I suppose it's perfect timing to talk about book covers, in light of Amanda Palmer releasing the naked cover of her book, The Art of Asking, or, rather, her being naked on said cover, and in light of me saying, hey, it's high time I should be naked on a cover too, and her saying, that is a fine idea, and her photographer Allan Amato saying, would you like my rates, cause I'm looking to photograph more naked ladies for book covers, and me saying, well, I gotta write a book on which I could pose naked, and Twitter saying, why don't you write a book on writing and call it something like, EXPOSE YOURSELF THROUGH YOUR WRITING, and me saying, sure, I can totally do it, people have been asking me to put together a book from my blog posts, and, holy shit, this is the longest sentence I ever wrote.
Book covers. We're talking here about us struggling indie writers, well, maybe not struggling exactly, bad choice of words, more like, having to be not only a writer but also the toilet cleaner and the accountant and the marketer and the book cover designer...wait. Book cover designer. Well, some of us can afford to hire those. But, despite the fact that some of us can, the result is not always, how to say it nicely, very favorable. If I'm not being nice, I would say (and I'm prepared to take full consequences and feel the hotness of your wrath on my skin), most indie book covers are ugly and unreadable. By unreadable I mean, there is so much text or so much creativity conjured out of fantastical nebulae clouding and juxtaposing image upon image, that you can't fucking read the title or the author's name. And then they moan why their books don't sell. Well, no shit they don't, would you buy a cake that has bite marks on it and is packaged in a dingy falling apart carton box that looks like it's been sat on by a bum and maybe even frequented by rats? Okay, maybe I'm going a little extreme here, you may certainly smack me, but, you see, I talk like this because I'm passionate. I fucking care, people. You, indie writers, I CARE ABOUT YOU. Although, unfortunately, I can't stroll up to you and tell you what I really think about your book covers, because I will upset you and it's not what I want to do. I want to support you and inspire you. For example, Siren Suicides book covers were mine and my daughter's first effort, and we didn't really know what we were doing, and they are not ideal, in fact, they suck in the way that they confuse people on which book is which (there are three, and the water level difference only puzzles people). We will remake them, by the way. So, it's entirely my fault since I was creative directing my daughter and I should've known better.
Rosehead, on the other hand, I think came out really well. It's clean, crisp, and to the point.
But back to you. Back to our topic. How do you make an awesome book cover if you have no money or have very little graphic sense and are paying someone and that someone doesn't really do a good job? What are the things you can do and watch out for, to make an awesome book cover?
Pick 3, only 3 colors to go on your book. One of them should be the main color, the second an accent color, and the third the color of the font or small details. Why, oh why? I can hear you yell and see your roll your eyes. When there are so many options to make beautiful art for my book and...SHHH!!! Listen to me, I'm talking to those of you who can't afford awesome artists, okay? Frankly, even if you look at sensational book covers, you will see that there are still only about 3 colors, and the rest are gradations of them. My favorite website to look at book covers it this one. Now, go look at them and come back AND TELL ME THAT I'M WRONG. Why 3, you ask? Because our stupid brains can't really process a lot of information at once. We can grasp up to 5 things, 3 preferably. 1 of those we will remember, and what do you want your readers to remember? The emotional feeling of the book, which is tied to its primary color (by the way, look up meanings, like, red means passion and energy, blue means trust and power, etc.) and the title of the book and the author's name. That's 3 things already. If the reader can't see any of that, they will glaze over your book like they glaze over the rest of the visual noise they are bombarded with daily. You have to understand that your book doesn't just compete with other books, it competes with ALL of the visual information. And you have to stand out. Got it?
So your book most certainly be about something. Like, clouds, or giraffes, or lovers in the woods, or corpses in the candy shop, or raccoons in your fridge. I don't know, whatever, your book is about something. Here is the secret. No matter how tempted you are, pick just one, yes, JUST ONE, image from the whole book and that will be what is on your cover. Again, I am not talking here to those who can spend a fortune on clever graphic designers or talented photographers. I'm talking to people who need to do it cheap and fast and have it look awesome. Well then, pick one thing. Then, either look for a clean, I repeat, CLEAN, stock photo of this thing, or draw it. Gasp! How can you draw it? Just draw it. If you actually drew something yourself, something simple (we're not talking here about anatomically complicated depictions of vaginas or penises or anything of the sort), trust me, it would be more unique than any of these polished book covers you see. Oh, and note of caution, since you're self-publishing like me and are probably printing through Amazon, DO NOT USE THEIR PRE-MADE COVERS. Just don't. Ask me in comments why, I will gladly elaborate. Let's see, you picked your colors and your image, now comes the scariest part.
This is where I see so many pitfalls, it's not even funny. People find some hideous typefaces god knows where on shiny internets and then they plaster them on their book covers, thinking it would look so elaborate, people will notice. WRONG. Be as simple as you can. If you can't afford to buy a nice font, just go with Arial. At least it will be readable. I have written a whole blog post on choosing fonts for both the interior of your book and its cover, so go ahead and read it and pick your fonts from there. Once you become a bestselling author and can afford more, then you can deviate from this and trust into those people who know better than you. Until then, keep it simple, stupid.
4. Other things.
There are a few other things you should and shouldn't do. Here is a list:
- DO strip your book cover of color and see if you can still read the title and see the picture. Make sure it doesn't morph into a grey mush sullied by puffs of black and white.
- DO shrink your book cover to the size of a penny, because that's how it will look on mobile phones or on Amazon in the YOU VIEWED section. Can you still read the title? Good. No? Redo your cover.
- DO add a quote or two on the back about your book, but make sure they are real and you are not lying and not trying to look bigger or more important than you are.
- DO make sure that the title and your name are large enough and readable on your book spine and are going from left to right (I made this mistake a while ago, printing books with the title running right to left).
- DO include a summary blurb on what the book is about and maybe a pic of yourself on the back and a one line bio.
- DON'T oversaturate the back cover with quotes from people of whom nobody heard, it will make you look tacky and trying too hard.
- DON'T use the pre-made Amazon book covers. Ah, shite, I already said that. Anyway, I love it that they offer this, but if you want to stand out, do your own cover.
- DON'T put a picture of yourself on the cover unless you're Amanda Palmer, or me, or, well, you're exceptionally gorgeous when naked (which is all writers, of course, so ignore what I just said).
- DON'T think what 'm telling you here is the truth cause what the fuck do I know, although I did have enough creative education and experience that I think I do know something.
- DON'T read this blog anymore. Enough already. Go write and make awesome book covers. I will go write too. Goodbye.