It's that time of the process again. I've nearly signed off on the final proof of my cover for SHADOWS OF MADNESS, the sixth and last book of the Marshall House Mysteries. As a self published author I have final say in how my covers will look. That can bring about great excitement but also great trepidation.
It's often said, you can't judge a book by it's cover, but I could argue, that's not true, at least not when it comes to actual books. Readers do judge books by their covers and that's why it behoves any author to ensure they've put their best cover forward.
A cover is a book's most valuable advertising piece. It sets a tone for the story and gives readers a sneak peak into what they can expect. A bad cover can cause an otherwise brilliant book to sit on a shelf unread. When it's time for me to acquire another cover, I remind myself of a few simple rules for choosing a cover and working with my designer.
1) Before you start, look online at other published books in your genre. See what covers look like for books that are performing well. Obviously, it's performance is relative to how well the story is written but sales can also be indicative of how eye-catching the cover is. Make a note of elements you like on certain covers. Create a Pinterest board to keep notes and keep all your favourite cover styles in one easy to view place.
2) If you don't have a regular go-to designer yet, scope out the internet for premade covers. Premade covers are (sometimes) less expensive and are easy to evaluate. Signing on with an untested artist for a cover may turn out disastrous (as it did for me once) and you could end up losing a lot of money if the proofs they provide are horrible. Avoid signing any contracts for a custom cover with a artist you haven't worked with before. Instead chose a premade cover where all the design elements are visible and rest assured that the cover you have selected is what you will get. Self publishing is a big money maker for those looking to cash in and unscrupulous people often advertise themselves as having more skills than they actually do (this goes for editing as well). If you've signed a contract and provided a down payment/deposit you may be out of luck when the proofs they provide are not AT ALL what you were expecting. Buyer beware.
3) When evaluating a cover check for these things:
use of colour (are the colours used pleasing to the eye. Look for complementary colours -red/green, blue/orange. yellow/purple. Remember, if a colour is used on one part of the cover, such as in a title or even a small detail, that same colour must appear somewhere else as well. Otherwise that element will stick out and look like it doesn't belong)
use of composition and balance (watch where your eyes go. It should flow across the image like a backwards S, starting at the top left hand side, your eye should move down into the centre of the page, circle around and stay there. It doesn't matter if the title and author name are on the top or at the bottom of the page but the image should look balanced. I would also advise against using any model who has their back to the reader unless there is something else interesting to look at like a detailed dress/corset, extravagant hair style or complicated weaponry.
4) If you decide your ready for a custom cover with a trusted, proven artist, remember communication is key to a happy transaction. Show them your Pinterest boards, give them ideas but allow them to chose what works best visually. If you don't like something say so. It's your cover after all but remember working with artists can be emotional (I should know, I'm an artist myself) so make sure you praise your designer sometimes. Tell them what elements you like before asking for changes or tweaks. Always keep the communication professional and respectful.
5) Pay them on time! Some contracts require all up front, others are good when half and half while others are cool to accept it all in one instalment at the end. The process you both decide on doesn't matter (though I would caution you to never pay all up front) as long as you respect their time and talents. Just like you like to be paid promptly so do they, especially when they've already committed a substantial amount of time to your project.
6) Make sure you give yourself lots of time to find and/or design your cover, especially if you intend to offer your book up for preorders. It's not your artist's fault if you are under pressure. This is not something you want your designer (or editor) to rush on. By the time you are nearing the end of the first draft you should have an idea what you want for your cover, if not then you are already behind.
Did I miss anything? Any tips you'd like to offer your fellow writers? Leave a comment below.