Covers with Staying Power

Originally sent to the Listener Insider Mailing List on July 14, 2016.
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I’ve interviewed over 70 authors for the WROTE podcast. I’ve self-published. AND… I’m a production editor for a small, non-fiction press… plus I’m connected to a larger publisher. This places me in a unique position to answer any questions you may have about the business of being an author. I reached out to a group of professional writers, asking what areas confused them at the start of their careers, and received some GREAT starting questions. Here’s the next:

Answers for Authors

BookCoversVance, in this day and age where everyone has access to photo-manipulation apps, how can I make sure my cover is both appealing and will stand the test of time?

I’ve got your back! One part of my job is to hire the cover designers, guide their design, and approve their invoices for payment. Here’s how we approach it:

  1. Does the designer have an art background? This is important to us in a small press, but it was also important to me when I self-published. A human who understands composition, prospective, color balance, typeface rules, and layout standards is still light years ahead of any mobile app. They just are. That said, the competitive bidding arenas (for example Fiverr, GigBucks, and TaskArmy) give you the ability to search for artists in your price range. (Michael drops another nugget in his interview: reach out to an artist whose work you love and see if they’ll consider taking a cover commission!)
  2. Communicate your vision clearly to the designer. Your designer probably didn’t read the manuscript – so they can only find inspiration in what you tell them. You need to have looked at 100 covers in your genre that were published in the last year. Figure out what design elements readers in your genre will expect, and respect those established conventions only enough to push the boundaries with grace. When you send your initial ideas to the designer, be clear about what style conventions you expect to see, and where you’re willing to get edgy with the design.
  3. Eliminate any designs that do not tell the tale of the manuscript. Trendy is only good if your book is about that trend. So if you didn’t write specifically about Pokemon Go, do not have a pocket monster on the cover! Once you’ve eliminated the obvious “no” covers, share the rest of the first round with other people who read in your genre. Write down what they like and what they don’t like, and send both positive AND negative comments back to the designer for the next round. Most designers won’t take the negatives personally, they’ll just know what to avoid moving forward.
  4. Plan for multiple rounds and multiple sets of eyes. You wouldn’t release your manuscript without a couple rounds of editing and improving. Give your cover the same professional courtesy. Multiple rounds, with feedback from multiple potential buyers, is the surest way to hone in on the right cover.
  5. If you still love it after the Nth round of improvements, it will stand the test of time. The small details may change from edit to edit, but the overall core design will likely be the one that initially grabbed you. Trust that initial sense, and then craft the cover to perfection. It takes time to create something timeless!

I intentionally left out personalizations like series themes or font choices. But if you’re thinking along those lines, you probably already have something of an idea for your brand. Share your brand specifics with your designer at the start, then the steps above will incorporate that essence of “you” beautifully.

Now… Go forth and conquer your cover!

If YOU have a question you want answered from inside the biz, send it my way and I’ll pose it to the professionals!