Oft times I’ll get that hurried client that wants a book cover. They want a good book cover, an original book cover, one of my best, and they want it NOW. They want their name in neon lights above the title, they want the image to catch attention, and at the same time they want blurbs like “Voted the best by the book readers monthly,” or “a strange man finds a strange object in a strange place at a strange time! What will he do?!?!” all over the picture. And they get frustrated if I can’t deliver in a hurry. Sometimes they’ll hire someone else and my time is wasted.
If you want a good book cover, a really compelling book cover, from me or just about anybody the first rule is don’t rush it. Sometimes inspiration strikes and I’m able to produce that next masterpiece within minutes. But then there are other times when it’s like I’m pounding my head against a wall for weeks.
So you want covers like this?
If you do, then you have to let the artist think a bit. You wouldn’t cause the premature birth of your child. In some ways it’s the same thing.
When making a book cover, I don’t just slap words over the image and call it a day. I’m considering the following factors:
- What will catch the reader’s eye/attention?
- What looks great?
- Are the words readable when the image is a thumbnail as well as when its big?
- Does the lettering style fit the overall theme?
- Which is more important: author name or book title?
- Does this picture represent the book properly?
- Are the images and fonts legal to use?
The science of making book covers for the internet is similar to book covers for print books, but it’s not exact. With print books, the cover has to attract someone’s attention from across a room. The important part, title or author name, have to be readable from a few feet away. All of the information has to somehow be represented right there from the author’s name to what the book is about. There’s a variety of ways to do this, but the most tried and true methods appear to be putting “new” on the cover if the book is new by a famous author. Famous author’s name big and bold with book title not so much. Image matches content and can be foil, shiny: something that will flash like a neon sign. Blurbs such as “couldn’t put it down!” by some reviewer let people know the book is awesome. (Even when its not.)
With eBooks, the information the cover has to carry is split between it – the image – and the page the image is on. So things like the author’s name, if the book is new, what the book is about, review blurbs, and all other details are on the book’s home page. Take for example this Smashwords page for my book Black Wolf Silver Fox: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/4937
There’s the name of my book, my name, when it was published, two descriptions on what it’s about (the back cover material), search tags, and if I had any reviews that would be there too.
By contrast, look at my book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Black-Wolf-Silver-Fox-ebook/dp/B002H9XUP4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1347812970&sr=8-2&keywords=black+wolf+silver+fox
You’ll see the book cover, about me, about the book, other books bought by people who bought it, a couple of reviews (its a miracle!), when it was published, and so on.
All of that information is put together on the book’s page when the book is set. The cover? Yeah. Let’s take a closer look at my cover.
Most importantly, the picture is very compelling. I have a woman representing a key character in the story. Her attitude was perfect, her clothing superb, her hair awesome. I had to have that picture, and I spent my last dime getting it too. LOL.
Once I had it in hand, I tweaked it a bit to bring out her face, arms and mirror a bit more. That’s where I wanted viewer focus.
In the mirror is a another key component to the story: an hour glass. And the woman (whose name is Aramina btw) is telling you she has a secret. All of that from the book in one fell swoop. Blammo.
Secondly, I have the book title in big, readable letters. Some covers don’t give me leeway to make things that big and still have it look good, but this one did me the favor. Because Aramina, the black wolf, was on the cover I chose to make the words silver in honor to the Silver Fox.
My name there at the top is the traditional place you’d put a name for a famous author. But I’m only the author, so my name doesn’t not overpower the image and I’m not likely to let it anytime soon.
This is the third incarnation of the cover, and it’s the one that has brought me the most sales. The first two covers – omg the first two covers. I’m not showing you the first two covers. But this cover is great.
Other covers, like the Hell cover near the top of this article, can take a bit longer. My client knew what she wanted. She provided me a picture of a woman walking through a forest. (Yes, a forest.) She asked for a couple of small tweaks, but by the time I was done I had the woman walking through the depths of hell itself. It was fun, it was a challenge, it took me at least two weeks.
The Amphitrite cover, by contrast, was even more of a challenge even though making it was a simpler process. In this case, the characters had to be dressed properly for the year 1833. I wasn’t about to try to draw it: my style wasn’t appropriate for this type of story. So I had to find it. I had to find it all. Finding images of women wearing mob caps through a stock image service is next to impossible. Good images of anything similar: ha ha ha. I laugh. I scoff. It’s lucky I don’t charge by the hour. Maybe I should.
I had to research the ship. There are at least a few hundred sailing vessel types out there. I had to get the right one, especially since this story is based on fact. This meant historical research – lucky for my client I’ve a minor in history instead of a major in art. And I got very lucky. I came across an actual anonymous photograph of the exact vessel type I was looking for from that year. I felt blessed by the gods.
Is that the actual photo of the Amphitrite? I’d like to think so, but I should be so lucky.
When the idea finally began to form (right about when I found the photo, which I found first), it was a quick assembly. It took me days to find the parts, and hours to put it together. But I had to have something in my head to work from, and I had to have the puzzle pieces to assemble, and even though I managed to make a cover I’m pleased with in just a few hours… it took me about a month just to figure it out.
Unless your book has outside publicity to pull people to it, your covers run the risk of chasing readers away. An ugly cover (not represented here as a courtesy to everyone involved) will be to the reader’s eye like water off a duck’s back. Sometimes that reader will check out a book, but not always. In the bookstore, this is a big deal. It’s that shiny image that gets the buyer’s attention in the first place.
For the internet, it’s not as big a deal but it still is. Going back to my cover for Black Wolf Silver Fox: that book has been in the market for years. When sales for it nearly stopped entirely I put it to the book’s age. Making that new shiny cover taught me a lesson on that matter. People were seeing this nifty thing and buying it all over again. I just had several sales last week as a matter of fact. I’m not Stephen King, but my book isn’t dead either. I can safely say my first two covers were not helping me any at all.
My best book covers happen to belong to clients who have been previously published and built a name for themselves. This isn’t because they’re famous. It’s because they were used to waiting a year or two before they saw their books on the shelves, and they gave me space and time to think. No rush deadlines from them.
So when rushing your cover artist for that cover, stop and consider. Do you want your book to sell? Then maybe waiting a little bit isn’t going to hurt you. Maybe it’s only going to help you: like waiting a full nine months for your baby to be born, perhaps.