Going Indie For Dummies 3 -Signals and Sophistication
UPDATE: If your cover calls for paintings or drawings one easy way is Filter Forge, and Tiffany Gray just posted this in one of my groups: I know folks were talking about filter forge, and I don’t know if Sarah ever got her update or not, but, Giveawayoftheday.com has Filter Forge 4 Proffessional for free for the next 24 hrs (Give or take a few) and then after you register, Filter Forge has an offer to upgrade to FF5 for $69. So, for those who were waiting. (Which is even $20 cheaper than their current sale going on
Today we’re going to talk about covers. We could talk about sealing ships and wax, but I’ve only had one cup of Deathwish coffee, so covers it is. (YAY.)
When I first went to the Oregon workshop about indie, back in the early days of ebooks, in 2011 — this was when Smashwords was still a leading player in ebooks — we were told to just use any covers. Photographs, something that vaguely represented the story. The big thing then was to make sure you had the right aspect, because many people publishing didn’t.
This was also the old days of formatting when you either coded the ebook by hand or you zipfiled it and put it through the coverter. It worked, but it produced powerfully ugly books.
As I said pre-history, but things have changed since then. I started out making covers with almost random pictures, and some lettering in the first font that hit my eye.
And then the sales dropped, and I started looking and comparing with other covers. I ended up taking the wmg cover design workshop (highly recommended) and most of what I have to impart now comes from this. Most, except for where I’m special needs.
Where I’m special needs is at learning from principles laid out or from explanations. Cedar has done posts on covers where she lays out design principles. I’m fairly sure she’s not writing them in Mandarin Chinese, but that’s how I’m reading them. I bought design books too. You know what, a cow can stare at a palace, but it won’t learn masonry. It’s sort of like that with me and these abstract explanations.
But something had to be done about my covers and I’ll explain later this One Simple Trick, I found ;).
First let’s get to basics about covers and dispel some of the myths I see y’all come up with.
First and most importantly, no, the cover isn’t about your book.
You might think it is, but you’d be wrong. The cover is not meant to faithfully display a scene from your book. It doesn’t matter if the spaceships in your book aren’t the color they are in the cover. No one cares.
The cover is a marketing vehicle pure and simple, which is why we’re talking about it before we talk of editing or other things to make your book better. If you have the cover, you can put it at the end of blog posts like this and get people to pre-order your book, while you’re taking care of the other biddiness (Unless you’re like me and paranoid and need to have the prepared manuscript on hand before you put it on preorder.)
So forget all that stuff about having your hero looking just like he does in the book, which is why you need to hire an artist for ten thousand dollars and… No. that’s not how book covers work.
SECOND Yes, the cover should be an accurate representation of your book.
Wait a minute, didn’t I just tell you?
Yeah, I did, but what you need to think about is what you’ll accurately represent. That is, the cover isn’t a representation of what you wrote, it’s a series of signals. And those signals should signify first of all genre.
Seriously, if your book is science fiction/space opera reminiscent of Bujold which one communicates it better (and as apologies to friend for using her cover — but she’s driving me nuts not allowing me to do new ones and I’m being a bitch — I’ll link her book on Amazon) this:
And yes, the lower one is slightly amateurish, because I was doing it with free images from Pixabay, just to show her what I COULD do.
BUT which one communicates “I am a space opera book with nobility in various planets?” to you, precisely.
(And yes, she’s going to be very mad at me, but both covers link to buy her book.)
The thing is that her cover was fine in the early days of indie publishing, but now we’re all trying to look like the big guys and that means looking at covers in your subgenre and imitating them. Why? Because people who scan thumb nails are looking for “looks like my genre” and “not hideously amateurish.”
Take heart though, most cover design in traditional houses unless it’s for a front liner is done by someone with a degree in English who just started interning last week. And that’s what you’re aiming for, not the truly artistic stuff they slap on bestsllers. And that’s doable.
3- It doesn’t matter if you like it. Seriously. I keep getting people saying “I don’t think this cover is very pretty” or “Why did you make the photograph look like a painting. It was better as a photograph.”
This is not about your aesthetic judgement, but about sending signals to the buying public. I don’t care if your photograph is the equivalent of the Mona Lisa of the photographic world (which it might be if you twist Oleg Volk’s arm) and the drawing the mainstream publishers are using for their cozy mysteries is obviously a collection of GIFS badly assembled. The reader is looking for — mostly subconscious — signals that the book is the same kind he read and enjoyed in the past. So if the trend for your books is googly eyed cartoons, you’ll put those on the cover and ENJOY it.
People don’t buy books on aesthetic judgements of the cover, or at least not usually. I did buy a book, the Wandering Arm (mystery, can’t remember the author) FIVE times because the cover was so stunningly gorgeous and I was very ill and kept forgetting I’d bought it and couldn’t get past the first chapter before. But see the Very Ill part. Normally people don’t Do that.
And this brings me to my “One trick” to do covers. I steal other covers. No, not by copying them, but by copying the composition and the feel of the font. For instance, when Amanda told me the covers we’d done for her UF were outdated, she told me she’d like hers to have the feel of these:
So we created these (the font is not quite right, but I don’t use Mac so I can’t access the fonts the pros use. This might change. And yep, there’s a buy link on Amanda’s book. I figure Faith Hunter doesn’t need my help ;))
Interestingly enough I found when cruising historical fantasy that the ones about vampires followed Urban Fantasy rules. So even though the previous publisher had given this cover a “classy” collage look that imho is much more aesthetically pleasing, this baby, with this cover, is doing a brisk business for me. A stunningly brisk business. Which is why as soon as novels for Baen are finalized and in,t he sequel to this hits beta readers, give or take a couple of days. (Cover links to buy, if you’re interested in vampires that have never sparkled and never will. Free sample of the world here.)
Next week “but I can’t draw” — how to find art without breaking the bank, and how to fine tune it, so it reflects your book without necessarily representing it.