Tuesday, 6 November 2012

What’s in the cover?

Being an independent author isn’t only about writing. Sometimes it feels like it’s not even mostly about it. You have to take care of every aspect of getting the book published, formatting and converting it to an e-book, and then market it too. The latter alone seems like a full time job. Important part of the process is preparing a cover for your book. If you do it right, it might even market the book for you.

I like to do my own book covers. It’s a creative process that gives me pleasure as much as writing does. The problem is, of course, that I don’t necessarily have the skills for it. I like photos as an art and I’ve always paid great attention to book covers, but just because I have a strong idea of what a good book cover should be like, doesn’t mean I know how to make one.

My inability to use the proper software is one limitation. I’m using Gimp, because it’s free, but – gods – it’s difficult to get a hang of. I’ve spent hours just with the basics; I haven’t even considered learning anything complicated. Another limitation is the stock photo site I use. They have a very flexible system for people who buy only a couple of pictures a year, but perhaps a smaller selection as well. Then I have to find proper fonts – an art form in itself – and design the layout. So, trying to make a perfect cover with non-existing skills and less than ideal photos isn’t exactly a winning formula. Still, I think that the first cover I made turned out fine.

The second one, however, I’ve already redone once. I’m not entirely happy with the new version either, but at the moment, I’m out of ideas.

Part of the problem is that I’m not sure what kind of message I want the cover to convey. The first version of the book went for sexy, the second one for romantic; I think I would need one that is both. So, if I had to give advice to those planning to publish their first e-book, I would say, know your genre and its cover conventions. You may want to do something different to stand out in the crowd, but I think it’s important that the potential buyers know what genre the book is just by looking at the cover. If you have skills for cover design, you can manage an outstanding cover even if it’s stereotypical – most traditionally published books have easily recognisable covers. Here is one of my current favourites.

Remember that your buyers browse through hundreds of thumbnail-sized pictures of book covers when they shop. If they don’t think the book is in the genre they want to read, they won’t take a closer look.

Of course, if you don’t have the skills and you’re not willing to learn them either, you might want to let professionals do the cover; I may do that myself with my next book. If you hang out in writer forums, you’re bound to find them advertising themselves there. Yes, it can be expensive, although there are cheaper operators as well. But think of it this way: if you don’t believe in your book enough to invest in the cover, why would your readers believe in it enough to buy it? And yes, it is an investment. There is an element of risk involved like with all investments, but if it pans out, you get your money back many times over. And if you still aren’t convinced your book is worth the expense – or the trouble of learning how to do the cover properly yourself – then perhaps you should hone the book a bit more, until you know it’s worth every penny you spend on it. If, however, you are willing to learn, here are some tips from a professional cover designer.

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