Helping Your Designer

This is the 4th post in the How to Design a Book Cover series.

Now that you’ve learned about all that goes into designing a fabulous cover for your novel, hopefully you’ve also realized hiring a professional to do it for you is exactly what must be done.

First and foremost, don’t just hire any designer.  When you’re looking for a designer, ask for samples of other work that they’ve done.  If they’re a professional, they should have a portfolio of work to share with you.  Be clear on the terms of how much it will cost you up front, including if they charge for any changes like typos or the wrong photo, etc.  Some professionals will charge a flat fee, some will do it per hour.  According to Scarlett Rugers, a book cover designer from Australia, if you want the kind of cover you see from the major publishing houses, you can expect to pay somewhere between $500 and $1200.

johnny automaticWhy is it so pricy?  Often you’re getting unique materials, basically stuff you won’t see on other covers.  They won’t be using templates, your cover will be completely unique.  However, you can it done for a lot less, just remember the other adage: you get what you pay for.

If you are going to go the cheaper route, make sure you do ask for samples of previous work.  It also never hurts to Google their name to see if they’re legit, or at least see that no negative hits show up in your browser.  Get all the terms up front, and at the very least have them send you all this information including total cost in an email, then print it out for your records.

Having both worked with freelancers and worked freelance myself, I find it’s always a good idea in any sort of transaction.  Often in the graphic design world, this is called having them send you over their bid—although that’s usually with business professionals vs. freelancers.  But the point being, get it in writing before you surrender any of your $$$.

We’ve already discussed a few things you can do to help your designer help you, but let’s pull it altogether in one spot.  Your designer likely doesn’t have time and unless they’re a really good friend probably won’t read your entire book before designing your cover for you.  But they don’t necessarily have to.  This is where your own preparation will come in handy in getting you the cover you want.

savvy

Bright colors, swirling magical sky, lightning, and a bus. Appeals to the right age group while incorporating elements from the actual story.

One of the things you should have ready right away for your designer is the book blurb they’ll put on the back or that you’ll use to describe your book for the e-reading audience.  In addition to a book blurb, prepare a one-page summary that gives them an idea of what kind of story it is—not necessarily a synopsis, but something that helps them know what the book is about.  Imagine you’re telling them about one of your favorite books or movies they’ve never seen.  What kinds of things would you point out to them if they were designing a cover for that?  What kinds of things would you point out for them to design your cover with?

Bring your list of adjectives and any other descriptive words to give them an idea of the kind of mood you want to convey on the cover.  You’re a writer, so descriptions should be old hat for you. 😉

You might also consider finding covers you like or even art or advertisements and bring them as samples of what you’re hoping for.

cowboy boots

If your book is a western, a picture like this could be great inspiration for cover design. They might use that leather look as a book border or to stylize the font, etc.

At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask them to contribute.  I worked with a videographer where I told him what we definitely needed for footage, but told him more of the kind of mood we were trying to convey and expressed I was totally open to him bringing his own artistry and creativity to the table.  He came up with shots that I wasn’t sure about at first, but looking at the footage later I realized were fantastic.

Graphic designers are creative people too with their own fabulous ideas.  Do your best to strike a balance between the two of you.  You don’t want to end up with a cover you don’t like because you didn’t say anything, but that can also happen because you were too controlling.  Again, it’s all about balance.

Remember that cheap and fast usually never equal great.  So if you must go the cheap route, expect that it could take a little longer than you’d like.

SUMMING UP

Do some preparation work so that you can clearly tell your designer what your story is about and the mood you want to convey. Bring the following to your designer:

  • Book Blurb
  • One-Page Book Summary
  • List of Adjectives and Other Helpful Words
  • Samples of the Look You Want

The difference in using a professional can be massive.  You’ve already seen what even the slightest bit of thought can do to improve a book cover in my previous post.  Remember Dark Midnight?

litandscribbles jae deon richmond

But do self-published authors really put that much effort into their covers?  Do they really go out and find a good designer?  Many I could find on the Twitterverse hadn’t and I was feeling a little discouraged for the self-publishing industry.  That was until I came across a book called Sempre by J.M. Darhower.

sempre darhowerMs. Darhower was kind enough to let me feature her cover here as what I think we can all call a success when it comes to book cover design.  Not only is it very appealing, but it tells us a lot about her story before we even read the book blurb.  The cover is white, probably to portray innocence.  Yet there’s a gun and a bloodied rose.  So we know there will be some kind of danger involved, likely life-threatening.  Then the bloodied rose… Since roses tend to symbolize romance, we infer there’s probably some kind of threatened or fading romance along with the loss of innocence.

I read her GoodReads book summary, and yep, pretty much her cover is spot on at giving us a sense of the story.  (And both the summary and the cover make it so tantalizing, don’t you think?  Grab it on Amazon here.)

She did it right.  So should you.

Tomorrow we finish up the series with the Bottom Line.  See you then!

Basic Cover Design: Do’s and Don’ts

If you intend to tackle the arduous task of making a tantalizing book cover there’s a few things I should tell you.  (How’s that for alliteration?)  I’m going to use my faux-story Swan Stake as an example.

Swan Stake Jae

I’ve alluded to Swan Stake in earlier post, but it’s basically a pre-teen space vampire ballet romance novel.

Ballet Vampire

I’m going to base my bantha poodoo cover examples on those I’ve seen floating around the Twitterverse, but worry not, they’ll remain perfectly anonymous.  I just didn’t have the heart to criticize them publicly.  Writers aren’t typically designers, and that’s okay.

jae dansiejae dansieMost covers need at least 2 things on them:

  1. The Title
  2. Author Name

But this usually isn’t enough, as you can see.  Even if you add a color, you’ve still got little better than a Word document your 5-year-old could create.  And let’s face it, at least they’d draw something interesting with crayons.

jae dansie crayons

I drawed this!

Most covers I’ve seen have at least enough sense to include some kind of image on the cover to draw some appeal.  But slapping any old image on there isn’t going to cut it.

In order to create something the least bit interesting I’m going to introduce you to the concept of dominant objects and lines for creating an interesting cover.

DOMINANT OBJECTS & LINES

This is to say that if everything on the surface is the same size, your brain will probably start at the top and read it like a page from a book.  No, not necessarily a bad thing.  But it’s problematic because your brain will treat all things as equal, which may translate to boring.

Using a dominant or larger object can help up the level of interesting as well as direct the eye of potential readers to the important information.  That’s often why the title is the largest text on the book.

You may be tempted to make your name larger than the title or as large, pointing to the likes of James Patterson and his covers for your examples, but here’s the thing: you’re not James Patterson.  Unless for some reason you’ve got fame and fortune (and I don’t know why you wouldn’t just have a publishing house take care of this for you) then your name is almost irrelevant.

That’s not to say it shouldn’t be on the front cover, but it should play a supporting role to your story, more like a Samwise Gamgee to your Frodo Baggins.  Sure, you’re the one who dragged Frodo into Mordor, but it’s Frodo we’re interested in until we know who you are.  So give Frodo the spotlight until you’re as well-known a name as Terry Brooks, J.K. Rowling, or Suzanne Collins.

For the sake of basics, keep your title at the top and your name at the bottom.  Since this is the way we usually read, your relevant information (the title) should come first.

Your title will probably end up being the foremost dominant object, but a close second will likely be the image you’ve chosen to place on the cover.  And often the image and title work together in dominance, but they don’t have to.

TwilightLet’s go back to Twilight and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  For Twilight the dominant object is actually not the title, but the image.  However, thanks to clever design we’re immediately directed to the title.  This is what I mean about lines.  With Twilight, because it’s a dark cover with muted colors, the first place your eyes go is the apple.  Then you follow the arms up, capturing the title in a kind of ‘V.’  It happens pretty quickly, but the cover is designed to take you right to the title.  Then once you’ve found the title, your eyes resume reading their natural way and you find the author’s name right below the big red spot.

Simple Twilight ShapesI’ve always been very impressed with the cover design on this book because it’s so well done.  It’s simple but very sophisticated.  Anyone looking for this book who’s ever seen it before, isn’t actually looking for the title “Twilight” but this particular pattern of colors and shapes.

The rest of the covers aren’t as clever as this, but it really doesn’t matter because they look like this one so we automatically associate the rest with this first clever one.  Well done Gail Doobinin.

Now for Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  diary of a wimpy kidThe bright red background serves as a nice contrast for the starkly white people of paper pasted on the front.  Which, if you’ll notice, is angled so that the top most edge of it is pointing at the title (it’s also the dominant object).  Wimpy Kid is also the largest text on the page so whether your eye goes to the white paper first or the words Wimpy Kid, your brain will register the title immediately.  The picture of the wimpy kid drawn in comic form tells you already what kind of story you can expect inside.  Because a diary is a familiar form, you probably noticed that it was a diary without reading the word diary directly at first.  And then please take note at how incredibly small the author’s name is at the bottom.  Why?  Because he’s trying to sell his story first and foremost!  Now that he’s made a name for himself, if he writes another series it can probably be a little bigger, though my guess is they’ll still probably try and sell it as “from the author who brought you Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

Anyway, I hope you’re understanding more of the thought that goes into dominant objects and lines.

DO’S AND DON’TS EXAMPLES

I created these covers using inspiration from the Twitterverse.  These faux designs are based on actual covers, though with names, titles, and elements changed to protect the innocent.  First I’ll show you the don’ts and then covers closer to do’s.

JAE NOTE: I made this a graphic design game for myself, which turned out to be a great creativity challenge.  The rules I laid down for myself was take the existing elements, and make as generous an improvement as possible.  That means I couldn’t switch fonts or photos.  Tell me how I did in the comments below.

There were a lot more don’t examples than I care to name.  I’ve chosen three for our purposes here.  First up is Mysterious Switch.

deon richmond mystery litandscribblesWhat is it with you people and your love of Impact font?  Okay, it isn’t the worst font in the world, but it’s soooo overused and usually poorly used.  Next there’s a picture of the Washington Monument, which as far as I could gather is only on the cover because the author was from the area.  The awful green stroke too I didn’t understand.

The only points I can give them is kudos for the fog to portray mystery, but part of me wonders if that was done by accident.  Yes, all the relevant information is there, but the placement is uninteresting as is the use of the photo’s lines.

So what can we possibly do with this to make it any better?  Well, I’m not promising perfection, since I’m limited by the available elements, but, drum roll please!

deon richmond litandscribbles mysteryI decided to make good use of the foggy sky.  And I put the font in all caps because it’s typically the only way I can stand Impact and I think it makes it look more suspenseful or intense somehow.

Obviously I would have preferred a graphic that actually had something to do with the story, and so should you.  Don’t just put a picture in because you have it or because you think it’s interesting.  Otherwise your readers will wonder when they’re going to read about the Washington Monument, or better still Washington D.C.

Next up we have Sugar Loose!

Sugar Loose is a story for kids.  Sugar is a cow, who isn’t actually a cow, but an ant.  I probably would have gone with an illustration myself, but instead we get this unfortunate photo.

When taking a photo of anything, unflattering rules for humans apply for animals.  Unless you’re trying to make a point, please don’t show us a picture with large focus on the animal’s behind.  There are soooo many more interesting ways to take a picture of a cow or whatever it is.  This is where that $19 or so would come in handy with a nice professional picture.  I also don’t really get the reverse italicization of the font…

deon richmond litandscribblesTo be fair I did notice there’s a new edition of this particular book.  The cover is about 10% improved.  We kind of have a point of interest for the relevant information.

I have to admit, I’m certainly more inclined to read this book than its preceding cover.  But this is a kid’s book isn’t it?  Shouldn’t there be bright colors or something?  This looks more like a self-help or deep thoughts of the universe book.  The mood I’m getting from this cover is not anything fun, adventurous, mysterious, etc.

This cover gave me a real headache with how I could possibly leave it improved.  These elements were the most limiting of all.

Again, I would have probably done an illustration of some kind.  The best I could come up with was to at least draw more attention to the title.  I really wasn’t sure what to do with this awful cow picture.

But I hope it serves as a good example of how choosing the right presentation in title and use of color can up the appeal.  It’s not what I’d ultimately want for this cover, but I think I’ve left it improved, so I’m going to call it good.

Best of luck to you, Sugar.  May your cow disguise carry you to places beyond your wildest dreams.

Last of all, and for me least appealing of all we have *cue spooky voice* Dark Midnight

Deon Richmond darkThis was well-intentioned, but very poorly implemented. The font isn’t my favorite, but most appalling to me of all is that little black bar at the bottom. I think the intention was legibility, but whatever they were hoping to gain with the photo was lost. Plus it seemed a bit pixelated to me. Always use the highest quality photo when it comes to your cover.

So what can we do with a building/house/something that kind of looks scary because it’s run down or something? And that font, must we really stick to the rules and use what this poor cover maker left us to work with? It seems hopeless, but it’s amazing what a little tweaking can do.

deon richmond dark jaeI believe the original intention of this cover designer was to provide us with a spooky image to let us know the stories contained inside were of a more scary nature. I’ve always found the stark contrast of black and white helpful in achieving menacing. Maybe it’s the loss of color that serves as a reminder of death. Anyways, I desaturated the image, kicked up the contrast, and voila!

Seems a bit more foreboding now, doesn’t it? I added a hint of red around the edges to hint at the possibility of blood or murder. I don’t know that it necessarily fits with what the author had inside, but again, I could only work with the elements I had.

CONCLUSION

I hope this was as entertaining for you as it was for me, if not at least interesting and informative. And perhaps I’ve made a stronger case for those of you wanted to scrimp on the cover to shell out a little dough for some professionalism.

You’ve got to take so many things into consideration when designing: fonts, colors, image, tone, mood, lines, dominant objects, etc. etc. etc.

So tell me, what have you learned? Are you gaining some more knowledge about book cover design? Whether you’re self or traditional pub, are you going to design the book cover yourself or just let the pros handle it. Let me know in the comments.

Monday the fun continues with Helping Your Designer. See you then!

Judge a Book By Its Cover

How many times have you heard the old adage:

Never judge a book by its cover.

Well today, my lovelies, I’m here to tell you that if you’re an author that’s a load of bantha poodoo.  Everyone will judge your book by its cover.  Granted what’s in between that cover should be the gold bomb diggety, but repel potential readers you will if you don’t put at least one-quarter the energy you put into writing the book into creating the cover.

litandscribbles gold diggety jae

Your work should explode into awesomeness every time the reader opens it.

This doesn’t mean you need to design the cover yourself, and unless you’re a graphic designer or artist, please hand that task off to someone else.

I do graphic design among other things for a living.  No, I’m not the greatest graphic designer in the world.  That title belongs to Paul Rand or Milton Glaser.  But I do know horrible when I see it, and unfortunately I see a lot of that in self-pub covers.

But all is not lost!  You can have a good cover, possibly even a great cover if you only take into consideration a few things when pulling it together.
Remember, your book cover is your initial sales pitch to your readers.

These tips will apply mostly to self-pubbers but traditional route authors will also want to take note.  Both of you may work with a designer, and the more direction you can give them the better your cover will likely turn out.

Let’s begin at the core.

THE POINT OF YOUR BOOK COVER

As I said previously, your book cover is your initial sales pitch to a potential reader.  You want it to be eye-catching, alluring, intriguing—but to the right audience.  Let’s start with two books as examples: Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Twilight.

These are both well-designed book covers, brought to you thanks to the $$$ the publishing houses had to pay a good designer.  But why are they good covers?  What do they convey?  Even if you’re not consciously thinking it, when you look at a cover, it’s sending you all sorts of messages.  Let’s start with Diary of a Wimpy Kid and you can see what I mean.

diary of a wimpy kidBright, vibrant colors.  This tells us this book is probably for kids, but also promises to be something fun.  It’s fashioned like a real diary with modifications, re-emphasizing this will be the journal entries of some kid.  The font itself looks more hand-written, like a comic.  And you have a picture from the comics inside, torn out and taped on the front, probably the way a kid would design this book.  Then we get a picture of the kid himself, and yep, he does look wimpy—all hunched over and frowning.

TwilightNow compare that with Twilight.  Black background, light or white text.  The arms are pale.  The only color they do use is red, like blood, but still quite muted.  If you knew nothing about Twilight, looking at this cover you would still know it’s a story about something dark.  The apple suggests temptation.  The title has a sort of fantastical/magic look to it.  Some kind of dark temptation involving something magical.  These are things we notice and process—probably subconsciously for most of us.

But let’s take it one step further so you can understand the big difference between these two approaches.  If we were to switch them up, you can easily see why choosing the appropriate colors and moods for your book cover conveys a lot about what kind of story you’ve got.

diary of a vampy kid

moldy cheese jeff kinney

I hope you’re beginning to see how different designs make things funny or creepy or whatever you’re intending.  You’ve just got to put the right elements together (or rather the designer does) and you can have an intriguing cover that tells you something about the book.  It honestly doesn’t even have to be that complex.

outliers malcolm gladwellTake this book cover for example.  Simple, but effective.  It’s white, kind of sterile, like it’s all business.  It has some beads on it, one is separate, closer to the title Outliers—purposely conveying the concept of being an outlier.  Granted this particular design it probably more suited to non-fiction, but my point is you can have a good design that isn’t as complex as one of the American covers for the Harry Potter series.

This makes for a good introduction to book covers, and hopefully you’re beginning to understand a little better what kind of thought should go into your cover—whether you’re doing it yourself or not.  You’ve got to think about who your biggest audience is, what kind of story you’ve got and the best way to convey that, and most importantly of all the cover should be something that says, “I put more than 5 seconds worth of thought into this cover.

This is turning into a longer post than I had anticipated, so let’s continue in the following sections:

I’ll share some examples of self-pub authors who did it right, and do my best to recreate some of the less than good covers I’ve seen floating around the Twitterverse.  See you tomorrow with Colors, Fonts, & Photos!