Getting An Awesome Cover Design

Getting An Awesome Cover Design by 

First off, a confession: I didn’t do this for my first novel. Bizarrely, it hit number 2 on Amazon anyway, due to various pieces of press coverage (which I’ll talk about in my Getting Press Coverage post), but I can’t help wondering whether it might have made it to the top-spot if I’d known then what I know now about cover design.

As I say in my video, authors should not design their own book covers. There are no exceptions. Even if you’re a designer by trade, you should get a fresh pair of eyes on the project – a designer friend, perhaps – if you can’t afford the £500-£1,000 it’ll cost you to get a professional to design the full wrap-around cover and thumbnail.

A word of warning up front: If you’re calling in favours from a friend who knows a bit about design, make sure he or she understands book cover design. There are a whole load of book-specific rules around fonts, layout, margins, kerning and other mysterious things that I’m not going to talk about here, which your designer should live and breathe so that you don’t have to. (You’re heading up the publishing house, remember – not doing everything inside it!)

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to collaborate with a book cover designer. So… where will you find such a person? Well, one way is to wander round your nearest book store (or Amazon, if you prefer things virtual) and pick out a few designs you like the look of. Turn the book over (or click to expand the thumbnail) and you’ll see the name and/or website of the designer, somewhere near the barcode. Beware: Some designers won’t take on independent commissions and some might be out of your price range, but if you dig around, you should find someone suitable.

Alternatively, there are lots of marketplace websites, this being one of them, which aim to match authors with service providers such as cover designers. Make sure you get genuine testimonials from previous clients and of course, only go with a designer who has worked on books of a similar style or genre. If someone has spent their life designing sci-fi novel jackets, it’s unlikely to be a good match for a romance writer.

Getting the right designer is the hardest and most important part. Once you’ve done this, you need to get him or her to understand your book and the vision you have for it. In an ideal world, your designer would read the book, but at the very least, sit down and talk it through. Show him or her any examples of books in a similar style and share any thoughts you have on colours, themes, fonts etc. Don’t be too prescriptive. The designer should have the freedom to come up with ideas!

As you’ll see in the video, coming up with the perfect design is an iterative process. You will hopefully start with a few different options, then narrow it down to one core concept, which you can collaboratively hone until you have the perfect layout, colours, fonts, spacing and so on. One of the great things about self-publishing is that you can liaise directly with your designer, rather than being at the mercy of a committee of marketers, editors and other people who haven’t read your book.

Test out your concepts! This is a great way of getting potential readers to engage with your project ahead of publication. I often put the shortlist up on my Facebook page for fans to compare. You’d be amazed at how differently people perceive the designs and you might find that the artwork is giving off entirely the wrong vibes. It’s better to learn this now than when the Amazon reviewers are complaining about being misled.

As I say in my video, it’s only when you have the perfect front cover (which needs to work as a small thumbnail as well as at scale) that your designer will work on the full wrap-around cover. For this, you’ll need your back-of-book ‘blurb’, which I’ll talk about in my next post, Publishing Your Book.  In reality, you’ll probably do all these things simultaneously, working with your editor(s) to produce your final draft, collaborating with your designer to get the perfect cover, agreeing on your publishing and distribution while planning your marketing. It’s not as arduous as it sounds – promise! Next time I’ll be talking about the mechanics of publishing, i.e. getting your book on the shelves, both physical and virtual. Until then… good luck!

Doing It Better

Doing It Better by Polly Courtney

“As an author looking to self-publish, what’s the number one rule? Do what publishers do, but do it better.”

The trouble with self-publishing is that it’s very easy to do badly. I’m talking about those books that have four typos on the first page; the ones with the amateurish cover designs. You know: the books you put down after half a chapter because the main character is driving you mad. I’m talking about those books that get held up by publishers as shining examples of why they still need to exist.

‘See?’ they jeer, scoffing at the wonky photograph on the front cover, with its tacky white border and laminated sheen. ‘This is what happens when you bypass the publishers!’  

Well, yes and no. Publishers have always provided a filter between the vast jumble of words out there and the bookshelves our readers peruse – a filter that may or may not be based on quality, depending on your point of view. Either way, they don’t have to be the only ones policing the literary waters. Those of us who do choose to bypass the publishers – for whatever reason – should impose our own quality filters, out of respect for our readers and our fellow indie authors. Nobody wants to be part of an industry that is perceived as shoddy.

For me, self-publishing is about doing everything a traditional publisher does, but doing it better.

This means getting your book ripped apart by an editor, who will leave you to put it back together again. It means getting a professional designer to work on the book cover – even if you know your way around Photoshop. It means working out your best options for printing and/or ebook and executing on a well thought-through distribution plan, setting prices that work for you and your readers. It means marketing the hell out of your book in whatever ways make sense, based on your personality, your time, your budget and the type of readers you think you’ll attract. Oh, and it also means laying on an epic book launch.

Sounds daunting, eh?

Don’t worry; I’ve spent nearly ten years making mistakes so that you don’t have to (if you read this blog series, that is). I muddled my way to the number 2 spot on Amazon back in 2006, which got me a book deal with HarperCollins. There, I learnt a lot about what works – and what doesn’t. I’ve since returned to self-publishing for my latest work, Feral Youth, which has offered me more control over how my books are branded and enabled me to put into practice everything I’ve learnt.

It turns out, traditional publishers don’t do everything in the most optimal way. They’re big, which means they’re not nimble. If you want to run a short price promotion, forget it; they’ll take six months to get sign-off. If you think all your marketing will be taken care of when you’re with the big boys, you’re sadly mistaken. It would be nice if we still lived in those times, but these days you’re expected to handle all the promotion yourself, using your initiatives and your ‘platform’. Sure, the publisher takes care of your book cover design (and in my case, the title too), which can be a blessing and a curse. But even in the editing stage, although publishers use professionals, they only ever get one set of eyes on the manuscript at any one time. Books are subjective things… your readers might not think like your editor does.

I’ve divided the publishing journey into six parts:

  1. Editing Your Book
  2. Getting an Awesome Book Cover
  3. Publishing Your Book
  4. Getting Press Coverage
  5. Making a Book Trailer
  6. Holding an Epic Book Launch.

Each post has an accompanying video, which shows examples of the advice in action – often based on my own experiences publishing my latest novel, Feral Youth. Although this series won’t cover everything you need to know about self-publishing professionally, it touches on the parts that matter most to me.

One big tip, before we get stuck in: Collaborate. As self-publishers, we don’t need to do everything ourselves. In fact, it’s a really bad idea to try and do everything ourselves. We head up the publishing house, which means we have the control, but we consult with experts to get things done properly. Right? Right!