Indie author stuff: the trouble of the cover

If you’re thinking to self-publish your own delightful novel, I’m sure you’ll be spending weeks on end fine-tuning all of the myriad details, characters, plot twists, and themes of the writing.  However, have you thought of  what you’re going to put on the cover?  For many authors, this seems like an after thought.  But I can assure you that most people really do judge books by their covers, and having a strong design can have a huge impact on your sales performance.

Heavens above, did I just say “sales performance”??  Not sure I like being a business woman…

Anyway, I spent over 30 hours in Photoshop, working on the cover of Waking.  I wanted it be sure that I gave Twist my very best.  At Clockwork Alchemy I watched a lot of people glance over the books on the tables as they walked by, see Waking, stop, and then come back and pick it up.  Based on that alone, I feel it’s a strong design.  I don’t know what effect it’s having on-line, but my sales aren’t bad.

Since I’ve been working recently on the cover for Trick, the next book in the Clockwork Twist series, I thought I’d take a second here to write a bit about what I’ve learned on the subject of book covers.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an artist like my Dad.  I was an animation major for a while, and took just about every art class I could, simply for the fun of it.  But over time my creative skills started to shift away from visual art into writing.  Now, I count art as my hobby and spend most of my time writing.  So, when I realized that Twist needed a cover, I knew I had some skill already and so decided to give it a go of doing it myself.  I’m also a perfectionist and a control freak, and had the audacity to think that no one else could render my vision correctly.  So, while I’ve found success with my own design, I wouldn’t recommend that everyone does their own cover.  There are plenty of professionals to hire.

If you think you might want to give it a try, here’s some of the best tips and advice I’ve gotten.  First of all, subscribe to The Book Designer and read everything you can.  This site, and it’s creator Joel Friedlander, has been an invaluable resource to me.  To summarize what I think are important points, here’s some quick advice bites.

1. No matter the colors, the images, or anything else on the cover, the title (and arguably the author name) has to be clear enough to read easily once you shrink the image down to thumbnail size.

CWT01 coverI notice that a lot of indie authors who do their own designing seem to miss this idea.  And so, on Goodreads or Amazon it’s really hard to get any idea of what the book’s even about from the cover.  With my books, I decided that the most important thing is Twist’s name, and second is the volume title because I’m doing a series.  Since this is the first thing I’ve published, my name doesn’t meanmuch yet.  So, if you look at the Waking cover in a thumbnail, you can make out the words “Twist” and “Waking” even if you can’t read anything else.

2. Go to a bookstore.  Look at the books in the genre you’re writing in, take pictures of covers you like, and try to get an idea of what is normal for your kind of book.

You can also do this on Amazon, but I found that picking up real books and turning them in the light helped me a lot.  There is nothing even slightly wrong with taking elements from other designs.  In fact, it’s the best way to get a really strong image.  You don’t want to copy 100% of course, but you want your book to look like it belongs among these books.  Standing out with a really solid design can be great, but sticking out like a blond in Tokyo isn’t going to help.

3. Once you have a design fleshed out, print out a hard copy (like a 9×5 photo) and take it to a bookstore.  Go to your genre section and put the image on the shelf next to other books and step back.

bnnLooking at a computer for days, it’s easy to lose perspective.  If you take the image out into the world, you can get a better idea of how you’re actually doing.  Is it too light or dark against other covers that are like it?  Is it eye-catching from across the aisle?  Is the text as easy to read as the other books?  If you hadn’t put it there, what would you think it?

There is an endless supply of guides and advice on specific details of cover design online, but I found that following these few points really helped me to get a good image in the end.  And of course, there’s no shame in hiring a professional designer.  If you do decide to have someone else do your cover, though, I still suggest you do #3, and take the proof to a bookstore before you approve it.

I hope that helped!  If there are any specific questions that you have about cover design or anything related to self-publishing, please leave a comment below and I’ll I’d be happy to try to answer it.  Happy writing!

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