A novel can take a few years to write (if you’re lucky). By the time your book is ready for a cover, it can be tempting to rush through this step. But your book’s cover is just as important as the story inside—especially during those critical few seconds when a purchasing decision is made—which is why it deserves as much thought and attention. I’m sure I’ve overlooked hundreds of great books because I didn’t like their covers. And I’ve purchased more than a few mediocre books because their covers were too beautiful to resist. Our goal as indie authors is to produce a book that is a masterpiece both inside and out, so it’s a tragedy when a book’s inner beauty is overlooked because of an inferior cover.
Since publishing Empty Arms, many people have complimented me on my book cover. While I’m grateful that my cover resonates with readers, I must admit, it wasn’t all luck. I spent a lot of time deconstructing book covers, developing a creative brief to clearly communicate my vision, and hiring the right graphic designer to execute it. One of the best parts of being an indie author is having full creative control over every aspect of your book, including the cover; but unless you know what you’re doing, it can also be the scariest. Today, I’m going to share the design process and best practices that helped me create a book cover that readers love.
Step 1: Understand what works (and what doesn’t)
In order to get inspiration for my own cover, I wandered through my local bookstore and picked up every book whose cover caught my attention. Once my arms were full, I found a seat and studied said covers, deconstructing each one to pinpoint why it spoke to me. Was it the title? The colors? The typography? The image? The mood? After examining a tower of books through this lens, I discovered that I’m drawn to books that have a “soul-stirring” photograph on the front. For an emotionally charged novel like Empty Arms, this direction seemed appropriate.
When you do this exercise, it’s helpful to begin by selecting book covers that speak to you, regardless of their genre. This will help you identify “themes” that resonate with you. You can then narrow your search to focus on books in your genre, which will help you observe commonalities (such as colors, symbols, or typefaces).
Step 2: Find the perfect image (or curate your own)
There are a number of stock photography sites that offer a wealth of compelling photographs and illustrations. (Some that I’ve browsed are Shutterstock, Getty Images, and iStock.) When choosing an image, be sure to check if it’s rights-managed or royalty-free. A “rights-managed” image means that the price you pay will be based on how the image will be used (think beyond your book cover to your marketing materials, website, etc.) and how many copies of the book you plan to sell. While rights-managed photos can be expensive, the upside is that they are often of better quality and more highly stylized than their royalty-free counterparts. Some even allow you to purchase an exclusive license so your image doesn’t end up on someone else’s book. A “royalty-free” photo is generally cheaper because it’s priced based on the size you purchase, not how it’s used or how many times it’s reproduced. There are also sites like Pixabay that offer stock images for free; however, the cheaper the photo, the greater the chance someone else will use it.
Another option is to hire a photographer to capture the shot you want. This option involves a little more legwork because you’ll have to organize a photo shoot that may involve models, props, and location scouting, but you will be able to set up the exact shot you want AND you can negotiate exclusive rights to your photo, so you won’t end up in a “Who Wore It Better?” situation with another book. For Empty Arms’s cover, I chose to hire a photographer and model to capture my vision. And I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was cheaper than buying the rights-managed photograph I had originally wanted.
While it may be tempting to opt for the cheapest route, just remember how much readers rely on your cover when deciding whether or not to buy your book. [Read more…]