A few months ago the lovely Laura Drake emailed me and said “I’ve got this book coming up, what do you think of the cover I am designing for it?”
Ooh, tricky thing here. You see, if you ask me my opinion on something, I will give it. Even if it’s negative. Especially if it’s negative, if it is about something that matters. And to me, anything that has to do with selling one’s books matters. I will always use tact, but I’ll still be honest. And, so, I was. Luckily Laura still loves me. After giving my honest opinion, I offered to help her out with the design. Once it was all done, she asked me to do this post for you guys discussing that all important question: “Just because you CAN make your own book cover, should you?”
Before we get into the pros and cons of hiring a designer, let’s first talk about the purpose of a book cover. Is it to tell the whole story in one picture? Is it to depict a certain scene? Is it to give an accurate depiction of the main characters? The answer to all of the above is a loud and clear NO.
The purpose of a book cover is to catch a reader’s attention. That’s it, plain and simple. The cover is the bait that brings the reader in to nibble on (read) the blurb, and then the blurb (back copy, description—whatever you want to call it) needs to be tasty enough to hook them so that they click that “buy” button.
You want your cover to be interesting and professional, fit the genre, and most importantly, intrigue the reader so that they take a closer look. When they are scrolling through Amazon, or their social media feeds, you want your cover to jump out at them and say, “Come read my blurb, you might want to buy me.”
So the question is…can you create that? Designing a cover that catches the eye is much more than just slapping a title on a picture. It may not seem like it with some of the covers you see, but there was probably a great deal more done to that picture of the couple kissing than you think.
But I don’t want to give you a long lecture on the aspects of design. Nor do I want to say “Oh, you should never ever do your own cover.” The purpose of this post is more to give you food for thought, and to help you make the decision of when you might need a cover artist.
So, let’s just go right into picking Laura’s cover apart. (I’m glad this was her idea, or I’d be feeling nervous right now.) First I want to show you the two covers side by side.
As you can see, the one designed by Laura isn’t awful. It’s perfectly “adequate”. (This was a mockup before she purchased the stock image of the guy, which is why it is still watermarked.)
So, adequate yes. It does the job, it’s a book cover. But it could be so much better. When she showed it to me, I sincerely felt like it would not do her story justice. I’ve pointed out some of the problems I found in the cover.
To sum up:
- The title was “okay.” But it was small, and the plain white just didn’t “pop” out and catch the attention.
- The colors in the background were muddy and dark, and the guy just kind of fades into them.
- There are bits and pieces of the image background still stuck around the guy. Laura had no idea how to get them off. That is a sure sign that a cover wasn’t professionally done, and could put readers off.
- There is a gun in the guys pocket. It has nothing to do with the story, but Laura had no idea how to get rid of it or hide it.
I talked to Laura a bit about the book, what she wanted in the cover. I took several different elements and blended them together to get the effect we wanted. Here’s what went into the final cover:
First, she absolutely wanted that guy, so I took out his background, and cloned away the gun. Then we decided on a more colorful background (the story takes place on a ranch in the Texas desert). Then using two different fonts and a colorful gradient I made the title large enough to draw the eye.
What we came up with was a cover that catches the eye, is accurate for the genre (cowboy romance), and makes a reader take a closer look. Laura could not have done this on her own.
So how do you know when to do it yourself, and when to hire someone?
Well, when you looked at the cover Laura designed, did you see the issues with it? Could you have fixed them on your own? Did you even KNOW they were issues? If you said no to any of these, you probably need a designer’s help.
Does that mean you can’t ever make your own cover? Of course it doesn't. But keep in mind, even though a professionally designed cover is more expensive, it might be an expense worth paying. The key is to look at what you’ve created, and then go look at the top selling books in the genre. Be honest with yourself about your skills. Can your cover compare to those? Does it LOOK professional? Or does it look like someone used GIMP to throw it together?
It’s hard to be honest with yourself about something like that, but trust me, you and your story are worth it. Because the whole goal here is to give the thing that matters most it’s best chance…and that’s your book. As much as we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, readers DO. And if you don’t have a decent cover, they may never make it to the goodness inside.
There’s so much more to talk about with covers, that I’ll be doing another post about it my next time on WITS. So, stay tuned.
Do you make your own book covers and graphics? What tools do you use? What do you notice most about book covers?
Laura here - I can't tell you how easy it was, working with June. Highly recommend ABE's services. Oh! And Cowboy Karma is part of The Anthology, When Things Got Hot in Texas, and is available for only a few days more at $.99!
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June Stevens Westerfield is author of romantic fiction. She has been in the publishing field one way or another for over decade. She has helped launch several small publishing houses, worked in acquisitions, editing, cover art, web design, as a blogger, radio host, and assisted many authors in their self-publishing journeys. Her particular expertise is in design and branding.
On a personal note, when not writing or working for ABE, she designs greeting cards. She has a wonderful husband, a brilliant stepson, 6 fur-children, purple hair, and a chronically filthy house.
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Author Branding Essentials is dedicated to offering comprehensive author centric branding and design services at competitive prices. As an Author, your name is your brand. Building your Author Brand is key to success. Many agents encourage authors to begin building that brand long before they are published. At Author Branding Essentials we understand the unique criteria it takes to build an author brand, versus another type of business. We can help you decide on the best options for your author brand and help you implement them.