Designing book covers

This morning (6-19-2015) my thoughts are on book covers. Well it started with comic books (I just watched Big Hero 6 – awesome movie!), and then my mind went to comic book design, learning it, and theeeen book covers. Stay with me here, my mind does loop-de-loops on its own.

I started to think about book cover design because it is a huge deal, and when you’re first starting out with self-publishing, you’re likely to worry too much over it. I did after I’d published my books, but then learned that there is a special secret that isn’t spread around much.

What is it?

Readers are forgiving.

Think about it. When you go to pick up a book, the book cover can grab your attention, but if the information proves worthwhile, you’re likely to read the book and not think about the cover ruining the book for you, right?

I understand that a lot of book covers designers and even authors are crazy about shoving the, you need a great cover! pitches and that’s understandable. I get it. They want to make money, some may think they are helping. In many ways they do help. It does pay to have a good cover, but if you’re starting out (I’m four+ years into this), you may not have the funds for a great cover, you may not have any graphic design skills whatsoever, and/or you may stress that you shouldn’t publish without a PERFECT cover.

But as much as a great book cover is important, do you know what is more important?

The Story.

Know how I know this?

I have gone through many covers for Dark Illusions: The Beginning. There is one thing that above all I noticed. A decent cover can sell fine, provided that it’s somewhat connected to the story (elements of the story are reflected on the cover), and isn’t a hard to read font so people can read the title and author name. The latter being something that is still fairly forgivable. I have come across major authors who had covers that were hard to read. I have come across top selling authors who have had covers I didn’t like at. all.

Readers are forgiving.

I didn’t care if I wanted to read the book.

My first DITB (Dark Illusions: The Beginning) book still sold plenty of books. That is something that you should commit to memory. When I had a cover for that first Dark Illusions that wasn’t crazy awesome, I still had plenty of sales and downloads. In some crazy ways, I think it did better with the basic cover.

Don’t get me wrong, if a cover wasn’t important, then I wouldn’t work so darn hard to make a nice cover. But that’s also my own perfection. I like to make my own covers, I like to do my own thing. I’m constantly tweaking my covers until something works and/or sticks. I may recycle covers later on to see which performs best, or which cover brings me the most fitting readers. As in, which cover draws the type of reader who best fits the book.

For instance, right now, I went with a more Thriller style (to me at least) cover versus the more Paranormal aspect. And a more simplistic style. (We’re still discussing the DI series.)

I’m prepared for people to cut the cover apart and critique whatever they don’t agree with. That’s fine. It’s what people like to do and you can’t stop that. People will bitch, they will complain, they will tear apart.

Human nature can be harsh.

Readers are forgiving.

They want your stories. They want your time producing new work, they don’t mind odd covers now and then. And what we see as bad right now, can later on (10 yrs., 20 yrs.) be seen as unique and stand out. Simple can be great now, later it can be horrific. Vice versa too.

I also remembered coming across a post that someone had done where they picked apart a good twenty (guesstimate because I can’t remember how many) covers of fellow authors. Don’t go out of your way to ever pick apart someone’s book cover so much in the public eye until you take time to email them straight out and ask if such and such [you didn’t like] was their intention.

You are doing both you and that author (or cover designer, or photographer) a disservice and you’re being a bit lazy. Fine, say you don’t like a cover, but don’t publicly pick apart a cover without asking if it was done in a certain way because it was meant for that. Not even reporters go on such little information.

I mention this because not only did I see that post from two different angles, but I’ve been there, and had someone pick apart a cover of mine a year or two ago, but they didn’t have all the facts straight. They wanted to use one of my covers as an example of how not to do covers, why you shouldn’t do them yourselves, and on and on. You know what the biggest problem was?

What they most had a problem with was something that I didn’t do as the creator of the cover. It was the original photo that I found and used, that they were tearing apart. It was the photographer and the manipulator of that photo who made it look that way, which had nothing to do with me so their entire argument? Was obsolete. They didn’t do their research.

I chose the photograph I used for that very purpose. I wanted it because it represented fire and the emotional thriller ride that the book went through. So it was chosen for that very reason.

When I discovered that post, they were late to the game anyway. I’d changed the cover because of another issue that they had, which was one that I noticed on my own. The font was not right. You make covers, you go through trial and error, you learn, you grow.

Because of their lack of research into my cover process, they were the ones who looked bad off, not myself. Maybe someone would’ve agreed with that individual’s view, but that’s the whole point of not having all of the information.

I’m only telling you this because I want you to see that picking apart another person’s work without the facts can make you look stupid. I know someone will pick apart my covers for my books, especially my purposely overdone The Shadow Room files. But I’m all right with that because I know they will, people do that, but it’s not them I want to please, now is it? I want my collection of Shadow Room files overdone. That’s the look I’m going for.

I fully admit that this is one choice that I made about making my covers on my own. One, I can change them more frequently. Two, I can get them done in my own time. Three, most important: I do them how I like them, and I will take the heat if someone doesn’t like the cover, nobody else has to.

When I make a cover how I want, I’m saying to my perfect reader out there: here I am. Here is a book that you have been waiting to read and you will enjoy this.

The perfect cover isn’t the cover that necessarily sells well (there is that to it), but the cover that draws the person to the book who is the perfect reader for that book.

Think about all those overdone Science Fiction novels. Those covers can get outrageous! And in a good way too. I think they are simply fabulous.

The perfect reader for that style of book isn’t Suzie who is walking down the aisle looking for a hunk on the cover. She’ll look at that overdone Sci-Fi cover and turn her little button nose up at it as she walks on by, hoping that no other moms are present to see her anywhere near that book.

The one she wants is the cover with the hunk sweeping the housewife off her feet. Sigh.

But then here comes Kona, who is absolutely crazy for aliens and crazy stuff. He looks at hunk and housewife cover and shudders, quickly scurrying past because yikes, right? Don’t let my friends see me in this aisle.

So when Kona sees that cover with all those tentacles flying about and something with red eyes lurking in the fog, he’s gonna grab that book and say yes! The new one from Mister Author God is out. Score!

The perfect reader for your book will be drawn to the cover you like.

It may or may not earn you massive sales. It may earn you a nice post on a website stating how NOT to do book covers.

It may earn you a post on a website stating how TO do covers.

If sales are your need, then spend your bucks and get the best cover your money can get – make sure the designer is good because I’ve seen expensive covers that I could do better for free.

But if your goal is to find that fan of yours who is crazy about your stories, don’t stress yourself out that bad to where you fear using a basic cover. I will share below, the “basic” cover that I used for DITB in the beginning.

But?

It not only sold well, it also gathered some of my best fans.

And that for me, is what I’m happy and grateful for. I absolutely love my fans. They are awesome people. Seriously. I used to look at fans of Stephen King and say to myself, wow, these people are intelligent, funny, and super kind, I would love to have fans like that.

Guess what? I have them!

Who could ask for better?

Here is the original cover that I first used. I read so many people saying not to use a font like that one, so I changed it. I may go back to it because who cares? I like the cover, I had many people who liked the cover. I made that cover. It’s a very simplified cover. It worked. And in fact I LIKE that font thank you very much. I think it’s Papyrus, don’t quote me there.

Made in September 2011
Made in September 2011

Also, I wanted to link to a post from someone who also mentions something like this. I found this post couple days ago (when I was still editing this post, getting it ready to post), and it’s from Hugh Howey. So perhaps you’ll listen to him say the same thing, and say to yourself, you don’t have to kill yourself to get a good cover. You can always update your covers and make new ones.

Write the story. Get a decent enough cover. Publish the book. Worry about the perfect cover later on.

Sidenote: If you can’t handle your cover and work being torn apart, think about finding someone to do a cover for you for cheap. You do need to prepare yourself for being taken apart. This isn’t a post to say don’t put effort into said cover, or slap a few things together and call it good.

This isn’t a post to say do it my way because my way is usually the opposite of the general public. I’m giving you another option.

If you do want to do your cover on your own, really give it some good thought. Think about what would best represent your story, think about the right font, the right colors, really give it some thought. Don’t ever mistake laziness for work.

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