Cover design is a whole new area for me. Before I self published, I sold my stories to big publishers. The cover was part of the deal. Sometimes a good part.
First Pitfall — Absent Author
Sometimes not so much. The Author’s input back then generally consisted of doing a précis of the story and describing the characters’ looks. The designer made of that what he/she would. It could be pretty weird. The cover design where the heroine’s only identifiable feature was a bad case of measles is burned into my soul.
Second Pitfall — Baboon Bomb
But at least I never suffered as delightful NY Times Bestseller Suzanne Brockmann did. Her Navy Seal hero — the best looking man in the Alpha Squad, as she wrote despairingly — was turned by the first cover artist into a Pillsbury Doughboy.
Philosophically, she turned it into a famous joke and the present cover is delicious. (You can read more about the book on Suzanne’s website here.)
If you want to see the true horror of its predecessor, though, see the excerpt on her website. Don’t try and drink coffee at the same time!
Third Pitfall — Control Cat
This is where the self-publishing author really comes into his or her own.
Right, you think, rubbing your hands with glee. This is going to be the best cover design ever. It’s going to be beautiful, true to the story, have great impact, be sexy as hell (because my characters are sexy) carry good quotes from people who love my books and make any reader from six to 110 who gets within a mile of the book part with hard cash to own it.
Result? Overload. Big time.
Fourth Pitfall — Dicing with Design
You learn you can’t have everything, so you take a gamble on something — anything.
Maybe it’s because you, really, really like that particular cover. Maybe it’s because you think it will sell shedloads. Maybe it’s because you’re so overwhelmed by now, you don’t really care any more, you just want to take a decision and STOP WORRYING.
Write a Cover Design Brief — words
It doesn’t matter if you’re intending to design the cover yourself, write the brief anyway. It will help you focus.
Do the practical stuff first. What words do you need to have on the cover? Is this just a front cover for an e-book? Do you need a back cover and spine as well? If so, what words need to go on them? Title, obviously. Author. Description? Teaser? Is it one of a series? Do you want some sort of testimonial on the front? ‘A bit soppy’, says Nobel Prize winning Professor Brainstawm. That sort of thing.
From a designer’s point of view words take up room.
Write a Cover Design Brief — images
Are there any story-specific images that might be intriguing and might make an impact?
NOTE: don’t try and tell the story on the cover. That’s what the novel is for. Find something emblematic. I admire immensely the monochrome covers of the Fifty Shades trilogy. Beautiful and implicitly threatening at the same time. Fantastic impact.
Write a Cover Design Brief — style
This is one for discussion with your designer, if you’re employing a professional.
There are certain conventions. You may not agree with them. (Hands up any romantic comedy author who hates pink?) But your cover is a product label in its way and Pink apparently says ‘romantic comedy’ to the buying public.
If you’re aiming to design the cover yourself, study the covers of books similar to your own if you don’t already know the conventions.
Fabulous Focus Group
Avoid getting trapped by your own preferences.
Apart from colour, I’m not very visually sensitive — even in my books I hear my characters long before I see them. So I commissioned award-winning designer Jane Dixon Smith to create my first two self-published covers. (She has a great book out for people like us, by the way.)
When she sent me preliminary ideas, I found I was responding to colour before anything else. A mistake. Response to elements like colour and perfume is visceral and won’t be shared universally. One man’s Lavatory Lime is another’s Vibrant Green Spring.
So I took those first four ideas for a blind tasting at the London and South East Chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. They are a group of authors, published and unpublished, who read widely in the same genre as I write.
The results were startling: 88% put the same cover first. The remaining 12% put it second. Other groups, not made up of writers or habitual romance readers, came up with the same favourite design, though the percentages were less emphatic. Not one of the fifty or so people whose opinion I canvassed mentioned colour!
So here it is. Coming to a website near you soon. Thank you, RNA London!
What does that cover say to you?