A Writer’s View: Cover Me

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr – and hey, think this should go on the Sanctum too?)

I’ve been talking about some pretty deep subjects lately, so let’s mind back to a simple, practical one.  Covers.

No, really.

I always feel book covers are a weird subject to discuss because they are A) Important, B) Transitory, and C) Sometimes done horribly.  You need a cover to get attention, that someone will look at for five seconds, yet if you do it wrong it’ll really kill peoples’ interests.  I find it best to think of it as tool to help your audience realize “this book is for me,” a kind of helpful marketing.

This is an area I’m considering now, as “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet” is going to really require the right cover.  I mean it’s an SF/fantasy mixture that combines serious worldbuilding with humor and extrapolating fantasy/SF tropes.  When you have a gravity-and-kinetics-manipulating sorceress teaming up with an engineer and riding said engineer’s fusion powered motorcycle into adventure, you are in a pretty weird area.  And that’s before you’re out of Chapter 1.

So as I went over this, I figured I’d share my previous cover wisdom with you.  Helps me sort it out myself.  Here’s a kind of Q&A of what I found.

Q: OK, so what’s your basic idea of a cover?  What makes it important

A: See above, it helps make your audience aware and interested so they buy your awesome book.

Q: Should I do my own cover?

A: Sometimes, yes.  If you’ve got the skills it may be worth it.  A lot of my business books are using my own skills and some royalty-free clipart I purchase.  Remember, you’ll also learn a lot improving your graphic skills.

Q: So in some ways, if you’re good enough, you’ll not only have a cheap cover you’ll also become more skilled at graphics?

A: Yep.  It paid off for me quite a bit – and I still have a ways to go (I tend to follow very stock designs).

Q: Now let’s talk clipart.  Seriously?  Is that a good idea?

A: You’d be surprised how many people actually use it, sometimes retouched.  It’s also a good deal as you’re buying rights to a quality photo to use – and many are really good.  I use Can Stock Photo.  You can get the rights to a good photo for about $7-$10.

Q: OK, so when would I use clipart?

A: I think this depends on what you’re going for with a book.  For my smaller and business-oriented books, I use clipart and my own skills – like my Way With Worlds Minibooks or my Creativity Guide.  These books have specific focuses so its easy to find the right piece of art.  This is easier for non-fiction as it doesn’t have specific personalities attached to it, usually.

Q: . . . and when I have fiction or something about a personality it’s custom art time, right?

A: Not necessarily.  There are services out there that have premade book covers made from custom art or a photo, and you can basically get it as royalty-free art – like Go On Write or Paper And Sage. These can be a great middle ground as folks that do this make covers with “personality” so you find one that matches.

Q: OK when do I shell out for a custom piece of art?

A: I do this when I want to 1) have a distinct cover, 2) my audience expects a distinct cover, and 3) There’s an artist I want to support.

Q: How much does that cost?

A: Bluntly? At minimum a few hundred dollars.  Remember that’ll be on top of what you’re paying your editor (you are paying them, right?).  So you may want to do something in trade.

Also always support the artist by promoting them and being a reference.

Q: So it’s going to depend on my budget.

A: Yes.  Also be aware that if you’re really trying to save money you could try taking photos on your own and using them or learning to make abstract designs with graphics programs.  That might be educational.

Q: All this for something people look at for a few seconds.

A: Yeah, but hundreds or thousands of people are going to look at it for a few seconds.  So look at it this way, if it gets their attention, it’s worth it.  Those seconds add up.

Q: And I should keep telling myself it’s all about skill development, even if it’s price negotiation?

A: You’ve got it.

There you go folks, a more mundane but important insight into covers and cover art!  Hope it helps!

(Looking to write your worlds? Let me suggest my worldbuilding books.)

– Steve