Death’s Lady audiobook covers

So, way back when I was doing the Tuyo World Companion (it was just a year ago, but it seems like a long time , okay?), I complained with considerable vehemence about not being able to get a frame around the cover. I’d come up with one that more or less did the job, but it wasn’t that great. Then, in the nick of time, commenter Mona Z contacted me and said, basically, “You know what, as it happens, I’m an expert with Canva and good at this stuff and here are six versions of that cover with different frames.” I picked this one:

And then Mona very kindly did a version for the paperback edition too.

Well, that is not the sort of thing I’m likely to forget. So, when I decided to do audiobooks for the Death’s Lady books, I thought I would take a stab at doing covers myself because, I mean, it’s not THAT expensive to ask the cover artist to create audiobook covers, but it’s also not free, plus I thought it would just be a kind of neat thing to try.

Things you really need to know about making book covers:

The images and elements at Canva are supposed to be fine for commercial use, but this is not always true! I know experienced self-publishing authors who avoid Canva like the plague. The people who are most likely to get in trouble — I mean actually have their KDP accounts permanently terminated — tend to be throwing a lot of low-content “books” on Amazon using images that a thousand other people have already used when doing the same thing. That’s not especially relevant to me. Nevertheless, I am nervous about using templates or images from Canva. On the other hand, Canva is a great tool for building a book cover (among other uses) because you can move images around and layer elements on top of images or on top of other elements.

You know where else you can get images besides the ones sitting on Canva? Of course, you can buy them on Shutterstock or whatever, but also, a lot of giant museums have made a huge number of artwork images free to use.

Museums that make lots of artwork public domain

When I say public domain, I really mean it. You can download the images, modify them in any way you want, use them for commercial purposes, anything. They are really and truly available. The link above goes to an article that explains some of the history behind this. The big shift occurred in 2017, because before that museums did not permit anything like this and now a large number of museums do. So a vast number of artworks are now in the public domain, with their images available for use, as defined by Creative Commons Zero. The language is as follows:

The public can reliably and without fear of later claims of infringement build upon, modify, incorporate in other works, reuse and redistribute as freely as possible in any form whatsoever and for any purposes, including without limitation commercial purposes. 


In the United States, reproduction photographs of paintings and two-dimensional art are not protected by copyright. If the art is in the public domain, then a photograph of the art can be used freely.

And the links above explain how this came about.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the many museums that now offers enormous collections of online images of public domain artwork, downloadable and useable for anything you want. They have this tag on every Open Access image: As part of the Met’s Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.

This is where I thought I might be able to get images that would be unusual — that is, not something offered on Canva and used a lot of times by whoever else, but also definitely available for commercial use. So I went to the Met website and typed “starry night” or something equally generic into the search bar and got this on the very first page of results:

This is Shozokuenoki Tree at Oji: Fox–fires on New Years Eve by Utagawa Hiroshige. In case you are interested, Wikipedia says:

Utagawa Hiroshige, born Andō Tokutarō (1797 – 1858), was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist, considered the last great master of that tradition.

Hiroshige is best known for his horizontal-format landscape series The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō and for his vertical-format landscape series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. The subjects of his work were atypical of the ukiyo-e genre, whose typical focus was on beautiful women, popular actors, and other scenes of the urban pleasure districts of Japan’s Edo period (1603–1868). The popular series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai was a strong influence on Hiroshige’s choice of subject, though Hiroshige’s approach was more poetic and ambient than Hokusai’s bolder, more formal prints. Subtle use of color was essential in Hiroshige’s prints, often printed with multiple impressions in the same area and with extensive use of bokashi (color gradation), both of which were rather labor-intensive techniques.

The thing about this artist, I mean when it comes to whether it’s practical to use a detail of his artwork as the background image of a book cover, is that he created roughly a gazillion prints and therefore it’s no trouble to get details from four different prints, and they will all look unified because the artworks were all created by the same artist. I started with the one above and made a cover for The Year’s Midnight, and this cover might as well have had a blinking neon arrow pointing to it saying Nonexpert Author Made This. The same for the other three audiobook covers in the series.

So I sent those to Mona and asked, basically, “Should I throw these away and ask the original cover artist to do audio versions, or can these be salvaged?” Happily, Mona likes Japanese woodblock prints and was glad to help, and she gave me many iterations of excellent advice, eventually leading to this:

Various things to know: You are not allowed to put any kind of border around the edge; and you are not allowed to put any text on the bottom right quarter of the cover. ACX, Amazon’s audio platform, shows you a square with the lower right corner blocked off to show you where text can’t go. (No, I didn’t realize that until I loaded a potential cover and looked at it at ACX.) That’s why all the text here is at the top; that looked better than putting the author’s name on the bottom, but offset to the left.

But what you can see is how easy it is to set an image on a Canva template and move the image around, then set it in place, then move it around again, then cut the edges off, then move it around some more, until you wind up with a detail of a painting. You can then set elements on top of your image, such as swords, shadows and flocks of birds, and you can gray those out and shift them “up” and “down” through the layers of images. Then you can put whatever text you want on the top, in a lot of possible colors.

So, unless I change my mind, the audio covers for this series will be based on these woodblock prints, not on the original cover art. And no, that doesn’t mean I don’t intend to keep buying cover art; it just means that I thought this was an interesting option to explore. I learned quite a bit, and I enjoyed the process.

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6 thoughts on “Death’s Lady audiobook covers”

  1. Deb, I’d really hesitate to do it for the main ebook edition of a novel! Cover design is complicated! But it really was kind of fun to play with this, and I think the covers turned out okay.

  2. “an expert with Canva” hahaha

    I do have lots of fun with graphic design, and am so glad you did too! It can be quite a process and there are many, many different aspects to consider. Also, I wouldn’t have thought to use photos of art from the Met (or any museum), and now I will never forget that. Those woodblock prints are so elegant and atmospheric. Look at those fox-fires! That’s great color there.

  3. Mona, you definitely did a good impression of an expert! Not to mention instantly seeing things I missed, like accidentally letting the text slip back beneath some part of the images.

    Kim, I hope everyone agrees with you! Maybe eventually I’ll try to do covers for real — I mean, for all the editions of a new book — though maybe not! I have a lot of respect for cover design and cover art.

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