Designing Bookworm to Badass's Cover

Pen & Paper · Adobe Illustrator · Midjourney · Gigapixel · Photoshop

Designing Bookworm to Badass's Cover banner
By Dustin Tigner

If you are just here to see the cover of Bookworm to Badass in all of its colorful glory, then here you go! Keep scrolling to see how the cover was made.

Also, the book is now available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!

The cover. (Cool footnote, bro.)

Table of Contents

For your convenience, here are the links to each of the below sections. You might only care about how I used AI art or how I photobash graphical assets. If that’s the case, you won’t hurt my feelings if you skip the boring* stuff.

* Boring? My stuff’s not boring!

Mistakes & Relaunch

I think it’s worth starting with some context. Bookworm to Badass was not the original title. And thus, obviously, this is not the original cover.

On December 10th, I launched the book to crickets. Two days later, I pulled the book, sought help, and after many hours, created the above cover that seems to have garnered a lot of interest. Yay!

Turns out, designing an effective cover can be quite challenging. A cover is a single image that must attract the right reader. If the cover fails, the book fails.

View the original cover and design process:

I’m a Fudging Vampire! Does That Mean I Sparkle?



When we look at something, we make immediate judgment calls. This is rooted in our survival instincts. And though buying a book is hardly a dangerous endeavor, our brains don’t care. They are data sponges, absorbing, evaluating, organizing, and discarding information constantly.

So when prospective readers see vampire on the cover, the word is associated with preconceived biases. They make assumptions.

But this book is not a vampire book.

Sarah becomes a vampire. True. But it’s a character class. She doesn’t drink blood; she draws essence from others, which works as her mana to trigger skills. She’s immortal, but so is everyone else. And the book is not gothic horror or steamy romance or urban fantasy.

The assumptions readers made were wrong because I included the wrong content on the cover. Worse, readers who wanted a traditional vampire story would likely not be satisfied by this book.

And so, with one simple word, I doomed the book to failure.

The Title

I like long and whimsical titles that I can use to convey the tone. In a way, the title should tell a story. If I’m writing something funny, I want the title to make the reader laugh. If the title can make them laugh, the story will too.

Arachnomaner’s subtitle plays with irony: Oh Sh*t! I F*cking Hate Spiders! And yet, he’s an Arachnomancer. We know what to expect.

I’m a Fudging Vampire! Does That Mean I Sparkle?

This title does everything I want a title to do. We get a sense of the character’s personality, we know she’s a new vampire, and it sets the tone.

But . . .

Yes, there’s always a but.

The title fails in a lot of areas, too.

  • The censored F-word targets a younger demographic
  • The Twilight joke targets female readers or feels like a parody
  • There’s no easy-to-reference title, unlike Arachnomancer
  • It’s long, making it more difficult to share with others

Genre Tag

I use GameLit on all of my covers, whether or not LitRPG would be more accurate. I do this because I coined the term and want to represent it whenever I can. But GameLit was never meant to replace LitRPG. The two genres exist for different reasons.

By using GameLit instead of LitRPG as the genre tag, I’m not communicating clearly what the book is about. This is the same problem as using vampire in the title. It sets the wrong expectation.

Bookworm to Badass uses an RPG system with classes, skills, experience, and loot. It is a LitRPG story, through and through.

Art Assets

As a photobash artist, I’ve always been limited by the images I have access to. I own over 800 paintings from one artist—Tithi Luadthong—and use them for most of my covers. This helps my covers feel consistent.

I think I’ve done a good job making do with what I’ve had. But my covers have never been top-tier. They might be blurry, cartoonish, lack character diversity or detail, and always force me to compromise my vision in order to get something good enough.

This is evident in the reaction between the two covers. Bookworm to Badass evoked a Wow reaction, which resulted in many more comments, shares, and reactions than the previous cover, which felt ignored. Art quality makes a difference. I’ll talk a bit more about this in the AI art section.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Tithi’s art. He has empowered me to create my own covers, which I love doing. But I feel the limitations are starting to get in the way of my success as an author.

Why Does This Matter?

One thousand pages later, you’ve reached the end of the section, and you’re wondering why any of this is important. The answer is that a cover is a lot more than a pretty image.

A cover is marketing. It sets expectations. If you make the wrong decisions—as I did—the book will fail. Bad covers kill books. And beautiful covers that set the wrong expectations kill books.

We need a title that’s easy to reference, looks beautiful on the cover, and conveys a sense of the story. We need eye-catching art that matches the tone, sets the genre, and gets the reader to click. And genre tags need to be accurate to the story, matching tropes and genre conventions readers expect.

Once those things click together, you have a winning cover.

This is what we’ll be created in the next sections.

Pen & Paper

Games have logos. I like logos. And so, when I design the typography for a GameLit/LitRPG cover, I think of it as a logo for the story, not just a pretty front.

Logos are designed by hand. You can skip this process, but digital tools can be stifling. I need the freedom to just scribble on the page and see what I can come up with. This allows me to iterate quickly to explore new ideas.

It’s all about finding the right idea. No judgment. Anything goes. No one is going to see this. No one is… Shit!

I often start by simply writing the title and jotting down tagline ideas. It’s good to count the letters and figure out how wide and narrow each letter is.

Then starts the questions. Will the words be stacked, left or center or right aligned, script or sans serif or serif? Will the letters be bold or thin? Upper or lowercase? Which word should get the focus?

You can see that I didn’t explore too long before I started drawing the letters, creating interesting shapes, and then inking them. For this logo, I knew that Bookworm would be more artsy and Badass more bold and in your face.

Whether or not anyone pieces this together, I like that the Ss are scythes. It’s a slight design change to the letters, but it makes them look just a bit more unique and noteworthy. Good things to be.

This process isn’t cemented before vectoring the logo. There’s a cyclic approach. I draw letters, ink them, take a picture, then vectorize (see next section). The initial logo had a very plain K that I didn’t love. I later returned to draw the more curvy K above the other inked letters.

Here’s another example for Arachnomancer. You can see a lot more doodles and exploration. Everything is rough. If you look hard enough, you can see Dungeon Runner sketches on the next page.

Once I’ve inked all the letters I plan to use (skipping duplicates), I take a picture with my phone. There’s no need for anything fancy like a scanner.

Onward to digitizing!

Adobe Illustrator

“Enough words! Show us more pictures!”

Okay okay! I get it. I’m a writer. I like words. But you’re here to see pictures, so I’ll add my comments to their captions.

Using the pen tool in Adobe Illustrator, I quickly created the rough shapes of all the letters.
I’m looking at the balance of the logo, where the center is, how much space there is between letters and lines, etc. You can see that I’ve started to define the x-height and stroke width. While I do this, I drop the changes into Photoshop so I can see what it looks like on the cover. That new B looked bad, so I scrapped it.
This is starting to look festive! All the different boxes are used for different things. Angled Red: Used for making sure the angles are consistent. Teal: Defines the thin stroke width of each character. Magenta: Defines the thick stroke width of each character. Green: It’s the width of B, so I can see how consistent each character’s width is.
Now that all the letters look so damn good (I know, I’m awesome…), it’s time to define the background shape. This is crucial for making the logo look like a logo. It’ll also make the letters pop by giving them a dark background without needing to use a shadow.
I keep playing with the background shape to make it more consistent and interesting looking. I do this by creating shapes on top of the background shape. I can then later use Adobe Illustrator’s Shape Building Tool to easily punch these shapes through the background shape. (“Say shape one more goddamn time!” -Pulp Fiction)
The punch-out was a success! I’ve removed all the extra shapes. Now we have a clean logo that’s ready to be ported into Photoshop.
This is what it looks like in Photoshop! I have to bring each shape in individually (Bookworm, Badass, To, Tagline, Main Background, and Tagline Background), then I can apply styles, like the bevel and noise you see on Badass.

Midjourney / AI Art

I have a lot of thoughts about AI art, ethics, and the future. But this isn’t the article for that. If you hate that I use AI art, I’m sorry you feel that way.

For the last two years, I’ve been vocally against AI while everyone ignored it or played with it. The second I changed my mind, the world decided AI was evil. This is my curse. I can never choose the easy path. . . .

I have listened to both sides extensively. Far more than is healthy. We’re talking about dozens of hours of podcasts, dozens of articles, and countless debates that are ongoing. When I have time, I’ll write a deep-dive article to share my thoughts, which I hope will help alleviate some of the rage.

With that out of the way, let’s look at what it takes to use AI.

At the time of this writing, I have generated over a thousand images. Most of those images are 2x2, which means I’ve generated four thousand unique images. And yet, the Boomworm to Badass cover only uses four of them.

The art of a photobasher is knowing what to use and what to throw away. This is more true with AI than anything else.

AI art is great at making pretty images. But what is the value of a pretty image that represents nothing or the wrong idea? To use AI with intent takes a lot of work, understanding the system, and patience.

“Shut up! Show us the pictures!”

Generating an image almost never gets you what you want. It’s that “almost” bit that is key to using AI. For every hundred images you generate, you get something usable. This image shows a lot of the images I generated when trying to create Sarah, our badass protagonist.
What makes AI a useful tool is how fast you can iterate on ideas. You can see images of scythes, fantasy landscapes, clouds, fairies, libraries, and circular towns in this image. Most of it is unusable. Some of it can be thrown onto the canvas to see if it sticks. Alas, even this content is often discarded.
Oh, Sarah, what happened to your face? But I like your shoes. In the order of left to right, top to bottom: 1. Itchy butt; 2. Too young; 3. Where’s your hand! 4. Damn, you’re thin.
This is what I mean by AI making pretty images. These don’t match what I need, but they are so cool! Generating art will likely become part of the authors’ brainstorming process. Creating the cover first will give them ideas to include in the story.
I really wanted to show Apology Thirteen—a tiny green fairy with blue monarch butterfly wings—flying next to Sarah, but I simply could not get the AI to generate anything close to what I wanted. I could have kept burning through my credits, but I decided to move on with other ideas. Future AI-art generators will be better.
Here’s another example of me trying to get something usable and failing miserably. Before launching the original title and cover, I wanted to redesign the cover with AI-art assets. But I couldn’t get it to create what I wanted and gave up.

Gigapixel & Photo AI

Midjourney can scale images, but it doesn’t work the same way you’d expect. The AI doesn’t simply increase the image’s resolution; it recreates it at a higher resolution, adding extra details.

Unfortunately—at least for now—scaling an image often adds bad details or changes what was good about the original. I show an example of this below.

The solution is to use another AI program called Gigapixel to upscale low-resolution images. There are side effects to doing this, but the side effects are better than using a low-resolution image.

Photo AI is from the same company that makes Gigapixel. It handles everything automatically. The two programs often get different results, so if one isn’t providing what I want, I try the other.

It took a lot of iterating to get a set of clouds I wanted to use for my cover. The image is great, but the resolution is too low.
This is what happens when I use Midjourney to upscale the image. Notice how the clouds get a lot more detailed but lose the bright contrasting colors and simple shapes. It’s not bad, but it’s not what I wanted. (Yes, I say that a lot!)
In Gigapixel, the right side shows a resolution that’s four times larger than the left. It has done a good job, creating an asset I can use for my cover. But part of the problem with using this software is how it makes soft edges, hard edges. I fix this a little by adding a blur to the clouds in Photoshop and painting over any details that become distracting.
Here’s another example of an image I generated. This uses Photo AI, which analyzes the image and adjusts the settings for you for the best result. It did a great job. You can’t tell it’s four times the original size, which would normally turn it into a blurry mess.

Photoshop & Polish

I love to hate on Adobe Photoshop. It’s a buggy mess. I’m forced to use old versions of it just to get it to function correctly. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a vital tool to my cover design process. To be fair, I probably push the software harder than most people.

If you are looking for a cost-effective alternative, you should check out Affinity. I’ve used Adobe products for twenty years now, so changing is hard. But you’re not me! You can save hundreds of dollars a year by using Affinity. (This is not a car insurance ad.)

So this—Photoshop—is where the magic happens. This is where I cut out and combine images, paint over images, apply effects, and everything else required to create the final piece.

Yes yes, I know. Stop talking and show the images. Here we go!

I’m cheating a little by using a template I created for all of my books. This includes the genre tag in the top left, my name, and all the guide lines (not shown) to mark areas like the center. At this point, I’m just throwing ideas onto the canvas to see what they look like.
The original idea I had was to have Sarah standing on a rocky shelf, looking down at the Mad Queen’s kingdom, which is a circular fantasy city floating in the clouds. I wasted so much time trying to make this idea work, haha.

Just a quick note on how hard it is to get something this precise from an AI. I needed the right type of architecture, in a circle with a hollow middle, seen from afar, at the right perspective angle, and in the right style. I got close a few times but ultimately decided it added too many details to the cover.

Until now, I didn’t know I wanted the crystal to be centered behind the logo. This is part of the creative process. Once I moved it, it clicked into place, and I just knew it was what I wanted. You’ll also notice that the logo isn’t final. This is the one that took five minutes to throw together, not five hours to make sure every point and angle was correct.
Hair: The AI likes to create a lot of odd hair shapes that don’t make sense. I use a layer mask to remove what I don’t want, then use a clipping mask to paint over the strands to remove the previous background colors that bleed through. Hands: AI hates hands. Sarah had alien fingers until I painted her a new hand and hid the other. Boots: Her ankles were so long! So I gave her some new boots that seem to fit better.


Here’s the cover again, so you don’t have to scroll all the way up to the top.

The final cover. Lots of work!

As you can see, a lot of work goes into making a decent cover. And it’s not just the illustration. There are so many variables we need to consider when marketing a new book to prospective readers.

People judge books by their covers. And they are perfectly justified in doing so. It’s my job as an author and creative to create something that entices readers. Failure is just an opportunity to learn and grow. We make our success by being persistent.

I hope this article was helpful or interesting!

If Bookworm to Badass sounds like a book you’d enjoy, grab it here!

Thanks for reading. Stay creative. :)