Make a Great First Impression
The first thing a reader sees is your book cover. Think about it. Think about the last book you read, think about the last movie you saw, even think about the last magazine you picked up. Be honest. It was the cover, or the poster, that attracted you. It wasn’t necessarily an action packed, fancy, super artistic cover. It could have been very simple. It could have related to the genre well. It may have just struck a chord with you. Whatever the reason, that cover or poster attracted you to spend money on something. Now, there is a very real possibility that whatever it was you spent money on—a book or movie—wasn’t that good. Maybe the cover mislead you into believing it was going to be action packed and it wasn’t, or filled with great dialogue and romance and fell short. That happens. But the fact remains, you paid money for that thing. And, unless it was just so awful you couldn’t stand it and asked for a refund, you didn’t get your money back.
More so than the first sentence, or possibly even the title of the book, the most important aspect, feature, or part of a book is its cover. Again, think back to a book that had an awful title, or even a title that wasn’t really catchy, but had a fantastically engaging cover. If you are like me, a self-published author, you need to invest in a great cover. You need to be willing to find someone who has experience in designing books covers, can show you some of the other stuff they’ve done, and pay them for their very valued services. Don’t do what I did…at least at first…do your own cover.
I had this great idea, this vision in my head of what my cover should look like. And, at the same time, I didn’t have a whole lot of money. I was struggling, I knew that one of my friends dabbled in photography, and I figured we could create something amazing…and then best part—it’s FREE!
Big mistake. I say that, but it really was a great learning lesson. The cover looked amateur. And isn’t that the criticism that so many of us receive as self published authors. It’s amateur. It doesn’t look professional.
This is the uphill battle of all artist who have tried, or are trying, to go the DYI route. If you’re a musician, the music is great, the songs are meaningful, the musicians are talented, but it needs a professional studio’s touch. If you’re an actor or filmmaker, your work would be great if you only had access to MGM’s film studio, or Denzel Washington and Gwyneth Paltrow. Even visual art faces this struggle, in that there are major limitations to marketing and showing one’s work without being attached to a recognized school or studio.
And as the artist, we want our work to do the talking. If we are truly an amazing musician, artist, writer, signer, actor, etc. shouldn’t our skills alone be enough? I wish the answer was yes. I wish we could just somehow get our masterpiece in front of people and let them experience our imagination. Why should we have to pay for advertising and marketing and Facebook ads and space on the local radio station?
The real issue here is that for every musician or writer who is amazing at their craft but wasn’t fortunate enough to have parents who owned their own publishing company or a friend who’s cousin is the acquisitions editor for Penguin, there are a score or more of people out there who need to recognize that perhaps, they should focus on a different dream. And so when someone hears the term SELF anything, they have a perceived notion of what they’re getting.
Now, I am not a dream killer. I think someone who isn’t a spectacular writer can become a good writer with help, work, education, editing, etc. I think I fall into that category. But the problem is, so many self-published authors are so stuck on doing everything themselves, they have a hard time recognizing that they need help, and therefore never improve at their craft. This in turn hurts our industry, at least the DYI side, because now people pick up a subpar book and think that’s what they’re going to get every time they pick up a self published book.
I digress. How does this translate into book covers. Like I said before, it is the cover that first attracts attention. It is the cover that alerts a potential reader to the idea of the book. What is the genre? What is the mood? And what lies in between the covers means little if we give a poor first impression. Think of an interview. If you showed up to an interview in basketball shorts, no shoes, messy hair, and a wrinkly shirt, it doesn’t matter how hard of a worker you are or what level of education you have, you won’t get that job. The assumption will be that you are lazy. You may be anything but…but that is the impression you’ve given. Same with books. Amateur covers, at least in the mind of a reader (however unfair it is) equals amateur writing.
But you’re an artist you say. Anything you do looks anything but amateur. Sweet. Congratulations. You probably have more artistic talent in your pinky than I have in my whole body. You still shouldn’t design your own cover. Why, you say? It’s the same reason you shouldn’t edit your own book. Objectivity. You have an idea in your mind. You see it, no matter how bad your cover is, because it’s yours and you can see beyond the picture. Others can’t. They only see what they see. And if your job isn’t designing cover artwork, then you don’t know what you’re doing, no matter how good of an artist you are.
The whole job of a cover artist is beyond the art itself. Their job is to know what people are looking for, in advertisements, books, music labels, whatever it is they’re doing. The book cover artist isn’t just a really good artist, a good drawer or painter. No. This is a person who understands the industry. It is very similar to a book editor. Again, someone who is an amazing writer or poet or essayist isn’t necessarily a great book editor. I would say look for someone who has some experience, but just like us, as self-published authors, they may be trying to get their break. So take a look at their interests, their education, etc. I think it’s okay to have someone design your cover if they have a little professional experience, but what is their background, do they know what they’re doing?
And how much should you be willing to pay? Well, depends on your budget, of course. You can find people who are willing to do your cover for relatively cheap, because they’re trying to build a portfolio. You can go on Fiverr and find someone who will do it for $5. But, my general rule of thumb is, god quality and good work is going to cost. Think of you as a writer. If someone wanted you to write something – an article, poem, essay, resume – for them, would you do it for free? I hope not. This is your craft. If you’re good at your craft, it costs. Don’t shy away from pricy work. The law of averages tells us it will be good work. But, generally, expect to pay about $200-300 for a good cover. At this stage in your career (which is the same stage I am in) I would not pay more than $1000 for your cover artwork.
Also, don’t be afraid to look outside the country (if you live in the USA). The woman who does my cover artwork lives in Spain. There is almost no lag time in communication and she is awesome.
I added her website to this blog posting so if you want to see if she can help you, that would be great.
I hope this helps.
Make sure you visit Christopher Patterson’s website at www.christopher-patterson.comand also make sure you sign up for his monthly newsletter where you can keep up to date with what’s going on in his world, his articles and blogs, get access to freebies, and experience promotional material. You can sign up for Christopher Patterson’s email newsletter here