DIY Book Covers: Recycling Old Covers

Caveat: I’m NOT a cover designer. I’m more of a determined monkey turned art department through the process of being too dumb to know better. What helps is having great tools: Adobe Creative Cloud, a Mac computer with a huge screen, and unlimited access to YouTube where you can learn everything about anything when it comes to Photoshop.)

Anyhoo…

Blog-old covers6When LB handed me the project of restoring his extensive mid-century pulp paperback novels for digital and print we had a minor problem. Covers. Now, while I am in love with the gorgeous retro covers Hard Case Crime is putting on some of LB’s books, I don’t have the ability to create that type of art. So with time and budget concerns (we had a LOT of books to do) we had to get creative. For the Classic Crime Library (most originally published in the 1960s) we came up with what I believe is an elegant solution. I made them look like old-school classics with leather covers and gold leaf. This was surprisingly easy to do–and inexpensive. The only out-of-pocket expense was font licensing. For the rest: I scanned the back of a leather-bound book from my personal library; used a clipart border I had on hand (copyright-free from Dover books); and used my iPhone to take a picture of “gold” leaf from my arts and crafts supplies. Ta da!

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When it came time to do the Classic Erotica collection, I’m not sure which of us came up with the idea of recycling the original covers. Might have been me. (When I was a wee child, my mother had a fondness for cheesy potboilers and science fiction novels. I knew all her hiding places. I loved the covers as much as the stories — I wanted to be Frank Frazetta when I grew up.)

First step is cleaning up the images.

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Remember, these covers are over 50 years old, and the original cover stock wasn’t the best paper in the world to begin with (which, by the way, scanning in these old books was…interesting. Some of the paper was so brittle it disintegrated if I looked at it too hard. By the time I finished scanning my desk looked as if I’d held a ticker-tape parade.). I used Photoshop to restore the covers as close to the original as I could. I used clipping layers to work on one portion at a time. The repair tool and the clone stamp helped me get rid of the crackling and scuffs.

After cleaning up the image, I made a template. For the background I went with suede. I took a photo of a piece of suede (from my ridiculously eclectic arts and crafts supply). I colored it in Photoshop. Then I tipped in the image and gave it a gold border. Because it’s the ebook cover, we decided to get rid of all text except for the title.

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For the print cover, we went with the full cover, as close to the original as I could get it. I know there are people out there who love those old pulp fiction covers as much as I do. I think they’ll enjoy having a classy (classier, anyway) rendition on their bookshelves.

Adobe Photoshop PDF

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On a side note, there was one cover we couldn’t bring ourselves to use. It’s the “I’m ready for my enema now,” cover. (You can see it here if you’re so inclined.) Besides, LB wanted to use another title. So… LB found a suitably sinister looking image on Shutterstock and I “retro-d” it. The result isn’t anywhere close to the glory of a Hard Case Crime cover, but I’m happy with it and it fits nicely in the series. And it was budget friendly.

A few tips for recycling old covers:

#1: Make sure you CAN use the images. Find out if you’re legally allowed. You might need to get permission or purchase a license.

#2: Use a scanner instead of photographing the cover. You’ll get a clearer image with better color resolution.

#3: Be patient. The cover might be torn, foxed, scuffed, bent or otherwise damaged. 100% restoration might not be possible (unless you’re a pro or willing to take it to a pro). Work in layers, one small area at a time.

#4: Be creative in “displaying” the image. Picture frames, color blocks, borders, backgrounds. In the collaborative books LB did with Hal Dresner and Don Westlake, I used color blocks to make them stand out.

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So for nostalgia’s sake, budgetary concerns or just for fun, don’t be afraid to recycle those wonderful old book covers if you can.

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8 thoughts on “DIY Book Covers: Recycling Old Covers

  1. Holy crap you’re great! You get better every day. I love the old covers. So vintage. I have some like that in my book collection.

    • One of my biggest heartaches came when my mother sold all the paperback novels I’d collected as a kid. Especially the Edgar Rice Burroughs and Conan the Barbarian novels with Frazetta covers. Especially my Glory Road by Heinlein yellow cover edition.

      When I finish the print editions for LB, I’m getting my favorites and mounting them as an art display.

      • Good for you! I would too! My mother tossed some of my comic books – How could she??? But she didn’t touch my books. Books are treasure in our family. Nobody gets rid of books.

      • My mother gave away my collection of Nancy Drews! Without asking.

        I don’t think she realized that Nancy Drew saved many of the girls of my generation – we had a role model who was clever and resourceful and allowed to act independently, and didn’t get rescued by boys.

        I have met successful woman after woman who cites those books as one of her influences. Wish I had the covers. Maybe it’s best I don’t reread them; might destroy the illusion.

        Your covers are turning out beautiful and appropriate.

  2. I love the vintage covers. I’ve thought about using a similar style for some of my erotica, but I’m not an artist myself, and I don’t know how I’d generate illustrations in that style.

    I’m curious how the licensing works out for vintage books? Is the cover art owned by the publisher?

    • I imagine most of the covers of this type were work-for-hire and thus owned by the publisher. Others were licensed images. The only way to know is to do dig around and figure out who you need to ask for permission.

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