This is the second post in my continuing series INDIE PUBLISHING FOR INTERNATIONAL WRITERS, a step-by-step guide to getting your stories into (digital) print. I’ll be doing each step with you, learning as you do, because I’ve never done this before either.
STEP 2: DESIGN YOUR COVER
Let’s face it, everyone judges a book by its cover, so if you have a bad one, people may never read your story.
There are certain conventions in book design. Play with these at your peril. A reader selecting a title with a cartoon blonde in stilettos, overburdened with shopping bags, is not expecting free-form poetry.
If you set false expectations, your sales will suffer. George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series “A Song of Fire and Ice” nearly never got out of the blocks. For the first book of the series, “A Game of Thrones”, the designer opted for something a little different (it’s that awful silver one in the centre), and sales were muted.
His UK & Australian publishers went for a more traditional fantasy cover, and the international success of the series convinced the publisher to stick with it. It has since sold 7 million copies worldwide. Design matters.
Every genre has their conventions, whether its science fiction, fantasy, detective novels, or romance. With literary fiction there is a bit more latitude, and here really anything goes, as long as it doesn’t look too much like a ‘genre’ book. Make sure you know what is standard for yours.
There is still a stigma attached to self-publishing because a lot of the stuff coming out is poor quality, and looks unprofessional. Many people are cautious about buying self-published books and you don’t want to put them off before they get a chance to read your writing.
And don’t forget, your self-published work won’t just be up against other indie authors. You will have all of these guys to compete with too.
If you are a graphic designer, great, otherwise hire one, preferably one with experience of book cover design. This is one of the few areas where you should spend money (along with editing). It’s worth it; a bad cover will sink your book.
Most writers know this deep down, which is why many publishing contracts include a clause stating that the author has final approval over the cover. Unfortunately, the practice is somewhat different.
More often than not, the author is left out of the loop until the final possible moment, and there is a lot of pressure to approve whatever they come up with, that reworking it will cause all sorts of knock-on delays in the publisher’s schedule and nix planned promotional efforts.
Designers simply don’t have time to read every book, often only getting a blurb or synopsis to work from. While they always try to do their best, they have to get approval on everything from marketing and editing, and this can often result in something that the writer is unhappy with (and can do little about).
When you are self-publishing, you have none of these concerns. You can do whatever you like. Nice, isn’t it?
To make sure you end up with something that you are happy with (and don’t have to go back to your designer with endless revisions that will cost you money, and them to hate you), it’s important to give your designer as much information as possible.
Give them a copy of your book (they may only flick through it so give them a blurb too). Tell them what you are looking for (and don’t say something “fresh”). Show them copies of covers you like, and those you don’t like. The more information you can give, the better chance there is the designer will come up with something you like.
First, your cover must look good as a thumbnail. Most people will only see your cover on listings such as this. Those images are pretty small, maybe one inch by half-an-inch, so keep those images clear, the fonts big, and the titles short.
The second thing you need to know is that it must look good as a greyscale image, as many readers will be browsing for books on their Kindles. So, in short, keep it simple.
Keep those dreams of a radical or ornate design for a print version. We’re talking about e-books, people, they’re not going to be on anyone’s coffee table.
Now, seeing as I am trying to keep costs down as much as possible, I had my sister, a book cover designer for a UK publisher, do a little moonlighting for me.
That might seem like cheating, but you must try and use whatever advantage you have to do this as cheaply as possible. The less you spend, the less you have to sell to cover your costs.
Then everything after that is profit. Forever. And you want to get to that point as quickly as you can.
In the future, if you are making money, you can pay professional rates for whichever designer you choose, but like any business starting off, and you must think of this as a business, you should aim to keep costs as low as you can.
If you don’t know a cheap way of doing this yourself, Smashwords provide a list of people who will do the cover for you, at reasonable rates. Always make sure to see samples of their work before you agree anything.
And if you are really on a budget, you can always try sticking a post up at your local art college. A student designer, keen to build their portfolio, may do the work for free, or at a reduced price, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.
Whatever you decide, make sure to stick to simple rules above. The future of your book depends on it.