Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Judging a book by its cover

I know, we were all taught in school not to judge books by their covers. But honestly, don't you pick up books that catch your eye with a great cover?

I'm brainstorming ideas for the cover of an upcoming book right now, which mostly means searching stock photo websites such as iStockphoto and Dreamstime to find pictures that catch my eye. It's a young adult contemporary coming of age romance--a companion book to The Boyfriend Thief. So I know what kind of feel I want the cover to have, but I'm not sure exactly what I want the cover to look like.

I studied graphic design in college and I worked as a graphic artist for the twelve years. So working on my own book covers when I decided to start self-publishing felt natural to me. If you aren't comfortable working with Photoshop or don't feel that you have a good idea for design, I highly recommend hiring someone else to do your covers if you can. I even consider hiring someone to do my cover with each book I release. I go through a long process of creating and rejecting a bunch of mock ups before I finally settle on one I like. Most of the time, I think, "Wouldn't it be easier if someone else did this for me???"

But still, I've done my own covers so far. I may very well hire someone else in the future, but at the moment I'm working on my own. Even if you do hire someone to create yours, it can be helpful to the designer if you have some idea of what you like. Here are some tips for creating book covers:

  1. Know the tone of the story. A dark, gothic cover isn't going to fit with a book that's written in a humorous, upbeat voice, no matter how beautiful the cover is. You're also likely to confuse readers because they will go into the book with different expectations than what you're actually delivering. The cover of The Boyfriend Thief is much brighter and quirkier than the cover of Surfacing, because the two books have two completely different tones.
  2. Stick with a limited number of fonts. Take a look at some of your favorite books and see how many different fonts are used on the covers. One? Two? Three? You may come across three different fonts on one cover, but almost never more than that. Too many font variations are distracting and will create a cluttered look.
  3. Make sure the graphics and title are large and clear enough to be read in thumbnail size. Check out the Also Bought bar on a book on Amazon.com. Your cover needs to look good at that smaller size so it can catch the eye of potential readers as they browse for new books.
  4. Make sure the cover looks good in black and white. I use an e-ink Kindle 3. I love it because it doesn't bother my eyes to read on it for long periods like backlit screens do. However, everything is grayscale on my Kindle. So I always load my ebooks onto my Kindle before publishing to make sure the cover looks good without the colors and then make any adjustments necessary. You can fake this by changing your image to grayscale in Photoshop (or whatever software you're using).
  5. Make sure the fonts you choose are licensed for commercial use! I love finding new fonts on sites such as dafont.com, but I always make sure to check the terms of use on ones I'm interested in. I have been disappointed to find some fonts I liked marked as personal use only. Some fonts require a one time fee to use commercially, but I've found that most of the time, this fee is really low.
  6. Collect pictures of book covers you like for inspiration. You can't copy a cover (that's a huge no no!), but you can take inspiration from covers. Like the smoky look of one cover? Try creating a smoky look of your own. Like the splash of an accent color on another cover? Try using an accent color in your own cover. As a graphic artist, most of my work was creating online advertisements or websites, so I would always ask the client to send me links to sites they liked or screenshots of advertisements that caught their eye. This was always very helpful when they could provide me with examples of things they liked. If you're working with a cover designer, ask them if it would be helpful if you provided examples of covers you like best so they'll have an idea of your style. Some may appreciate this, or others may prefer to develop ideas on their own. If you're designing the cover yourself, this step will help you figure out what elements attract you in a book cover.
As for this cover I'm working on? I'm still brainstorming. I haven't quite gotten the right look yet, but it'll come eventually.

Or else maybe it'll drive me crazy enough to finally hire someone else to do it!

Do you design your own covers? If you do, do you have any additional tips for creating them? If you hire someone, feel free to recommend a good designer!

No comments:

Post a Comment