We are all familiar with the advice to never judge a book by its cover. Authors are also familiar with the cold hard truth of the matter: your book will always be judged by its cover. It turns out that you actually can judge a book pretty well by its cover, in most cases. It’s more good news for authors willing to invest in their books, and bad news for those who just want to write. Let me tell you what I’ve done, to give you a few ideas.
It’s as possible for you to get a great cover for a hundred dollars as it is for you to get a mediocre one for thousands of dollars. Let’s talk about making the most of those dollars you will undoubtedly have to invest, especially if you plan to keep doing this. Every new book will need a new cover, and you need a system in place to create them in time with those books you plan to keep writing. Those covers need to represent those books, and here’s how they should:
First, as usual, know your genre. Certain genres come with certain expectations, and an author should be aware of those expectations. Having a fantastically painted picture of a dragon on a self-help book is as bad as having a text-heavy fantasy title on a colored backdrop. Turn those around, and both books are much more likely to get attention.
If you’re like me, you’ve been reading in your genre or genres for decades. If not, take heart; now is only a little too late to get started. Look at all those covers, and think about your story, and come up with a concept. I have to remind myself that not all writers are like me; a cover doesn’t always spring to mind for everyone who writes a book. Coming up with a concept that somehow hints at or illustrates clearly what the story is about is a big challenge for some authors. That’s okay; we have a solution for that too. Read on, if you will…
My first cover was beyond me to create. I wanted a clean and finished product, and the cover I saw in my mind was beyond my artistic abilities at the time. Let me clear that up: I could have drawn it, or possibly painted it, but I knew nothing of graphic design then. That was the type of look I wanted. I put in my 10,000 hours of drawing by the time I was thirteen; that experience will transfer soon, and I may remake this cover. In this case I came up with the concept, explained it to the people I was paying to publish my book, and waited.
It came back, and I hated it. I even hated some of the things that were my ideas. It was a cool picture, but it was an ugly book cover. I voiced my concerns, and pointed out that it was quite different than what I had asked for, and requested something better. I got it, either on the second or third try, and I was pleased with the final product. I got it into bookstores, and made sure I was buying that cover outright as part of my package. I made sure they put ‘cover concept by Jay Norry’ in the beginning, instead of the credit all going to the artist; it was my idea, after all, and I’ve always had a plan to get around to re-doing it.
I didn’t want to take the time to learn a graphic design program back then, and I also didn’t want to take the time to seek out an artist specifically tuned in to what I was after. When it came time for the next book cover, I didn’t have to do these things either. At this point, Dawn had come back into my life. She had planned to be a graphic designer at one point, and had learned a lot about it. She learned more, listened to my concept for the next cover, and we came up with a way to do it ourselves. It still wasn’t cheap, but we were building a system for making our own covers. The first version was just what I had asked for; it looked terrible. So Dawn took my concept, tweaked it, and made it into a book cover. She did the same for the next two books, and the ‘Walking Between Worlds’ covers all turned out as good or better than I envisioned them.
Then the ‘Year of the Zombie’ came. This was beyond both of us, and we knew it. I had the option of transferring my art to a new medium, putting the writing on hold, or finding an artist aligned with my vision. I learned a writing program instead of an illustrating one, because that was my focus. If I could clean up my writing process enough, I would have time to learn that later. We scoured the internet for artists, and sent messages out to several people whose work we liked. A couple of them got back to us right away, and one of them was the one I had been hoping for all along. He had time, and was surprisingly affordable, and I did the same thing with him that I had done with all my other covers: I described it in detail, sketched it, and was very specific about what went where.
Sean Harrington delivered on my idea, with one minor change. The change was my favorite part! As the story grew, and the world of ‘Zombie Zero’ along with it, I knew we had to do a lot more than we had planned. We contacted Sean again, and asked if he could do seven additional covers instead of one more. He laid out a schedule, and got to work. The one I wanted him to work on first was the conclusion, the cover for ‘Zombie Zero: The Last Zombie’. I had specific ideas about that too; but at this point, I was smart enough to give him a little more leeway. The other six were covers for sets of short stories. I had a way better idea for those. Actually, I think it was Dawn’s idea; but it’s my blog, so I’ll remember it however I want.
I wanted Sean to be working under ideal conditions on these projects. I didn’t want him to be sick of zombies, or my lengthy e-mails, halfway through the commitment. So I sent him one of those wordy messages, and asked what he would like to do with the other six images. I could send him the short stories, or synopses, or more descriptions of scenes as I saw them in my head. I stressed that my favorite part of the first cover was what he had changed, and that I wanted him to have as much control as it pleased him to have. He chose, and I was delighted with his choice; I got to work on some comprehensive synopses.
The cover for the conclusion is done, as of this writing. Since I’m a little ahead of my posting schedule, I haven’t seen his first idea yet. You’ll be able to see it, right now, since this is posting later. In fact, you can even purchase the first collection of short stories if our release schedule is on track. Check out that cover! Without even having seen it, I know it is the best choice that could have been made. When the Universe speaks, I sometimes manage to listen. Now I’m listening to the artist we’re working with, and letting him speak through his chosen avenue of creation. What an exciting year!
Next year, if all goes as planned, I’ll be adding those hours I spent drawing in my youth to the hours I spend with the illustrator program to see if I can come up with some covers myself. I mean, I know I’m no Christina McMullen…but I can do some other stuff.
Thanks for reading!