The old saying is “don’t judge a book by its cover” but in the world of publishing, people do just that. If the author wants to be taken seriously, the cover has to be just as well-crafted as the text. This poses the question of whether an author should design the cover themselves or hire an illustrator to do the cover for them.
A lot of the answer will depend upon the author’s computer skills, computer programs they own, the type of camera they own, and their artistic ability. It also depends on the type of book they have written. These variables mean that there isn’t a simple yes or no answer.
Create Space offers cover templates where the author can upload a photo and add text to pre-arranged text boxes. Bette Stevens used a template for Amazing Matilda, a children’s picture book, and it ended up looking good. She uploaded one of the illustrations from the inside of the book. Ironically, it’s the same template I used for Day Camp in Hawaii, a non-fiction book. According to some writing newsletters, non-fiction books will sell even if they have a bland cover, if the author has the credentials to write the book. Customers of non-fiction book are more interested in getting the information than they are in the book’s design. Fiction books, on the other hand, need a cover that helps communicate what the story is about. A thriller can’t have a boring cover.
Lorraine Shelstad told me that she did her own cover for The Cameo. She set up a still life arrangement that features a cameo necklace similar to the one used in the story. It looks professionally done, but, she has a high quality camera, and the proper lighting equipment for shooting a still life arrangement. A small point and shoot camera will not result in a photo that has enough pixels for this application.
When my daughter got married, her wedding package included an engagement shoot. When we bought the package, the photographer, Tara Cook, gave me all the rights to the photos. I double-checked with her about print rights, and yes, they were included in the price. So, I chose one of those photos for the cover of my book.
In the slideshow, you’ll see my first attempts at designing a cover for my novel, On Higher Ground, as well as examples of cover designs that an illustrator came up with.
The first example is what I could do using a program called Paint. It is installed on most computers under accessories or publishing tools. This cover was created by reducing the size of the photo to 1000 pixels wide in a photo editing program that came with my HP printer. I then opened the file in Paint. When I made the photo smaller, it allowed me to see the entire photo on the computer screen, and also made the letters larger when I added a text box. The largest font size in Paint is 72 points (one inch). It’s simple to add a text box, type in the words, select a font and size. But, I wasn’t happy with the finished design. The squat letters didn’t communicate “higher” or the feeling of romance. The type font should be selected because it helps communicate the feeling of the book. Most romance books use a cursive font because it is associated with love letters.
The second example uses a better font, but when I decided to add some smaller words at the top of the photo, I noticed that the leaves of the tree made the words hard to read. I tried using a tool that looks like spray paint to delete the sky showing between the leaves. In a small size, it looks OK, but when the picture is blown up, it doesn’t look professional. Since the book is going to be published in both paperback and ebook formats, it needs to look good in both sizes.
After this attempt, I tried downloading a free computer program called PaintNet, but found it to be very frustrating. At this point, I decided that my computer skills weren’t good enough to produce a cover. I found an illustrator on Linked In, and began working with her. But, my attempts weren’t wasted, because it gave me an example to show the illustrator what I wanted. A picture is worth a thousand words. It’s hard to describe a mental image of what you are thinking of in just words. So, even an amateurish attempt at making a cover is something worth doing. It gives the author something to show the artist to better communicate the overall concept.
I hired Lisa Hainline at LionsgateBookDesign.com. She charges $250 for a front cover only (ebooks) or $350 for a full cover (print) plus the royalty fee for the photos she buys from a stock photo site. Her price is less than that charged by Create Space, and seems to be in keeping with the rest of the illustrators I researched. Lisa works with Christian authors, and is a very nice person. She also has a blog on her web site that discusses book covers at length.
Her first attempt touched up my photo as I suggested, but I wasn’t happy with the red sky. To me, sunset communicates final, ending or over. The story is about getting a second chance and finding a new beginning. I suggested that we look for clouds that were bright, new day, sunny and warm.
I also needed to communicate to the reader that this story has two angels working as a subplot. The angels aren’t characters in the flesh, but up in Heaven. We discussed several options about how to do that, but using a photo was still the best choice. At this point, Lisa suggested I look for photos myself to help her find something I liked. After searching for angels, most of the photos I found were pictures of statutes. Then, I found a photo of a cloud that looks like an angel, and it was perfect. Lisa was able to blend this photo into another photo of a sky. Now the cover communicates all of the things I wanted it to say, and I approved the design.
Then we started working on the back cover. Writing a blurb was the hardest part of the design. I could have hired an editor to do it for me for $100, but I wanted to learn how to do it myself. After all, I hope to publish more books, so I will be facing the challenge again. One of my Facebook friends, a man who reviews books on Good Reads, offered to be a critique partner, and gave me his opinion from the viewpoint of a reader. In his opinion, two paragraphs are more than enough, and it shouldn’t reveal the ending of the book. If he knows how it ends, there isn’t any reason to buy the book. It also needs to communicate what emotions the reader is going to feel while they are reading it. Blurbs vary by genre, so the best way to learn is by reading the back covers of other books in the same genre.