I promised to talk a bit today about what makes a good book cover. Please note that this is completely subjective and my point of view only. I tried to gather some rules about good design in general, but most of the advice is explicit to books. If you’re bored already then move on – if not, here’s my two cents.
Anyone who knows me knows that I only work in two ways – the switch is either on or off. I’m not very good at middle ground. I have a tendency to go the whole hog so to speak and this was like 150% true with sorting out the design of the Watcher cover.
To start off with, I made the rookie mistake of thinking I could do it myself. I have pretty competent Photoshop skills for a non-trained artist and frankly, I didn’t want to blow my budget just on the cover. I had taken some great pics of some seriously ancient gargoyles at a ruined estate in the Midlands when I was last in England visitng family and I really like the texture and the look of them. One in particular suited my needs and given that I had a whole host of them I thought to myself, “Perfect. One for each cover, slap on some color, pick a font. Wha hey! I’m done.”
Well, that way of thinking lasted for probably the first 3 eight hour days of working in Photoshop. I cropped, adjusted, exposed, cloned, contrasted . . . you name it, I probably did it all in Photoshop. The thing was the more I messed with it, the more I didn’t like it. I even got an old artist friend to look at it and have a go. No matter what we did, it just didn’t work for me.
It finally dawned on me that I wasn’t qualified to do my own cover because my skills would never meet my expectation. That’s not a good realization, trust me, but it was a necessary. After a solid week of friggin’ around with several of the photos, I gave up and decided to find an artist.
My qualifications for another artist were this:
- Had to be a better artist than me (you laugh but take a look at some sites toting themselves as cover artists)
- They had to be within my modest budget
- I really wanted a SCAD alumus or current student (read the book and you’ll know why)
So I scrounged around the web until I found the contacts at SCAD who I thought would be most likely to help me. I was lucky that I go a hold of a very nice chair or dean of a certain department who was happy to talk to me. He pointed me towards a student who had graduated and was doing some freelance comic work. His portfolio was awesome (think Dave McKean) and I was super excited. The professor didn’t go as far as give me his email address, but that didn’t deter me. I had the artist’s name and a quick Google search led me to one of his sites. So I dropped him a super excited email about how I was looking for an artist and I loved his work and did he want to do some work-for-hire? I waited patiently for his email and kudos to him, he sent me a response in a couple of hours. He said he’d love to do the work, but that he had an upcoming contract with a comic to do some work that would miss the deadline I had outlined in my previous email. Relieved that he hadn’t blown me off and thinking he was sincere, I wrote back and said that it wasn’t a problem for me to push back the timeline in order to secure him for the work. I really wanted to make this thing happen . . . he never emailed me back.
Well, I was pretty pissed I can’t deny. I’m a pretty straight up kind of person. I had placed an ad with SCAD and had gotten some students’ work which was utterly wrong for what I wanted so I knew how to say, “Sorry. Thanks, but no thanks.” I was irritated that he just didn’t come out and say I was too small fry for him. *Frankly, I secretly hope Watcher will blow the world apart so I can be snarky back at him some day, but hey, that’s petty, right?
Anyhow it was through a series of happy accidents that I ended up with Anthony. I had seen his portfolio on SCAD’s employment site and really liked some of his band poster work that was somewhere between steampunk, ephemera, antiquey, collagey . . . well, you know what I mean. He would probably laugh at this (I hope), but I cyberstalked him a bit before I actually contacted him. I wanted to find out everything I could before contacting him because I didn’t want to waste my time on a candidate who wasn’t up to speck. I got to see more of his work, checked out where he was working, and was pleasantly surprised that he lived in my state. Even better.
I contacted him and the rest is history, really.
I wanted that to be short, but I do have a tendency to waffle on. Sorry. Habits of a writer and all that.
Back to the matter at hand, ahem, good cover design.
Know what you want. Have a look around. Find other work you like and be prepared to send it to your artist and when in doubt, follow these rules –
5 Rules for Great cover Design
1) Less is More
Never was a truer word spoken and this is when K.I.S.S. really comes into play. It may seem ironic coming from someone who wanted a cover by Dave McKean, but a simple straightforward cover will always be better than a crowded, chaotic scene that makes your reader’s eyes dart around all over the place. Keep it simple, keep it clean. There’s a reason why single word titles and images are popular these days. It’s easier for the reader to remember your cover and look for it again when they go home to purchase it from amazon. Or if you’re ebook only then your book will stand out more when it’s this itty bitty tiny thumbnail and your competing with a whole bunch of said thumbnails.
2) Fonts count
I really could write a whole book on fonts. I’m obsessed with them like you wouldn’t believe. Typography is a secret passion of mine so I’ll try not to let it cloud my judgment here, but this is the gist. Please don’t over do it. You might love that crazy font that you’ve been dying to use, but that doesn’t mean your book is the place to try it out. Again, the K.I.S.S. rule applies – you want this thing to be legible whether it’s poster size or the size of a iPod shuffle. Using that very obnoxious circus font probably isn’t a good idea.
And if you’re stumped for a font, you can always use dafont. I love that place. The Birmingham font for Watcher came from there, of course.
3) Clipart is free for a reason
Seriously. Invest in some good stock photos. Istockphoto.com is decently priced and if you can’t find an image there you don’t like, well, you’re fussier than me!
4) Rainbows only look good next to Unicorns
If it looks like Rainbow Brite threw up on your book cover, you’re in trouble. Keep your pallet simple and clean. Try using the color wheel, the color picker in Photoshop, a pantone book, or even paint sample cards, but don’t go “GaGa” crazy on your cover. Pick one stand out color, then one neutral color that blends nicely with your stand out color and either black or white. That’s it. If you’ve got some shades in between then fine, but super rainbows of color are for kids toys or boxes of cereal.
5) Who are you again?
Your title should be the most prominent thing on your cover even more so than whatever imagery you’re using. You want people to remember the title and pass it on to their friends if they really liked it. That makes sense, right? I agree, it does, but I’m also an advocate for tooting your own horn when you can. After all, indie writers don’t have a publicist or PR guru behind them. We are simple folk trying to make a wage doing what we love. Let’s face it, this article is for the indie author because what publisher let’s their writers have this much say in a cover design? (it’s a rhetorical question)
My point is this, make sure your name is large and prominent on your cover. Don’t hide it in a corner, don’t obscure it with some wacky background graphics. Say it loud, say it proud. Not obnoxiously so, but you get my drift. When you shrink that cover down to thumbnail size, can you still make out your name, even just so? Good. That’s what you want. It’s in your best interest to self-promote and what better way than on the front of your book.
So that’s it. That’s my final thoughts on covers for now. Watcher is now finalized and I’m onto ebook conversions. Wish me luck.