By Evangeline Jennings
Today in our continuing birthday celebrations, we talk about book covers.
Don’t judge a book by the cover?
We all do. It’s so obviously true that we should save some time by pretending that I’ve written three or four paragraphs of acute and irrefutable analysis that includes several good jokes, a quote from EM Forster, and each of the following truisms:
- You never get a second chance to make a first impression
- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
- You get what you pay for
Agreed? Good. Now.
Pick a genre, any genre, go look at the covers of the current best seller in that genre. See what they (nearly) all have in common. That’s probably what you should aim for if you are self-publishing a book in that genre. Unless you want to take a chance, or you have a very clear vision of how you want your book to look.
Take thrillers, purely as an example. They put the brand first. Sandra Brown. David Baldacci. John Sandford. Stephen King. The names leap off the cover. Next the title. Everything else is misty background that hints at suspense and is virtually interchangeable. So if you want to self-publish your own thriller, this is what you need:
- A solid block font for your name and the title. Perhaps a slab serif font like ChunkFive or a serif like Bebas. If you are famous, your name goes large. If you’re me, the title does.
- A lighter secondary font for any kind of blurb and/or spiel
- A blurry background picture that sets off your name and title juts so
Easy. Peasy. Lemon. Squeezy.
But how to get that cover? You’re a writer, not a designer, and your computer whiz nephew is off at Space Camp. What to do?
You have a few alternatives.
Commission a designer.
As always Google is your friend, but it might be best to ask around and take a personal recommendation. My personal recommendation? Spend a couple of hours on DeviantArt. The amount of talent there is ridiculous and prices are austerity-friendly. If you don’t spot someone you want to commission, then place an advert in the Job Offers forum.
Buy a pre-made cover.
Web sites that offer this service abound. Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $150. Any more than that and you are being ripped off. But only buy a cover that is guaranteed to be sold just once once. Unless you think it would be fun to share your cover with six other books.
Use your publisher’s online cover-making utility
If they have one. Simple, easy, but they all look more or less the same and offer less than stunning flexibility in terms of font and text placement.
Do it yourself.
The hardest but most fulfilling option. This is my approach. Why? It’s more fun, I’m perpetually broke, and it seemed like a good idea at a time. It’s not for everyone, but if you are a wee bit geeky and able to put the hours in, why not try? It needn’t cost a penny.
Here are the tools I used.
- Gimp – a great open source (free) graphics tool. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to teach you how to use it.
- Google – to research Gimp, other people’s book covers, technical gotchas, and inspiration
- Fontsquirrel – free font utopia
- CreateSpace templates – to make sure your cover actually works. Make sure to pick the one for the right trim size. Obviously, if you are publishing through someone other than CreateSpace, get their templates instead
I also pushed my luck. When I found a marvelous original photograph, I hummed and hawed for a few weeks and then tracked down the photographer, Beat Eisele in Switzerland. When I asked him if there was any way I could use his photograph as the basis of the book cover, I was expecting, at best, a polite rebuff or maybe a request for more cash than I could afford. Imagine my delight when he said he would be happy for me to use his photograph in return for two copies of the finished book – one for him, one for Verena, the very lovely model featured. Game on.
Helping other artists comes back to you sometimes, sooner or later. Karma and fate.
– Beat Eisele
Before I got this very generous gift from Beat, I had been working on a few other possible ideas. This unused advert shows the initial concept – merging a still of an old Crown Vic logo with the silhouette of a busty friend.
Then we considered applying a consistent look and feel to our all book covers, based on the idea that we were going to be a Record Label for Books, and the cover concept changed.
The idea was that all our “releases” would have covers that followed this format and that only the catalog number – at the bottom of the picture – and the square, record-cover type art would change. At the time, we were quite happy with this concept, so when I received permission to use Beat’s photograph, my immediate reaction was to slip it into that same template.
However, even though I relocated the text to make the most of the the photograph, I quickly decided that this setting didn’t do Beat or Verena justice. So I played around with other options, crops, and lettering choices. In the end I came up with two different covers, one for the ebook and one for the paperback.
In both cases, I decided to crop the photograph to achieve what I considered to be the best representation of our book – leather, tattoos, flesh, car, big gun, and the touch of mystery that comes with not showing a face, no matter how pretty – the whole thing reeks of sex and danger. And also to create the best platform for the necessary wording.
So how well did I do? I don’t know. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, remember. But I have had one reviewer tell me that not only did she love the book, but she is going to buy the paperback because “the cover is just too good for me to be satisfied with the digital version”. And that will do for me.
One final word, there is no character in Cars and Girls who looks half as hot as Verena does on our cover. But she has absolutely inspired the girl in a TransAm who will be appearing in the second volume, More Songs About Cars and Girls.
Gratuitous Cover Version