25 February, 2014

Book Covers

Image from amazon.co.uk
My thoughts this week have been turning towards the cover of my forthcoming novel, The Art of Letting Go. If you've been following this blog you'll know that it's being published by a new type of digital press, Thistle Publishing. Unlike some more traditional deals, I have to have a big input into the cover design but, unlike self-publishers, I won't actually be totally responsible for the cover - it will be designed for me. I'm a writer, not a designer, so even a small amount of input scares me! Where do I start?

Self-published books often get negative press for having awful covers. Sadly, this appears to be true in many (I'd say most) cases. Even when an image looks decent, the covers are often let down by the font being inappropriate. However, authors who spend some time on their covers - getting feedback and asking for advice - can come up with something respectable, and those who spend money getting a cover designed professionally can end up with a book every bit as good (or better) than books in the shops. There's also, of course, cases of books being professionally published where the publishers have done little more than pay someone to stick a stock photo on a white cover, successfully making a book of recognised merit look as if it was self-published by somebody in a hurry.

If you'd like some examples of the very worst of the very worst of book covers, look no further than this Buzzfeed article [contains erotica titles]. Most books don't stoop this low!

There is a debate at the moment over whether book covers matter any more. With the rise of e-books, does anybody judge a book by its cover these days? I think they do. In a shop with hundreds of books, I'll pick up the one with the beautiful or striking cover. The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas is a example that springs to mind of a cover that certainly catches the eye (and I love that the edges of the paper in her books are coloured too). Perhaps in a world with more choice, covers are more important, not less. What do you think are the essential elements of a good cover? Do you have a favourite book cover?

A while ago I blogged about Coverflip - a project where people re-desigend covers as if the book had been written by somebody of the opposite sex to the real author. I won't go into that again, but it does make me wonder: how do you design a cover that not only looks good, but attracts your target reader? As the author, you should be able to pick out the essential themes of your books and describe your audience, but how do you translate the former into something that appeals to the latter? If you've ever designed your own book cover, I'd be grateful to hear how you went about the process and how happy you are with the outcome.

All you readers out there - do you judge a book by its cover? What should I consider when thinking about my own novel cover?

14 comments:

  1. I think even in a digital age a good cover is still important. It still has to be something that jumps out as you browse through amazon/your favourite online retailer. I'd still be put off by a badly designed cover even if I'm not physically holding the book.

    I'm just trying to think through my bookshelves and I think the covers that appeal most tend to be clean and modern - not too busy. There are exceptions to every rule though. I tend to go for a photographic cover over a cartoony one - but "the curious incident of the dog in the night time" strikes me as one that makes the latter work well, so I guess it all comes down to what is right for the book. Not very helpful I know!

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    1. Just been having a quick browse of amazon as to what stands out and not sure now about my photographic vs cartoony statement. I think what I meant was that I'm not fussed by the chick lit category that has pictures of handbags and cakes on the front. There are a lot of drawn book covers that are very striking though.

      Just pulled up the kindle bestsellers page and to me (knowing nothing at all about the books) this one jumps out most from the cover. Very striking. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fractured-Dani-Atkins-ebook/dp/B00DCTVDA2/ref=zg_bs_362723031_3

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    2. I love that style of cover. It's very elegant, though very women's fictiony. But perhaps that's a good thing - my main concern is how to make sure the cover appeals to a certain audience instead of just being something I like! There's been a huge rise in bright colours with handwriting-style fonts recently too - which I like but might be overdone.

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  2. I think with digital the front cover really matters - it's what helps it stand out in a list of icons. Avoid too much white, particularly at the edges - if you look at the amazon bookstore front screen the white books vanish into the page!

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    1. Good tip - thanks! Although I don't know if I'll have a say down to that sort of details. I have said I want something bold though to fit in with the theme of abstract art. I'm thinking a Mondrian or Kandinsky style cover but I'll see what David thinks!

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  3. I'm due to get my cover soon - I definitely think it matters! Esp. since all the talk about the rise of ebooks ignores the fact that, for all that ebooks have grown at an incredible rate, they still make up a minority of sales in the UK - and worldwide.

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    1. Exciting! I look forward to seeing it. I hadn't thought of that - the impression does seem to be that e-books are the main man these days.

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  4. My brush with cover design has taught me it's probably best left to the professionals, although I'm very interested in the process and will probably have another go at some point. My first effort (for the print copy of my story collection) had to be put together in minimal time, so I did the standard self-publishing thing of using a vaguely suitable photo I'd taken - to avoid running into any copyright issues - and slapping a title on the front. It did the job, but I don't think many people bought it on the strength of the cover.

    When it came to doing the ebook version, I took more time over the initial idea. As it's a collection based on my early work, a sort of overview of my evolution as a writer, I based the design on a Haeckel's chart. It's hand-drawn because that's how the charts are and I wanted the same look. I'm pleased with it, but I've no idea whether it's good enough to win any sales.

    I think a novel is probably an easier proposition than a collection of pretty random short stories, as the book will probably have a clearer sense of identity. I guess if you have some input into the design, Chloe, you'd be best thinking of the kind of mood or 'essence' of the story you want to convey, rather than any specific image - as chances are the designer will want to have control over that side of things. Interesting stuff, though - please let us know how it works out!

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    1. I actually quite liked the photo on your print copy. A professional designer might not have done the same, but I think it worked well. I liked the ebook version too - really quirky and worked well with the title, I thought. I love the link between "somewhere to start from" and the evolution of creatures.

      I've given an idea of style and the overall feel of the book, as you suggest, plus one or two kind of symbolic images, but I'm keen not to try to depict a particular scene from the novel - I don't like covers that do that!

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  5. I think a good cover catches the eye, captures the imagination, gives the reader a flavour of the book itself and some indication of its voice. All of which is a tall order. When do we get to see your options and ideas?

    Derek

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    1. I'm not sure that will happen. If I was self-publishing I would definitely be asking for an opinion but I think it will get sorted out "in-house" as it were with the publisher and my agent and me. Hence why I'm asking for advice now before it's too late! But I will definitely do a cover reveal as soon as I can!

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  6. So many covers these days are blatant rip-offs of the covers successful novels. I lost track of the number of books featuring large country gardens viewed through iron gates or the like after some similar novel sold very well!

    I agree with the comment that it's best left to a good artist because they can probably come up with something a writer would never have thought of. I have strong opinions about what I don't like when I see it, but lack the artist's eye to be able to come up with something original myself in the first place!

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    1. There do seem to be certain trends that get rather overdone, don't there. The mysterious female figure with her back to the reader, head turned slightly to the side, or the two figures in semi-silhouette walking through a field/along a beach are two more than come to mind. But I won't criticise them in case that's what I end up with!

      I agree, I don't feel at all qualified to design a cover. All I can do is say what the book is about and hope a good designer can work it out for me!

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  7. I'm an artist, so the temptation to design my own is strong. The cover of my second eBook 'Beyond The Law', is a hybrid. I wanted it to be straightforward ... title, an automatic pistol, and author's name at the bottom.
    I bought the black silhouette graphic from a designer and sent it on to my son, who is a graphic designer. He came up with a graded red background, and made all the font and pistol white. It works and gets good comments, but importantly, the book has been selling well since January.
    In the end Chloe, if you don't like it, tell them and get them to explain why it is good in their opinion. Make them sell the idea to you before printing.

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