hog the covers

So you’ve written your novel, and picked POD as your method of publication. You’ve got your book all nicely edited and formatted in whatever size/shape you’ve picked – be it trade paperback or a hard cover. You have a nice teaser for the back, to entice readers, and you’re ready to take the plunge.

Hang on, wait a sec . . . What about the cover?

This is my second favorite part about writing – – creating the cover. It wasn’t, at first. I hated it. I had grand ideas but no ability to properly bring them to fruition. And while I believe I’ve grown in huge strides and can now turn out a fantastic cover – you may think otherwise. Eye of the beholder and all that jazz, yanno. But I’ve grown and learned a lot in one year, so I’m pretty happy.

One thing that helped was looking at other covers. Not just looking at them, because we all look at book covers all the time, right? Our bookshelves are filled with books that have covers, we spend hours in bookstores and libraries, where covers abound. We look at books. We should know this. How hard can it be?

Pretty damn hard, at first. For some of us anyway.

It’s one thing to look at covers, quite another to really analyze them and allow yourself to see what works and what doesn’t. Even a favorite, beloved title might have a cover that really sucks. Chances are you never really noticed, but we all know not only is judging a book by it’s cover wrong – it’s also common. And nothing screams SELF PUBLISHED NOVEL quite like a really pathetic cover.

I know, because I’ve made them.

You’ll find a few blogs who do cover art comparisons. They’ll show two or sometimes three covers and have people vote on their favorite. Looking at covers side by side this way helped me see subtle differences in what was catching my eye and what wasn’t. But reading other people’s opinions is what really taught me a lot.

It’s not just about artwork that properly conveys the feel and mood of the novel inside, but the text, font, even color and placement play a large role. One of my own pet peeves are covers that have the author’s name not only above the book’s title, but printed in a larger font. They’re not to blame, unless they’ve POD’d this themselves, it’s their publisher who made the cover art call. But come on, people! It’s not about the author, it’s about the story.

Remember that. It’s not about you, it’s about what the reader is about to find between that front and back cover. It’s about the story you’re telling, the tale you’ve woven. The world and wonders inside. Your cover art is the one chance you have to visually explain what you’ve written. To catch someone’s eye, and get them to pick up the book and read the back copy. A beautifully done cover will at least garner you a pickup or double take, a crappy one won’t even get noticed.

And remember, a novel about space pirates really won’t benefit from a photo of your cat.

Especially if you’re gonna try to charge $24.95 for it. (but that’s a topic for another day)

You’d think the hardest part was creating the perfect artwork, but really that’s only part of the battle. Where things got educational for me was the text, not just the right font/color/shading, but the placement. You want the observer’s eye to flow over your cover and drink it in, not get stuck on one glaring huge thing or lost in a sea of white space. Personally I prefer the title of the novel near the top, or at least the most prominent of the lettering, with the author name nearer the bottom and approximately half the size, in the same font/color.

You’ll definitely want a nice healthy selection of font styles, so you can pick the right font for the right novel. The style will really help set the tone and should match or at least not take away from the art. Eventually you’ll probably develop a smaller handful of fonts that you use, but in my case, I needed a wide swath of selection to get myself started. Nothing says ‘newbie’ quite like a Victorian script font on a piece of military fiction. Or accidentally picking a font from one of the Star Trek incarnations because you’re not such a geek that you would have known, you just thought it looked cool.

Don’t be afraid to cover up your artwork with your title. And conversely, don’t be afraid to minimize your title in favor of setting the tone with your art. Sometimes less is more. And along that thinking, don’t be afraid to go minimalist entirely. You can make a bold statement with little or not art at all, but that’s risky if you don’t have a dramatic and engaging novel to go with it. There’s an expectation you’re creating with the image, or lack thereof, and you don’t want the cover to scream Blank Space Here.

This is where those of us who are doing it all ourselves have an advantage over the others. Sure, many of them ended up with a cover they loved, that really did their novel justice. But just as many had no input, no voice, and most of all no choice in the cover their publisher picked for the book. I think most of us have a vision while we’re writing the novel, an idea in our heads as we daydream about the perfect cover. As an Indie, it’s all on you to produce it. It’s your vision, your novel, and your cover. It’s also your credit when it works, and your fault if it stinks.

Maybe you have a few friends who are graphic artists – maybe you’re talented with a brush or pixel yourself. Do up a few covers, show your writing group, show your friends, get their input. And don’t be afraid to try different things, experiment until you get a cover that wows you.

Months ago I was convinced I had the perfect idea for the cover of my soon-to-be-released novel In The Time Of Dying. I’d had this image in my head the entire time I was writing the book, then started to experiment and play around. After creating two samples I showed my friends – and got mixed reviews. But I loved it, so I kept it.

Then a month or so later, I had another notion, and played with that – made two slightly different samples and got one vote for each! Well, I figured that was good enough. I was pretty happy.

The final cover I’m using wasn’t anywhere NEAR either of those!

So play around. Experiment. Make several different covers, then get your friends to vote, make suggestions. Find out what’s working and what isn’t. Take the time to do the best you can, and put in as much effort as you did with the story itself. Agonize over it, become obsessed by it, let thoughts of it take over your mind like — ahem, sorry, that’s what I do. Your mileage may vary.

Power to the People!

Make Love, not War!

Baroque; when you run out of Monet.

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