How Smart Authors Achieve Standout Covers
The first cover I designed for a full-length book was incredibly rewarding, both in lessons and in outcome. But perhaps the most telling phase was when I got my client on the phone and suggested that we scroll through Amazon together to get a feel for which cover elements—colors, typography size and style, graphics—grabbed her attention and which ones turned her away. This exercise, I knew, would give me direction in designing a concept for her particular cover, one that would make both her and her target audience happy.
What I didn’t anticipate was how quickly her impressions would be made. Within seconds, I heard: “I hate that one,” “That one’s okay, but … (fill in the blank),” “That one’s really cool,” “That one’s BOR-ING,” and so on. Wow, I thought, I never timed my first impression of a book cover before, but I realized that for me too, it was instant. I've bought many books because I first loved the cover … then read the description to find the content appealed to me too.
Now, let’s be honest: art is subjective no matter how you slice it. Colors are subject to personal opinion; photos can delight or diminish, depending on the observer. There is no creating a piece of art that everyone will love, and a book cover is indeed a piece of art.
So how does a self-publishing author go about creating the best cover for their book?
My recommendation: (Megaphone, please) Hire a professional. And not merely a graphic designer, but someone who has a firm understanding of your content and your target market. Let's face it: If you want to earn some revenue from your passion and toil, not only is it vital that your cover reflect your material well, but it’s also paramount to engage your audience. And because you should know your audience better than anyone else, you must take responsibility for conveying their characteristics and needs to your designer.
But wait, you ask. What about those fill-in-the-template book cover generators I can do myself?
My advice? Run fast in the opposite direction! I've honestly rarely seen a cover created with one of those yet that didn’t look … for lack of a more sophisticated word … cheesy, really, and it breaks my heart for the author—and the literary marketplace—every time. Even if the photo placement or layout is actually decent, typography is a vital element of great cover design, and those templates simply don’t allow for it. Trite, basic typography is a self-published book's dead giveaway. And I don't mean it has to be ornate—simplicity can be a challenge too; it's all about having the expertise to achieve it the right way.
Bottom line: Writers aren't expected to also have design expertise, so abandon the notion now that you're supposed to do it all as a self-publishing author. You, the publishing world, and your readers will be better off for it!
So what should a self-publishing writer do to achieve excellent cover design?
Look, I know budget may be an issue, and I completely understand that. I also know you may be overwhelmed by finding the perfect person to create a first-rate cover for you. I just want to urge you not to skimp when it comes to your cover (or any part of your book’s production for that matter, but we’re talking about covers, so I won’t digress …).
Remember that first impression we talked about? Your cover is IT. You should be able to hold your book in your hand, turn it over and back to the front, and say: “Wow. This looks like I bought it from a real bookstore. No one would EVER think it was self-published.” (Did I say not to skimp?)
Because I know this is what every author dreams of but likely doesn’t know how to achieve, I want to come to your rescue! When preparing for the vital phase of cover design, here is your friendly book doctor’s prescription for success:
Do Your Homework (this is fun, I promise!)
• Go to a local bookstore (I hope you still have one!) and spend some time in the section(s) of your genre. Take notes on covers that draw you and those that don’t and why. Your intention is not to copy anyone’s exact cover elements; rather it’s to gather inspiration for your designer and develop a strong feel for what you believe will reach your audience well. Make a list of the titles you love the most and why (and while you’re at it, make sure your book hasn’t already been done in the exact same way … remember, you have to stand out to sell!).
• Do a search on Amazon for books in your genre. What are the bestsellers? Which ones give you a great first impression on the screen? Jot down specific titles for your designer to look at and your notes for what you like and don’t.
• Do you feel strongly about a color scheme for your cover? Write it down.
• Do you envision a particular image or photo? If you don’t own the perfect pic, search out some you can legally and ethically use without copyright or that you can purchase for commercial use. Keep track of the sites and links where you found them.
Seek out Your Ideal Professional Book Cover Designer
• Ask other self-published writers—whose books have truly professional cover design—who they recommend.
• Conduct a Google search online and investigate each potential match thoroughly.
• Use a resource such as http://selfpublishingteam.com’s directory of providers.
• Try submitting a job proposal with a site like www.Elance.com or www.99designs.com—just watch for those who bid way below the competitive rate; if it seems too good to be true ($25-$200 for a full cover layout), it more than likely is. And be sure to look for a robust profile with nice credentials and portfolios for Elance providers.
• Email providers with questions; schedule a phone conversation if possible to assess their personality, as well as their level of expertise, experience, and commitment/connection to your project. If the person isn’t friendly or prompt getting back to you, that could be a red flag to heed.
Having done your homework and being armed with great notes for the designer/service you hire, you can expect a much better result for your book’s cover. And a more professional, audience-targeted cover that rivals a traditional house equals more credibility for you as the author … more draw to your book from readers … and more sales for YOU!
How’s that for benefits worth their weight in your investment?
Need some advice or want to talk about your book cover project? Schedule a 30-minute complimentary phone chat with me by reaching out here: [email protected] I'd love to help you bring a fabulous cover for your book to beautiful fruition!
Stay tuned for my next post: “Show Me the Money!” where I'll share just what self-pub vs. traditional pub royalties look like.
In the meantime, I send love and best wishes on your book project!
Please share in the comment box below if you've ever bought a book solely because you were drawn to the cover (and which one!)… and if you think this article has value for others, please share it on Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter. Thanks so much!
Write from the heart,
Stacey Aaronson is a professional Book Doctor who takes self-publishing authors by the hand and transforms their manuscript into the book they've dreamed of—from impeccable editing and proofreading to engaging, audience-targeted cover and interior design—rivaling or exceeding a traditional house publication.
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