As an independent author who also publishes his own work, one part of the process to bring books to market is the creation of appropriate covers. From what I have read on message boards, this seems to be one of the most daunting tasks for many writers. In addition, it is also one of the areas where many writers truly fail, in my opinion.
The importance of a quality cover cannot be overstated, and I am sure you are well aware of that. After all, it is the first point of contact between you and a potential reader. Whether the customer is browsing the shelves at a local book store or the virtual shelves of an online retailer like Amazon, the first thing they see is a book’s cover. If it doesn’t intrigue the reader, you have already lost a sale.
If the cover manages to get the person interested — and only then — will they go on to hopefully read the description that gives you the opportunity to capture them with the magic of your words.
Clearly, it could be argued that the price is on par in importance with the description, as some books clearly price themselves out of the market by simply being too expensive or too cheap. Too expensive is easy to see, but if too cheap sounds like an oxymoron to you, you may be interested to find that I, for example, never look at free books and will be only marginally interested in 99 cent product, unless it comes with a personal recommendation.
To me it has something to do with perceived value and projected quality, among other things, and I know it is a highly controversial topic, so let’s leave its discussion for some other day.
Undeniable, however, is the fact that the cover is the single most important element of a book to attract potential readers who have never come across your work before.
Good covers pose a major problem for many writers for a number of reasons, foremost among them is the fact that writers, by definition, write and do not have the ability to create graphic artwork. It is an entirely different profession that requires entirely different skill sets.
In addition, good covers aren’t easy to create and they don’t come cheap, as it involves two distinct elements — or professions, if you will.
First you will need a cover artist, who will create the actual image — hence the word artwork — used on the cover. Depending on the genre of your book this may be more or less of an issue. Traditionally, fantasy and horror books have made use of some breathtaking cover art that has been painted to spec. Artists who specialize on this kind of artwork are not cheap. Other genres, such as thrillers, are usually not using specific artwork and instead rely on stock photography and graphic design.
Then comes another layer entirely, the graphic design and layout of the cover. Though people have a tendency to confuse and interchange the terms, there is actually a difference between the cover art and a cover’s graphic design. The cover art refers only to the actual image that is being used, while the graphic design refers to the cover as a whole, which includes the artwork as well as the lettering and logos, for example. The key element of the graphic design, however, is the assembly of all these elements into an attractive package, determining proper font sizes for titles, the font faces in use, the font color and the placement of all elements in relation to each other.
Most of the time when people talk about cover artists they actually mean to talk about graphic designers.
As you can see, this is not an entirely straight-forward or simple process and yet, many independent authors decide to create their own covers despite the fact that they have virtually no knowledge or skill in that field. The fact that you know how to operate Photoshop does not qualify as a real skill in the sense of graphic design, just as a first-grader who mastered his alphabet is not likely a novelist… yet. Of course, it can all be learned, but I have seen all too many writers jump into their cover creation without giving it a lot of thought.
Just keep in mind that there are a lot of dynamics at work in a well-designed book cover. It is more than two lines of text slapped together with an image. Experts in the field have spent years to learn and understand the rules and psychology that make one cover more effective than another. To think that just about anyone could shake the same results out of their sleeves is almost preposterous.
One common argument I come across a lot is that of cost. Independent authors often don’t have enough money to pay for a professionally created cover.
While that may be true, it should never be an excuse for you. If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you, in turn, have to take your craft and your products seriously. You would not buy food from a company that wraps their wares in old newspaper and labels them with colored crayons, either. If you expect people to trust you and spend money on your product, it is crucial that you make a professional effort, and in our case, this means, a solid cover.
If you cannot afford an artist or graphic designer to create a cover for you there are generally two options. You can look around and solicit people you may know. Maybe one of your friends has the skills necessary, or maybe you can find someone on the Internet.
There are graphic designers out there who have specialized on creating inexpensive covers for indie authors. Some of them do a great job for very limited budgets. In addition, you can try to peruse services like eLance to locate artists who will match the style — and hopefully budget — you are looking for.
If, in the end, you still can’t afford a professional cover, maybe you should even consider postponing the release of your book until such time when you can afford it. You will be seriously diminishing the value of your book, and with it its chances for success, without a proper cover, and as a result you won’t be making money off it either. By holding the book back, you will instead give it the chance to properly shine on the day you might finally find or afford a professional, and ultimately this alone should be worth the wait.
You only have one chance to make a first impression, so don’t take it lightly. Make sure your cover is the best it can be — not only in your eyes, but in respect to the entire market, including the major publishers. Good enough is never good enough. A cover has to be great to succeed.