Romancing the Cover
Yes, I had some questions and kind of requests for genres, but it was either hazy or confused. (Or I am. Not sure which.)
So I’ll do this post, and maybe others when things strike me. If you do a search on my name and covers, you’ll find my other posts on this, recently. It was supposed to be a series, but this summer intervened (and it’s been A summer) and I think I ran out of steam.
So I’ll reeiterate the principles of a good cover here, then do intermittent cover posts as I think it’s needed. Okay?
So how to do or evaluate a cover:
1- A cover is not a representation of your novel.
Think about it. Before people read your novel, they don’t know if the cover is a scene or not. They just know it’s attractive and “signals” genre or not.
2- The cover is an advertisement for your book.
Or at the very least, it shouldn’t work against it. I’ve recently run into a very nice man, who wasn’t getting a cover for his book “just yet” because he wanted to make money to afford the cover. The problem is what he had looked like the free vector things we used in the 90s for company newsletters. It screamed “Amateur” so much that even if his blurb had been the most enticing thing ever, I’d never have picked it up without knowing the author. The back of my brain would have said “Nope, nope, nope. Rank amateur. Nope.”
3- As an advertisement — or at least NOT a deterrent — for your book, the cover NEEDS to work at a subconscious level.
Why? Because no one stops to think “Should I buy this book? The cover kind of sucks/or is good. That’s not how any of this works. You’re browsing an endless list of books, and you have a few thousands to come. If you’re like me, you skim past pages, till something catches your eye. If your cover is not knock down gorgeous (most aren’t.) what catches my eye is the title or author’s name (if I’ve read you or bought you before.) The cover’s job here — unless, again, intriguing or spectacularly gorgeous — is simply not to put me off.
Can it grab me and pull me in? Sure. But even for traditional publishing with what they pay artists? that’s a cover in a thousand. If you can get that, great. If not…
4- So how not to put off the reader is the important thing.
Which means your cover most of all has to look like the other covers in its subspecialties.
So, if you’re looking, to do say a YA cover, you go look at those and your specific genre.
Not only do genres (and sometimes subgenres) have very specific requirements, but they change.
For as long as I’ve known, cozy had cartoonish covers. Now, most since the early 00s have “vectors covers” i.e. things put together, like a teacup and a cat.
That’s changing with indie, weirdly to more “scene covers” with the main character and the small town in the background, or whatever.
Historical? used to have d*mn impressive oil paintings. But since it’s almost exclusively the province of indie, it’s changed to be “pieces of masonry” or an old illuminated manuscript or things like that. (I still don’t know what to do with musketeers.)
Mil SF used to be “Baen covers” with heroic person often in mil uniform. Now because of indie, it’s mostly spaceships, in space.
So, here are your steps for a cover on a budget (mostly if you’re doing it yourself.) that doesn’t put people off:
1- Go look at covers.
2- decide BROADLY what you want. It makes no difference if your character’s hair is the wrong color, or whatever. Get genre signaling. If you have elves, indicate that by having an elf on the cover. If you have space… anyway. That.
DO NOT GIVE ME A PARK BENCH AND TELL ME IT’S SCIENCE FICTION. Even if there’s a park bench in the story.
3- But Sarah, what if all I have is a picture of a park bench?
Then you’re sorely lacking in resources. Places like dreamstime.com and others (the last one I used was dreamstime, so I’m not up on the others) will sell you royalty free art for a modicum of money. Like $15. You can afford that. Skip coffee for three days or something.
But if you can’t afford that, there’s free pictures, too. Pixabay.com is where we usually get our header pictures.
4- If you need to put two pictures together, or whatever, figure out what program you’re okay with. Gimp and paint.net are free.
5- Letter that cover
A- Never use interior fonts. So, Times New Roman, Arial, and such are out.
B- If you have a good eye, see what font is being used in the samples you browsed through. Then go to a free font site, and browse that. Look at the rights VERY CAREFULLY. Most of them these days tell you whether you can use it for ebooks or not. Weirdly, even a lot that are free for commercial uses will say “except ebooks.” Meh. Roll with it. Just be careful.
C- If you don’t have a good eye just search SF or Fantasy fonts. Remember you want them minimally readable.
5-I’M MAKING A NEW HEADER FOR THIS, EVEN THOUGH IT’S FONTS, BECAUSE IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT:
Look at the size of the fonts for author and title in your samples and MATCH THAT.
I have clue zero why, but when we first make covers ALL of us do this: we make the author name tinny tiny and the title usually not too big. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s shyness. But that’s one of those subconscious giveaways where readers go “oh, newby. Maybe I won’t pick it up.”
So don’t do that. Be brazen, be bold. Write your name BIG.
Now go play. If you want to show me your labors in the comments, I’m okay with it.