The Importance of Cover Art
A Beginner’s Guide to Self-Publishing
Boom. I wanted to smack you in the face with that title right out of the bat. Those of you who are just readers might want to skip this blog, but as I said before, I get a lot of questions from other writers about self publishing, so I decided to write a few blogs on the process.
This is all, of course, just my experience with self-pub, and yours
may will be different.
That all said, I’m quite busy these days and may gloss over or skip details on accident. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below rather than sending them to me directly. That way others can see them and benefit from the answers too! It’s not that I mind talking with people (I truly don’t!) but I’ve benefited a lot from other authors and so I want to share the wealth. Fair warning though, a lot of the time your questions might get an answer of, “Uhh, not sure…?” because I am still in my first year of publishing.
Last thing before I kick this beast off… I did a quick proofread over this, but I know I’m a horrendous typo machine and often overlook things. Please forgive me! That’s why I pay an editor for my books 😛
The Importance of Cover Art
A Beginner’s Guide to Self-Publishing
Went ahead and put the title up again. Figured, why not?
I’m going to be mean here. I’m sorry guys, but you need your medicine.
One of the most unfortunate mistakes I see new authors make is how little attention they put toward their covers. I see way too many covers where someone went out and took a picture of a tree and then put a black and white filter over it, and then they think that is a great depiction of their book. Maybe it is, I don’t know, but I doubt anyone is going to be interested. Later when I see that the book has 0 reviews or 1 or 2 clearly from a family member, I know I was right.
I’m sorry, but it makes your book look lazy. People think its lazy and that if you invested so little time into the cover, you must have also invested very little time and effort into the story. I’m just being brutally honest here for your benefit.
I’ve talked with a few of these people, I’m friends with a few of these people. I’ve politely tried to steer them away from the black and white tree and almost always their response is, “Well I asked my friends and they all told me it’s good!”
I’m sorry, but your friends are liars.
While we’re on that note, your friends and family really aren’t the best people to ask for advice on this kind of stuff because they’re (rightfully or wrongfully) worried about your feelings. This isn’t just for covers, but for anything, plot direction, story synopsis—anything related to your book. The people closest to you—who will be worried about your feelings—are not the people to ask if you want a serious answer.
You guys can’t see this right now, but I’m shrugging. It’s another tough part of the business but I won’t lie to people when they ask me my opinion, though I also don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. When someone asks me if I like their black and white tree cover, I try as nicely as possible to tell them that I think they should reconsider, and I think it’s strange that people become defensive. I don’t want to hurt anyone, truly, I want to be a nice guy, but it’s not doing YOU any favors for me to be more concerned about your feelings than giving you an honest answer.
How much time did you put into your book? How many hours? How much sweat? Why do you want to put it out with a subpar cover? Honestly, you might have wrote an amazing novel, but if your cover sucks, no one is going to read it. That’s what I’m concerned about. That’s what I truly care about, and that’s more important than hurting your feelings about a cover.
Now on the flip side of that, if you have an amazing cover, there’s a good chance people are going to give you a chance based solely on that.
“Don’t ever judge a book by its cover!” – a person who doesn’t understand people.
Now maybe I’m wrong and you’re just publishing your book as a hobby. If you’re doing that, and you’re content with your black and white tree cover, then that’s perfect and I’m happy if you’re happy.
If you’re trying to do this as business and you don’t have some great skill in art, then you need to hire a professional. Not going to lie to you, it isn’t cheap, but there’s no way around it. If you want to put out a quality book, you have to pay for a quality artist, that’s where a guy like this comes in:
See this hunky French Canadian here? He’s my own personal cover artist. He’s done my last two covers (and one secret yet revealed!) and I’m sure he’ll do many more.
You need a professional artist. Now don’t get confused and think that’s all you need, but that’s just the first thing you need, because that’s the first thing the reader sees outside of maybe the title. A crap cover makes it look like low quality work.
There are a lot of places to find good artist. I’m going to be fully transparent here and say that I only really have experience with François. I don’t want to lead anyone astray by point down any narrow paths or dark alleyways and telling you to go there, so I’m just going to talk about the process I know, which is the one I’ve done with François. If you happen to come across another artist, I’m sure what you need to do is see their other work, check their prices (a good artist should be anywhere between $200 – $400 depending on quality, complexity and demand) and build a relationship with that artist. Make sure they’re giving you what you want and that you’re happy with what you’re receiving, but you’re also not being a jerk.
That said, I’m going to walk you through the process of how François and I chose my most recent cover, Mind Wreck: Shadow Games (now on sale for $.99!).
I gave that hunky Canadian (and sorry ladies, he’s taken) my book and he read it over. After that, he pitched me three designs.
I’m absolutely happy for this because I had no ideas. I’m a good writer, but I’m not a good artist. If it was up to me, we’d have some kind of Monster Potato up on the cover.
I had some very vague ideas of what I thought might be cool, but they weren’t close to what François pitched me.
He read the book and sent me three images that were inspired from the book.
I picked the one on the left! Let me know in the comments if you agree! No book spoilers though!
This dude nailed it. A lot of you haven’t read Mind Wreck yet (It’s on sale! Did I say that?) but François really captured it in all three of those images. So, that put me into a dilemma where I immediately began cursing his name.
“DAMN YOU FRANÇOIS! Couldn’t you have at least made one of these terrible?!” But that’s the problem with that dude, he never makes it easy. He never does…
So, I had to pick one. I chose the one on the far left. That shifty little cat with the crazy shadow. What the hell is going on with that dude? WHAT INDEED.
So here is the final cover:
Now people who see this book have told me they really want to read it based on this cover. After they read it they tell me they really liked the book, but I’m sure it was the cover that hooked the fish. It wasn’t my blurb on the back (though that might have been what sealed the deal, and we can talk about that in another blog), but the cover is what snatches the eye and gets the ball rolling.
Now, here are some final tidbits that you should know when dealing with a cover artist.
- If there are important details that you must have on a cover, make that crystal clear to the artist before the project begins. Don’t expect it in a revision afterward.
- An artist should be willing to give you revisions. Unless an artist is working super cheap, you should only hire one that agrees to give you revisions, and that’s something that should be agreed to before hand.
- Never pay full price up front. All artist have their own kind of payment system, but it should be something like 50% in the beginning and 50% in the end.
- While we’re talking money, if you’re paying several hundred dollars, the artist should read the book. If you’re paying $200+ a synopsis is probably not enough for the artist to form a good enough enough of an idea to compose a truly unique cover.
- Do pay the artist. For as many authors that get screwed, there are artist that also get screwed. Don’t be a jerk, and don’t be unreasonable with your revisions, you can’t expect someone to paint you a Mona Lisa for a few hundred dollars.
- Don’t let your feelings get hurt if you hear an artist did a different price for a different person. Some covers come with more or less complexity than other covers. I’ve been in a few groups where I saw people talking and getting pissed when they found out one person paid more/less than another. That’s ridiculous. Negotiate a price you’re comfortable with. Don’t worry about what the artist is charging other people, does the artist tell you how much to charge for your books?
PAY CLOSE ATTENTION HERE
I was going to make this a bullet point, but it’s not exactly common knowledge, and it REALLY needs to be noticed. Amazon algorithms will really hamper books that have covers with certain ‘offensive‘ imagery. I’m not making this up as it happened to me.
It also completely stops you from running ads on Amazon if they deem your cover ‘offensive‘.
Offensive imagery included, but not limited to:
- Guns / knives
- People or Animals in distress
- Drug use
(If you want to read more about Amazon ad cover policy follow THIS link.)
My cover for The Wicked Ones was deemed offensive for ‘People or Animals in distress’. That was actually NOT the case, so I was able to get it overturned, but for a while there I was in a panic thinking the great beast of Amazon had turned on me. So be careful! If you walk blindly into a cover and get something overly violent, or something with drug use… You might tank your book before it even has a chance to take off! A lot of cover artist aren’t even aware of this as they aren’t in the business of selling books, they’re only there to make the cover. It’s up to YOU to make sure that none of these ‘offensive‘ things are included on accident.
So the moral of the story here is if you want to make your career happen, invest in a great cover that catches the eye. I briefly thought about showing some terrible covers here for comparison, but that’d just be mean, so I’ll show off some of my favorite of François’s covers, you let me know if you think they draw you in and make you more interested in reading one of the books. Tell me your favorites below!
Hope this blog helps!