Welcome to the Self-Printed Preview Week! Today’s excerpt is from Part 2: Preparation and it’s called The Minefield That is Self-Published Cover Design. Why do self-published books look so self-published? Why do self-publishing authors seem to forget everything they know about real, “proper” books when they go to design their own? And what makes anyone think that having a decorative border, using Comic Sans or putting a quote like, ‘”I loved it” – Author’s Best Friend Who, Like, Reads a LOT’ is a good idea? It boggles the mind…
Remember how I said that there were only two places in this book where, if you didn’t listen to me, you definitely wouldn’t be a successful self-publisher? Well, pricing was one of them and this – cover design – is the other.
You can write a bad book. You can write a truly terrible book, that’s also a little offensive. You can publish it chock full of grammar and spelling mistakes, lay it out sideways and do the whole thing in super large print and upside down. You can call it something boring, do no promotion and claim in your book description that you’re the next next JK Rowling or something equally pompous and annoying. (“My book is the best book I’ve ever read”, for instance.) You can do all these things and still sell books. It’s unlikely, but it can happen. But charge too much money for it or wrap it in a stinky cover and you will not sell books. Those two mistakes cannot be overcome, partly because there are so obvious and the tell-tale signs of a badly self-published book. Hopefully I’ve already convinced you that you need to be reasonable in your pricing, so now let me clatter you over the head with my arguments for why you need to have a good cover and why this may make or break your entire self-publishing career. The good news is that covers are by far the trickiest thing in this whole process so if you can do this right, you’re more than half way to a successful self-publishing adventure.
We are now entering what I like to call The Bermuda Triangle of self-published cover design, because chances are everything you know about books is about to mysteriously disappear. Self-publishing is indeed a strange world: there’s talking purple unicorns, plastic toys come to life and hundreds of thousands if not millions of writers who’ve (hopefully) been reading books all their lives who then go to make their own and instantly forget every single thing they know about them. It amazes me on a daily basis how self-published authors create books that look absolutely nothing like the books they’ve been buying, borrowing, reading, stacking, stroking (or is that just me?) and gazing at adoringly and then, even more amazingly, don’t see that they’ve done anything wrong.
Why does that happen? Behold, the five biggest mines in the minefield of self-published cover design:
Mine #1: Laziness
The antidote to successful self-publishing, laziness gets in between many self-publishers and properly self-published books. You just don’t want to be bothered finding, hiring and working with a cover designer. Where do you even find those people? And you’d rather lie on the sofa and watch The Biggest Loser than think up something to go on the cover of you book. Ugh. BOR-ing. Haven’t you done enough already by writing the bloody thing? You need some Me Time. So you’re just going to watch TV and then spend a few minutes knocking up a cover on the POD website with their cover creator wizard thingy. I mean, they wouldn’t call it a wizard if it didn’t work, right? So get off my back. Gawd.
How to avoid this? Hire a cover designer.
Mine #2: Lack of skills and/or imagination
You either have a very good idea of what might go on your book’s cover, or none at all. Having spent all of your creative energy on writing the thing, it’s not unusual to have little or no clue of what might work well on the jacket. This is okay, but it’s not okay for you to do nothing about it. Similarly, you might not want to get involved in doing anything “too fancy” for your cover because you don’t know how to use PhotoShop or any of those design programs – which, again, is okay. I don’t know how to use them either. But I didn’t let that stop me from getting a good cover for my book.
How to avoid this? Hire a cover designer.
Mine #3: Delusion
This is my favourite one, and I’d hazard a guess, the most common problem. Self-publishers (the ones destined to do it badly, anyway) can be so damn defensive, and they are especially defensive when it comes to choosing a cover design, in particular why they need to choose a good one. “But Catherine,” they’re saying now, if they enjoy talking aloud to books, “I never choose books because of their covers. I read books because the blurb is interesting, or because I like the author. Whatever picture is on the cover doesn’t sway me in the slightest. Why, just last week I bought the new Harlan Coben and I’ll tell you, I didn’t care for the cover on it at all. So I think you going on for pages and pages about how my cover is the most important part of my book is occasionally amusing – mildly – but ultimately utterly irrelevant. My book is, like, the best book I or anyone else has ever read and when people see the thousands of five-star reviews I’m going to get on Amazon, they won’t even glance at the cover before clicking ‘Add to Cart.’ It just doesn’t matter.”
How to avoid this? Don’t be a moron. And hire a cover designer.
Mine #4: Distorted perspective, AKA “My Name is on the Spine!” Syndrome
It is very exciting to see your name on the spine of a book, and words you wrote in between its covers. Very exciting indeed. In fact it’s so exciting that I recommend you go straight to CS right now, upload any old PDF you can find, run through the Cover Creator wizard thingy and send yourself a proof copy just so you can get it out of your system. Then you won’t be so overwhelmed by the sight of your name on anything that looks like a printed book that you’ll fail to notice the book your name is on looks like a pile of self-published poo. It is not enough to produce something that feels like a book in your hands, that has pages inside of it, and that has those pages bound together at one end to form a spine. You need to produce a great looking book, and if your eyes are filled with tears at the sight of your newborn book baby, you won’t be able to see it clearly enough to tell whether you have or not.
How to avoid this? Take a book with a white spine and write your name on it with a Sharpie. Look at it for while, and then hire a cover designer.
Mine #5: Lack of money
Maybe you already knew how important a cover was, but you just don’t have the money to hire a cover designer and get them to make a good one for you. There’s a few ways to overcome this problem, and we’ll talk about them in a minute.
How to avoid this? Keep reading.
You may have got the sense by now – if you’re very astute – that I don’t recommend you use any “cover creation” software available on POD sites, such as CreateSpace’s Cover Creator. This is because the only creation involved is deciding between one bad template and the next, and even if you push it to the max and do the very best you can with it, you will still end up with a cover that screams “self-published!” They look bad because they don’t look like real, proper books, and all of them are on my Top 3 list of Stinky Self-Published Front Covers:
- A rectangular photograph centred on the front cover that takes up a large portion of it, is against a plain colour background and has text above (the title) and below (the author’s name)
- A patterned or plain background with no photographs at all, just text
- Almost anything generated by a cover creation wizard installed on a POD site.
If you insist on using the Cover Creator, then you’ll do it after you upload your interior files and CS will automatically size it for your book’s page count and trim, and then add the barcode for you. As I’ve said already, do not pay for any packages or services offered by the POD site, and that includes cover design. (I’d even go so far as to say especially cover design.) All you are doing here is paying through the nose for a cover that is almost completely indiscernible from one you could have made yourself – and for free – using the cover creation software. So DON’T do it.
So I’ve told you what not to do. (Repeatedly.) But what should you do to ensure that your cover is worthy of your book and of rubbing shoulders with anything produced by the Big Boys, and won’t stand out as a self-published POD book when it does?
Tune in tomorrow for the next excerpt, What Does the Dream Look Like?