By Amy Collins
Think you can design your own cover? Nope. Honest. Not a good idea. Ever.
While it’s easy to point fingers at authors on a budget, or writers who have a little bit of design training, the truth is, we’re all guilty of thinking that we know enough to delve into areas of book publishing where we truly have no business. One of those areas, most often, is cover design.
In speaking with Cathy Helms from Avalon Graphics, a book cover designer who has been working in the industry for over 10 years and who has designed over 1000 covers, she and I came up with a list of some of the easiest to spot cover design issues.
If you are a self-published author, or a new publisher, this month might be the perfect opportunity to learn from a cover designer who has designed bestselling covers and who pays close attention to what is selling in the marketplace and what is not.
What They Did
Many authors will take a photo themselves and use it for their cover. Quite often, this photo is taken with an iPhone, Android, or (if we’re lucky) a digital Camera.
They will upload this photo to a computer and use a Word font such as Comic Sans MS, Times New Roman, or even (God forbid) Papyrus, to add a title and an author name.
I am all for saving money and I am a big fan of doing things yourself, but cover design is not one of those elements that you can figure out as you go along.
Slapping a title and an author name on a picture that you either downloaded from a free site or took yourself is not designing a cover.
What ends up happening, is that the author, believing that the cover is “good enough”, starts submitting the book to review sites, bloggers, and on-line to readers.
Inevitably, the reviews start coming back from the professionals in the industry that the cover “does not support the genre” or that the cover “does not meet marketplace standards” and the author is devastated.
What Also Happens
In addition, authors with a homemade cover based on a photo they took, will often find that they don’t get any response from reviewers or the industry.
This is, actually, the kindest result we can hope for. Quite often, authors will hear from bookstores and libraries that they “do not take self-published books.”
That sentence is never actually the whole truth. What the librarian or bookseller is saying is “I don’t want your book” and in many cases, that is the fault of the cover. The book is wonderful, and the writing is stellar… but the cover is keeping anyone from discovering that.
What the Author Does Next
If things end up progressing as noted, if an author is getting radio silence from the industry and from reviewers, or even hearing that the book is not up to snuff, a professionally designed cover is quite often the solution.
Researching, finding, and hiring a professional cover designer is always a good idea. Start looking for a cover designer that has a lot of experience in your genre.
The best way to go about this according to Cathy Helms, is to research and find the other successful self-published authors in your genre. The key to this step is to make sure you pick books that are selling a lot of copies and are receiving a lot of acclaim from the industry.
What Not to Do Part 2
Please do not ask your author buddies who are all in the same pool you are.
It is not a great idea to ask people at your level for a recommendation on a cover designer.
Reach out and speak with the authors who are out in the stratosphere of success of your genre. Reach out to the biggest names in self-publishing or even traditional publishing and ask them for the names of their cover designer.
In many cases, the cover designer is listed in the acknowledgements or even on the book itself.
Quick tip: There are cover designers who work for large publishers who freelance on the side.
How to Move Ahead
Once an author has determined that they need a professional cover designer, the next big question always is “How do I decide which one to pick?”
At this point, if you are confident that the pool of cover designers you are choosing from are all successful and experienced in your genre, then it comes down to personal preference and budget. Joel Friedlander and his team here at The Book Designer have a list every month of ebook covers that are truly exceptional.
Cathy Helms strongly suggests that you look up those books each month and spend time reading the comments under each award-winning cover.
Take the time to learn to see what people think of the covers that are doing very well and what the common elements are that bind them all into a successful group. While it is always a good idea to hire a professional cover designer, it is also a great idea to educate yourself to know what makes a good cover.
Then, let the cover designer do what they do best. Let them design your cover and watch your sales and reviews grow.