Tag Archives: cover design

Covers: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Jan 04, 2016
image courtesy of goXunuReviews via flickr commons

image courtesy of goXunuReviews via flickr commons

Okay, covers. It’s about time we had a little talk. Study after study has shown that the most important things to sell a book (particularly if you’re an Indie author) are your blurb (which we talked about here) and your cover. So many times, if a book isn’t selling well, there’s a good chance your cover just isn’t hacking it. And there are several reasons for this. So here we go.

If I could only say one thing to people about choosing the best cover for your book (a book you’ve worked too long and hard on to send it out into the world dressed badly) it’s this:

DO NOT EVER DESIGN YOUR OWN COVER

I can’t say that loud or frequently enough. (I know not everyone agrees with that, but I’m pretty passionate about it) Even if you think you’re a fantastic designer and are super capable when it comes to working with Photoshop or other graphic design programs. Just don’t do it. Just like you shouldn’t edit your own work because you’re too close to it to have a non-partial eye, you shouldn’t design your own covers because you aren’t going to be able to see the flaws in your work. Don’t go out that door with broccoli in your teeth!

Second, not all cover designers are equal. I know you love you sister’s daughter’s boyfriend’s brother who is really good with computers, but just because he knows how to cut and paste does not mean he has a designer’s eye or that he knows what images draw readers to certain genres of books. Book covers have their own language, their own symbolism, and it’s constantly changing. You need someone with an artistic eye, but also someone who knows what’s trending, knows how to blend light and shadow, and knows how to create vibrant, original images that pop and draw a reader’s eye. Talent does not come as an accessory to graphic design programs, and a designer who is talented at designing stationary, for example, may not be talented when it comes to book covers.

So let’s take a look at some things you should watch out for in cover design world.

mating with raptorFirst and foremost, readers are savvy these days. Unless you’re writing something deliberately tongue-in-cheek or trashy (like Mating with the Raptor), readers will click right past any covers that look Photoshopped. What does that mean? Anything that looks like the designer took a background and started randomly pasting stickers on it looks bad, Bad, BAD. You can tell one of these amateur covers a mile away because the light levels don’t match. Look for shadows that are going in the wrong direction, images that are disproportionate in size to other elements of the cover, figures or pieces of the image that appear to have more or less light on them. For example, in this delightful cover, the girl has a relatively bright, warm light illuminating her, but it doesn’t match the darker, shadowy light of the background. Same goes for the dino, which is in a cooler light. I used this example cover because I don’t think the designer cares how realistic and smooth it looks, but flip through Amazon for a while, and you’ll find covers where the designer just didn’t know what they were doing.

that guyI could find you a ton of examples of covers that look Photoshopped. You know what I mean. Also look out for lines that are too sharp around elements of the design, or that are too fuzzy because they’ve been blended with a particular tool. Anything that looks like stickers should send you running for the hills. Also, this guy on the right. Bless his heart, I don’t know who he is, but I’m not gonna lie—when I see him on a cover, I automatically pass on the book. Dude is everywhere!

warriors womanAnother problem I’ve seen in some covers these days is that they look dated. Ah yes, remember the good old Fabio-style cover? It’s just not the thing right now. These sorts of clinch photos with tons of wind and clothes about to fall off were all the rage a few years ago, but not so much now. Take a look online at the bestselling romance covers today (for example, if that’s your genre). We’re in the era of the heroine with the big skirt that takes up half the cover right now. There’s also variation in covers depending on the level of sweetness that the story entails. If you’re writing a Christian romance, for example, you don’t want this Fabio-style cover. It doesn’t send the right message. (All right, I’ll admit that my latest book cover for His Perfect Bride has shades of this era, but note the key differences: my cover isn’t an illustration, and the heroine is fully dressed, in spite of the hero’s shirtless good hair day.)

Okay, so what looks good on a cover? And how do you get a truly stellar cover design, especially for historical books, when there’s an extremely limited amount of historical stock photography out there?

MF_SavingGrace_2_smallWell, great book covers have all the design elements in harmony with each other. Truly stellar designers know how to put color and light and background ambiance to work for them. This cover of mine from Saving Grace, by designer Kalen O’Donnell was nominated for a cover design award last year. Frankly, that book sucked (well, it didn’t suck, but it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, which is why I stopped writing sci-fi), but man, based on that cover, you’d give the blurb a look, wouldn’t you? The color, the light levels, the visual impact are all stunning. And that started with a very simple stock photo.

EdenTheDangerousBride_smallAs for the problem of there not being enough original images out there, well, one of the reasons I hire the immensely talented Erin Dameron-Hill to do my covers is because she’s so good that she can dissect images and create new models from various parts! This truly awesome cover, she tells me, is actually three different images combined to make an original image. And as you can clearly see, the foreground blends with the background, the color scheme matches the rest of the novels in the series (peek over to the right), and there is no sticker-ness anywhere.

At the end of the day, “good” and “bad” is subjective, but only up to a point. There are standards, and if you’re in this business to win it, you’ll want to find the highest quality designs that you can. The good news is that covers aren’t super expensive these days. You can get good ones for under $100! And so, I leave you with a pretty amazing list of cover designers, shared with me by author Christine Miller:

LIST OF RECOMMENDED COVER DESIGNERS

99-DESIGNS http://99designs.com/book-cover-design

ALCHEMY BOOK COVERS http://www.alchemybookcovers.com/

AM DESIGN STUDIOS http://amdesignstudios.net/sample-page/

ART BY KARRI http://artbykarri.com

AUTHOR MARKETING CLUB http://authormarketingclub.com/members/pre-made-book-covers/

AVALON GRAPHICS http://www.avalongraphics.org/books.html

BEYOND DESIGN http://www.tamianwood.com

THE BOOK COVER DESIGNER http://thebookcoverdesigner.com/shop/?vendor=jesrdesign

BOOK COVERS GALORE http://bookcoversgalore.com/

BOOK COVERS MARKET http://bookcoversmarket.com

BOOKS DESIGN http://www.books-design.com/

BOOKFLY DESIGN http://www.bookflydesign.com/

BOOK GRAPHICS http://bookgraphics.net/

CANDESCENT PRESS http://www.candescentpress.com/coverdesign.php

CAROL’S COVER DESIGN http://carolcoversdesign.com/

CHARISMA KNIGHT http://designsbycharisma.yolasite.com/book-covers.php

CHIP KIDD http://www.chipkidd.com/gallery.html

COVERS BY ALDELM JOHN FERRIOLS http://www.coroflot.com/Maggs/Book-Covers

THE COVER COUNTS http://thecovercounts.com/

CREATION WARRIOR http://www.creationwarrior.net/

CREATIV INDIE COVERS http://bookcovers.creativindie.com

CUSTOM INDIE COVERS http://www.customindiecovers.com/

DAFEENAH JAMEEL http://dafeenah.deviantart.com/gallery/

DAMONZA http://damonza.com

THE DARK RAYNE http://www.thedarkrayne.com/book-covers/

DIGITAL DONNA http://digitaldonna.com

EBOOK COVER DESIGNS http://www.ebook-coverdesigns.com

EBOOK INDIE COVERS http://ebookindiecovers.com

EBOOK SERVICES https://ebookcovers4u.wordpress.com/cat…/covers-weve-made/

EL DESIGNS http://www.eldesigns.net/index.html

ESTRELLA COVER ART http://estrellacoverart.com/

EXTENDED IMAGERY http://www.extendedimagery.com

FANTASIA FROG DESIGNS http://fantasiafrogdesigns.wordpress.com/premade-bookcovers/

FICTION BOOK COVER http://fictionbookcover.com/

FLIP CITY AUTHOR SERVICES http://flipcitybooks.com

FOR THE MUSE DESIGN (Pre-Mades) http://www.forthemusedesign.com/pre-made-covers.html

FOSTER COVERS http://www.fostercovers.com

FOSTERING SUCCESS http://www.fostering-success.com/autho…/ebook-cover-design

GO ON WRITE http://www.goonwrite.com

GRAPHICZ X DESIGNS http://graphiczxdesigns.zenfolio.com

HARPER DESIGN http://louharper.com/Design.html

HUMBLE NATIONS http://humblenations.com

I DREW DESIGN (FIVERR) https://www.fiverr.com/idrewdesign

INDIE AUTHOR SERVICES http://www.indieauthorservices.com/pre-made-book-covers.html

JAMES LEDGER CONCEPTS http://www.jamesledgerconcepts.com

JANET HOLMES http://www.seejanetwork.com/

JH ILLUSTRATION https://jhillustration.wordpress.com

JOE SIMMONS ILLUSTRATION http://www.jsimmonsillustration.com

KATIE W. STEWART http://www.katiewstewart.com/cover-designs.html

KILLER COVERS http://killercovers.com/#ebook

***THE KILLION GROUP http://thekilliongroupinc.com

KIT FOSTER DESIGN http://www.kitfosterdesign.com/Home.aspx

LEAH KAYE SUTTLE http://www.leahsuttle.com

LFD DESIGNS http://mycoverart.com/

LITTERA DESIGNS http://www.litteradesigns.com

LLPIX PHOTOGRAPHY & DESIGN http://www.llpix.com

MARIYA KRUSHEVA http://mishka19.deviantart.com/gallery/33572981?offset=0

MELCHELLE DESIGNS http://melchelledesigns.com

NESS GRAPHICA http://www.nessgraphica.com/

NINJA MEL DESIGNS http://www.ninjameldesigns.com/portfolio/

PHAT PUPPY ART http://phatpuppyart.com

PERMED EBOOK COVER SHOP http://www.premadeebookcovershop.com/

Q42 GRAPHIC DESIGN http://www.q42graphicdesign.com

REBECCA SWIFT ARTWORK http://www.rebeccaswiftartwork.com

ROBIN LUDWIG DESIGN http://gobookcoverdesign.com/pages/book_cover_design.html

ROCKING BOOK COVERS http://www.rockingbookcovers.com

RROXX (FIVERR) https://www.fiverr.com/…/create-awesome-professional…

SARAH JANELEHOUX http://sarah-janelehoux.com/coverart.htm

SCARLETT RUGERS BOOK DESIGN AGENCY http://booksat.scarlettrugers.com

SCRIBBLELEAF http://www.scribbleleaf.com

SELF PUB BOOK COVERS http://www.selfpubbookcovers.com/

SHAYNE HELLERMAN http://shaynehellerman.deviantart.com/gallery/

STREETLIGHT GRAPHICS http://streetlightgraphics.com

STEFAN LINDBLAD http://www.canvas.nu/illustration-bokomslag-eng.htm

SWEET ’N SPICY DESIGNS http://jayceedelorenzo.com/sweetnspicy/

TUGBOAT DESIGN http://www.tugboatdesign.net

YOCLA DESIGNS http://yocladesigns.com/

WALKING STICK BOOKS http://www.walkingstickbooks.com/…/Ser…/Cover-Design.cfm

WICKED SMART DESIGNS http://www.wickedsmartdesigns.com

WINTER HEART DESIGN http://winterheart.com/category/covers

WORD SUGAR DESIGNS http://www.wordsugardesigns.com/

 

There you go. So now you can’t tell me you can’t find a good cover designer. 😉

Writing Tip – Unlocking the Secrets of Discoverability

Mar 06, 2015
© Cameliastan | Dreamstime.com - Choosing A Book Photo

© Cameliastan | Dreamstime.com – Choosing A Book Photo

How on earth do you get readers to discover your books? Isn’t this what we all want to know? It’s the number one topic sure to drive a new author crazy, and it’s also the most important thing we can tackle in our publishing journey.

So you’re just starting out and no one knows your name. What to do? I made the comment to a writer/editor/publicist friend of mine the other day that it’s harder now to get started in self-publishing than it was four years ago. But she disagreed with me. She had a good point. She said that the same thing that sold a book back then is the same thing that sells a book now, and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first book or your fiftieth book. Those things are the cover, the blurb, and the keywords.

Cover and blurb are easy to wrap your mind around. For covers, you want something professional-looking that stands out. You also want it to be representative of the content of the book. That means naked people covers for certain heat-levels of romance are actually appropriate. Gentle covers with more of a landscape or abstract motif are suitable for other levels. If you’re writing a historical novel, appropriate era of dress for the cover models is key (which I learned the hard way with one of my novellas). And while the appropriate cover for any genre may not be our favorite aesthetic, covers are a visual cue to potential readers of what they’re about to experience. I can’t recommend enough that you do the research to figure out what kind of covers the genre you’re writing for favors. Professional cover designers are really good at knowing this, though.

And I’d like to take a moment to give a slow-clap to my cover designer, Erin Dameron-Hill, for knowing her stuff. Because of these two designs she’s done for me, you can tell at a glance exactly what kind of story you’re going to get, what the sub-genre is, and what the mood of the story is, even. Erin is a genius:

two covers compared

As far as the blurb goes, you want something that accurately describes the story stated concisely and with tension. A blurb that excites the reader and leaves them wanting to read the book to find out more is a successful blurb. It’s your elevator pitch on steroids. Write a cool blurb, and readers will be hungry for more.

Honestly, the way I learned to write blurbs was by reading them on the back of novels year after year after year, and also by watching trailers for movies. Remember those days of MoviePhone? “In a world where only the strong survive…” Those little blippets of plot were designed to sell a movie to someone without them even being able to see any visuals. That’s what you want to go for. Tease your reader, use words that are full of emotional impact, that suggest danger or conflict. You have roughly ten seconds to grab someone and make them want to know if your main characters are going to be okay. I can’t tell you how many times various writer groups that I’ve been part of have polled readers, and every time they say that the blurb is what drew them to the book.

So what about these keywords then? This is something I’m still trying to fully figure out. In a nutshell, keywords will bring your book up in a search—an overt search initiated by a reader or a more algorithm-based automatic search on whatever website your book is hosted on. Certain keywords in your blurb, title, and in the spot where it asks for a number of keywords when you upload your manuscript can make your book more discoverable.

In my early days of publishing, I made the mistake of being clever and coming up with my own keywords that I thought best described my unique stories. The problem with that, though, is that my keywords were so unique that they were useless. This is the one area where you want to be as unoriginal as possible. You want to pick keywords that are hot, keywords that a lot of other authors have picked. Things like Medieval, Knights, Highlander, Regency, Western, Billionaire, Love Triangle, etc. Fortunately, Amazon has a lovely page where they list common keywords.

keywordshttps://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A200PDGPEIQX41

You have no idea how much I wish I’d found this page earlier. It’s very cool.

Beyond those basics of cover, blurb, and keywords, some of the biggest tools for discoverability that I know are your writing friends. I can’t tell you how helpful it’s been for me, as a Western Historical writer, to be part of the Pioneer Hearts group of authors and readers. We operate mostly on Facebook, and the amount of support we all lend to each other is legendary. I think there are other author groups for other genres and sub-genres out there. Hearts Through History is invaluable too. The more authors help each other, the better all of our chances are. And I’m not talking about promoting each other all the time. I’m talking about sharing ideas and banding together for group promos and interacting with each other’s fans. Interacting does more than promoting any day.

And, of course, getting your name out there through various book promotion sites is always a good thing. Some sites are more effective than others (BookBub, eReader News Today, The Midlist) and others are lovely, but not as effective (StoryFinds, The Fussy Librarian). They can be expensive, and there are no guarantees that your book will be selected for promo, but I personally think you’ve got to at least try. I am not exaggerating when I say that I owe my visibility now to a BookBub promo in 2012. Seriously. It was a game-change for me.

It is possible to be discovered, even when you’re just starting out. All it takes is a little attention to detail. You can do it.