Judging a book by its cover

Kindle cover2Book covers can be a real challenge for authors. When you are being published by a “legacy publisher” they design the cover for you … but sometimes there are some surprises.

This happened to me a few years ago with REBEL TRAIN. I really wasn’t happy with the cover that the publisher came up with, and spoke up about it. The result was … an even worse cover!

That’s the way it goes sometimes. The good news is that for the most part, I’ve had really great covers from Jove Books, Bella Rosa Books, and The History Press.  All of these guys are class acts and do top-notch work. Even PublishAmerica did a nice job with the cover of REBEL FEVER and the production overall. That was a few years ago, however, and I would never go that route again because publishing options have changed significantly in the author’s favor.

But what does one do about cover design these days when so much has moved toward indie publishing? No more simply handling the cover off to the publisher! Cover designer is just one of the many hats that an indie author must wear.

Ultimately, even with the popularity of ebooks, I still think that covers matter. They catch the reader’s eye and signal something to the reader about the quality of the work. If a lot of care went into the cover, and there was a clear investment of time and effort (which often means money) in creating a good cover, it’s likely that the story itself will mirror that effort.

I have to say that my newspaper background has come in handy in developing cover designs. For starters, I learned a little something about fonts, colors, cropping images, and PhotoShop while designing all those newspaper pages. Books and newspapers are very different products, but some of the basic design rules are much the same.

One of the reasons authors have to design their own covers comes down to simple economics. It’s quite costly to hire a designer, and looking at the work by some of the cover designers who have hung their shingle on the web, it’s clear that not everyone knows what they’re about. And so authors sometimes do the best we can on our own.

I designed the covers for TIME REICH and WINTER SNIPER. These books have been fairly successful in terms of sales, and I think the covers deserve some of the credit for that.

For FIRST VOYAGE: THE SEA LORD CHRONICLES I arranged for a very talented artist to create the artwork, and then through trial and error found a font I liked for the cover (which I then repeated in the chapter headings throughout the print book). Although I love this cover and think it’s my best story yet, sales have been slow for this book. I hope one day it finds its readership, because this is one of those books I really believe in.

I’ve had much less success with the cover for REBEL TRAIN … the book cover that gave me so much trouble in the first place with its original publisher! I recently tinkered with the cover image, adding color to the original black and white illustration. It still wasn’t quite there for me. And so I went “shopping” for book cover ideas at the local library and bookstores. I finally found a design I could adapt, and I’m eager to see if the new cover design gives the book any slight sales boost.

Recently, I’ve come across some folks who seem to be very talented cover designers and I think that the cover for my next indie publishing effort will be turned over to them so that I can spend more time working on the “words” rather than the artwork. More and more, I think the expectation for indie authors will be that their covers and production work must be just as good as the “big guys.”




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