Meme created by Erin Penn (Quote from James Maxey, art from unsplash.com)
Why go to conventions? For James Maxey, it’s seeing how they react to his book covers and book blurbs. Do people walk by his book covers or do they stop? If they pick up the book and flip it over, do they set it down again or juggle the book while pulling out their wallet? Conventions are his market research, the time he can connect with potential buyers and see them react to his product.
Over the next few days, I will be going through the site looking for memories or missed gems. I don’t know how many blogs are left but I will be looking at them all and saving as many as I can. I also don’t know when the administrators are going to cut it off, so I will be saving as much as I can. As for the existing (and future) Magical Word posts, while the site is up, I will continue to point to it. When the site comes down, I will upload the content to my Magical Words posts.
After a writer spends considerable time crafting the perfect story, years even, readers will judge the author’s book by its cover. Something the writer often has no control over.
One of the perks of being published by a big house is the writer may, MAY, get an outstanding cover made by a professional artist worth thousands of dollars. If s/he is lucky, they might, MIGHT, get to fill out a form letting the house know of a scene the writer thinks could work on the cover or provide details about the characters. This form could, COULD, be passed onto the artist. That is about the best a big-house writer can hope for. A cover, they didn’t pay for and had no control over which might have a semblance to story it binds.
Baen is exceptional in this process with some of their artists going as far as to read the book to find the perfect scene; Baen endeavors for a house feel via its covers. Basically one knows a Baen cover when you see it. Action-packed, great fonts and clear words for the authors names and book titles, always painted. As a medium-sized house, located outside the NY city ivory-tower publishing mentality, they do what they want. And they do what they want very well.
At a small house, the writer usually gets a cover supplied at the publishing house’s expense assembled by a part-time cover artist, most often an adjusted photograph from pay-for-use stock art sites. Typically these houses have forms for suggestions on covers and pass these onto the artist who turns something around in a week or two. Frequently, but not customarily (i.e. you may get this power but don’t be surprised if you don’t) the small houses give the author veto authority. Maybe even suggestion capability to tweak the cover.
Then there is the self-published, which is why I decided to write this blog post. About half the questions I get when talking to people wanting to dip their toes into the business is about how cover art works.
If a writer is self-publishing, the author hat needs to come off and the publisher hat needs to go on. Because cover-art is going to cost something and money will flow out. On the other hand, these authors have the greatest perk – sure they are paying for it – but they have artistic control over the biggest marketing aspect of their book, the cover.
I’m going to review these points from the perspective of my decisions on the cover for Honestly and future covers I might do.
First off, I do have a fairly good eye for design. I took some art in college to enhance my innate abilities and I don’t suck. I won’t make a living at it, but I know enough to be dangerous and (I hope) know my own limits. You can see some of my art on this website. If you notice, all of the art forms I work in deal with designing, concentrating on balance and color. That I can do and a very necessary skill set for designing cover art. What I can’t do is draw well; painting my own covers is not an option.
If you have not taken the time to develop an eye for design (which takes time – a lot of time) pay someone else for a cover and get more writing done.
Not having any budget for good cover art design.
I made Honestly’s cover using, dang I forget what major art program, either Illustrator or Photoshop. The problem is the licensing for the program has ran out. To restart will cost about $250 per year. To put this cost in perspective, I can get a pre-made cover for between $40 and $75 with the $75 version including a full-wrap OR I could get a CUSTOM cover with Facebook banner for $100 from the award winning artist Victoria Miller whom I worked with at Breathless Press (her prices will be increasing in 2018). Other writers have done well with a $40 budget on “The Book Cover Designer” and like sites.
Unless I want complete control over my cover art design, buying pre-made covers is not only a viable option, it is the most cost-effective and time-effective option. Making the Honestly cover took two days. When I made it, I had the art program for free therefore creating my own cover art made sense. Now, buying three custom covers or six pre-made covers is cheaper then replacing the art program, not counting the time of learning the new quirks of the program and paying for stock-art.
To make back a $40 cover will take 115 sales of a 99 cent book or 20 sales on a $2.99 book. A good cover should make 20 sales all by itself.
When purchasing your cover, verify you have the following rights (1) E-book cover art (the absolute minimum); (2) Cover art for paperback and hard cover; (3) Ability to make bookmarks, banners, and other permissions. Also see if you can get – you are going to pay extra for these – (1) permissions to manipulate the cover art for things like banners (crop wide) and bookmarks (crop long); (2) the art without the title words (makes rearranging things into banners and bookmarks easier); (3) the name of the font or a close font to write your own stuff over top; (4) full cover wraps (for the paperback and hard cover). A true bonus is if you can get permission for merchandising – expect to pay hundreds for this right – so you can make t-shirts and coffee mugs and other swag. Do not make t-shirts or any other merchandise unless you have paid for this right, Just like you don’t want people sharing entire chapters of your book for free, respect the artist’s right to control her work and make a living.
Back to the basic point. Set aside a $40 to $100 budget for a pre-made cover for your e-book or $100 to $300 for a custom cover and all the related warm-fuzzy rights.
2. Using the wrong image just because it looks “cool”
I’ve marked books down half a star in my reviews when the cover image is drastically different from the story within its covers. My most common type of mark down? The male on the romance cover does not match the hero inside. For example, a character described as having long dreadlocks throughout the manuscript has a military high and tight on the cover. Yes, the model for the cover was exceedingly hot and the reason why I bought the book, and the hero inside the story was also exceedingly hot. But the two hotnesses did not match.
Getting the right picture for Honestly proved challenging. Not many pictures are available of mongoloid-negroid mixes, especially of males, outside of Tiger Woods. I needed the man to have an ectomorph (lean) build since Troy contrasted with Dewayne’s mesomorph body. The tradeoff to have the perfect look for the guy is I ended up with a picture where the male is wearing a leather jacket, something Troy did not wear during the story since the happenings take place in late spring/early summer.
3. Using an image found everywhere
For my blog I use art from freedigitalphotos.net. I also draw from unsplash.com, a more complicated (but still free) stock art depository. These pieces of art are so big I often have to crop them. When using the art, I give the attribution.
The problem of “free” is anyone can use it. I’ve seen pictures from this freedigitalphotos used uncropped & unmodified for cover art on Amazon – often for more than one title. Freedigialphotos provides additional artwork for a fee, their “premium” service which pays for the free site as well as the pay site. Tapping into “premium” service can decrease the chances of the image being reused on other people’s covers.
And suddenly we are in expense again, if you are doing this on your own. You are paying for the uniqueness of the art, the fonts, and the program.
Cover artists already have all these things setup, lines into multiple photo stock arts where they can merge background images with models and props, a plethora of fonts begging for the perfect title, and several different art programs to use as needed. Plus skills worked over the years.
4. Shoddy editing and mismatched typography
Have you ever seen a PowerPoint where the maker went wild with the fonts available? The advice of limiting a slide to three fonts, including bold and italic variations, is a good one. Same is true for cover art. Every change to the font – color, size, thickness, etc. – makes the cover look that much more busy. And unless arranged for eye-flow, the font can stall the eye, make it jump wrong, and destroy the beauty of the cover art. The font for title and author can create a headache when done wrong.
When buying art (either a full cover from an artist or creating your own), watch the pixels. You want enough that when your ebook takes off, you can blow up the cover for hard-copy versions.
Otherwise you will be starting the cover art process all over again. Which may or may not be desirable. Art aimed at appearing good in a thumbnail (Honestly’s creation only had thumbnails in mind with just my name, the title and a single, simple picture), may not ever work blown up for a full print. One of my favorite series, Fugue & Fable, written by Darin Kennedy has cover art which is amazing on the books, and not so hot in the e-book thumbnail. The title and author is in thin small font. The double face shadow gets lost as it shrinks.
Depending on your budget and long-term plans, think about the scalability (up and down) of your cover.
My comprise to make scaling up better for Honestly was to add a great deal of texture to the background. The diagonal texture adds detail and enhances the eye-flow. After reading the dark title left to right, the color variation and texture both draw the eye across again to the picture of Troy sliding down him to the bottom. The eye then darts to the side with the white text of the author name, bringing the eye up to read the title and starting the eye-flow around in the Z-pattern again. (And that is eye-flow folks, in case you wondered what the art term meant. The art, by its nature, pulls the eye through the piece.)
5. Too much text on the cover
Okay, so this isn’t “Will it stand the test of time?” I’m writing pulp; max I care about is ten years. On the other hand, having too much text on the cover is a classic mistake of new cover creation. People want their name, the title of the book, the title of the book series, the publishing company’s imprint, a quote, a comment from their best review, and the most recent award they won on the cover. Oh, and the artwork. All to be visible in a thumbnail.
If you hire an artist and they tell you “it’s too much”, listen.
Which route should you go?
Should you hire an artist for a custom cover, create your own cover, or buy a pre-made cover?
Remember readers buy you book based on the cover. Readers recommend your book based on what is between the covers. The core marketing in the self-published market is Cover and Word-of-Mouth.
What is your skill set? What do you want to spend your time doing? What will produce the best response from potential readers? Think on these questions and the long hours at the keyboard you spent getting your book to the point it needs a cover. And good luck.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Starry-eyed teens in love with writing, new writers with a nearly finished manuscript at home, and people flashing and shorting their way to their first anthology all have something in common. They need to define when they succeed.
Writing is a tough business. Most success is measured in money. By that measure, few writers ever succeed.
When I talk to people interested in writing, I tell them to define their success now. Record it.
Otherwise when moving up in the publishing world they will continue to compare success to the level (or levels) above where they are, never seeing the success of the journey they made. The object of recording a first level of success is celebrating when reaching it, then setting another one – like graduation from high school then moving on to a first job or college.
Success in the writing world for a beginner isn’t about huge stacks of cash or being a best seller on the New York Times list. That is like telling a T-baller to shoot for the Hall of Fame, ignoring the millions of other T-ballers and the hundreds of other success levels between. If you only care about the fame and fortune, find a different aspiration.
What goals would be a good first success? It depends on the person. For some, the writing goal is to complete a story, others is acceptance by a publishing company – any company, others it is having a real book with their name on the spine, others it is selling one book to someone else, and still others having a book signing is when they feel the success. Once a goal is clearly defined, choosing a path between self-published and traditional becomes clearer, or whether publication is needed at all.
Remember other people’s goals and success is not yours. For someone, they may want to make a living to be successful, but that might not be you. Getting a single book completely written, sold, edited, and published is pretty awesome.
Don’t be afraid to aim low. Taking a step on a staircase isn’t self-defeating – trying to jump up to the third story in one leap is.
Figure out what your goal is.
I’ve posted some of mine over the years. Starting a blog. Completing a self-published book. Setting up a website. Being a guest at a convention. Getting published by someone else. Participating in an anthology. Each goal isn’t big, but I have reached them. Future goals include getting more books published, getting into more anthologies, and editing a best-seller.
WRITING EXERCISE: Create one simple goal to reach for this year. Does it depend on stuff entirely under your control or do others have an impact on it? Example: submitting to five anthologies is under your control, being accepted by one isn’t. Although, one (being accepted by an anthology) isn’t going to happen without the submission. Define your simple goal with activities entirely under your control; you can add a bonus for results requiring responses of others to your activities.
Specialization is a thing, folks. When looking at budgets during self-publishing, temptation rises to #doallthethings. Realize for anything thing you do other than writing mean YOU ARE NOT WRITING. If someone else can do it faster, better, spending money (with your publisher hat on as I describe under my Yog’s Law post last year) is a real option. Especially for other true specialties like cover art and editing.
You may want to juggle all the ideas, but, when it comes down to it, the best marketing is having books for people to come across. This mean writing should be primary in a writer’s career.