Update: If you like Midjourney, but don’t like the price tag, check out this article: 5 best free alternatives to Midjourney for writers who need marketing or cover images. Also, if you want a little bit more space around the main elements in your image, for, say, the book title or author name, you can now zoom out. Check out my tutorial on the new zoom out function here.
Last night, I recorded a video with MetaStellar community members, artists and interview show hosts Andrea Goyan and E.E. King — both of whom are also speculative fiction writers. We talked about how to generate images with the Midjourney app. Midjourney is one of several new tools where AI generates images for you. You can read my review of Midjourney here. And you can see examples of 28 covers I made with Midjourney and Canva here.
The first 25 images are free, which is enough to get a taste of the tool. But to really make use of it, you should sign up for the $30 per month plan and switch to “relax” mode. This will give you an unlimited number of images — and, trust me, you’ll need them. Once you start playing with this thing, it’s almost impossible to stop.
Just go to the Midjourney website, go through the sign-up process, then log into the Midjourney Discord server. They’ll send you all the instructions, though they’re ridiculously unclear. It took me an hour to figure out how to use it — and I’ve used Discord before. So expect to spend a little time here. I admit, the Midjourney interface is the worst of all the AI image generator apps I’ve reviewed this year. You might want to watch my video from last night where I spent an hour explaining how to use it.
Anyway, one of the things we talked about was whether Midjourney can be used to create book covers.
So, first, you want to have the paid version of the tool, because then your images are private. Otherwise, anyone can see them and use them. Of course, if you don’t care if other people can use your images, then this might not be an issue. So, for example, if you use Midjourney to generate images for short story covers you might not be too concerned. Or if you’re using Midjourney to replace stock images you’ve been pulling down off Pixabay or another stock image site — then you’re already comfortable with the fact that the same image might show up elsewhere.
Create your Midjourney image
So, first, obviously, you need to create an image for your cover.
I recommend looking at other books in your genre to get a sense of what kind of covers are popular. But, for the sake of this experiment, I’m going to create a cover with a fantasy castle illustration.
And I want the image to be vertical. For a book cover, the recommended size is 1600 pixels wide by 2400 pixels high, which works out to an aspect ratio of 2 to 3. You remember how to reduce fractions, don’t you? You find the biggest common denominator… Anyway, I digress.
Go to the Midjourney Discord server, click on the “Midjourney Bot” in the left-hand panel if you’re a paid customer or one of the “newbie” channels if you’re still on the free plan, then type the following text into the text entry field at the bottom of the screen:
/imagine fantasy castle illustration –ar 2:3
You have to be very careful with the formatting — you really need that slash before the word “imagine” and the two dashes with no space after them before the “ar.” That last bit, the “–ar 2:3” is what will make the image the right size for a book cover, instead of square.
If you notice, in the screen shot above, there’s the word “prompt” in gray between “/imagine” and “fantasy castle illustration –ar 2:3”. I didn’t type that — Midjourney automatically puts that there after you hit the space bar after typing “/imagine”.
Then you wait a couple of minutes. I’m in the “relax” mode — to get unlimited images for my $30 — so it’s supposed to be a little bit slower than it would be otherwise. But frankly, I haven’t noticed a difference.
Eventually, you get four images. Now you have a choice — you can re-run the same prompt by hitting the rerun button — it’s the two arrows in a circle. Or you can upscale one of the four images you’ve created by hitting the “U1,” “U2,” “U3” or “U4” button. Or you can ask Midjourney to do some variations on one of the four images by hitting the “V1,” “V2,” “V3,” or “V4” button.
The Midjourney AI doesn’t have enough common sense — yet — to know that you don’t usually have two castles on top of each other. You might have to rerun the same prompt a few times before you get an image you like.
Or you can fiddle with the prompt a little bit. For example, you might add the word “steampunk” to the prompt.
/imagine fantasy castle steampunk illustration –ar 2:3
Here are the results:
Or you can add the phrase “studio ghibli” or “pixar” or “trending on artstation.” You can also try “photorealistic” or “dramatic backlighting” or “moonlit night.”
I’m going to throw them all in and see what happens:
/imagine fantasy castle steampunk illustration studio ghibli trending on artstation dramatic backlighting moonlit night –ar 2:3
Here are the results:
I like that one at the bottom right. I figure I can crop out the weird clouds at the bottom, and the nice solid blue sky above will make it easy for me to add empty space for text.
So I hit “U4” to upscale the fourth image and this is what I get:
Now, this is the part where a professional artist would open up Photoshop or a similar program, but for the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to go to Canva. It’s free, it makes it easy to collaborate with friends, and it’s the platform I recommend to everyone because it has virtually no learning curve.
After you create your account and log in, there’s a button near the top right of the home page that says “custom size.” Click that, and enter 1600 for width and 2400 for height.
On the far left, you’ll see a vertical panel with icons labeled “Templates,” “Elements,” “Uploads,” “Text” and “Styles.” Click on Uploads and upload the image you’ve just saved from Midjourney.
Then, once it’s uploaded, click it and it will pop up in the center, in the main window.
Now you can fiddle around with it.
First, I’m going to click on the white background and change its color to match the color of the castle image. Then I’ll stretch the castle image to take the full page, and move it down, to get rid of the weird clouds.
And I’m going to add a shadow panel to the top and to the bottom to make things a little bit darker there. Click on the “Elements” icon at the far left and type “transparent gradient black” into the search box. As I write this today, the second option is free — the others have little gold crowns on them indicating that Canva wants you to pay extra. But the free gradient is perfectly fine for my purposes. If I was in Photoshop — or Gimp, my preferred open source alternative — I’d just do a gradient fill here.
Then I click the “Text” icon at the far left and add a title and author name and play around with fonts and line spacing, then increased the contrast and saturation a bit on the main image.
You can click on the image above to get the full-sized version, so you can see how it would look on a print cover.
Would I put this on a real book? No, I’d spend a few more hours playing around with Midjourney to get a better image. And I’d spend another couple of hours trying out different fonts. Then I’d get frustrated, give up, and hire an artist.
But frankly, it already looks better than most hand-made covers out there, so I’d be totally happy putting it on a short story.
Which reminds me. I’m actually working on a short story now. About an angry woman who’s killing people in a medieval-themed virtual world.
Here’s my prompt:
/imagine angry short-haired beautiful woman in armor holding a sword and knife video game style highly detailed epic dramatic backlighting standing bravely in front of a portal –ar 2:3
Here are the results:
I liked the one on the bottom left, upscaled it, and dropped it into Canva without any touching up or any shadows — no additional work at all. Just added some text.
Not bad for five minutes’ work.
If you had trouble following any of the above instructions, what the video below, where I create a brand-new, completely original book cover in ten minutes:
MetaStellar editor and publisher Maria Korolov is a science fiction novelist, writing stories set in a future virtual world. And, during the day, she is an award-winning freelance technology journalist who covers artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and enterprise virtual reality. See her Amazon author page here and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email her at [email protected]. She is also the editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business, one of the top global sites covering virtual reality.