1. Images. I know this cover is just for fun, but I'd strongly suggest that you not use images you found somewhere on the internet. Even though you're not using the book cover for commercial purposes, you're putting an unauthorized, edited version of the image online—and the original artist or photographer might not take kindly to what you've done with their work. Consider using a plain background, a photo you took, a photo from a copyright-free site (which is still not without risk), or a photo that you do have permission to modify for personal use. I know this is going to limit your options, but copyright infringement is a can of worms you don't want to open.
2. Text. In this case, it's acceptable to download and use free fonts listed either as "personal use only" (and of course "OK for Commercial Use") because you will not profit from their usage in any way and you're not modifying the fonts themselves. Choose fonts and colors that are easy to read at thumbnail size for both your title and name. (I'd avoid using red on black in particular—I see that too often and it's aggravating as hell to read. High contrast is where it's at, yo!) Don't cover up the focal point of your cover art; similarly, don't hide your text at the very top or bottom edge of the cover or place it in an area with a complicated/"busy" background. Avoid stretching words to fill empty space as well.
3. Theme. When choosing an image for your cover, you need to know what the novel is, at its core, really about. You don't necessarily need to find an image that reflects a specific scene or object; instead, think about any major themes present in your story. Is there a color or symbol that's culturally associated with that theme? For example, the color white suggests innocence and purity—so if your main character is young/fragile/coming of age, using the image of a white object or animal will likely bring these associations to mind. (Some other examples include red as a symbol of power and authority, a chessboard pawn as a symbol of man versus larger power, and sunglasses to suggest that the main character is secretive and/or 'puts on a face'.)
4. Simplicity. For the love of pizza, don't use drop shadow and gradients and textures and beveling, don't put your images through a marathon of photo processors, and don't try to blend multiple images together with insufficient software. Less is more. I know this is cover is just for fun and everything, but think about it—will you find looking at the cover to be particularly fun if it looks like a Monday morning? If you decide to self-publish and do your own cover, showing restraint here will help build some good habits for when you're making the real thing. (Or you could, ehem, hire me.)
|Ex: Simplicity is good, mmkay?|
I've created a couple of image files to help you design your NaNoWriMo book cover. The first is a gray 230x300px JPG file, as those are the dimensions specified for book covers on the NaNoWriMo website. To use this, simply save it to your desktop and build your design over it your editing program of choice. If the required cover's odd width irks you, skip this: I have a workaround of sorts that will allow you to display your cover at a more 'typical' size.
If you want to design and use a narrow cover on the NaNoWriMo website, use this 5x8" JPG instead as the base of your design. (You'll need to continue on to the next step once you're done.)
This is a partially transparent PNG file. To use this file, save it to your computer and load it into your editing program of choice. It's important that you can export the file as a PNG file—if you export it as anything else (such as a JPG), it will lose its transparency. (I recommend using Fotoflexer for this.)
Import your book cover and stretch it over the gray area of the PNG, leaving the transparent area clear. Once you've done this, save the file and upload it to the NaNoWriMo website.
If you want your book cover to be centered rather than offset to the left, use this PNG file instead.
If everything went as planned, your book cover will look something like this:
|It looks wonky, but it shouldn't be a problem—this module will only show up on your personal dashboard.|
Please share your covers with me—I'd love to see them!