy mysteries in my own personal library, books I checked out from the library, and covers on Amazon.

There are so many lovely covers out there. I was a little overwhelmed looking at them, so I grouped them into three categories to make sense of my options. {These are all great authors, by the way.}

First, there are those beautifully illustrated covers with lots of detail. Aren’t they sweet?

Mystery Covers - Illustrated (800x389)

Then there are covers that have more of a “cartoonish” feel. I think they’re adorable.

Mystery Covers - Cartoonish

And then there are the covers that have less detail, often with a single object featured such as the pastries you see on Joanne Fluke’s mysteries. The simplicity really grabs my attention.

Mystery Covers - Simple

What all of these covers have in common is that they promise a fun, “gentle” read. People that enjoy cozy mysteries have certain expectations—no graphic violence, explicit sex, or profanity—and the covers usually reflect this.

Based on my review of cozy mystery covers, I put together a brief of what I wanted my design to incorporate.

  • An illustration (you don’t often see photographs on cozy mystery covers)
  • Bright, cheerful colors
  • Sailing theme (my series is about a reluctant sailor turned amateur sleuth)
  • A cat (a Japanese bobtail is featured in the series)
  • Simple design (although I love the richly illustrated designs, my eye is drawn toward covers with less detail)
  • Elements that I could use throughout my series to tie the books together

Step 2 – Hiring a Designer (or not)

There are two things everyone says you need professional support for—editing and a cover design. There are no ifs, ands, or buts here. Hiring an external team to help out in these areas is essential.

So what did I do? Yep, you guessed it. I designed my own cover. {Not to worry, I hired an editor. More on that in a future post.}

I can hear people out there screaming in horror. “What, you made your own! Don’t you know that people judge a book by its cover? Are you nuts?”

Yeah, I probably am nuts, but let me explain why I made that decision.

I checked out tons and tons of designers—there are so many great ones out there that you’re spoiled for choice. But the ones I liked didn’t exactly fit into my limited budget.

Next, I looked at pre-made covers. These are covers that designers have in stock. Your name and book title are added, perhaps with a few other minor modifications, and  it’s ready to use in no time. This is a great, quick, low-cost option and if I was writing a cozy mystery that had a paranormal theme, a young sleuth, cooking etc., I probably would have ended up going down this route. But what I didn’t see was anything that had a sailing theme that fit my vision. {Sigh}

I have to admit, I was a little down. But, after a few chocolate chip cookies and a bit of research, I decided to try designing a cover myself.

Step 3 – eBook Cover Design with Canva & Shutterstock

Have you heard of Canva? If not, go check it out. It’s a free app which is seriously cool and so easy to use. You can design all sorts of stuff on it from party invites, posters, social media posts and banners, and . . . book covers!

At first, I played around with the graphics they offered on Canva (many are free, some you have to pay for), but didn’t find anything that made my heart sing with joy. Then, I had a poke around Shutterstock which has heaps of images you can license.

After many hours searching through what was available, I found a cute “By the Sea” scrapbooking kit that had lots of nautical patterns and images. Naively, I thought it would work like clip art—easily manipulated images that I could paste into my design.

Nope. It was a vector file which I had no idea how to use or even open. I found a free program, Inkscape, which allowed me to work with the file, but, as I’m no graphic design expert, it was tedious and far from simple. However, I did manage to create the sailboat logo you see on the top of this website. Then I cut my losses and went for another search on Shutterstock for something else that might be easier to work with.

I finally stumbled across a cute picture of a sailboat on the water (the one you see on my cover) and the best news was that there was a similar image I could use for the next book in my series. {Bodies in the Boatyard coming your way later this year.} It was a JPG file, which meant I knew how to work with it. Sadly, the image didn’t have a cat on it. Sorry, Mrs. Moto.

I slapped the sailboat image into the eBook template on Canva (“slap” is a technical term for uploading), added some text and other elements and—presto!—I had a cover. Okay, it wasn’t as simple as that, but it was rather doable.

Step 4 – Print Book Design

Things were going so well. I had managed to design a book cover for the whopping cost of $19.60 (the cost of two images from Shutterstock). I was ready to pop the champagne when I remembered that I’d need another cover for print books. You know, a cover that has a front, back, and a spine.

No problem, that would be simple, right?

Wrong. There weren’t enough chocolate chip cookies on board our boat (I live on a sailboat, by the way) to help me figure out bleed. After much hair pulling, I finally figured it out. Turns out it’s pretty important. If you don’t get things aligned quite right, when they go to trim your book cover, important elements can get chopped off.

I ended up downloading a book cover template from Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (they do eBooks and print-on-demand books), slapped it into Canva, messed around with my images and eventually got something that would work. This is what the rough draft looks like. I’m still playing around with the final layout, including the blurb, and I need to finalize my page count (this affects the size of your spine).



Murder at the Marina - Canva Screen Shot

There you go—four simple (or not so simple) steps to designing your own cozy mystery book cover.

And, don’t forget, Murder at the Marina will be available June 21, 2018. You can find out more here.

Interested in learning more?

Reedsy has some helpful articles including What are the Standard Book Sizes in Publishing and 7 Resources to Design Your Own Cover.

Elizabeth Spann Craig has a number of articles on working with a cover designer including Preparing for a Cover Design Meeting and Working with a Cover Designer: Time-Saving Techniques.

Janice Hardy talks about the process of making her UK book cover (Brits and Americans have different tastes when it comes to covers).

And check out these articles on Jane Friedman’s site—9 Tips to Building the Book Cover Design You Always Wanted and The Importance of Your Book Cover.


Other posts in my “Publishing a Cozy Mystery” series:

Cover Design | Draft #743 | Beta Readers | Traditional vs. Self-Publishing | Editing | Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive | Ebooks, Print, or Both | Book Formatting| Distribution Channels | Book Release in Numbers | Blog Tours | ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) | Large Print Books

What kind of book covers draw your attention? Have you ever designed you own cover?

Murder at the Marina - Pre-Order Banner (All ERetailers)

A dilapidated sailboat for your anniversary—not very romantic. A dead body on board—even worse.

Releasing on June 21stebook available for pre-order at Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Google Play

Paperback available at Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Books-A-Million

Add to your to-read list on Goodreads. Subscribe to my newsletter here.

35 thoughts on “Cover Design | Cozy Mystery Publishing Process”

  1. Oh, my goodness, I LOVE this post. I have found you because you left a comment on my AtoZ Blog Challenge post where I am writing about Bookstores this year, their architecture, location and the wonderful people who bring us the world of books. A book must have a great cover jacket before I will even pick it up. This is wonderful information, which I have now bookmarked. And….am now following you. I look forward to more of this quality blogging.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did lots of versions too. It does take a while before you stop and say, “Hey, I love that one!” Your cover looks great, by the way. Can’t wait to read the book once it’s released.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s