Judging a book by its cover

coverartYou’ve heard the old adage about books and their covers but how much does the cover art play in the sales of your book? Quite a bit actually. Sure – a great cover does not equal a great story or even great writing BUT it does get book buyers to take a closer look. Like crows many of us are attracted to shiny objects. I’ll admit it, I pick up the book with the most interesting looking cover assuming it equates to a better story. It could very well be the book with the more boring cover I passed on is actually the better story but I’ll never know because nothing drew me in to take the book off the shelf to find out more about it.

With traditional publishing an author’s ability to voice their opinion on cover art for their books can vary greatly, but for the most part debut authors are pretty much going to be assigned an artist who will be directed by an entity at the publishing house. Occasionally a new author may get to provide some feedback on the cover comps (sample art), but the final decision on what makes it on their book cover will be made by the marketing department. While that may be frustrating for new authors (we all have ideas of what our covers should look like) we have to remember that the folks in the marketing department are the experts when it comes to selling our books and we need to trust their decisions.

So, what about those that choose the path of self publishing? How do you create an eye catching cover to draw in prospective buyers and push your sales in what has become a sea of product? Hint – unless you’re a professional designer you don’t. You hire a professional designer.

I would be amiss of I didn’t say a quick word (or two or three or a hundred…) about “professional” designers: One of the great things about technology is that it’s become accessible to the masses. One of the worst things about technology is it’s become accessible to the masses.

I’m going to be very blunt and honest here because I believe it’s important for the future sales of your self published book: There are a lot of people who dabble in Photoshop (or one of the many image editors out there these days) that believe themselves to be artists. While they may create some interesting images, in my opinion as a professional artist, they’re still what I would refer to as a “hobbyist”. That is they don’t understand the technical parameters of design and layout. I’ve actually seen some pretty art on covers that were completely destroyed when the type was put on them because the “designer” didn’t have a grasp of typography. I’ve seen great covers with good typography that can never be used for printing because the resolution isn’t high enough (if you’re designer doesn’t understand resolution RUN!). So, while you may be getting a cheaper price point for your cover art from “hobbyist” designers, you may pay for it in the long run by needing to have your art fixed or recreated to solve legibility and print issues. Even worse (and the one that bites a lot of folks in the butt) you could find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit for copyright infringement for the use of images that are not the property of the designer and have not been licensed. Bottom line – you’re a professional and your book needs to reflect that. While you will pay a bit more for a professional artist to design your cover, the benefit of having a well designed cover to draw readers that is legally yours and useable in the intended media is worth the extra dollars.

So what should you look for in a cover designer?

First and foremost look at their portfolio. All artists have a unique style and while some may be similar no two are exactly the same. Ask yourself:

  • Does the art style fit your book?
  • Does the imagery created by the artist make you want to find out more about the story behind it?
  • How does the artist use typography?
  • Do they work in both web and print? (Even if you don’t plan to print right now you may want the option later)
  • Can the artist give you references?
  • If the artist offers pre-made covers, are they exclusive once you purchase them or can several authors by the rights? (Do you really want your book to show up on a website next to a book with the same cover image?)

Once you’ve selected an artist to work with make sure you agree on and sign a contract with them. The contract should include things like project scope and specs (size and media), number of comps, rounds of edits, delivery of final product(s) and of course payment and schedule along with kill fees (don’t bypass on kill details and fees – they’re very important and protect you). You should also be given documentation of any stock used or model releases or fonts purchased specifically for your book (for further marketing materials). Remember that this is a business cost and can be claimed on your tax forms so be sure to get the artists taxpayer ID number and supply them with a 1099 form.

Here’s my last bit of advice for working with an artist: While you may have a very clear idea of what you want on your cover that you’ve written down in excruciating detail to give to your artist – DON’T. I know, it’s tough, this is your baby but you have to trust your artist. Nine times out of ten they will blow you way with a cover design that you had never considered. What if someone came to you and said – I’m going to pay you to write a story  but you need to stay within this list of perimeters? Would you be able to be creative or would you feel stifled by the guidelines and churn out less than what you were capable of? You’re hiring the artist based on the work they have done that you saw and loved so don’t try to retrain them. On behalf of all my artist brethren out there I simply ask to please let us do the job you hired us to do! If in the end you hate what we come up with we’ll always be open to discuss options with you because as professionals we want you to love what we create for you.

So there you have it – my quick run down on cover art for you self pubbers. To my co-bloggers here and all you lovely readers I want to thank you for letting me chat on this blog! I love the critique group stuff but it’s really fun and such an honor to be able to talk on other subjects over here – you guys rock!

❤ keep writing & creating!

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About Shelley Koon

Artist and author - visit me at my site listed below.
This entry was posted in Illustrating & Cover Art Tips. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Judging a book by its cover

  1. This is a wonderful post, Shelley. I also believe the same tenets apply to the writing of a self-published book. Don’t skimp on hiring a good editor and, if need be, copy-editor. No one, NO ONE, can adequately give a final edit to their own writing and commas sprinkled like black pepper in a book detract from a professional look just as a poor cover does.

  2. Stacy Couch says:

    Nice to see this side of you, Shelley! Found this post on the Nerdy Chicks Rule blog: The Buggy History of One Book Cover by Sarah Albee http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/the-buggy-history-of-one-book-cover-by-sarah-albee/

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