27 Jun 2014

Some Advice on Covers

I’m not sure whether I’ve started a new trend, or copied an old one: but personally, I like learning about how a book’s cover was created—the thoughts that went behind it, the meanings behind it, and so on.

I think there is also a certain base aspect of the cover that readers aren’t really aware of. They don’t realise why the small, delicate illustrations on hardback covers are replaced with large, bright-coloured covers on the ebook version. It’s obvious once you think about it: small images can’t be seen in retailer previews.

And the retailer preview is one of the biggest ways a book gains attention.

This post will go into a modest amount of detail on the creation of my book’s cover, what I like about it—and what I don’t.

First Off: Size and Formats

One major practical concern for electronic covers are their digital size.

View The Sandman’s Cover in Full Glory

If you clicked on the rather vainglorious link above, you would have been directed to Google Drive, where you can view it. The cover—at its full size of 2500x1563 pixels—is 5.5MB. This is too large to be embedded on a webpage, and certainly well above what any retailer will let you use.

To work around this (and it is a workaround) you have to: a) use a smaller cover—reducing your ability to see fine details; and b) you have to use compression.

Most people use the JPEG format—and this is indeed the de-facto standard for pretty much every retailer or site—because it generally does the last point best.

Compression, for those of you who don’t know, is basically removing invisible elements of an image to lower its size, along with some mathematical cleverness that allows the same amount of information to be stored using fewer bits (at the cost of marginal CPU power to de-compress). It’s really clever, actually: you can cut down an image’s size considerably with no visible quality loss.

Beyond a certain point though, you lose quality. This, unfortunately, occurs on many retailer websites. But, hey; technology is constantly advancing, so this should get better.

The Process

It’s actually not terribly complicated. You first look for an artist.

It’s a bit of the Wild West with that right now. Finding a good artist mainly involves a lot of Googling, careful analysis of their website (is it professional? Book cover artists should easily be able to make a good-looking—though not necessarily functional—website) and analysis of their previous work.

For the latter, I usually have to think about: do I like their style? No author wants a cover they won’t like.

There is also the question of: will this appeal to my readers? And have they shown expertise in crafting their work within the limitations of ebook covers (especially size-wise)?

Once I’ve gone past those initial stages, I go onto step two: the genuine check.

Are They Genuine?

Sadly, not all of these ‘designers’ know what they’re doing, or produce real quality work. It’s generally unlikely for a fake to get past the initial stage (that’s the thing about visual design; you can quickly tell whether it’s any good).

Still, I make sure to call up older clients and ask them about their experiences. In addition, I may check on sites like Writers Beware to make sure they aren’t some well-known scam. (On a slightly unrelated note, check out Publish America for a prime example of scammers catching out unwary, naïve writers.)

Working with Them

Once I make up my mind on who to hire (and yes, I do take into account obvious things like price) I then contact the artist. Email is the way to go here, although some require that you make first contact via a form.

Essentially, I send them information about:

  1. Who I am (so they know I’m not Criminal X Who Preys on Cover Designers);
  2. About my book—what’s it called, what genre it is, who do I think my readers are, and of course: the blurb.
  3. My idea for a cover design.

For the Sandman, my initial idea was to have Leila standing with her back to the audience, and framed by the sun. Font-wise, I thought serifs.

My designer—Marushka from Deranged Doctor Designs—agreed with me on the latter count, but thought the initial design too difficult to see at thumbnail size.

Personally, I wish she would have given it go—I think it would have been more powerful than what I have now, and more representative of the story’s content, and wouldn’t have given off that romance-y vibe that this one does.

Still, what I have is what I have, and I shall move on.

In any case: we went through a couple of drafts. Some may move through several (provided that the artist’s conditions allow this—make sure to read that!)

The first draft they gave me looked like this:

This leads me to another tip: make sure the designer in question has a strong interest and familiarity with your genre. This is especially problematic with designers specialising in romance (as you can see from the above). Sorry for any of you romance fans out there, but romance designers are the least imaginative I’ve ever seen—and what’s more, they seem resolutely stuck in romance-land.

(The romance genre and readers as a whole suffer from specific issues, but that’s a different matter.)

Other Considerations

Target market is the most often brought up. And yes: some books appeal more to one kind of person than another, and you’d be naïve (and even foolish) not to capitalise on that.

My short story, for example, doesn’t appeal to teenage boys. And yet I am one. Really, I write for the adult market, and from what I’ve seen, the Sandman appeals more to women.

That said, I would never target older women while alienating everyone else. That would be bad for my book, and bad for getting my message across. Neither should you.

Also, think of the colour scheme. A good designer should immediately recognise this (gold, yellow and red are obviously what one would choose for a book set in a mythical desert). But, people do make bad judgements from time to time: if your book is a vampire novel with a large amount of grey imagery (a not random example—I’ve had a cool idea about that, but let’s not get off-topic) and the designer picked red and black—well, maybe you should have specifically mentioned that little detail.

And don’t be afraid to say to your designer that something doesn’t work. Any good designers knows their initial draft may not immediately be right, so they should give you at least two drafts complementary.

Ideas Behind This Cover

It is quite self-evident in my cover. But when my next work comes out, expect to see a substantial amount of writing on that.

Conclusion

If this post sounds like a diatribe, you have my apologies. Finding a good book designer isn’t easy—and few are going to be giving it out for cheap. If I were to look back on my younger self, I’d say: get ready, do your homework, and make sure to get grandma to foot the bill.

I think that pretty much sums it up. You must be prepared to research, and to pay.

But the end result may well be worth it.

For the record: I think DDD did a great job with the colours and typography. Don’t be discouraged from using them—their prices are fantastic. Just saying.

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