Friday, September 7, 2012

Book Cover Design and You

A good book cover is like the smell of coffee, heady, seductive, intoxicating.  So, now that I've moved to self-publishing, choosing my own book covers is probably the thing I love the most.  It's not an easy process, though, so I'm going to share a little bit of what went on behind the cover of Jessamine (on the carousel to the right) and my tips on what I've learned so your own process can be a bit easier.

Several months before my publication date for Jessamine, I started looking around for book cover designers.  First, I googled book cover artists and then I checked out the blogs of some self-published authors like J. A. Konrath who have posted links to their designers.  Smashwords also provides a list of cover designers and their prices.  After looking over the portfolio of one designer, I got in touch with them and asked if they'd be interested in coming up with something for Jessamine.  She said 'yes' so I sent her the information.  I told her Jessamine was set in the Caribbean, that one of the main women in it was a ghost, that most of it took place in a Great House, etc. and then I sat back and waited, all excited.

A few weeks later, she sent me the cover (it's in PDF and isn't allowing me to cut and paste so I can't show it to you).  It was nice.  It had a lovely gold tone and I liked the title font and how my name and the title were set off from the picture.  Problem was the picture was basically of palm trees overlooking the roofs of a small town.   I thought the palm trees were a bit cliched and, as scenic as the cover was, it didn't really reveal anything about what the book is about.

I went browsing through Dreamstime and other photo sites, found a picture of a wooden staircase and foyer I liked, sent her the link and asked her to try again.  The staircase and the foyer definitely gave off the Great House vibe but when the cover came back, it was nice but, like something you might see in Architectural Digest - it didn't hint at the story inside. .

We parted ways amicably and I turned to another designer.  I sent the new designer basically the same information but this time I spent more hours on the photo site, looking up ghosts and I sent her the links to those as well.  Jessamine isn't a traditional ghost story, but there is a ghost and she is important and I wanted the cover to reflect that.  The first cover she sent was the one I eventually went with but before that happened I had a thought - perhaps we could make a visual allusion to the flower Jessamine in the cover -

So the above is what the designer sent.  Now I felt the cover was too busy and I went back to the original design which had what I thought were the important elements - the ghost and the old house.  A few people have said they expected a scary ghost story given the cover (Caspar notwithstanding, it's hard to find a friendly, or at least not scary-looking ghost) and I may order a new cover at some point but, for right now, I'm happy.

What did I learn:-

1.  Every single element cannot make it on the cover - keep it simple.

2.  Browse Amazon for book covers you like and try to analyze what it is precisely that you like - the font, the images, the feel, etc.

3.  Send your designer links to covers of books similar to yours which you like.

4.  If you don't like a cover, don't be afraid to reject it.

5.  There are a lot of cover designers out there - do your research, make sure they offer covers in the formats you need them in and that they do spine and back covers if you're planning to offer print editions.

6.  Be clear about how many times you can go over the cover with the designer.  Will your designer work with you until you're satisfied?  Will they charge more if they have to do four drafts?  Be clear on the parameters.

7.  You can get good designs for anywhere from $50 to about $150.  I don't see any need to pay more than that unless you just really want to.


Charles Gramlich said...

I've been trying to design my own covers and I've gotten much much better at it, though I'm still not very professional. Fortunately, my wife takes professional photos so that has been a help.

William Doonan said...

LIke Charles, I;ve gotten much better at it too, but nothing compares to a pro. At the Left Coast Crime convention in April, I picked up about a hundred promotional cards and bookmarks, each featuring a cover. I didn't feel bad about doing this, since there were thousands of copies of each (including my own). Then I went home, got a huge piece of cardboard, and made three columns - pasting up covers I loved, covers I kind of liked, and covers I didn't like. The result was that I could narrow down what I wanted. And the cover I came up with for Grave Indulgence turned out pretty good.

Lynn Emery said...

Great points made on working with a cover designer, Eugenia. Since I'm bad at using Photoshop, or any of its clones, hiring someone made sense. I'm good at finding the stock photos/art, knowing what I want. I was fortunate to find two great designers. I'm not going to try and do it all myself. Hiring freelancers has worked for me.

Liane Spicer said...

Informative post, Eugenia. I love the cover of Jessamine. I've had one cover for a novella done by a pro, but I not only found the image, I also mocked up a draft of the cover in Paint.

What I got back from the artist was almost identical to my draft - but with that professional 'finish': upgraded fonts, an improved shade of one colour, and of course, the various dimensions for the different digital platforms. I've bought images and done a few covers for shorts myself, but it was something of a hassle.

elysabeth said...

I agree, if you don't have the ability to do your own covers, hire a professional. My illustrator is young and pretty good at what she does. My problem is the ability to pay her since book sales aren't where they need to be right now, but I keep hoping that will change so I can get back to getting more state stories published and in the schools where they need to be. Thanks for sharing a little bit into your cover experience. E :-)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of FINALLY HOME, a middle grade/YA mystery written on the lines of a Nancy Drew mystery

elysabeth said...

Forgot to follow