Welcome to the fifth entry in our current and ongoing series–a series in which we examine some of the many choices which you will have to make as an author entering the world of self-publishing: choices ranging from the all-important “Choosing a Self-Publishing Company” to the nuts and bolts of “Choosing a Trim Size for Your Book” to figuring out how (and when) to “Know Thyself (& Thy Genre).” Last week, we felt our way through the topic of “Settling on a Price,” but this week we’re going to take a slightly different tack. We’re going to look at the book as a physical object–and in fact, we’re going to look at the most defining feature of a book as a physical object:
Choosing a Cover
Piqued your interest yet? Good.
Here’s the thing about covers: we know a good one when we see one, and a bad one too, but we don’t often know the reasons why–we just … do–and knowing why a cover design works or doesn’t work is a crucial skill to develop as you yourself set about designing a book cover of your own.
GOOD NEWS FIRST. OR MAYBE GOOD COVERS INSTEAD.
Take a look at these, a few of my favorite covers from my time working at Outskirts Press:
Does anything jump out at you? They’re all rather different, which makes sense given the fact that they’re appealing to different audiences. Remember talking about audiences when we talked about genre? Book covers are all about expressing the essence of your book’s content, and doing so in a common language shared with your ideal readers. And readers are smart. They’ve been reading a long time, and they know the visual cues that indicate a book’s atmosphere, or aesthetic. Books of a self-help or nonfiction nature, for example, often present uncluttered, minimalist covers with people enacting some behavior connected to the theme (see Surviving Divorce God’s Way and Do You Know the Story of Superman?, above). Young Adult (YA) books, on the other hand, are targeting an age group interested in adventure and often romance, so the rich colors and exotic lettering of The Avant Champion are attuned to these expectations.
So much for expectations–what about execution? A good book cover is more than just the sum of its parts, isn’t it? There’s something to the way the parts are put together visually that matters. That matters a great deal.
BAD NEWS NEXT. OR RATHER, BAD COVERS.
Everyone loves a bad book cover–the same way everyone loves a terrible audition for American Idol–in that we only enjoy witnessing someone else messing up badly. When we mess up as authors, sales do not go well for us. And sales are important. And so, without being uncompassionate or trite, take a look at these covers:
Pretty bad, right? But why? Is it the hazy images or the busy backgrounds or the lack of contrast or the obnoxious font choices or the general impression that someone put these together using Microsoft Paint?
The thing is, we get it.
Making covers is hard, and not everyone has an eye (or software program) to make a brilliant, eye-catching, solidly designed cover. So we’re not laughing behind our hands at bad covers; we are, however, wiser for exposure to some of the ways in which we might go astray. Using a sub-par program or manipulating already poor quality images can never give us the perfect cover, and not having the time or expertise to download the perfect font can put us under, too.
The critical components to an eye-catching cover don’t come naturally to most of us. But if you see yourself in this sentence, I have good news. There are actually quite a lot of resources out there to help you, from self-help guides built in to self-publishing website like Amazon to the professional services offered by companies like the one I work for. I’ve even known a couple of authors to make personal contact with illustrators and graphic designers on their own and see some success that way. The key is to know your strengths and to be realistic about your weaknesses, and to accept help when you reach the end of your own capabilities.
You are not alone. ♣︎